“Fight Science” : A No-Holds-Barred Review

Before I begin this review of Fight Science: Mixed Martial Arts, which was aired in January 2008 on the National Geographic Channel, I’d like to state for the record that I’m a fan, teacher and (naturally) a critic of the martial sciences.  It’s this last characteristic that I’d like to clarify.  I’m not the type of critic that gets pleasure from casting shadows on people, styles, or anything of the kind.  Personally (and the teacher in me) sincerely hopes that it’s moreso seen as “casting a light” than anything else.  There is a creed that every teacher should follow:  teach from the heart [with love]…teach the truth [without ego, without secrets, with honesty]…and become an example of what you teach.  Now, with that said…

Fight Science is a television program in which scientists and martial artists work together to discover the mysteries of the artform, the capabilities of the human body and the damage that the human body can cause with various striking techniques.  The latest episode of Fight Science featured four of the most prominent fighters of the Ultimate Fighting Championships: Randy Couture, Bas Rutton, Tito Ortiz and Dean Lister.  The questions were the obvious ones: how do these Mixed Martial Art (MMA) athletes compare to the average person, traditional martial artists, how much force/damage are they able to inflict and how is it possible that the human body can produce such results.

I’m not going to spoil the results for you.  You can watch and enjoy the program on your own.  However, I wouldn’t have decided to make this a blog entry unless I had something to say….

MICHAEL’S POINTS

NO STYLE, OR STYLE: We, the masses, obviously know that MMA is now a pop culture phenomenon.  It is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and clearly gives society a clear view of “what works” in an actual, real-to-life hand-to-hand combat (ok. minus the gloves + several rules governing safety).  Fight Science clearly made MMA fighters out to be the pinnacle of athletic excellence and implied MMA as the most effective “style” (if you call it a style).  Can MMA be a “style” when it’s just a combination of effective, battle-hardened techniques?  Isn’t this just what Bruce Lee did with Jeet Kune Do, but vowed never to refer to as a “style?”

Who,… What…umm…Who again?:  Exercise scientists tested these MMA stars on crash test dummies rigged with state-of-the-art, pressure measuring sensors.  When these researchers spoke to us (the audience) in terms like pounds per square inch (for the knowledgeable) and “concusionable” (for the less knowledgeable…[and ok, “concusionable” isn’t a word.] ), they neglected to give actual results.  How did these traditionalists (i.e. boxer, muay thai boxer, taekwondo “so-called experts”) fare result-wise?  Who were these so-called traditionalists and how close did they actually come to these MMA phenoms?  Not revealing this information only softens the argument that these MMA athletes are superior.

The Remark:  There was a remark regarding fighting as “a game of chess” in which a fighter uses strategy to plan several moves ahead.  I’ve heard this analogy before and think it’s utter nonsense.  Fighting is nothing like chess… it’s actually more like ping-pong.  Fighters simply react.  They react with a conditioned response forged by countless hours of training.  Fighting is not a sport that requires a great deal of intelligence (as the show implies).  Intelligence helps (don’t get me wrong)… but genetics, training, desire and the dent of hard work makes a much greater impression!  It’s like in the movie Top Gun when Maverick says (regarding an aerial dogfight), “You don’t have time to think up there…if you think, you’re dead.”  The instructor follows up by adding, “That’s one hell of a gamble with a 30 million dollar aircraft.”  My advice… don’t think like chess…. otherwise, “Yeeha, Jester’s dead.’

MMA less dangerous than boxing?  Hmmm…. okay, I see the logic.  The higher-ups are trying to justify MMA as being a less risky hobby/sport/profession than boxing due to lack of repetitive head trauma.  Avid fan of both here…. university graduate…umm…still not buying it.  Let’s look at these fighters at the end of their careers and count their aches, pains and nervous disorders shall we?  I’ll bet my pinky-toe that more MMA fighters are carried away on stretchers, visited the hospital more times and much more likely to become paralyzed when compared to the sport of boxing.

MMA fighters are saints… yeah…. I said it.  Ok, that’s a lie.  Ok, I’m going to do what a teacher should do and tell the truth.  There are some gentlemen in the sport.  “some”… not many.  The ones that spring to mind are George St. Pierre, Carlos Newton, Cung Le, Rich Franklin and (my favorite) Kazushi Sakuraba.  Apart from these examples…examples of stellar sportsmen… there are nearly twice as many ego-driven, barbarous “thugs.”  I understand the mindset of fighting “in the zone”… but a true martial art professional knows when his opponent is “out of commission.”  Hint… if you are a fighter and you see your opponent’s skull ricochet off the campus and limbs stiffen straight, don’t hit him again. He’s not faking!

Brain over Brawn: “MMA fighters are brain over brawn,” says the legendary Randy Couture.  (I roll my eyes sarcastically)  Well,… yes Mr. Heavyweight Champion.  My opinion is… in the UFC, don’t always bet your money on the bigger guy, however, it hasn’t been a true “David vs. Goliath” since the early days of UFC when they threw in a sumo wrestler.  But let’s face it…  Royce did a great job fighting at a natural weight of 170 lbs (give or take),  but he’s been doing jujitsu since he came out of the womb.  The reality is this…if you are under 200 lbs, plan on making the opponent miss… a lot.

Final Note:  Martial arts are more than mere strikes and arm-bars.  There is often neglected a spiritual side to the martial arts… and it is this side that I hope all martial artists are able to find.  Our goal as teachers is to help guide our students towards self-knowledge.  Our goal as students is to find meaning and bliss behind what we do.  I said once (3 years ago), that if I had it to do all over again… I would have become a fighter.  I wanted to fight in order to promote taijiquan as a legitimate fighting art and thereby draw more students into my studio (we all must make a living).  But that was all a fleeting thought.  My heart is in teaching and in spreading the art of Chen Style Taijiquan (among other things).  And although I think I can handle myself with a few of those guys, I’m not a big fan of being bruised…or bleeding for that matter.   And also…look at the statistics, even the “champion” and “hall-of’-fame” fighters lose one-out-of-four fights.  I’m content with my record of 0-0-0.  That’s undefeated, baby!

Final words,… Much respect to all martial artists, Mixed Martial Artists and Traditionalists alike.  Gracious bows to those masters that choose to fight honorably.

Overall review of this particular episode:  2 and a half stars (out of 5).  “I wish they didn’t sugar-coat the fighters and the UFC as much as they did.  The show and the athletes can stand on their own merit.  The animated skeletons, Bas Rutton’s comical remarks and the desire to write this review (having watched the entire show) were the only things that kept me from flipping the channel.  I can still hear Bas saying (about his biceps), ‘they’re not marshmellows.’  Did I mention he makes me laugh?”

Extended Question to Readers:

What was your take on the show?  Did I miss anything?  Do you disagree with anything any this review?  Anything you’d like to add?  (Don’t forget to mention if you’re a student, teacher, fan, fighter, or all-the above)

Michael Joyce

Article originally posted on Feb. 1 st, 2008

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