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5 times traditional martial arts technique ended an MMA fight

For the majority of the sport's short history, traditional martial arts were mocked by fans and the vast majority of fighters who claimed the techniques useless. Things have changed...

This story is part of a far larger effort to understand what works effectively in martial arts. If you enjoyed it, check out more stories on:
Martial Arts on The Street
Mutual Combat
Dojo Storms


Prior to the birth of modern mixed martial arts in 1993, determining the superiority of each martial art was accomplished by argumentation. Legs are stronger than arms, so Taekwondo is the best. Duh. And so it went - everyone was better than average.

Then Art Davie was inspired by Rorion Gracie's efforts to develop a concept as simple as wheels on luggage - if you want to find out what martial art works best, have exponents of each martial art fight. The traditional martial arts fared terribly. 

It turns out, as many had long suspected, that if you put say a Goju Ryu expert against say a wrestler with an equal amount of training time, then most of the time, the karate man will be beaten silly. 

The percentage of techniques that work from, for example, Aikido, is very nearly none. The argument is sometimes made that these and related arts admittedly do fall short vs. a trained opponent, but work great on the street. That stance is ludicrous. It argues that, "sure our art doesn't have a jab or an underhook, but the principles are great I promise." Or arguing that, "sure with preparation and a safe environment it doesn't work, but, despite never receiving any head contact, if something explodes unexpectedly on the street, I'm good." 

Believing any of that reflects an unhealthy degree of delusion. That fantasy is doubtless buttressed by regular infusions of stories about the art working great, and as well by the comradeship of fellow misguided travelers. Astonishingly, despite the ubiquity of cell phones and security cameras, these incidents literally never can be actually seen. That is because they never happened.

The single most absurd argument is that the art contains techniques too dangerous for the ring or cage. These are typically life-threatening chi blasts, or eye gouges. The idea that a professional boxer or for that matter an MMA fighter doesn't know how to thumb an eye is possessed only by the most unfathomably ignorant among us. And the self-defense side of jiu-jitsu of course considers defense against eye pokes. 

There are pathetic buffoons who don't know how to stop a takedown, or get off the floor if they are taken down, but spend countless hours in activities like this one, and believe, with all the solemnity of an 11-year-old D&D player, that it benefits them. No slight on Dungeons and Dragons intended, it's fun!

Anyone who believes these finger wiggles while wiggling the head will protect them, would do well to consider what they would do if they were slammed down and mounted, and the aggressor was gouging their eyes. Then compare that to trying to land a tiny fingertip on a tiny eye, in a circumstance where is hard to connect a large fist with a much larger still head. 

However, many people reject traditional arts entirely; that is a error. Many, or perhaps a majority of practitioners of traditional arts do so not because they believe it imparts a great deal of self-defense ability, but because they have found that the practice cultivates a variety of positive qualities. These can include peace of mind, the development of character, a boost in confidence, greater physical condition, and appreciation for an otherwise foreign culture, among many, many others. That is awesome and should be commended.

But even from a purely practical point of view, traditional arts should be respected. The point of mixed martial arts is not whether an art works or doesn't. Rather, the point of MMA is identifying what parts of an art - however slight - can work on a high-percentage basis.

The simple fact is that every martial art and combat sport has to be modified to some degree when facing trained, active resistance that permits an encompassing array of attacks. Some, like Combat Sambo, require relatively little alteration. For others, like boxing or jiu-jitsu, the adaptation is significant. And, of course, for others the adaptation is very nearly all of it. But there is something good in every approach, some are just harder to find than others.

So in that spirit, here are five cases of traditional martial arts techniques working against fully trained, active resistance, to spectacular effect.

5. Arm Bar - Ronda Rousey vs. Cat Zingano

A two-time Olympian in Judo, and the daughter of the first American to earn a world championship in Judo, Ronda Rousey's basics are flawless. She improvised this extraordinary armbar, successfully defending her title vs. Cat Zingano in just 14 seconds. This was just part of perhaps the greatest title defense run in MMA history, that included Bethe Correia (34 seconds), Zingano (14 seconds), Alexis Davis (16 seconds), Sara McMann (66 seconds), and Miesha Tate (58 seconds). 

4. Spinning back kick – Uriah Hall vs. Gegard Mousasi

If you're a fan of traditional martial arts in MMA, the Tiger Schulman's Karate trained Uriah Hall is a fighter you should be watching. In the first round of this bout against Gegard Mousasi, Hall was taken down, controlled, and nearly finished by a rear naked choke several times. At the beginning of the second, it was time for Hall to get his revenge and boy did he ever.

3. Crane Kick - Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture

The Karate Kid series popularized this kick, but what no one realized was it can actually be made to work. Very nearly from birth, Lyoto Machida learned Machida Do Karate, a variation of Shotokan developed by his father Yoshizo. Then Steven Seagal apparently tweaked it, and told an official at cageside to, "wait for it." When UFC president Dana White went to speak with Randy Couture, a tooth fell out.

2. Tornado kick – Michael “Venom” Page vs. Ben Dishman

Michael "Venom" Page, AKA MVP,  is currently an undefeated 10-0 professional mixed martial artist who is fighting for Bellator, running through and destroying everybody he faces. In his professional debut, he took on Ben Dishman in a bout that will likely never be forgotten. Not only did he land a tornado kick to finish his opponent, he literally danced his way through the fight up until that point.

1. Meia Lua de Compasso – Marcus Aurelio vs. Keegan Marshall

This is a classic traditional martial art knockout in the sport, and even a GOAT candidate. Marcus Aurelio is a traditional Capoeira stylist, having begun training at the young age of three and competing in Capoeira tournaments as an adult with great success. After going 1-1 in his first two professional MMA bouts, he cleared out a little spot for himself in MMA history by landing this destructive technique on Keegan Marshall.


The likes of Yair Rodriguez, Sage Northcutt, MVP, and Conor McGregor suggest that the future of mixed martial arts will contain even more traditional martial art technique.

What techniques do you think we will see adapted next from traditional martial arts? Or are the techniques now being used the only ones that will translate? Let us know your thoughts on THE UNDERGROUND FORUM.