Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Insidious Effect of Training Methods and Combat Effectiveness Pt 2

Greg Downey is a lecturer in Anthropology at Macquarie University and is the author of an amazing article on the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) entitled 'Producing Pain: Techniques and Technologies in No-Holds-Barred Fighting.' Unfortunately this article is hidden away in an academic journal (Social Studies of Science 37/2 April 2007 201-226) and would not normally be read by those involved in the martial arts/combatives.

I originally found this article when researching the subject of pain. In the previously conceived book on the science behind the tactics and techniques of the martial arts, I wanted to include a couple of paragraphs in the chapter on joint-locking techniques (kansetsu waza) to explain why pain is experienced when a joint is moved towards, but not necessarily beyond, the limits of its range of movement. A couple of paragraphs became an entire chapter as the research revealed an amazing body of knowledge which has been developed in the past 10 years or so. This information will be included in one of the books planned to be written following the tentatively titled Throwing Techniques and Takedown Techniques of ALL Martial Arts which I am currently working on. The Producing Pain article includes a large section on pain and pain tolerance as it relates to UFC competitors and which is a perfect example of the theory and concepts of pain as applied to martial arts which I intend to write about.

Another major part of the article is the description of how the violence is shaped in the UFC. How the tactics and techniques are shaped by the rules of the tournaments. The UFC was never 'no-holds-barred' and the rules shaped the tactics and techniques of the competitors, just as they do in sparring or randori and competition where there are also rules.

Downey explains that
prohibitions on eye-gouging, 'fish-hooking', and biting made grappling at short range a safer strategic choice than it might have been in a completely unregulated melee. The smooth surface and padded mats meant that falling to the ground was not inherently dangerous; some critics pointed out that in uncontrolled conditions, the ground might have broken glass or gravel, or simply be so hard that dropping to it could injure a person. Knowing confidently that a second assailant would never join the fight also made lying down less risky. (2007: 206)
Some critics considered the first UFC fights 'unrealistic' because of the prohibition on groin strikes and suggested this prohibition tipped the scales away from strikers in favour of grapplers. The event organisers lifted the prohibition but the competitors simply took to wearing metal groin guards as worn by Thai kick-boxers which meant the rule was not decisive. One competitor adopted the tactic of repeatedly striking the opponent's groin guard in an attempt to move it to one side. The event organisers decided it wasn't good viewing watching someone repeatedly attack an opponent's groin so they reinstituted the prohibition on groin strikes.

In the early UFC tournaments, 'passive, conservative fighting styles often prevailed over thrilling, aggressive ones' (2007: 209).
The UFC instituted fixed time limits in 1995 to prevent fights from lasting longer than expected (especially after the Severn-Gracie match ran over its broadcast time, and SEG was forced to give refunds to all pay-per-view customers). One danger of time limits, however, was that matches might go the distance without a clear winner. ... Judges had to decide inconclusive fights within the new time limits, sparking controversy when fans disagreed. Judges decisions tended to favour contestants who 'acted aggressive', as their instructions explicitly specify, in part to enforce the fighting strategies favoured by audiences. Those fighters who spent more time on top pummeling a downed adversary, even if they achieved no obvious advantage, often won decisions because striking looked more impressive than working for a sudden, fight-ending submission hold. Time limits forced fighters to chase victory with more active tactics and to impress judges with their 'aggressiveness', as defined by the audience, shifting the dynamics of the interaction. (2007: 210-211)
Organisers deliberately used the rules to produce a type of violence which was attractive to the audience. The wearing of gis (martial arts uniform) were prohibited to make grappling a less attractive strategy. It's more difficult to grasp 'sweat-slickered bare skin' which made it easier to wiggle free when grappling. Fighters also used to use their own gis to gain an advantage when grappling.
By outlawing gis, UFC management intentionally deprived grapplers of a significant tactical resources to increase the relative effectiveness of striking skills. Forcing competitors to fight nearly naked then, ... was a conscious structuring of encounters to skew the fights' dynamics for audience consumption. (2007: 211)
Downey explains that the prohibition on gis and the introduction of rounds led one of the founders, Rorian Gracie, to sell his share in the partnership that was the owner of the UFC as the changes mitigated against his families patient grappling strategies.

Rules were changed so the referee could separate fighters and 'stand them up' for 'inactivity'. This meant that
instead of playing to win, a held fighter might instead struggle simply to last until the end of a round with its mandatory break of any holds. Rounds and 'standups' broke effective grappling holds - inactivity was actually evidence of their efficacy - and forced fighters who wanted to grapple to rush repeatedly from outside an adversary's range to close contact, which makes them most vulnerable to being struck. (2007: 211)
Originally competitors fought with bare hands, however, light gloves came to be widely used and eventually required in the UFC.
Although grappling gloves are lighter and smaller than normal boxing gloves, so that they do not add weight or increase the striking surface of the fist, they do allow tight wrapping, which can brace the wrists and diminishes the chance of a broken metacarpal or other bone in the hand by effectively fusing bones together for mutual support. Not surprisingly, Clyde Gentry (2001: 155) reports that the percentage of fights that ended in knockouts increased when gloves were mandated. Gloves, introduced to appease critics, actually made punching more effective - pleasing many spectators - and probably more dangerous to the participants' heads (although not to their hands). Gloves did not just make punching more effective; they changed the way the body could be employed so that fighters could freely punch. (2007: 215)
Downey explains that 'the tailoring of fighting styles to UFC rules extends to strategies for doing particular types of damage to an adversary' (2007: 216). Fighters target their competitors brow where the bone is close to the skin in order to open up a cut which can end the fight by ringside doctors.

Downey's article contains more examples of how the UFC rules and technology (fighting ring (Octogon), gloves, clothing, etc) shaped the fighting style of what is now known as mixed martial arts. It is a very good example of how sparring and competition can shape the tactics and techniques of a fighting style. Tactics and technique which may not be appropriate if the fighting style is intended to be used in 'real' combat where rules do not apply. Many people talk up the benefits of sparring and competition as a training method, however, they tend to ignore, or are ignorant of, the limitations of these training methods and the possible effects they may have on the combat effectiveness of their fighting style.

1 comment:

  1. Hey sir, just stumbled upon your blog, but I have to say that you are a real deal. I will be subscribing from now on.

    And yes, no matter what the fighters and the mma fans claim that the fights were the real deal, it is really just another form of entertainment.

    when you are trained to follow certain rules in your formal sparring, your reaction time to real life street fighting will also deteriorate.

    I experienced it firsthand myself when i was so used to the taekwondo fighting (no hitting below belt) that I kept losing when sparring against a more freestyle friend.

    so maybe we should train the no-rules more than the formal sparring huh


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