The Battle to Bring Mixed Martial Arts to the Empire State

Reilly and others who are reflexively opposed to MMA should learn a bit more about the sport. I myself am not an MMA practitioner, but I train in the art of Shotokan Karate under Sensei Kai Leung. Some of the more talented students from my dojo recently held a show at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts called “Balance in Two Worlds,” in which they blended the power of martial arts with the beauty of classical music. The title of that show is an apt metaphor for MMA itself.

Inside of the ring, MMA competitors make fierce use of their martial skills. But after the fight, it is not uncommon for two opponents to hug or make other gestures of mutual respect. This is not surprising given the kind of men who compete. These are not brainless thugs, but former high school teachersex-Olympians and other elite athletes, and family men. Many are even veterans and people of faith.

And while what goes on inside of the ring might look like wanton violence to casual observers, it’s actually an elaborate dance which is commonly likened to a “kinetic chess match.” Any given bout might incorporate the powerful linear striking of Shotokan, favored by a current champion, Lyoto Machida; the strength of Olympic wrestling; the expert use of leverage employed in jiu-jitsu; or skills drawn from a host of other arts. I will spare the reader the history lesson on MMA’s links to pankration, an event which the ancient Greeks included in the original Olympic games.

Many detractors who watch an MMA match for the first time are forced to admit that the contests are a real display of skill as opposed to unregulated savagery. They come to understand that although they might not choose to watch MMA on their own time, the sport is about honor, grace, and the controlled use of force. My own wife falls in this category.

In short, MMA is far from the “human cockfighting” of the early days. It is broadcast either late at night or on paid television, so those who don’t want to be subjected to violence can easily avoid it. The participants are all rational individuals who choose to compete. And there are stringent regulations in place to protect those who do.

So why do people like Reilly insist that MMA should remain illegal in New York? If nothing else, it’s not the government’s business to hinder a growing sport that voluntarily submits to regulatory oversight. And at worst, they are actually encouraging unsanctioned underground matches through their failure to act, and losing the state money at a time when our finances are being beaten to a bloody pulp. Royce Gracie, a legendary competitor whose family is integral to the history of MMA, said it best: “It's wrong … to [deny MMA] just because some people, usually who know nothing about the sport and have never seen it, don't want it around. ... If you are not interested in MMA, don't buy a ticket. It's un-American to deny MMA fans the fun and entertainment that a live event would bring just because you don't like it.”