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  • Writer's pictureAmerican Karate Institute

Differences Between Traditional Martial Arts & MMA

With the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and UFC (Ultimate Fighting) craze that has been going on for the past decade, it is easy to get confused between what is MMA and traditional martial arts. When a beginner steps in for the first time on the mat, he/she can have a certain expectation from his/her training, not exactly in phase with what will eventually be taught and learned. Many think that learning martial arts is learning MMA or vice-versa. But it is not true. So I want to elucidate a few points for people thinking about taking up a either martial arts or MMA.

Many people that want to learn MMA start with a traditional art, thinking that after a while, they can switch to a different style of art, and BOOM! That will make them a MMA fighter. But be ready to have your mind blown, because here is the best kept secret about MMA: the truth is…

Traditional martial arts is the original MMA

Long before UFC 1 in 1993, or today’s trend of cage fighting, mixed martial arts existed and was part of… you’ve guessed it, traditional martial arts curriculum.

Traditionally, if you were a warrior training in Edo during the 17th century, you would not train in only one art, but in an ensemble of arts. You would learn an offensive art (think of something like Karate/Taekwondo), a defensive art (think of Hapkido/Aikido), and weapons. Therefore it was a very balanced curriculum. You had yin side (defense), and a yang side (offense). In order to know how to receive, you need to know how to give properly. In order to attack properly, you need to know how to receive. Only then you truly understand both side of the spectrum.

But in our modern busy lives, very few people have the commitment to study several martial arts, let alone only one properly. So usually when a martial art school opens, it is to teach one art only. Every traditional school has it its own ways. Ways of strengthening the body, teaching forms, teaching techniques. But like Master Angel Gonzalez has mentioned several times in his class, “there are many path to go to the top of mount Fuji, but once you are up there, everyone is looking at the same thing”.

MMA won’t turn you into a martial artist

Yes, you find different techniques borrowed from the traditional arts. But it is a regulated cage fighting sport meant for showmanship/spectatorship. The fighter can win by points, or KO the opponent, or if the opponent gives up. MMA fighters are being taught submission moves until the opponent taps out, or repeatedly punching the hell out of the poor guy until he can no longer fight.

True martial arts does not seek showmanship. It only seeks the fastest way to defeat the opponent, doing so in a minimum numbers of moves. If for nothing else, any move is a potential opening for the opponent. Therefore any wrongly assessed move can mean death. On the battlefield, there is no tapping out.

You do not need a certification from an “MMA” federation in order to teach MMA. There is no lineage in MMA. You just need to be a credible fighter. By the same token, as I discovered when we opened our first Karate School in Miami in 1983, so many traditional martial arts schools here have no lineage what so ever, so their authenticity is questionable. Some of them even call themselves just “martial arts school” with no attachment to any Art, making it even harder to assess the relevance of the teaching. Some of those instructors might just go to the store, buy themselves a uniform and a black belt, and voila! Because they might have a basic boxing training or kickboxing, or watch videos on youtube, they might easily fool the untrained prospective student or parent. These places in the martial arts industry are known under the very technical term of McDojos. While they might give a good work-out for adults and kids, the danger of such places, is that while the student thinks he/she is learning “Karate” or “Taekwondo”, the accurate transmission of the Art is distorted, inaccurate and the Art gets lost. But this is a different discussion for another post…

The main difference between traditional martial arts and MMA is…

The mindset. While a lot of people can say “you cannot use what you learn in the dojo in real life” or ” you will never use a horse riding stance in a real fight” or 'people don’t bow in a bar fight”, they miss the true idea behind traditional martial arts. Those wide stances, the bowing system, the code of conduct and everything else is part of a very complex educational and pedagogic system designed to combine the techniques of mind and body.

We incorporate the traditional martial arts mindset and foundation with MMA styles & techniques. That's the real kicker. That is why AKI has been the #1 Mixed Martial Arts School over almost 40 years.


At the American Karate Institute, we teach a way of life. Our Miami martial arts school and MMA Classes has developed a well thought out curriculum that teaches more than just the art of self-defense. We delve deep into our students’ technique, skill set, intelligence, intuition and overall physical fitness. Contact us today if you’re interested in mixed martial arts and self-defense classes and schedule your free-trial class!


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