A New Take on Martial Arts Grows Among College Students

Organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship Mix Appeals of Strategy, Excitement and Violence


Published: December 11, 2008

Bruises. Cuts. Bloody noses. Broken bones. This may sound like the aftermath of a terrible accident, but these injuries are common results in the newest sport to explode onto the scene: mixed martial arts.

MMA is a strategic combination of many martial arts disciplines. (Jim Prisching/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Mixed martial arts (MMA) has become the preferred combat sport among young men, eclipsing even boxing. At first glance, MMA may appear to consist of two men in a cage trying to kill each other, but to fans of the sport, it is really a contest between two highly skilled athletes, each trying to win using any number of different fighting techniques. It is the wide range of acceptable disciplines that gives MMA its name. The most popular MMA organization is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), with its trademark octagonal cage.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the blood and violence of mixed martial arts that draws fans to watch. According to a study by the Communications Department at California State University in 2007, most fans are drawn in by the complicated technical skills on display.

The study also showed that the primary viewers of mixed martial arts events are young, white males. 97 percent were under the age of 40; 73 percent were white and 98 percent were male. 80 percent of the people in the study were college educated, having either a college degree or having completed some amount of college.

One Fordham student, Andrew Hudson, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’09, secretary of the Tae Kwon Do club, believes that the “UFC is responsible for the boom in MMA.”

Hudson said he thinks the violence and shock value are what drives people to watch MMA shows and become so involved with it. But for him, MMA is missing some very important aspects of traditional martial arts, including the spirituality, mysticism and philosophy. Hudson has always been interested in martial arts and has earned a black belt in karate.

“I joined the TKD club and have found it an amazing organization to be a part of far above the level of what I had practiced previously, both in technique and philosophy,” Hudson said. “Spirituality, philosophy and mysticism are all conspicuously missing from MMA.”

But even though he does not follow the UFC, he respects the fighters as athletes and the history of the UFC.

MMA can also offer a new take on ancient martial arts methods.

“Some of what the tae kwon do classes consist of is our instructor introducing some MMA self defense techniques as a supplement to the traditional Tae Kwon Do class,” said Alex Rabinovick, FCLC ’09, president of the Fordham Tae Kwon Do club.

The UFC was created in 1993 and brought mixed martial arts to the United States. The UFC was a competition for fighters of all disciplines of martial arts such as jiu-jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, grappling, wrestling, sumo and others, to compete in a tournament to decide who the greatest fighter is and which style reigned supreme. The winner of this tournament would be declared the Ultimate Fighter. When the UFC started, the popularity of mixed martial arts exploded in Brazil and Japan, where fights became major events. It wasn’t until 2001 that the UFC restructured mixed martial arts into a highly organized combat sport. Now the UFC is the number one mixed martial arts organization in the world, dominating in popularity over other organizations such as the Pride Fighting Championship and the International Fight League.