Results Show Overwhelmingly: MMA Is No Great Or Welcome Savior For The Martial Arts Industry

According to most survey respondents, this is not what the future of the martial arts industry looks like.

Is MMA helping or hurting the industry? Here's what our readers and subscribers had to say...

As you know, last week I posted a survey here and on my Facebook page asking martial arts instructors this simple question:

“Are the UFC and MMA helping or hurting the martial arts industry?”

The response and support for the survey was phenomenal (considering the relatively small number of professional martial arts instructors and school owners in our industry).

Of course, there’s no way to determine if the answers were posted by actual instructors or wanna-bes; however, the survey was only announced to my own email list of instructors and school owners, so we can assume the results are relatively limited to that demographic.

Now, as for the results… they were surprisingly stilted against the UFC and MMA. In fact, most of the early respondents were against the UFC and MMA – almost 70%. Then, as the week progressed and more and more surveys came in, we saw the numbers start to list toward a more favorable showing for those in favor of the MMA craze.

However, it bears mentioning that the majority of comments on the blog were negative with regards to any benefit that the UFC and MMA may have had thus far on the health of the martial arts industry. In fact, I’ve never seen such an interest or such extensive participation for any topic I’ve posted on this blog. So, I encourage you to read through them, and post your own comments as well…

The Actual Results

The following are the actual results from the survey questions. Before I go on with this, let me say again that I am split with regards to my opinion on the relative benefits and disadvantages that the MMA boom has brought with it.

However, I hope these results will spark some debate and discussion among certain influential entities and individuals regarding the impact that MMA has had on the industry… and perhaps encourage them to clean up MMA’s image in the process.

So, without further ado – here are the results from the survey.

Question #1: “Are The UFC And MMA Helping Or Hurting The Martial Arts Industry?”

Hurting 55.50%
Helping 44.50%
Although it was close in the end, most survey participants seem to believe that MMA has hurt the martial arts industry.

Although it was close in the end, most survey participants seem to believe that MMA has hurt the martial arts industry.

Out of approximately 200 complete responses, 55.5 percent felt that the UFC and MMA have hurt the martial arts industry (620 people started the survey, but most abandoned the survey before completing it, so their results were thrown out).

I don’t find this surprising at all; every single week I hear from martial arts instructors and school owners who feel they have been left out in the cold by the big players in the industry who have jumped on the MMA bandwagon.

And I don’t blame them. However, martial arts instructors need to realize once and for all that the big interests in this industry don’t really think much about the little guy before they make decisions. All they really care about is how they can make more money.

And, can you blame them? They’re capitalists, just like you and me. Sure, they may be out of touch with their core customer base, but they know a good opportunity when they see it. The public is infatuated with MMA right now, so that’s where the big interests are focused. In a few years, I’m sure it’ll be something else.

Question #2: “If you think the UFC and MMA are HELPING the martial arts industry, for what reasons do you believe this to be true?”

I don’t think the UFC and MMA are helping the martial arts industry 48.17%
Increased interest from public in the martial arts 37.17%
Increased exposure to the public 34.03%
Increased focus on fighting applications over theory 33.51%
Increased business to your own school or programs since UFC became popular 14.14%
ufc-mma-survey-graphic-helping

Of these responses, the most interesting are the relatively low number of respondents who say their business has increased since the UFC and MMA became popular.

There were some really interesting responses here. The most predictable is the fact that half the responses were in the negative… no surprises, here.

Next we find the nearly equal percentage of positive responses with regards to increased public interest and bringing realism back into the martial arts (personally, I think doing back flips and split kicks is cool, but it has nothing to do with fighting applications, so I’m right there with those folks).

But then we get down to the last response. Now wait a minute here… what the heck is this? Only 14% of respondents said they had experienced an increase in business since the UFC became popular? Really?

Hmmm… so that begs the question: What ever happened to MMA being the great savior of the martial arts industry?

Apparently, we’ve been listening to a bunch of hype all this time, because according to these results, instructors and school owners just aren’t seeing it.

And if you’re going to say it’s because the only ones seeing an increase are mixed martial arts instructors, you’d be wrong. In a minute we’ll get to the breakdown of what type of martial artists responded, and you’ll see that’s just not the case.

Question #3: If you think the UFC and MMA are HURTING the industry, for what reasons do you believe this to be true?

Departure from traditional values and practices that make the martial arts a positive influence on society 54.97%
Increased culture of violence influencing the martial arts industry 38.74%
Decreased interest from public in traditional martial arts styles and programs 32.46%
I don’t think that the UFC and MMA are hurting the martial arts industry 30.37%
Decrease in business at your own school or programs since the UFC and MMA became popular 10.47%
Most respondents are concerned that the martial arts industry is moving away from positive values.

Most respondents are concerned that the martial arts industry is moving away from positive values.

Once again, the responses are surprising. Rather than seeing a large majority of respondents say that MMA has hurt their business (what we’d expect considering all the trash-talking we’ve heard about how traditional martial arts is dead) instead we see that most respondents are more concerned with the industry losing it’s moral compass.

However, we also can construe that at least there is the perception among martial arts instructors that the public interest in traditional program has declined. I disagree with this perception entirely. Instead, what I believe has happened is that a formerly difficult to reach demographic has been cracked open by MMA’s popularity; namely, the 16 – 24 year old male demographic.

Does that help traditional schools? Not much, unless they integrate Brazilian jiu jitsu programs into their class offerings (BJJ being the most tradition-friendly MMA-type class one could integrate). However, apparently it hasn’t hurt schools much, either, as only 10% of respondents claim to have experienced a decrease in business since MMA came to popularity.

Question #4: “Do you consider yourself to be…”

ufc-mma-survey-graphic-martial-artists

Most of the survey participants identify themselves as being somewhere in between mixed martial artists and traditionalists.

Somewhere in between 59.69%
Traditional stylist 31.94%
A mixed martial artist 8.38%

I think this one speaks for itself. You see that the majority of martial artists identify themselves as neither traditionalists nor mixed martial artists, but somewhere in between.

So, there can be little arguing that the results of this survey were stilted in favor of either MMA or TMA due to the majority of the respondents belonging to neither side.

Further, I think this speaks to the validity of the data. Why? Well, despite only 8.4% of respondents identifying themselves as mixed martial artists, there was a surprisingly strong showing for MMA. So, you can’t really blame the results on a lack of participation from MMA instructors.

What’s The Significance Of This?

So, what’s the takeaway from all this?

Two things:

  1. First, there is an overwhelming majority of instructors in our industry that want to preserve the traditional values in the martial arts.
  2. Second, that it’s not going to be up to anyone but us, the instructors, to ensure that we preserve that legacy.

And realistically speaking, the only way that is going to happen is if like-minded instructors band together to do just that.

More on that topic tomorrow…

– Michael D. Massie

13 Comments

  1. David H. Henry on January 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I am not really shocked at the results. I do agree that the legacy of the martial arts in the modern era could be at stake. Kano and Funakoshi both felt that martial arts could be wonderful vessels for building stronger, more moral, more respectful people. One might argue that the martial artists before that generation would have viewed their arts as practical fighting/self defense first, and a vehicle for self improvement second (though it depends on the individual), thus in some ways MMA may represent a rebirth of more ‘practical’ martial arts. The question that must be addressed though is whether or not the average citizen has need of the same calibur of skills as did the warriors on the battle fields of old. Personally, I feel a balanced approach is necessary; one that respects the traditions and virtues of the warriors of old, while still keeping in mind the potential necessity for practical self defense and the part played by innovation to adapt to the confrontational situations of today. A warrior who does not respect others will soon become a tyrant and a bully. A warrior who cannot back up both justice and mercy with strength is useless. Thus, we must be strong, yet respectful. Learn to fight, but promote peace.



  2. Kurt Schulenburg on January 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I’m not sure I see where the “Traditional Values” in your conclusion comes from. I saw Traditional Style in your questions, but don’t recall seeing “values”.
    I don’t believe that Traditional Style schools can be assumed to inherently teach Traditional Values at all. I’ve had plenty of experience with schools teaching Old Style Forms and having very little emphasis on, for example, Respect. The day of the Dungeon Dojo is not behind us yet!
    Personally, I don’t see why modern methods can’t incorporate Traditional Values. We teach MMA exclusively, and Respect, Discipline, Honesty, Loyalty… they’re part of every class!



  3. Sensei J. Richard Kirkham B.Sc. on January 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    It’s about what I expected. Yet, there’s nothing to compare to.The old arguements about can a martial artist beat a

    boxer
    wrestler etc

    Don’t even apply here because it’s business not self-defense.

    I think all we can do is figure out how to use the popularity of mma and not fight against it. Kind of like a redirective block so your strike hurts your attacker even more by using his/her own momentum.

    Rick



  4. Mike Massie on January 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Read it again, Kurt…

    “Departure from traditional values and practices that make the martial arts a positive influence on society” – response to question #3.

    Also, I don’t argue that there are some MMA schools who teach traditional values like respect, courtesy, etc.

    But, you can’t argue with the fact that the image mainstream MMA portrays on TV leans toward values on the opposite end of the spectrum.



  5. Mike Massie on January 20, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    David, I think you’re right on track. “Learn to fight (protect yourself) but promote peace.” I like that.

    But, can you see how that motto, when translated into the value of promoting peace, is directly at odds with the SPORT of professional MMA?

    At least, in it’s current state. I believe that if the WCL changed their fight format to MMA (to include grappling and ground fighting), but kept the current class and style with which they operate, they’d go gangbusters.

    But, I could be wrong about that… maybe we really are the modern counterpart to the ancient Romans, and the public only wants a spectacle, not a sport.



  6. Freddie McDonald Jr on January 20, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Concure with all. One thing one must remember is that martial arts is a business and many schools must cater to the public.

    When we say tradition, most of us not only mean learning and living the principles but the other physical aspects such as learning forms and one steps and such.

    MMA, pankration, or whatever one wants to call it can be part of the curriculum. Olympic sparring is one thing, point sparring is another, but when a person wants self-defense or self-preservation will either one of those formats of sparring will will fit their needs? The old addage of business is ‘supply-on-demand’.

    To each is own, however maintain the character building and use what works (did someone said that before?)



  7. Mike Massie on January 21, 2010 at 8:32 am

    MMA, pankration, or whatever one wants to call it can be part of the curriculum. Olympic sparring is one thing, point sparring is another, but when a person wants self-defense or self-preservation will either one of those formats of sparring will will fit their needs? The old addage of business is ’supply-on-demand’.

    To each is own, however maintain the character building and use what works (did someone said that before?)

    I totally agree, Freddie. MMA has done a lot to put an emphasis on what works in martial arts – something that many modern martial arts had gotten away from in recent decades. Not that there aren’t combat-effective styles out there, it’s just that it has reminded us to look at the application of our arts with a more pragmatic eye…

    So, MMA has it’s place, we just need to teach it while still maintaining respect, discipline, and courtesy in our schools.



  8. Gary Pieratt on January 21, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Excellent article Mike! I enjoyed participating in the survey, being able to express my feelings on the subject, and I especially enjoyed reading your recap.

    Gary Pieratt
    http://www.peacefulwarriorma.com



  9. Mike Massie on January 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it, Gary.

    Personally, I was glad to see so many martial artists saying they liked the realism that MMA has brought back to mainstream martial arts, but that they were also concerned with throwing the baby out with the bath water (namely, abandoning our values and culture of respect and discipline).

    Once again, let me restate that I strongly believe it is up to us, the individual martial arts instructors and school owners, to retain and preserve that legacy.



  10. martial arts software on January 21, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Although I’m a UFC fan, I always cringe when I see a UFC fighter “flipping the bird” at another competitor or talking trash before a fight.

    I know the “bad blood” between fighters has to be whipped up in order to fill seats and sell tickets (it is a business, after all), but I fear martial arts will decline into what boxing has now become: thugs with few values or respect for others.

    I’m split: I think the UFC has brought positive attention to the techniques in martial arts. But on the other hand I wish more competitors had the class of George St. Pierre; he avoids trash-talking, bows to his opponents and shows great respect. He’s an example of what a traditional martial arts upbringing can do for a person.

    Chris Whamond



  11. Mike Massie on January 22, 2010 at 8:25 am

    I agree, Chris! And, GSP does show a lot of class in the way he conducts himself – wish we had more like him.

    Keep us posted on how the software is coming along!



  12. sean russell on January 22, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Mr. Massie let me start my saying I enjoy these responses and ability to share opinions in a nonconfrontational manner. It is refreshing to see gentlemen discuss openly their values and ideas.

    However, I don’t agree on the reality part of MMA or UFC. It does not do a good job of showing martial arts true ability to handle aggression. The “sport” of the UFC fighting has rules which eleminates the ability to use your true combat talent and waters down the magnificent roots of a practitioners art or arts. Because there are rules to these games and weight classes it will never truly show what one can accomplish in a real combat situation using combat techniques. In the streets it us usually a larger person attacking someone weaker. This can not be demonstrated with time limits, weight classes and rules. I am not discrediting the ability of each fighter or the sacrifice they made to acquire their skills to step into the ring. If you use true combat techniques such as groin strikes, throat, eyes gouges, biting, hair pulling foot stomps,ect you see real combat and a lot less time needed to end your fight! Real Martial arts!



  13. Mike Massie on January 23, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Sean,

    First off, let me say that it’s my privilege to provide a place on the internet where martial artists can discuss controversial issues rationally and respectfully. Glad to have you involved in the discussion!

    With regards to what you’re saying, I agree with you as far as combat martial arts are concerned. There are many good, combat-oriented styles that have a lot of practical street applications, and with regards to those systems I wholeheartedly agree.

    However, much of the modern martial arts has been watered down, and lacks any real combat application. So, the UFC and MMA have forced a lot of folks practicing those arts to examine their abilities, and ask, “What would I do if I were attacked by someone violently and aggressively?”

    I believe that’s a positive thing.



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