The History of Mixed Martial Arts

Prior to the early 1990’s, martial arts were very divided and specialized. Each discipline showcased their unique specialized skill. Tae Kwon Do focused on kicking, Boxing on punching, wresting on takedowns. Kung Fu and Karate polished their forms and kata. If you were a Karate practitioner, a Kung Fu practitioner, or a kick-boxer, your skills were totally oriented towards striking. If you were a Judo practitioner, or wrestler, your skills were totally oriented toward grappling. Martial artists, by in large, did not cross train.

The problem with this over specialization is that it is myopic in its perception of what really happens in self-defense situations. Real fights are not limited by rules that restrict techniques.They are a free-for-all; kicking, punching, opponents grab at each other and often grapple to the ground. It is not what is depicted in your average martial art movie, or for that matter your average martial art class.

In 1992 the world saw it’s first mixed martial arts tournament, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where Boxers, Karate practitioners, Kung Fu stylists, Judokas, and Jiu Jitsu practitioners competed against one another.This was a landmark event because it showed that many techniques taught at martial art schools were ineffective.
Royce Gracie vs. Art Jimmerson at UFC 1

Because of this tournament and others like it, the world of martial arts has undergone a revolutionary period of redevelopment. Strikers have learned that if you do not know how to grapple then you’re one tackle away from a person negating all your skills. Grapplers have learned that if you cannot get your opponent to the ground you have to strike. Schools that are interested in teaching real self- defense have incorporated techniques from other styles. Strikers have learned to grapple. Grapplers have learned how to strike.

In the late part of the 1990’s a new martial artists emerged – a hybrid athlete equally adept in striking and grappling. These martial artists no longer resemble traditional Karate people or even Judo practitioners. Thus these martial artists no longer wanted to be bound by the term Karate, Kung Fu, Judo, or wrestling because the art has evolved into something else. For that reason, the term Mixed Martial Arts is the name used to describe this unique hybrid combination of kickboxing, wrestling and Jiu Jitsu.


History of Belts

Though Martial Arts have existed for thousands of years, martial arts belt ranks did not exist before Jigoro Kano invented Judo in 1882. Kano was a remarkable man. Not only was he a brilliant martial art innovator, he was Japan’s leading educator of the time. Kano had very specific things in mind when he instituted the belt system. Above all, Kano was vitally interested in the development of the whole person. In his mind martial arts should be a vehicle to hone one’s physical, mental, and moral culture. Kano referred to the process of this development as the “Three Culture Principle” and based the elements of his Judo ranking system on it.

In 1883, Kano created the modern belt rank structure used by most martial styles. He divided his students into two groups: the Mudansha – student ranks and the Yudansha – Black Belt ranks. Student ranks were divided into 10 levels that he called kyu (class) ranks. He added 2nd through 5th Degree Black Belt dan (grade) ranks the following year.

Around 1930 Jigoro Kano created new belts to rec- ognize the special achievements of high-ranking black belts. Other arts such as the tea ceremony and swords- manship provided recognition for their masters in the form of a special teapot or sword. Jigoro Kano chose to recognize sixth, seventh, and eighth degree black belts with a special belt made of alternating red and white panels.The white color was chosen for purity, and red

for the intense desire to train and the sacrifices made.The colors red and white are an endur- ing symbol of Japan, and

they have been used in Judo since Jigoro Kano started the first Red and White Tournament in 1884. He also created the red belt to recognize 9th and 10th dans.

Other colored belts for students who had not yet achieved black belt originated later, when Judo began being practiced outside of Japan. Mikonosuke Kawaishi is generally regarded as the first to introduce various colored belts in Europe in 1935 when he started to teach Judo in Paris. He felt that western students would show greater progress if they had a visible system of many colored belts recognizing achievement and provid- ing regular incentives.

Karate came to Japan from Okinawa in the 1920’s. Until that time, Okinawa Karate students did not have special uniforms; they trained in their everyday clothes.When Gichin Funakoshi introduced Karate into Japan from Okinawa in 1922, he adopted the Judo belt ranking system and a modified Judo uniform in an effort to encourage Japanese acceptance of Karate. He awarded his first belt ranks in 1924. Most martial art styles that have ranking/belt color systems adopted them from Japanese Karate.