Freestlye Wrestling as America’s Indigenous Martial Art with a Digression on Striking vs. Grappling

In the Putin black belt post below, an interesting discussion emerged that I thought deserved its own post. Weaver was lamenting the lack of an indigenous American martial art. This is a lament that I have heard often in MMA fan circles. What I suggested to Weaver was that free style wrestling is America’s indigenous martial art, and is arguably the best base for MMA.

Wrestling is an international sport that America certainly has no monopoly over, but I think the idea that it is America’s indigenous martial art is more true if you look back at the history of catch wrestling and the carney wrestling circuit that gave rise to modern scripted professional wrestling. There are famous matches where American catch wrestlers went toe to toe with high ranking Japanese Judoka for example, proving that catch wrestling was a legit grappling art. (I’ll fill in the details when I have more time.)

In my opinion, wrestling should be taught as a part of the physical education curriculum for boys (girls could learn self-defense) in American schools starting at whatever would be an appropriate age. Third grade maybe? This would be for practical self defense purposes as well as to toughen up our increasingly wussified culture.

As far as wrestling as arguably the best base for MMA, Kirt had this objection:

“Weaver, America’s indigenous martial art is freestyle wrestling, and as a stand alone base for MMA, it is arguably the best.”

That is because MMA favors wrestlers over strikers both in ambiance and rules. MMA takes place on a mat and by making illegal strikes to the spine and back of head or neck, it permits a wrestler to shoot low and pin his opponent to the cage without fear of crippling strikes to the aforementioned exposed body parts. That’s very well and good if you’re just in it for the sport, but if you want a significant self-defense component, you don’t want your strikes limited and you definitely don’t want to go to the ground where the “ground” is cement or asphalt or a bar-room floor with perhaps stones or broken glass or similar items.

I understand Kirt’s point, but this has always been the objection of people who practice striking arts, particularly in the early days of MMA when they were getting dominated. The fact is that you have to have some rules, and you can never quite replicate “the street.” But if you ever watch videos of street fights, especially when it is just two guys squaring off instead of someone getting attacked, they perhaps oddly seem to play by a set of unwritten rules. It’s a kind of understood man code. They generally don’t do groin shots. They don’t bite. They don’t gouge out each others eyes. They generally don’t pull hair (unlike girl fights). It’s easy to understand how this sort of code would arise in societies where fighting is common, like among blacks and allegedly (with a lot of truth) Southern whites. It allows the physical settling of differences without potentially devastating consequences like blindness. You can observe this type of combat code in some animals, where fighting could potentially be deadly, so the fight for dominance is carried out in a less lethal manor.

I’ve watched some of these ads for “Learn These 17 Devastating Street Techniques” or whatever, and thought “you can’t really do that.” If somebody is coming after you with a knife, then all bets are off, but if your squaring off with somebody in a bar because he dissed you or something, you can’t just go for his eye. That’s would be extremely uncool and disproportionate to the situation that likely two people are engaging in. It will also wind you up in jail and your pants sued off.

The issue with bare fist fighting, or light gloves fighting like MMA, is that unless you are an unusual specimen, you can’t just trade blows because any one bare fisted blow is potentially devastating, unlike in boxing with heavy gloves where you can afford to take a few blows in order to deliver a few. That’s why stand up in MMA often involves a lot more circling and measuring, punctuated by brief flurries of trading.

So it is natural in these situations that one of two strategies will emerge, you either “stick and move” to strike and avoid being struck (such as Lyoto Machida), or you close the distance and grab. For the stick and move striker, the most essential ground skills to learn are how to avoid being taken down and how to quickly get up if you are.

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One thought on “Freestlye Wrestling as America’s Indigenous Martial Art with a Digression on Striking vs. Grappling

  1. Kirt Higdon

    Red, I think anyone who would get involved in a bar fight because someone “dissed” him is a fool, and doubly a fool if he counts on his opponent observing some unwritten code of honor so he can afford to do the same. Many of these bar fights end up being settled with guns in the parking lot or firebombs thrown in the door. Rules are fine for sport MMA, as I’ve said. On the other hand, I’m too old for sport MMA, but not too old to not be jumped on the street. My chances of that probably increase with age unless I become a house hermit.

    Striking skills are also superior to wrestling or grappling when there are multiple opponents, although firearms are even better in that case. Jiu-jitsu master and MMA legend Rickson Gracie was once asked how he would deal with multiple attackers and replied, “I have my Sig Sauer”.

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