However, like all types of sport fighting, MMA was built by practitioners who favored one style of fighting over another. The invention of MMA is credited largely to the Gracie family, bringing their Vale Tudo experience to the States and defeating other traditional practitioners simply by exposing that relatively no one trained extensively in grappling. Those who dominate the cage today largely come from grappling backgrounds, because that's how the rules are designed. One can compensate for lack of striking ability by taking down their opponent and submitting them at a range where they don't have to be concerned about their glass jaw. Ronda Rousey was an excellent example of this. While she deserves full credit for paving the way for women's MMA, the world was exposed to the flaws in her fighting ability and she was knocked out. Quickly.
But what truly bothers me about MMA's claim to be as real as it gets is that their statement couldn't be farther from the truth. It'll never be as real as it gets until someone brings a gun to a knife fight. What MMA does really well is train you to calculate your opponent over several rounds, and if you can't out-strike them you take them down and fight for a dominant position where you'll be able to "ground and pound" or submit them to win the fight. Well, while you're rolling around on the floor, your opponent forgot to mention his buddies sitting at the bar who are now trying to stomp your head in or cracking bar stools across your back. He also didn't tell you about the pocket knife he had tucked away, and while you were transitioning into your spider guard, he pulls it out and stabs you until you look like a cheese grater
MMA fighters are highly trained athletes that are skilled at their craft, but MMA teaches you how to fight an unarmed opponent of similar body weight within a confined rule set for an allotted time frame. But if MMA isn't realistic for self defense, surely no other sport fighting competition could be either, right? Not quite.
Because of the nature of point fighting, where the fight is stopped after every clash and hit, it's being drilled into you that you may never get the chance to absorb your opponent's strike and counter. Anyone can get lucky, and a single strike can be all it takes to knock you unconscious. As such, elements such as distance, timing and angles become far more important. You learn to look for openings on an opponent who is just as concerned about not getting hit as they are about hitting you. You begin to develop explosiveness off the line so that when the opportunity is there, you take it immediately.
All of these qualities are essential in self defense and survival situations. What if that single strike was actually a knife thrust? How much more devastating is that single strike now if it lands? The importance of not getting hit is so great, you learn how to evade and use space to your advantage rather than taking one hit to score 3 as you would in Kickboxing, Boxing or MMA.
Now, Point Fighting does develop some bad habits that need to be broken when training for self defense. First and foremost, keep your hands up and stop dancing. Also, the sideways stance used to push off with lightning fast pump kicks needs to square up a little more, and I wouldn't recommend dive-bomb blitzing someone in the bar. You also need to train yourself to follow up your initial clash with something else, be it another strike, throw or lock. I am not saying that Point Fighting alone is all you need for self defense, but it's a great start.
Martial arts training is about principles and hidden lessons. Karate kata are not meant to be taken at face value, so why should kumite? Is it not just another training tool that's part of the bigger picture? In kata, we practice various techniques to be used in self defense scenarios. In kumite (and randori in jujutsu-based systems), we learn how distance, timing, angles, footwork and explosiveness can be used to gain victory. Together, these two exercises make up a large part of self defense training.
Remember, it doesn't matter what system you study. Every single martial arts system has the same potential to be effective for self defense and it all comes down to how you train. The same holds true for sport fighting. Whether you train in Point Fighting, Kickboxing, Boxing, Savate, MMA, BJJ, Judo, Wrestling, Olympic Taekwondo or any other type of sport fighting is irrelevant. How you apply what you're learning to realistic scenarios (grabs, strikes, weapon attacks, etc.) is what counts. Every system, every type of competition, every area of training has something to offer and at the end of the day, it comes down to the individual practitioner to determine if what they're studying in is practical and effective.