Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, including boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, kickboxing, taekwondo, karate, judo and other styles.
One of the earliest well documented systems of codified full range unarmed combat was the ancient Olympic combat sport of Pankration. Various mixed style contests also took place throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s. The combat sport of Vale Tudo that had developed in Brazil from the 1920s was brought to the United States by the Gracie family in 1993 with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which is currently the largest MMA promotion company worldwide. Prior to the UFC, professional MMA events had also been held in Japan by Shooto since 1989.
In due course, the more dangerous Vale Tudo style bouts of the early UFCs were made safer with the implementation of additional rules, leading to the popular regulated form of MMA seen today. Originally promoted as a competition with the intention of finding the most effective martial arts for real unarmed combat situations, competitors were pitted against one another with minimal rules.Later, fighters employed multiple martial arts into their style while promoters adopted additional rules aimed at increasing safety for competitors and to promote mainstream acceptance of the sport.
The name mixed martial arts was coined by Rick Blume, president and CEO of Battlecade, in 1995. Following these changes, the sport has seen increased popularity with a pay per view business that rivals boxing and professional wrestling.
Most 'traditional' martial arts have a specific focus and these arts may be trained to improve in that area. Popular disciplines of each type include:
- Stand-up: Various forms of Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, and Karate are trained to improve footwork, elbowing, kicking, kneeing and punching.
- Clinch: Freestyle, Greco-Roman wrestling, Sambo and Judo are trained to improve clinching, takedowns and throws, while Muay Thai is trained to improve the striking aspect of the clinch.
- Ground: Submission Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, shoot wrestling, catch wrestling, Judo and Sambo are trained to improve ground control and position, as well as to achieve submission holds, and defend against them.
Some styles have been adapted from their traditional form, such as boxing stances which lack effective counters to leg kicks and the muay thai stance which is poor for defending against takedowns due to the static nature, or Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, techniques which must be adapted for No Gi competition. It is common for a fighter to train with multiple coaches of different styles or an organized fight team to improve various aspects of their game at once. Cardiovascular conditioning, speed drills, strength training and flexibility are also important aspects of a fighter's training. Some schools advertise their styles as simply "mixed martial arts", which has become a genre in itself; but the training will still often be split into different sections.
While mixed martial arts was initially practised almost exclusively by competitive fighters, this is no longer the case. As the sport has become more mainstream and more widely taught, it has become accessible to wider range of practitioners of all ages. Proponents of this sort of training argue that it is safe for anyone, of any age, with varying levels of competitiveness.