Thursday, March 25, 2010

A writer's MMA primer

I've been kind of enjoying Human Target. I fully expected it to suck at first, but it's kind of engaging. I love Chi McBryde, although I'll always be a little sad his character from Pushing Daisies is gone, and I love Jackie Earl Haley because he was by far the best thing about Watchmen. They're more interesting than Mark Valley, but he does okay. It's a fun show.

So last night's episode was an homage to Bloodsport. It was supposed to be some kind of MMA battle except every fight was a stand-up fight. At one point Chi McBryde's character says to Mark Valley's character something to the effect of "How did you get hit? All that Jujitsu you do."

Not once in this episode did anyone do any Jujitsu. There was one Judo move but everything else was stand-up fighting. I'm sure the fight coordinator knew the difference, but it was clear that the writers did not.

Granted, it wasn't taking place in an octagon, but they definitely meant it to be an MMA style tournament.

MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. MIXED. It is a very rare fight that doesn't end up on the ground so if you're going to use MMA as your basis for a plot, you need to have some ground fighting. Punches and kicks look cool, but most fights are won by things like rear naked chokes and arm bars. Ground moves.

It's an easy mistake to make if you don't know anything about the sport, so let's do a bit of a primer. I'm far from an expert, but I'm a fan and I've done enough fighting on my own to know the difference between the basic styles. I've read a few fight scenes where the writer used some language they've heard but didn't seem to understand. So let's clear some things up.

Anybody feel free to add your own knowledge.

With MMA you start with two basic fighting styles pretty much every fighter learns: Muy Thai and Jujitsu. Jujitsu, originally from Japan I think, was developed to its current state in Brazil. So if you have a fighter from Brazil, chances are he's a hell of a wrestler. That's what Jujitsu is: wrestling. It has almost nothing to do with kicking or punching. It's all about holds and locks. The goal is to get someone in a position where they have to tap out or risk a broken limb. Usually these moves require strategy and patience and endurance and flexibility.

Muy Thai is kickboxing. Often the best MMA fighters train in Thailand, where the sport was developed. It's kicking and punching, but also knees and elbows. Never underestimate the power of an elbow to do some serious damage.

Fights don't end with the ref counting. They end when one of the fighters taps to say he's done, when the doctor calls it on account of dangerous levels of blood loss, or when somebody gets knocked the fuck out. Blood is okay, but when the blood gets in your eyes or it won't stop, that's when they call the fight. There have been some seriously bloody fights in the octagon. Sometimes it's tough to watch.

There are tons of other fighting styles - Judo concentrates on throws, so when you need to chuck somebody over your shoulder that's what you're using, Savate is a French style that uses primarily legs, Escrima is Filipino stick fighting, Win Chung is the style Bruce Lee emulated because it was designed for women and he was a little guy. Then there's always the other various forms of Kung Fu. Each style has a different set of moves and a different purpose.

One thing you almost never see successfully done in a fight is a kick to the head. Unless you're Chuck Norris, a kick to the head is a horrible idea. First of all, it's slow. It takes a long time for your foot to get all the way to someone's head and chances are they'll see it coming, which is really bad for the kicker because it also leaves you off balance. The higher your foot goes, the less stability you have under you, and the easier it is to knock you down. Some guys try it. I don't know if I've ever seen it done successfully in the ring.

Head butts are generally a bad idea. Very few people know how to pull that off without breaking their own nose or knocking themselves out.

Good fighters block and duck and weave with both legs and hands. They don't just stand there and get hit. In fact, they don't just stand there. They bounce around.

Please consider these things if you write a fight scene but don't know much about fighting.

UPDATE: In the 3/31 episode of Human Target, a guy who's 6'2" and weighs a lot claims to be a black belt in Win Chung. Did they just Google types of Kung Fu and type in the first one that sounded cool? Win Chung is specifically designed for women and is also useful for small men. There are larger men who study it, but it's really designed to take advantage of a smaller frame, unless maybe the fact that he studied the wrong type of Kung Fu for his body is why he was knocked out so fast. My point is, you can't just throw any old type of Kung Fu at a script. They all have completely different purposes. Dammit.

Also after my whole bit about not kicking people in the head, on this season's first episode of Ultimate Fighter the very first bout ended with a beautiful kick to the head. So what do I know?


  1. Emily, did you see this season's Leverage episode, "The Tap-Out Job"? John Rogers and Chris Downey are much more accustomed to working with their technical advisors to get all the scams right, so they seemed more willing to follow the lead of their fight coordinator in this one.

    They ended up with a significantly more realistic portrayal of MMA fighting.

  2. I did see that episode, and I agree wholeheartedly.

  3. I'm guessing they didn't want to show "ground game" is that it looks so much like dry-humping.

    Not that there's anything wrong with dry-humping...

    What's Fox's official policy on seeing the star of their show wrap his thighs around another guy's hips. Personally, I think their ratings would skyrocket

  4. Whether it was the hokiness of the fight scenes or something else, I felt pretty early on in the episode it was the weakest of the season thus far. Disappointing, despite the presence of Grace Park. :)

  5. My late husband was a Kenpo master, so I learned a little about martial arts vicariously:

    karate moves in straight lines
    kung fu moves in circles

    He claimed Kenpo had the advantage on either because it incorporated both.

    He said the Muay Thai fighters tended to get hung up on kicks, but also that some of the best street fighters he knew used the style. And if you're fighting someone who does jujitsu, don't let them get you on the ground.

    He also said that a well-trained professional boxer, even with a much more limited style than most other martial arts, could be among the most dangerous fighters: they know how to "dance," how to block, can usually take hard blows, and can hit hard.

  6. Head kicks have actually been used in the UFC, one of the most infamous from Rashad Evans, who knocked out his opponent with a kick to the head.

    But it is a risky move, simply because, just like with a low kick, the kickee can grab the leg and take out down.

    Head kicks work when they're not expected, set up with numerous kicks to the thigh, than go high (which Evans did) ...

    Head butts are actually a very good self defense technique, too ... very easy to learn, just have to remember to use the hard part of your forehead on the soft part of your target (the nose).

    One martial art you haven't mentioned is Krav Maga, which is Israeli Self defense (the Bourne movies highlight this, I believe) and also specializes in what's called burst training, that's when multiple attackers hit all at once (akido also does this) on a single person, very realistic.

    I actually wasn't a fan of The Tap-Out Job (huge fan of Leverage, though) not only because I've lived in Lincoln, Ne (which is nothing like the small town in the ep) but because they did a basic rope-a-dope in the MMA ring and as far as I know, that's hard if not impossible to do in MMA, because if you take an elbow or a knee, you're out, even a straight shot ... the gloves just aren't padded enough, in my opinion, to do a rope-a-dope.

    I have that Hard Target ep on my dvr, I'm gonna have to check it out now.

  7. Krav Mga is bad ass. I did indeed forget to mention it.

  8. great suggestions! i think it woud bee a cool idea to bring some of that chinese kung fu cinematography to an mma scenario.


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