MMA: A good thing for Phuket?
PHUKET: Three kick-boxing or mixed martial arts (MMA) proponents have been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent months.
Thursday 12 January 2012, 09:51AM
Lee Adhouse is fighting extradition from the UK to Thailand where he is wanted for trial for the stabbing murder of US Marine Dashawn Longfellow; American Jake Bordes is out on bail, awaiting trial for snatching handbags from women tourists; and professional MMA fighter Junie ‘Lunatik’ Browning was involved in a brutal brawl in Karon, the outcome of which has yet to be settled.
All three were training, or had trained, in specialist martial arts camps in Phuket at the time of their problems with the law.
Is martial arts training attracting the wrong people to Phuket? Shaven-headed, muscle-obsessed, tattooed men with a propensity to explode into violence at the slightest provocation?
Or are these three the exceptions in what is otherwise a serious sport where the only damage is done in the ring or the cage?
MMA, which seems to attract the most criticism, perhaps because of the blood that often flows during matches, is a full-combat sport featuring two men (or much less commonly, two women), wearing shorts and fingerless gloves, fighting in a cage or a ring, the aim being to knock out the opponent or make him submit.
A wide variety of fighting techniques are allowed in a fight, both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground.
Techniques are adapted from conventional boxing, Muay Thai, various kinds of wrestling, judo, karate, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and other styles, and combined to devise the most effective offence and defence.
Professional MMA was introduced in the United States in 1993 by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, still the largest MMA promotion company in the world. The no-holds-barred violence of early matches shocked many
Americans to the point where many states banned matches. The sport was slammed as “human cockfighting”.
But by 2001, MMA had introduced rules that allowed the sport to be sanctioned by most state athletic commissions, which resulted in it being legalised in 45 states in the US plus countries such as Canada and Sweden.
Weight classes, the wearing of small open-fingered gloves, and time limits were introduced. Head-butting, eye gouging, hair pulling, biting and a variety of other actions were banned.
Despite ongoing criticism that MMA is brutal and degrading, it has gone from strength to strength ever since.
But debate continues as to whether MMA promotes violence and aggression, not only among fighters but also in the live and TV audiences.
Behavioural studies have been carried out on various martial arts but the results are inconclusive.
Some studies purported to find links between adolescent viewing of violent TV and risk-taking behavior. But a recent study of the relationship between watching MMA and violence concluded that watching cage fighting may actually promote social bonding and may encourage people to take up active sports.
The 2007 study, by Dr Nancy Cheever, assistant professor of the Communications Department of California
State University Dominguez Hills, was based on an online survey of 3,500 MMA fans throughout the world.
Ninety per cent of them, the study concluded, found fighting skills and techniques the most interesting part of the spectacle, and the one that sparked the most discussion.Less than 20 per cent of the viewers admitted to enjoying watching blood fly and men damaging each other.
More than half of the respondents reported that they never felt like fighting after watching a match, and less than 15 per cent admitted to engaging in aggressive behavior directly after watching a fight.
Dr Cheever concluded that MMA fans in general appear not to posses the hypermasculine traits associated with combat sports enthusiasts, nor do they seek out danger or take unnecessary risks.
One man a great deal closer to MMA is ‘Magical’ Ray Elbe, 29, head MMA instructor at the Tiger Muay Thai and MMA Training Camp in Rawai.
Surrounded by the thud of boxing gloves on sandbags, jiujitsu black belt holder Elbe admits with a grin, “Some people think MMA looks like a dog fight.” He winks before adding, “Different cultures. Different ideas. You have to see the techniques.
You can’t judge from men fighting in a cage.
“MMA is sport, just like other sports. You come [to it] with your own reasons. Then you have to work out every day to push yourself as hard as you can.”
He has observed that people are drawn to MMA for a variety of reasons: to boost self-confidence, to help them lose weight, for the pleasure of making new friends, or as an outlet for self-expression.
One of the professionals training at the Tiger Muay Thai and MMA Training Camp is Korean Seung Ho ‘Tommy’ Yang, 21, who says he’s been practicing MMA for six years because it makes him “a better person”.
When he was young, he says, and before he started training in MMA in South Korea, he was a “cocky guy”.
But now, he says, “When I fight, I feel like I can do something good. I’ve learned to respect people, and I’ve learned to be humble.”
To defeat his opponent, Tommy believes he must respect the opponent as much as he respects himself.
Respect for others in practitioners seems to be a theme of martial arts training. Before MMA was born, a 1989 study by T A Nosanchuk and M L MacNeil examined the aggressive tendencies of participants in combative sports such as karate, tae kwon do and jiujitsu offered in seven schools.
They concluded that these kinds of combat improved participants’ mental health. The study also charted a correlation between the length of time practicing and participants’ respect for others.
Nosanchuk and McNeil’s research also concluded that, in general, the more advanced a participant was, the higher his levels of respect for others.
However, intermittent reports of fighters’ arrested in connection to crime still leave the lingering question: Does MMA result in violent or aggressive behaviour?
The statistics seem to answer, no. A check through various online media sources during 2010 and last year
shows that in the US and Canada approximately 40 professional cage fighters were arrested on charges varying from
brawling, drug abuse, theft, driving under the influence and reckless driving to sexual assault and murder.
But the number is not extreme by any means. For example, in the same period some 73 National Football League (NFL) players were arrested for various offences.
Tiger Camp instructor Elbe, who has been practicing MMA for 10 years, uses the pro-gun lobby argument (that guns don’t kill people; people kill people): “Crime is about crazy people. It’s not about MMA.”