MMA is Older than You Think

Many consider MMA as a revolution in Martial Arts – the concept of studying different things simultaneously. And while MMA as a Sport is a recent development, the mixing of Arts is much older.



The UFC has reinvigorated sporting martial arts. In the beginning it was a test of different arts; different artist entered the ring to see who’s martial art was the best. As the UFC matured, it became evident that certain arts provided a distinct advantage in one area over another; grappling arts did better on the ground, while striking arts fared better on their feet. Soon competitors began to study multiple arts in order to have a more well rounded arsenal in competition. Thus gave birth to MMA. And while this term is relatively new, the concept is not.

Jeet Kune Do


Many credit Bruce Lee as the forefather of MMA with his system of Jeet Kune Do. Bruce Lee first went against the status quo by teaching foreigners Chinese martial arts – which was a big controversy within the Kung Fu community. He then developed his own martial art system by combining Kung Fu with other principles and techniques from other non-chinese arts. Many considered this revolutionary – which it was at the time – but the concept of combining arts predates even Bruce Lee.

Krav Maga


In the 1940’s, Imi Litchenfield began teaching a form of Street Fighting that combined different arts, such as boxing and wrestling, that he developed while defending the Jewish quarter in the 1930’s. He taught this in Israel to what would become the IDF (Isreali Defense Force); this became Krav Maga. As it continued to develop, it expand to take techniques from everything from Muay Thai to Judo. It was developed to teach citizens (who in Israel have to serve in the military) quickly how to defend themselves as soldiers in the IDF.

Krav Maga, and other arts like it weren’t the first system to combine arts to meet the needs of combat. These traditions go much further back to the ancient world.

Ninjutsu and Ancient MMA

 Martial Arts Traditions

The Infamous Samurai and Ninja of Japan often mixed their martial arts.

For example, we in the Bujinkan study 9 different martial arts from the Iga region of Japan. During the warring states period, this remote region of Japan became a melting pot where martial arts were shared by immigrants and disposed warriors. This developed into the legendary skills of the Ninja.

Even studying the arts in their most orthodox form, you can see clear influences on each other. The most closely related are Koto and Gyokko Ryu, originally Chinese arts that are often studied alongside each other. It is said that Kukishinden Ryu was particularly impressed with the movements of Shinden Ryu Taijutsu and adopted some of the principles into it’s system.

As units of Ninja and Samurai worked along side each other, certain ideas and concepts were shared. Many “Samurai” arts have bits and pieces of Ninjutsu in their scrolls.

Even the primary concepts of Ninjutsu – what we consider a Japanese art – most likely originated from Tsun Zu’s “Art of War” – a chinese treatise on Warfare (that is continued to be studied by Military and Martial Artists across the globe).

Japan of course doesn’t have a monopoly on mixing martial arts. We can safely assume that this was happening across the ancient world.

Every Art is Some Kind of MMA

No art develops in a vacuum – it is always influenced by the environment and participants surrounding the art. When tactics become less effective, new methods and weapons are developed.

This happens in the MMA ring as well. Brazilian Jiu Jutsu became popular when the Gracie Family dominated the Octagon using Gi chokes. When the UFC removed the Gi, practitioners had to rely less on that particular set of skills and supplement with more striking.

The concept of mixing martial arts has a long history connecting to the battlefields of the ancient world. And while the UFC has given new exposure to the concept, and Bruce Lee inspired a new generation to embrace this idea, it’s not really something new in the world of Martial Arts.


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2 thoughts on “MMA is not new

  1. John Doe says:

    As the term MMA suggest it’s mixed martial arts no I’m with half a brain would say that it is a unique system on its own as the very definition / title of this term suggests that it is a mix.
    I think this article was really to try and cement ninjutsu and virgin card etc as the groundings of martial arts in the ancient world and therefore today. This may be true however even that still has a farming Origin where people manually worked and develop skills moving their body around everything can be watered down to something else it’s the refinement that matters.

    • Shidoshi Hamilton says:

      A lot there in your comment to unpack. The goal of the article was not to say that our art was the foundation of MMA, or really anthything outside of what it is, only that there has been a long history of Mixing Martial Arts. Throughout history martial arts or systems were used together even if they did not originate in the same specific region. What is we study in the Bujinkan is actually 9 lineages that all intersect around the Iga region of Japan. Many did not originate in Iga, or even Japan. Not sure what you meant by “virgin card”. Also, it turns out that the “farmer developed martial arts to fight Samurai” is largely a myth. Most of the reputable Soke of lineages were actually Samurai class. In Okinawa, many of them were aristocrats. I agree everything can and often does get watered down, while others get more and more refined or change focus. The goal was not to be critical of mixing martial arts, or current MMA per se, but rather to clarify that the concept or idea is not new – ancient Japan was doing 500 years ago (as I imagine the rest of the world). Thanks for the comment! I’ll take a second read and see if I can’t clarify some of those points in the article.

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