Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tang Soo Do v Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

A common topic among martial artists is which art is more "real", which one would be most useful in a real life and death situation. In recent years the televised proponderance of Mixed Martial Arts, Cage Matches, and Ultimate Fighting has added new vigor to the debate. Some of my students have wondered if the traditional style of Tang Soo Do had passed its usefulness.

Balderdash! There are two ways to break this down; the elements of the art itself, including methods of training, and the alignment of the art to the practitioner. I want to be very clear right up front that this is not meant as an assault on any martial art - they all have their value, and a highly skilled practitioner in any of the major arts is likely a effective weapon.

The MMA proponents often point to the popular live and televised matches, the somewhat brutal nature of the fights, and the "anything goes" motif. I'm never sure that brutality is necessarily an indicator of effectiveness, only a measure of, well, brutality. The directness and multiple elements of MMA (strikes, kicks, throws, grapples) certainly provides an attacker with more options for subduing an opponent than say America's classic martial arts, i.e. Boxing.

Then again, if you ever witnessed Mike Tyson in his prime you knew that even highly trained fighters could not get within an arms reach of Tyson before they'd get hit. Frequently, one hit would end the fight. Tyson spent all of his training focused on perfecting the punch. Jab, hook, upper cut, face, kidney, stomach, you name it; he perfected it. And the guy could take a hit. Forget grappling, you'd never get close enough. So, is boxing better / more effective than MMA? It probably was for Tyson.

The thing to remember is that all of the martial arts demonstrations you see on television (and make no mistake, they are demonstrations), is that they come with rules; rules which do not apply in the real world of self defense. For instance the defacto prohibitions for MMA / Ultimate Fighting are:
  • No headbutting.
  • No eye gouging.
  • No hair pulling.
  • No biting.
  • No fish-hooking.
  • No attacking the groin.
  • No strikes to the back of the head and spinal area.
  • No strikes to, or grabs of the trachea.
  • No small joint manipulation.
  • No intentionally throwing your opponent out of the ring/cage.
  • No running out of the ring/cage.
  • No purposely holding the ring ropes or cage fence.
  • No grabbing or putting a hand inside the trunks or gloves of the opponent.
Have you ever seen two girls fighting in a school yard. Both would be immediately disqualified for being too rough for MMA. To be fair, most of these rules also apply to Boxing, Judo, Karate, and Tang Soo Do. So much for "real." This brings me to the two points mentioned earlier:
  • All of the martial arts have their value, especially when the training regiment is examined
  • Effective fighters have matched the elements of the art to the persona of the artist
Tang Soo Do is, and is taught as, a very traditional martial art. Low stances, lots of repetition, hard blocking style, good breathing, and fundamental body movements. We routinely practice (read that as "reinforce to the point of instinct") strikes to the groin, temple, throat, spine, and joints. In a real self defense scenario, these will come forth without hesitation or thought. Does this make Tang Soo Do better than MMA, or Judo, or Boxing. Tang Soo Do works; it is effective. I'm not sure, beyond that, that there is any value in comparisons, except for the other bullet point above.

Tang Soo Do is a defensive art. We don't teach how to sneak into a hardened bunker and kill people. We teach how to defend - true, our philosophy is that even a defensive move can disable an attacker (referred to as Defense / Strike ). We also emphasize Il Kyuk Pil Sal, or one technique to finish, i.e. each block or strike should be so effective as to end the conflict. For me, a defensive art fits my psychology as I don't envision ever wanting to be an attacker. The best martial art is one that you'll actually use, if the time ever comes.

If you choose a style that uses a lot of eye pokes, and you're just not prepared to blind someone, then make another pick. The vast, vast, vast majority of the benefit of practicing an art is to maintain good body health, mental discipline, and achieve the self confidence that comes from not being in fear of those that would do you harm.


  1. I agree with your thoughts that's Martial art is one of the best ways for self defense and can be learnt very easily. Once you know the Martial Art Techniques and Martial Arts Equipments you will be able to protect yourself and your loved ones from any danger.

  2. Not balderdash. You need to do some real research on this topic, instead of repeating the traditional martial arts party line. All of these questions were settled 20 years ago in the first UFCs and Vale Tudo contests, back when MMA was called "no holds barred" fighting and there really were no rules other than against biting or eye gouging, either of which would result in a $1,500 FINE, BUT WOULD NOT CAUSE THE FIGHT TO BE STOPPED. In those early bouts all of the so-called "traditional" martial artists were easily beaten by grapplers such as the Gracies, Ken Shamrock, and Dan Severn, as were the kickboxers and couple of pro boxers. Modern MMA has taken the most effective techniques of grappling from Greco/Roman wrestling, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and the striking from boxing, Muay Thai, and kickboxing and combined them into a complete system. Currently the coaches from gyms such as Greg Jackson's in Albuquerque and American Top Team produce the finest martial artists on the planet, period. Martial arts such as Tang Soo Do, with their over reliance on hyung, 1 step sparring, and outmoded thinking such as the "each block or strike should be so effective as to end the conflict" are simply no match. Just so you know I studied with CS Kim and Joe Bruno 30 years ago in Monroeville and Bloomfield, and with another TSD black belt instructor in Scotland. I know what TSD is about.

    1. CS Kim had a great reputation. However, his organization did not turn out the best fighters. Traditional karate organizations are typically clubs where many participate, however few aspire past the commercialism which make the schools financially successful.

      The modern sports fighter and MMA'r loves to think they've discovered the latest & best. The truth is they haven't the least inkling of the martial principles underlying the traditional martial arts.

      CS Kim is a great advocate of the traditional karate model. Whether his schools adequately present those principles to the students or the students recognize the traditional TSD principles is the open question.

  3. Go find a good MMA gym and find a pro with a decent record. I bet you it wouldn't be hard to find one who would agree to a match with the expanded rules. Videotape the bout and upload it here. Until you do that, you are just another keyboard warrior.

    1. Apparently my blog has offended you to the point of name calling. I hope you find peace elsewhere.

    2. No, sir, he's not offended, he is challenging you to put your money where your mouth is. Ever since the first UFC, and even before that in challenge matches in Brazil, people have been saying what you're saying above. Check out, for example, the epic war of words between Wing Chun poster child Emin Boztepe and the Gracie family. Boztepe was asked to compete in an early UFC and turned it down, then became offended when some BJJ students - NOT the Gracies themselves - made some comments online about him being afraid to compete. Boztepe responded in a martial arts magazine by saying the UFC was fake and the Gracies were hucksters. Rorion Gracie and the UFC promoters bent over backwards trying to accommodate Boztepe's terms for a match, but at the end of the day he still would not fight. The Wing Chun fighters who DID fight in the UFC, Vale Tudo, and EFC were eliminated rather easily in early rounds, essentially proving the lack of credibility of that art. That has not stopped WC cheerleaders from posting all over the Internet about how MMA is "not like a real street fight" and how they would never go to the ground, though that is EXACTLY what happened to each one of their comrades who actually put it on the line - Scott Baker, David Levicki, Asbel Cancio, Felix Lee Mitchell, and Steve Faulkner. Similar fates felled Tae Kwon Do and TSD fighter Patrick Smith, TKD fighter Kimo Leopoldo, and 5th degree black belt in Shōrin-ryū Fred Ettish. Ettish unwittingly became the symbol for the ineffectiveness of traditional martial arts, as his opponent, who was also a karate fighter but who had a great deal of full contact experience, beat Ettish bloody before choking him out, despite having no grappling experience per se. Ettish took his medicine, trained in the techniques of MMA, and came back years alter to win an MMA bout in his 50s, something that few men would have the courage to do after losing so spectacularly.

      I could also name at least half a dozen of those early competitors from traditional stand-up arts who took up BJJ after being thoroughly humbled in their UFC outings. Two of the WC guys, Scott Baker and Asbel Cancio, went on to make pubic announcements blaming everything else but their art's lack of effectiveness for their losses.

      Why is this important? Kids enroll by the thousands in TSD, TKD, WC, and other arts that do not teach them what they need to know about dealing with being put on the ground. After decades of being a musician and watching bar fights I can assure you that in almost every case the fight became a grappling match, either in a stand-up clinch or going to the ground. I never saw anyone jump in to kick the aggressor on the ground, which is the stock line from stand-up karate people on why you shouldn't go there. FIGHTS GO TO THE GROUND! Contrary to what you say above, that's exactly what would have happened to Mike Tyson if he'd fought a good grappler like Mark Kerr or even a fair one like Tank Abbott.

      I understand about wanting to keep TSD pure, I really do. But don't go around touting its effectiveness compared to MMA unless you're willing to put it to the test.

    3. @Anonymous MMA'r

      I back your challenge of Mr. Meridith regarding, "... could Tang Soo Do stand up to MMA, the likes of Greg Jackson, etc."

      But I also have a challenge for you. It's the same challenge as M. Meredith's regarding the legitimacy of Tang Soo Do as an effective martial art.

      While your posts present valid issues, your stated positions on the superiority of MMA, sports cross training, etc. are largely rhetorical.

      The first step would be to separate M. Meredith's practice of traditional martial arts from the goals of the professional MMA competitor. M. Meredith seeks to impart the benefits of traditional TSD training to a wide, public audience. I doubt a significant percentage of his students are aiming a professional MMA careers.

      What would a video of the standard TSD black-belt in M. Meredith's class fighting an aspiring MMA competitor prove other than one is not preparing to become a professional fighter?

    4. @Anonymous MMA'r

      As a traditional karate stylist, I would be the first to congratulate the MMA experience with presenting a strong challenge to the traditional karate competitor.

      ON the Ground Game Issue.

      First, it is true that the traditional TSD curriculum is very rudimentary in the grappling area. No way do you receive the extensive training found in Judo or BJJ.grappling.

      So, why is this? The overall answer is put forth in M. Meredith's blog. TSD's aim is to provide you with both a martial skill foundation and a repertoire of certain, actual techniques. Your criticism of M. Meredith and TSD is technique-centric and discounts the foundation skills developed by traditional TSD.

      Second, traditional karate including TSD teach you to disable the opponent quickly. For the bar fighter-grappler or MMA competitor to reach me, he has to pass through striking zones. My job is to make sure he doesn't make it. That's the strategy.

    5. @October-2013AnonymousMMA'r.

      Thanks to M. Meridith for posting my comments.

      It's true that many, if not most so-called traditional martial artists have had dismal outcomes in actual MMA. The weakness in relying on such statistics is that they are just that.

      IMHO, the caliber of traditional martial arts skills I have seen in MMA is mediocre to poor, if competent at all. Many of these failing examples built there success in traditional martial arts on their natural physical athletic abilities and / or aggressive temperament. Against like-stiff competition, the lacking of a solid TMA base such as TSD affords caused them to wilt.

      Two notable exceptions to the strong TMA base succeeding in MMA are Machida and "Wonderboy" Thompson. I consider both kickboxers more that TMA practitioners, as far as their MMA technique.

      Despite all the rhetoric, Machida routinely bests most all the rank and file MMA competition. The outward skill he employs is very fundamentall Shotokan point fighting strategy. Machida's fundamantal karate base is not strong enough to defeat elite UFC competitors.

      Wonderboy, as opposed to the Shotokan speed strike strategy, utilizes more combination striking and complicated setups, akin to his American Kenpo roots. Wonderboys 1 UFC defeat was to Muay Thai & BJJ practitioner Matt Brown.

      Again, IMHO, both Machida and Wonderboy have large deficiencies in their TMA bases. Also, IMHO, the TSD curriculum is very sound in providing that TMA base, perhaps better than Shotokan and not so complicated in technique as Kenpo.

      The reason the failed MMA competitors so mentioned decried their TMA training is that they never understood it. The real challenge for the TMA practitioner is to fully understand and train the TMA principles which M. Meridith presents via TSD /// AND /// not to assume or become complacent in any success one has over your peer group who may be struggling just like the failed TMA'rs in MMA were.

  4. well writen, im a 2nd dan tsd, 1st dan kempo- ju jitsu, i got to 4th kyu in kyokushin,
    tsd, if studied well, is just like kempo ju jitsu,we maintain the locks and throws, all arts have taught me well, i have good instructors, but none of these arts are street arts, they all one on one.have rules, and referees, even vale tudo, the streets do not, if attacked , ask yourself, do i really want to go to ground?, seldom on the streets is it one on one, its not the art, its the fighter,i have done plenty of full contact, and have learned one thing, NEVER underestimate ANYONE, train, enjoy your chosen art, but dont think its the best one, the best art, is the one that suits you, your abilities, and your needs,
    self defence has NO rules, you will do/use what ever you need to defend yourself, but remember, the law courts will be waiting, so resonable force only,
    Cheers , wmacc


This blog is dedicated to learning, studying, and teaching martial arts.

Follow by Email