The martial arts I train in – American Kenpo and Danzan-Ryu Jujitsu – are complimentary; where one stops, the other begins. Both can be considered complete martial arts; meaning that they cover all ranges of combat, and teach techniques appropriate for each range. They are mechanically similar, sharing stances and patterns of movement, but the tactics they emphasize are different. Danzan-Ryu focuses on closing distance to throw or grapple with an opponent while Kenpo uses strikes to control or create distance and exploit openings in an opponent’s defenses.
Studying a martial art does not mean that you are learning good fighting skills. Some arts are incomplete and specialize in one range of combat, or teach a method of fighting designed for sport. The rules that make those sports safe disconnect the sport-fighter from reality. For example, a boxer could be taken to the ground and overwhelmed by someone trained in submission wrestling.
The early days of the UFC demonstrated the problem with focusing on one range of combat. By taking fighters to the ground, into the grappling range he specialized in, Royce Gracie was able to win three of the first five Ultimate Fighting Championships. He is still considered one of the greatest submission fighters of all time; his first eleven victories were by submission within the first round. He was a expert in a range that many fighters overlooked or failed to adequately train in. By choosing the battlefield and taking the fight to the mat, Gracie followed the advice of Sun Tzu and gained the advantage.
Today, the Gracie name is synonymous with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art that began as an offshoot of Judo. In the early 1900’s, Mitsuyo Maeda – Count Koma – brought the art of Judo to Brazil. He taught the art to Carlos Gracie, who taught the art to his brothers. Helio Gracie, the youngest brother, adapted the art and helped transform it into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Count Koma was a master of ne-waza, the grappling techniques taught in judo, and his expertise is reflected in BJJ’s emphasis on ground-fighting. That focus made Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu an integral part of modern Mixed Martial Arts.
Many MMA schools teach a blend of BJJ, Boxing, Wrestling, and Muay Thai. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Wrestling teach fighters to take their opponent to the mat, and what to do once they get there. Muay Thai and Boxing teach a fighter to use strikes effectively, using their hands, feet, knees and elbows as weapons. These four disciplines cover the basic ranges of combat, so MMA fighters are not specialists. They become well rounded, able to smoothly shift from one combative range to another. This gives them an edge.
When Matt Hughes faced Royce Gracie at UFC 60 he didn’t just win the fight, he dominated it, and defeated Gracie during the first round. At the time, Hughes was believed to be the greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world. But Royce Gracie was a living legend, and many commentators - and even Hughes himself - believed that Gracie would have the advantage if the fight went to the mat. At 2:51 in the first round, Hughes caught Gracie in a kimura arm lock – named for Masahiko Kimura, a judoka who used the lock to defeat Helio Gracie in 1951 – and when he did, those same commentators thought the fight was over.
Gracie lost to a fighter who didn't specialize. Hughes' training, along with his athleticism, helped him win. Over the course of his career, Hughes demonstrated his ability to fight in every range; of his 45 career wins, 17 came by knockout and 18 by submission. That ability is one every martial artist should try to develop, regardless of the style they practice. There are always ways to improve.
At the very least, a good martial artist should be aware of their weaknesses.