MMA and You: Can TKD Survive MMA?

By Jerry Beasley

It seems like the “chosen arts” for MMA include muay Thai, Brazilian jiujitsu, western boxing and wrestling. Other arts, including pretty much all Korean arts are often excluded from the MMA training programs. Yet in many TKD dojangs a topic like, how could a TKD fighter survive in an MMA event, is quite popular. As a columnist for TKD Times magazine I often get questions from readers that ask “How do you think my TKD would fare in an MMA match.” Here’s my answer. In order to be competitive in MMA the fighter’s training program must have four basic elements. These elements include: (1) a stand-up game; (2) a ground game; (3) a fitness, strength and conditioning program and, (4) a nutritional strategy.

The stand-up game is designed to allow the fighter to hit hard, hit often and move after every strike. The punching method most often employed is basic boxing. The kicks most often resemble muay Thai or basic karate. On occasion a fighter may connect with a spinning back kick. The options for kicking are limited because the opponent can grab your leg or follow your return with a takedown. And, kicks to the legs are a common and successful tactic. That possibility alone puts some limitations on acrobatic kicking methods.

 Very few fighters (former champion and karate master Lyoto Machida is an exception) have successfully used karate style punching with appropriate defensive footwork. The principle for karate and TKD style punching is to initiate a maximum power punch with pinpoint accuracy. This task becomes most difficult when the opponent is constantly moving and shifting positions. The same is true for traditional karate and TKD kicking methods. The window of opportunity for success is greatly diminished when the opponent is constantly on the move and a counter strike may startle any attempt at pinpoint accuracy. Simple kicks like the front and rear leg round kick are the most popular kicking tactics.

The stand-up game must also include elbows and knees. The Thai arts again seem to have developed the best elbow and knee tactics for sport competition. The properly trained MMA fighter must also be experienced in the clinch position where both fighters are standing toe-to-toe in a form of stand-up grappling. When a MMA fighter gets you pinned up against the cage/wall you have to be well versed in a method that allows you to serve injury to your opponent while he attempts to smother your weapons and do harm to you.

In MMA competition most fights will have a time in which the fighters are on the mat. Basic wrestling tactics are designed to take the opponent to the floor. Fighters who limit themselves to only a stand-up or only a ground game may often be effective in regional competitions but are seldom successful at the national level. Brazilian jiujitsu was designed to allow a smaller fighter to maneuver on the ground from both the guard position (the opponent straddles the fighter who is on his back) and the mounted position. To fight effectively from the guard and mounted positions the fighter must have developed an arsenal of submissions and ground and pound skills. Ground fighting in MMA is a specialized methodology that requires sufficient ‘on the mat’ experience.

Each MMA fighter must develop an individualized program for cardio fitness, strength and conditioning. When your task is to fight for five minutes you must have the cardio endurance to finish the round. Stronger fighters are going to have an advantage in both grappling and stand-up maneuvers. A program that combines cardio conditioning like running and strength training including weight lifting is most often used. Finally the fighter must follow sufficient nutritional guidelines that allow for the development of muscle mass and fat loss. The old saying “you become what you eat” certainly becomes true while training for a MMA match.  MMA fighters have to be in shape and able to endure each round. In many cases the fitness and nutritional programs are just as important as the stand-up and ground programs in forging a successful fighting athlete.

Can a TKD fighter survive in an MMA match? Yes, but, you have to demonstrate skill in both a stand-up and ground game. And you need to attain and maintain a high level of fitness requiring sufficient attention to nutritional discipline. Learning the skills of MMA will require extensive training in addition to the typical TKD methods. Tae kwon do is an excellent martial art. Fighters that have trained in a traditional martial art often exhibit the tenacity, perseverance and indomitable spirit required to stick to a rigorous MMA training regimen.

In many cases TKD students and instructors are tempted to evaluate their individual progress in relation to how they perceive MMA fighters perform. The sport of MMA is so different from the art of TKD that the comparisons are usually not valid. Best advice, if you are a student of TKD, watch and enjoy the MMA fights as entertainment and not as a method to somehow gauge your own skill development. In other words, don’t beat yourself up (psychologically) wondering how you might survive in an MMA fight. If you do decide to get in an MMA match then remember to research and develop a stand-up and ground game and support the training with a fitness and nutrition program. Enjoy the fights.

About the author: Dr. Jerry Beasley, ninth-dan is professor of Exercise, Sport and Health at Radford University (VA) and a member of the exclusive  Black Belt magazine Hall of Fame. You can visit his web page at

AUG. 22. 2011. TaeKwonDoTimes.