“No Holds Barred” Competition
These days, there are several organizers promoting NHB (“No-Holds-Barred”) competitions. The most well-known of these competitions is known as the “Ultimate Fighting Championship.” Competitors are usually very good at fighting and sometimes utilize some interesting techniques to overcome their opponents.
While I will not say that these competitions are completely without merit, I will say that I believe they do not always prove what is claimed. Most of the proponents of these events claim that all are welcome to participate and that the best fighters always win. While it is true that their competitors have come from various backgrounds, the qualification process is not entirely clear. There seems to be a bias towards those who are popular, or appear to the organizers to have the ability to become so. Most of them are unusually large, many in excess of 300lbs. (When I first wrote this article, there were no weight classes in the UFC) That is not to say that some of the competitors are not good fighters. Many of the champions would probably be able to do a lot of damage to just about anyone, including me. What I am saying is that everyone is probably not actually given an equal chance to qualify for competition.
Regardless of the qualification process, of which I do not have any personal knowledge, there are other flaws in these competitions. Some of these flaws may be more obvious than others.
What are these competitions out to prove? Proponents claim that they prove who is the best fighter and/or what is the best fighting style. Often, the fighting style is not as important as the fighter. For example, a 3-foot tall man weighing 50 pounds could probably not overpower a 7-foot man weighing 400 pounds in hand-to-hand combat, even with extremely superior skill and advanced training in the most sophisticated style of martial arts. That is not to say that size is the only criteria either. Skill may be important, but there are more factors involved.
Let us presume that we have two equally experienced fighters from different styles, both with roughly the same physical abilities and attributes. They could even be identical twins in this theoretical experiment. With this type of scenario, the participant from the better style should win out, right?
Not necessarily. There are certain rules involved. This is not really a “no holds barred” competition to the extent that any method of fighting is allowed. Competitors cannot bite, eye-gouge, kick the groin, etc., which may be very common in some self-defense systems. Some martial arts may fair poorly in the type of competition that does not allow some of their techniques or tactics.
Furthermore, the setting of the fight may give one fighter an advantage over another. In some of the NHB competitions, the floors are heavily padded. This type of flooring gives an advantage to grappling martial arts over kicking/punching/striking arts. To most effectively execute a kick, punch or strike requires a base from which to project the striking weapon (foot, fist, etc.). The effectiveness of these techniques is diminished as a result of the absorption of pressure at this non-rigid surface. More specifically, grapplers that rely on twisting, turning and tumbling may have an advantage in this type of atmosphere, compared to competitors from “striking” arts that rely more on projecting their techniques from a stable stance that is pushing with the foot/feet into a solid surface/floor.
While NHB competition may prove, to some extent, which martial art is better in combat against which other martial art, I must question how valuable these results really are, even if true. What does it matter if a jujutsu stylist can beat a kickboxer, a karate stylist can overcome a judo practitioner and a wrestler can best an aikidoka? Do we really do martial arts in order to defend against other martial artists? If we are practicing our martial arts with self-defense in mind, we must think about a range of possible adversaries, as well as what different ways there may be to deal with those adversaries in various situations. Being able to withstand a kick to the head as you tackle your opponent and quickly put him into a headlock from which he cannot escape may have its value. But if someone grabs your wrist on the street corner and you try to execute the same technique on him, you may find yourself in trouble; especially if it turns out it was an innocent bystander trying to pull you out of the way of an oncoming car. In this type of situation, the aikido practitioner might do better than those of any of the other martial arts. Yet, aikido practitioners have probably done worse in NHB than anyone else. This should make one think: What are all these people really training for?
What these NHB competitions really provide is entertainment value. I do not have a problem with them as such, anymore than I have a problem with watching “professional wrestling” as an occasional deviation from the rigors of an overly-serious life. I just hope that people understand the limited value of these competitions, particularly concerning what they may actually prove.
Regardless of which martial art (or no martial art) representative wins these matches, does this mean that everyone should start studying that particular fighting method? First of all, different people have different goals, body types and abilities. What works for a short, stocky person may not work for someone tall and thin. What works for someone young and agile may not work for someone old and stiff. Also, some martial arts take longer to become proficient than others, particularly for some people who are not used to that type of activity. Furthermore, even if one decides he wants to practice a given martial art, that does not mean that he will be good at it. Much depends upon the instructor’s ability to pass on skill and understanding. As stated in my article on teaching, having a good teacher who is not a superior performer may be more important than having a naturally gifted athlete who is not particularly skilled as an instructor.
Finally, the value of a given martial art as an effective form of fighting with other martial artists, or even self-defense against attackers on the street, is not the only criteria on which the merits of a martial art should be judged. In particular, when we consider the “-Do” arts (Aikido, Karatedo, etc.), where the Do really stands for something (simple translation: “path” or “way.” implication: includes non-physical development), sometimes there is much more to gain from training than physical skill alone.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published October 2001)