Under: martial arts, MMA
21 May 2011

MMA has a way or turning the martial arts world on its ear. I remember back when the UFC started and this skinny guy trained in jiu-jitsu took the contest! I thought, wow – what a fluke! Everyone knew that wrestling around on the ground would not win any fights! Now almost 18 years later, UFC 1 changed fighting!

The more traditional martial artists like myself have had a love-hate relationship with MMA. You see it has proven to be a way to test various techniques within the framework of the rules – to see if  they have any merit. You see martial artists take techniques taught to them at face value – meaning if our sensei says it will work – we believe it.

MMA has changed all of that to a point. It is not quite self defense because there are a lot of rules compared to self defense but it is the closest and most exciting fighting constest probably since the Roman arenas! Today’s martial arts students see and hear a lot about various fighting methods. Students know what is fairly realistic in a fight and what skills are just a piece of the puzzle.

In this post I will first speak of my frame of reference  so you can evaluate my thoughts about MMA, Steven Seagal. Then I will focus on the trend I have been seeing in MMA where more traditional arts are coming back into these modern gladiators fighting skill sets.

First for your persual here is a video of Steven Seagal being interview after Machida’s recent win.




Master Steven Seagal is kind of an anomaly as he has trained in Japan in various martial arts but is mostly known for Aikido. To be truthful here I did not know he was a master of Kendo or that he also has black belts in Karate and Judo. You see I did not hear about Seagal until his movies started coming out in the late 1980’s.


While I like his fighting style in the movies I did not think he really fought like that because there were a lot of strikes. Then in the early 1990’s while developing his bad boy image the challenge happened. After reading about that I just assumed that anyone that talked smack about karate – made a challenge and then would not back it up (he said he could beat anybody in the world and then something to the effect that if he fought – he would have to kill them) – could not back it up.


You see at that point I thought Steven Seagal was a movie stunt man with some Aikido background. Unfortunately I formed an opinion without very much information and recently when some bloggers have been ranting about the Lord of Pasta… I’ve not thought much about it. You see formed my opinion in the early 90’s and I assumed Seagal was just another tough talking stunt man and dismissed it.


I loved Steven Seagal movies because the fighting seemed more realistic. I’ve always hated to see fights last a long time because in real life, if one of the fighters is a trained fighter – fights last seconds. One minute in a one-on-one fight is an eternity. Here is one of the more recent movie parts where he got a chance to show off some of his kendo skills.




So if you will now (like me) accept that Steven Seagal is not merrily pigeonholed in one martial arts discipline but truly knowledgeable in many martial arts – you have to once again accept that another martial artist is helping MMA evolve fighting again!


This has been a pet peeve of mine because since the early days of UFC, karate style fighters tried to mimic the tougher looking Boxing and Muay Thai front stances and lost much of the defensive nature of their arts. Soon most of karate schools started to teach Jiu-Jitsu to stay relevent to today’s students.


Here is my complaint… the skills most sport karate fighters learn early on – how to keep the distance  with kicks and then bridge the gap for the strikes whenever one has an advantage has been lost. The current batch of reality show bred MMA fighters give the fans exactly what they want! Exciting fights where two guys (or even gals now) meet in the middle of the ring and vie for knockout of the night without applying much fighting tactics.


Now before you MMA types flame me here – keep in mind when I say “much fighting tactics,” I’m not speaking of tactics within the box but rather trying new stuff like karate, judo, aikido, or whatever martial arts that have been generally dismissed by MMA today.


I’ve really enjoyed watching Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida fights because both of them have used distance to their advantage. Why when I was watching some Silva fights where the crowd was booing him – I thought he fought a great fight.


A match of any kind exists within the framework of the rules in the event. While I agree it is boring to the fans to see a fighter ahead on points – just going through the motions to get the win -I understand it. Think of it this way – when Silvia beat Maia, he had to win a few rounds decisively before he could afford to fight more defensively and cruz to a victory! I mean why would he risk winning at that point?


I’ve watched Machida win bouts while he fought from outside the normal distance. That is typically a sport karate (not kick boxing) strategy that is more along traditional karate lines of thought. I mean why risk your bacon until you have an advantage? When Machida won his title – karate practitioners the world over were rooting for him.

So I for one do not think there is any “best” martial art or a most effective way to fight MMA. I will grant you there are more generally accepted ways of fighting MMA but as soon as one dismisses a formal style and forgets how to defend against it – it will probably come back and bite you in the butt! 😈

Master Seagal was not well known when I owned my karate school. So now that I know more about him – I do not begrudge him for saying he is the best in the world. Others have made that claim including me (privately) because to be a good fighter – one has to believe he is the best in the world or what are you doing as a fighter? I mean if you do not believe that one a good day – you can take anyone – anywhere – give up. You have no business fighting as you will defeat yourself way before the other guy does.

Now that I understand that Steven Seagal is the real deal and not just a stunt man with some marital arts skills – it is only natural and wonderful to see him bringing his own view of martial arts to MMA! There is a saying in investing that probably holds true for fighting too… find out what everyone else is doing (read investing) and don’t do it. Fighters could stand to take some advice from financial types here.

A good MMA does not have to know jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and boxing to make it. There is certainly not anything wrong with these martial arts but if everyone else is doing it – that is a good reason to branch out and find a different path.

Aikido as most understand is a martial art that take years to become proficient at. A master not only has to understand distance, holds, locks, throws but has to master him/her inner spirit – known as ki. Fighting while mostly defensive in traditional Aikido (to my understanding) become second nature. In my Masters thesis for my 5th dan ranking I stated this about Aikido:

Aikido was born out of a need for a gentle martial art for a former Jiu Jitsu instructor weakened by scarlet fever (Lewis 70). Aikido does not use the violent throws of Judo, the chokes of Jiu Jitsu and the kicks and punches of karate, but uses an opponent’s own force against him. Aikido has similarities to religions because of the mind control needed to be successful at this art. The concept is to help an attacker to achieve his goal, for an example, pulling a punch, then moving slightly to let the punch crash into a wall. The Aikido stylist did not stop the punch or hit the attacker, bu merely helped the punch flow through faster, thereby missing the intended target. Aikido is a martial art that combines unique defensive techniques with a guiding philosophy that molds a practitioner’s character and inner harmony. Aikido has the effect of unifying the mind and body to create “KI” (pronounced kee), a force that focuses the spirit and enables the serious practitioner to accomplish seemingly supernatural feats (Lewis 70+).


So Master Steven Seagal is probably the perfect instructor to give Anderson “the spider” Silva and Lyoto “the dragon” Machida an fresh perspective to help their MMA. I found a video of Seagal teaching. I hope you have enjoyed my view of MMA’s latest hot new trend – getting back to basics! :)




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6 Responses to “Master Seagal Mentors the Spider and the Dragon?”

  1. Nathan Says:

    Nice! I expanded on one part here: http://tdatraining.blogspot.com/2011/05/todays-quote-john-zimmer.html
    Nathan recently posted..Today’s Quote- John ZimmerMy Profile

  2. KarateStylist Says:

    RE: “Master Seagal Mentors the Spider and the Dragon?”

    As a karate stylist, I think your article shows a lot of depth that the sport boxing & MMA crowd are missing. There’s an enormous amount of criticism out there on Seagal; on his personal habits some rings true.

    As a teacher, however, he is well regarded by those who know him, though far from perfect. I myself would NEVER laugh off the man or his ability.

    My view on Machida is that, as you have observed, he is very caught up in the Shotokan Kumite, point-fighting style. After browsing around your blog, your personal tournament style seems to be the exact opposite of Lyoto’s.




  3. Dr. J Says:

    I’m a bit ambivalent in my opinion about Seagal as my only real knowledge of him is his movies and his often, ego-centric interviews.

    At this point, I still choose to believe that, within reason, the fighter is more important than the fighter’s style.

    As for MMA, I like it, yet there are obvious defensive holes as illustrated with no blocking of below the belt kicks and the frequent time outs where the fighter has to recover from this oversight.

  4. Matt Klein Says:

    Like you John, I was mesmerized when 180 lb. Royce Gracie took on 240 lb. guys. I started training in Jujitsu right after that. I was in for a rude awakening. Guys much smaller tied me up in knots within seconds. I slowly learned, but more important, came to respect groundfighting. You cannot always control when and the fight goes to the ground, even if you are an outstanding striker.

    MMA is supremely practical for the street as it makes you strong as an ox, able to fight for a long time, and as tough as nails. You only need to look at the ground n pound to see its practicality. We have added it to our syllabus. As an instructor, I dive right in with the guys and do it. I love it! Granted at 52, I don’t recover as quick as the young guns.

    As there are rules, guys from backgrounds such as Kenpo are at a big disadvantage. No tiger claws, eye rakes and gouges, groin kicks, etc. I like having the streetfighting background of Kenpo with the physical toughness that MMA develops. As for Aikido, not sure why there have been no champions from that background in MMA. It would be great to see if someone could emerge to prove its value in MMA.

    I believe that Muay Thai reigns supreme for MMA preparation, due to its powerful knees and elbow strikes, although the modern Dutch version shows me alot. Wrestling is fantastic for the takedowns and ground n pound, while BJJ is the best on the ground. We are learning all of them. I have never been so fired up in my martial arts career.

    I think Seagal has walked the walk as a martial artist, but I don’t believe he should take credit for two kicks that have been around forever; the crane kick and the teep or front snap kick. However, both fighters seemed to support Seagal’s assertion that it was his idea. Go figure.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Seven Lessons I’ve Learned Since Becoming A Martial Arts Instructor for KidsMy Profile

  5. Jason Says:

    I really dislike Seagal but that my opinion, I agree about the MMA for the streets, you stand a better chance even against two attackers with a good MMA background.

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Nathan,… regarding your post: “In MMA itself, you used to see some techniques work a lot of the time, such as a flying knee, superman punch, and spinning backfist. Not used as much, or not as successful. Just wait…”

    Totally agree :)

    Hi KarateStylist, Thanks for stopping by and giving this a read. Agree about Machida – but my fist love is sport karate. That was my first proving ground and what I have always excelled at.

    Hey Dr. J!

    I’m with you on the low kicks… MMA is not perfect but it the best equalizer we have right now. :)

    Hey Matt!

    I like you do not thing Seagal brings anything new to MMA but I do think he is the flavor of the month… fresh insight is always good to shake things up. :)

    Hi Jason – Yep I agree more skills are better than less. If the MMA guy can keep it on his feet – multiple attackers can work too!