The Difference between Traditional Martial Arts and Mixed Martial Arts

 By Frank Dux;
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Frank Dux is considered by some as the father of Mixed Martial Arts.
Despite its name, ‘Mixed Martial Arts’ is not, technically speaking, a martial art.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a professional sport.
It is a business and its athletes are paid to compete. Not that that is a bad thing.
Today there are some who accuse the MMA of corrupting and exploiting traditional Martial Arts without giving them credit.
Frank Dux’s exploits became widely known after the 1988 film Bloodsport starring Jean Claude Van Damme [as Frank Dux] became in international success.
The perception the MMA publicity machine projects is that “Today’s modern age MMA training is superior to traditional Martial Arts in terms of preparedness in dealing with street crime. All you have to do is just look and compare the physique of an MMA teacher versus the traditional martial art instructor to know this to be true.”
This claim is self-serving, flawed and deceptive, since it fails to take into consideration that a possible weapon, legal entanglements, or an inhospitable environment are some of the more common variables that are needed to be taken into account when planning a strategy or determining which types of tactics are better suited to produce a favorable outcome.
Unfortunately, these elements are not part of any dedicated MMA curriculum or training regiment.
As the Chinese strategist and author of the “Book of War”, Sun Tzu, correctly states, “Battles are won or lost before they are ever fought.”
All forms of martial arts exist according to the Law of Complimentary opposites. “There can exist no cold without hot.” Likewise, there exists no infinitely superior way of martial arts but there does exist the infinitely superior martial artist.
Frank Dux (right) trained the actors in the fight scenes on the film set of Bloodsport.
The claim being touted that MMA training is superior to all other martial art disciplines is, therefore, logically, observably, and historically, invalid.
If you don’t believe me then try convincing US Special Forces personnel stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington. They will laugh and let you in how they were taken in and impressed by the MMA sports event hype.
These Green Berets explored the possibility of integrating MMA fight training into their training. So they turned to their contracted civilian trainer/adviser, a traditional martial artist who did not agree.
The traditional martial artist found his personal opinion being challenged and a match was arranged with a respected and dedicated professional MMA fighter. Many thought the traditional martial artist was doomed, and would be taken to ground, completely outclassed in the grappling arts.
But his martial arts training and instincts are not sports orientated and he dominated the situation in a lightening fast and very unsportsmanlike manner. He violated the assumed accept rules of engagement as he began shoveling dirt into the mouth of this MMA legend, suffocating him.
Invariably, the difference between MMA sport fighting versus pragmatic battlefield skills training is the mindset of a warrior. One that will improvise, adapt and overcome. This was made clearly visible by this happenstance.
Playing by the rules he was certainly outmatched, but when it comes down to defending one’s life there exist no rules or referee. His opponent, being sports orientated, was ill prepared in his action and thinking, unable to take into account the way his situational environment could and would be used against him. This vulnerability stemmed from perfecting his skills and tactics in a controlled MMA gym environment.
The term “Mixed Martial Arts” is misleading given it suggests to the uninitiated that this a system of self defense that is a compilation of many systems; a “best of the best” taken from a wide range of different traditional and modern Meiji era martial arts disciplines, then honed down into one superior methodology over time.
This perceived “conglomeration” contributes to the glamorous and misleading illusion that MMA training is superior to other self-defense systems. The MMA industry facilitates this illusion by calling attention in advertisements to the Bruce Lee legacy and philosophy of avoiding “the classical mess” — using only what is personally useful and disregarding the rest.
But the suggestion there is a shortcut to attaining proficiency in the martial arts is a falsehood.
The term “Mixed Martial Arts” aka “MMA” was created out of necessity in the rebranding of the unsuccessful Gracie family- run UFC that had promoted this sport under the “No-Holds-Barred” aka “NHB” banner.
The harsh critics of the UFC and MMA, in general, allege that the name change from NHB to MMA was made to legitimize their athletes and transform them from being viewed as street thugs and brawlers into role models. The term MMA enabled the UFC to expand their market share by way of enrolling and attaching itself to the expansive traditional martial art community irrespective of the fact that this full-contact sport’s athlete’s skill sets at that time predominately had little to do with Traditional Martial Arts training, at all.
Their skills being more a back alley eclectic mixture of bar room bare knuckle boxing accompanied by some basic modernized Brazilian JuJitsu or Greco Roman wrestling.  Rounds and weight classes were introduced, along with the removal of certain martial arts strikes and holds that would be no longer permitted. The spongy matting thickness provided an unfair advantage by complimenting the tactics of Brazilian Jujitsu.
The reason for having reinvented UFC has been linked to allegations that the UFC originators, the Gracie family, were barred from having their NHB events take place in Las Vegas because they engaged in offsite betting, fixing fights by controlling the judges, referees and embellishing the records and skills of inferior opponents.
The latest scandal alleges that the UFC is attempting to monopolize the martial art industry by establishing UFC gyms in competition with Traditional Martial Arts schools while at the same time committing trade libel by calling attention to how very few “traditional martial art practitioners” compete in MMA, suggesting the reason is that Traditional Martial Art training is inferior to MMA.
The presumption of any martial art training system possessing superiority is a fallacy since the outcome of a violent conflict is always dependent on chance and circumstance — a long list of unpredictable variables, aside from the comparative skills and capabilities of the people involved, the situation, setting etc.
Logically, the premise of evaluating and weighing the real life combat effectiveness of any type of martial art system or individual cannot be determined through any sporting event. These events have in place a set of rules that are put there to protect an athlete, that invariably handicap those who diligently train “to kill” or “maim” rather than “KO” their opponent.
Comparatively speaking, this is no different than putting a tank in the ocean and expecting it to prevail in a naval battle as testimony to its fighting worthiness. And while battleships are equally made of steel and have guns they are not made the same since they were created to serve a different purpose.
It is also foolish and unreasonable to accept the premise that a person’s physical appearance and fitness is relevant in determining martial art prowess. YouTube is filled with examples of unassuming ordinary looking people dropping with a single punch or kick some aggressive steroid raged Adonis towering over them.
The notable distinction to be made between the similar but, nonetheless, two different martial art worlds, the Mixed Martial Art from the Traditional Martial Art world, all seemingly boils down to a matter of “attitude.”
First and foremost, great figures in history make the distinction between success, which begins by not confusing it with accomplishment. While success involves the steps undertaken to achieve one’s ideal or goal, accomplishment represents one’s historical trail of behavior, good or bad.
The emphasis placed upon honorable conduct and martial art etiquette — which is absolutely necessary to produce military bearing, a code of conduct with the kind of disciplined mind as to not violate it — is noticeably absent in the MMA subculture.  The undisciplined, hedonistic, episodic behavior of its MMA icons must be considered, at best, to be brutish, backstabbing, petty and intrusive at times.
MMA sports stars, by way of their own admission in televised interviews, often reveal that their accomplishments and success are meaningless to them, unfulfilling to the soul, and fleeting.  Inasmuch as the all-time, most popular MMA athlete of the UFC, Rhonda Rousey, notably, suffers a competitive loss to Holly Holme and then confesses publicly as to how she contemplated suicide over it.
Self absorbed and consumed by her pre-fight over-confidence, her lack of graciousness and humility, haunted her.
A still from a video, reportedly of Frank Dux (left) fighting an opponent in a real Kumite no holds barred fight. Dux is seconds away from landing a knock out blow.
Showing respect for one’s opponent is the visible characteristic that defined the first MMA matches of Traditional Martial Arts, called amongst other things “Kumite” as portrayed in the cult film classic Bloodsport, which inspired a new generation of fighters and is responsible for having breathed life into the MMA movement.
Things are different now, consumed with asserting a new identity of fighters gone wild and so out of control that MMA might as well stand for “Meanspirited Milleneal Attitude”
Most of the MMA fighting stars I encountered by the end of their career appear to be lost, undisciplined souls, more concerned with how they are going to be accepted and perceived by the public as fighters versus becoming known for their self-sacrifice to others – the way of the warrior or “martial way”.
The critically important development and construction of the mindset of MMA practitioner or for that matter any professional athlete is observably foreign to a military minded martial artist. Mixed Martial Arts may not be considered in any real sense of the word a reflection of martial (military) arts training, especially, speaking philosophically.  One chief reason for this is that they don’t bother teaching ethics, honor and sense of duty. Military traits.
The attainment of honorable accomplishments, logically, requires honorable behavior.  It roughly means acting in accordance to rules of engagement in war, or in peacetime, enacting and following a code of ethics moving toward “positive uplifting outcomes.”
Ethics are taught and typically originate in accordance to one’s religious convictions and for the non-religious secular person, their ethics tend to stem from peers. Plural approval.
One inescapable, observable truth about ethics is that it is easy to be ethical if doing so coincides with personal self-interest. Ethical behavior is only painful when the right thing is not the most desired thing to do in one’s best interest.  It becomes painful when it requires sacrifice now for a moment in the future.
Both ethical behavior and goal-attainment are facilitated through self-control: mental self-management, overriding impulses, breaking compulsive cycles, and doing things that need to be done, even if they are not fun or enjoyable.
Likewise, what separates Traditional Martial Arts from the Mixed Martial Arts subculture is that the traditional are equally, if not more concerned with the perfection of self-control and the desire to use it to become a more accomplished person who is able to maintain a code of ethical behavior in life; be capable of making the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their family, comrades and country.
The ideals of duty and honor are paramount.
That is not to say all MMA or full contact combat sports enthusiasts are less ethical or brutish. Notwithstanding, the central focus in MMA training and its subculture is winning and being noticed. Fame and fortune in the MMA world is paramount.
Indeed with few exceptions the MMA subculture is void of the customary martial arts trappings or protocols that instill ethical actions, a code of conduct or for that matter a basic “respect for self and others.” The very nature of the MMA subculture promotes anti-social behavior when its biggest stars, like Brock Lesner, can be viewed spitting on audiences, or the disrespectful conduct at weigh-ins, with thugs hurling epithets, chairs and punches at each other.
van damme y frank dux
Frank Dux (left) trained Jean Claude Van Damme to play him in Bloodsport.
The subculture displays the opposite decorum of a disciplined military mind. When Traditionalists face off to compete they customarily bow or salute, demonstrating their mutual respect. The MMA pattern of behavior and what appears to be a glorification of antisocial thug life is the antithesis of any traditional martial arts decorum.
It is this author’s personal theory that the secret to perfecting how to remain ethically intact under duress is attained by perfecting the “way of war” itself, which is an art and a science. For instance, being properly trained and mentored in the attainment of military skills will instill the mental discipline to remain undistracted, stay focused for long periods of time, act with measured force, and follow through even under duress.
Self-discipline is necessary for goal-attainment.  The experience of combat, be it for sport or real life and death, teaches the student that each of us are responsible for our actions that may be foreseeable or inadvertently cause great or small suffering for ourselves or others, possibly involve life and death.
As Frank Dux advanced in age, he maintained the way of the warrior fighter.
Notwithstanding their respective differences, the MMA and Traditional Martial Artists do have things in common. Each must learn to coordinate multiple actions toward one goal that begins with one having established a strong foundation and building from there. To succeed, both must master the fundamentals of a skill or task to achieve higher goals; to remain in control as in one’s breathing, regardless of the chaos going on around us, the level of danger and stress.
And we come to understand how to achieve positional superiority in order to dominate our adversary or an environment, which requires the correct skills and a disciplined mindset.
Aside from the obvious, that both Mixed Martial Arts and Traditional Martial Artists possess combative skill sets and condition themselves for trauma, it is only the truly “Traditional Martial Art based and not the “Sport Based” MMA martial artist who is visibly defined by one thing that sets both groups apart, in its teachings and all its benefits.
It is the discernible way Traditional Based Martial Arts embraces and cultivates self-discipline in manner that honors and incorporates traditions, ethics and etiquette that transcends space and time, instilling some universal human lessons by which to be both successful and accomplished outside of the world of martial arts.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during his "Make America Great Again Rally" at the Grand River Center in Dubuque, Iowa, Tuesday, August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ben Brewer
Donald Trump told The New Yorker that Bloodsport is an old favorite of his. The movie follows Frank Dux, a U.S. soldier entering a violent, underground martial-arts competition. Dux did the choreography for all the fight scenes.

About the author

Frank Dux

Frank William Dux (born 1956) is a martial artist and fight choreographer. Dux established his own school of ninjutsu in 1975, called "Dux Ryu Ninjutsu". An article about his exploits, which appeared in Black Belt in 1980, was the eventual inspiration for the 1988 film Bloodsport starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.


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  • you can only encounter a real person who achieved MASTER title at mountains or in the streets just walking around smiling peacefully. Master title does not mean you achieved black belt or what degree it is. trust me.

  • To the contrary I did not get it wrong from the horses mouth and his friends/students who conveyed it.

    Lets be logical. The story doesn’t bolster myself or the story for that matter as the truth served the point better.

    Ask yourself this, why didn’t Kelly contact me right after I asked him him to review the story… The answer is obvious, allowing me to correct it deprived him of an opportunity to ride on my coattails to draw attention to himself.

    The whole rebuttal is nothing more than an article about how great Worden is while taking pot shots at me as I go all over world and people who aren’t martial artists know my name NOT Worden.

    My name is acknowledged as source contributor in numerous military manuals worldwide, e.g. US Navy SEAL SpecWar Manual k431-0097. I could have just as easily related a personal story whereas, I, did something similar in a real fight in front of a crowd.

    Point is obvious Worden takes a bite out of me to attach his name to mine to gain attention to himself by which to sell his services and products — why the big write up about himself in his “rebuttal” hardly — its called “grandstanding”

  • Kelly Worden is already successful. He would have no other reason to correct your story than to just clear his good name.

  • Let me guess: You can’t divulge who this “MMA Champion” is, right? It’s “classified”, or “it doesn’t matter”, and no one else was around, right?

  • Sounds like whining to me, Frank. You’re the one who got it wrong, not Mr. Worden.

  • Well Greg the only taste of success some people have is when they attempt take a bite out of mine…

  • Dear Greg

    Thank you for the additional information.

    I spoke with Kelly who relayed the story and confirmed the fight and outcome to me prior to publication and perhaps I misunderstood all the details in his relaying it to me in the past. Two alleged unit SF members who I met confirmed and perhaps embellished it as did a Tacoma MMA promoter. So I attempted to corroborate the store as best I could.

    Regardless there exist plenty of other examples I could have selected — including personal encounters with MMA Champions one of which visited my home when I was living in Seattle who had a rude awakening between what works in the ring and what doesn’t outside of it — including a video YouTube of a man using sport MMA tactics that made him vulnerable and who ends up severely injured due to his being stabbed.

    It was not my intent to suggest in the article grappling has no value or missing from SF training regime nor is this a put down to MMA but it demonstrates what the difference is between the offensive mindsets and focus of a warrior vs that of a sportsman — how a warrior takes into account the use of his environment and improvises based on past experience and mental conditioning.

    Again, thank you for your comment and yes I concur how over time and the retelling of story is how tall tales get started.

  • Frank,

    I understand you took the time to call Kelly Worden (not “Warden”) to tell him of your article. Confusing is why you didn’t take a few moments more to fact check the account you gave regarding what is alleged to have occurred at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, at the 1st Special Forces Group compound, at the conclusion of scheduled training…back in 2012…five years ago.

    The military member you refer to was first and foremost that – a member of the military…a Soldier. He was a student at a Tacoma based Gracie studio, he was not an MMA champion or otherwise. No one even recalls if he was a fully qualified “green beret” in the unit. It was not a “match” or “challenge”, it was a kinetic training point which everyone learned from.

    Mr. Worden has taught / trained the Special Operations units at JBLM since the early 1990s. His programs are influenced by what the war fighters – the fully qualified and experienced SF, Rangers, CCT, and others share with him they need. I’ve read letters from and spoken with those who have relied upon what they learned from Kelly in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere – in hand to hand – and who have won. And winning is the only thing that counts, as you know.

    And Mr. Worden has always included ground fighting in his programs of instruction. A bit of research would have revealed that.

    Mr. Worden is a welcome guest whenever he is available to visit the compound. He has received numerous letters, certificates, and plaques from his SOF commanders, cadre, and students there. Your information was inaccurate and misleading.

    As for the student/Soldier who got a mouthful of dirt…if he was a fully qualified GB and he complained about it…he ain’t that tough. The first day of Selection is far, far, far worse. Trust me.


    Greg Walker (ret)
    USA Special Forces
    “No Fallen Comrade Left Behind”

  • Frank, I never really considered MMA in that light until you shared us your thoughts in this enlightening article. I learned something today. Thank you.