The idea of pitting martial artists from different disciplines against each other with the goal of finding the most effective empty hand style for real life combat situations probably goes back beyond many recorded histories. But to trace the development of modern Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA we only have to go back a little more than a hundred years.
At the tail end of the age of European imperialism, bare knuckle matches between fighters from many schools of wrestling and boxing (or kickboxing) and many different parts of the world were common throughout Europe and the Pacific Rim in places like Japan and the Philippines. These contests lead to a great deal of interdisciplinary study and the exchange of knowledge and techniques, and so the west learned of the eastern arts and vice versa.
Around this time in Brazil, the now world famous Gracie family were developing their style of grappling which is now called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ for short. Their brand of Jiu-Jitsu eventually found its way into the side show attraction matches known as Vale Tudo or “anything goes”.
In these matches time after time the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu would triumph. Not simply because of superior technique, but because of its constantly evolving style which made it more adaptable and harder to predict. BJJ did so well that Carlos Gracie issued the famous “Gracie Challenge” in the 1920s. He challenged masters of any other discipline to come test their art against his in a Vale Tudo style match. But it would still be some time before MMA would show up in America.
There were some inter-disciplinary matches in the U.S.A during the early half of the twentieth century, usually between traditional boxers and professional wrestlers, and usually the wrestler won. But it wasn’t until 1993 when the first televised UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, was broadcast that America took notice and MMA took hold.
The phrase “Mixed Martial Arts” was coined two years later by Rick Blume, the president of “Battlecade”, an extreme fighting promoter. Battlecade is no more but the phrase Mixed Martial Arts Doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
It has only been two decades now since these anything goes matches hit the shores of America, but already their effect has been tremendous. The Philosophy of people like Bruce Lee, who was recently called the father of MMA by the president of the UFC, who said the that the ultimate fighter was not kung fu fighter, or a karate fighter, or a grappler; he was a fighter who could take the best from all the styles he came across, keeping what worked for him and discarding the rest, has infected 3 generations of American youth and further fanned the fires of martial arts obsession that got stoked up in the 70s with all the kung fu movies coming out of Hong Kong.
As the MMA community grows, so does our understanding of all aspects of hand to hand combat and self defense, and we get ever closer to finding the ultimate fighting style.