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Columns by Craig Smith

What is Reality?

By Craig Smith
When I asked them why they were particularly interested in grappling, they looked at me as if I needed a bit of instruction in the "real" world, and advised me, in that superior tone of voice only the inexperienced have, "Well, 90% of all fights end up on the ground, you know!"

The first time this occurred, I just wrote it off as someone who had been told something by his father, brother or friend, and repeated it so as to sound knowledgeable. The second time, I remembered that I had heard this before. About the third time, I realized that this was a pattern. Thereafter, I told these young fellas that, although 100% of losers end up on the ground (or face down on a car hood), I had always done whatever I could to stay off of the ground, as it had been my experience that winners end up on their feet, or at least on one foot and one knee, which was often placed on the back of the loser's neck. They invariably argued with me on this, asking me where I "got that". Knowing that names like Troost, Prospect, Paseo, Truman Road and Independence Avenue would mean nothing to them, I simply said that it had been my experience, and asked them where they had heard their little morsel of martial wisdom. It was then that I first heard the names Gracie and UFC.

I had never seen nor heard of the UFC, as I didn't watch much T.V. or go to fight events. Nor did I read the national "McMartial Arts" magazines. I still don't. As Jim Harrison says, "Most are written for the average 12 year old yellow belt." I had never had an interest in sport fighting, either as a competitor or a spectator, for the main reason that fighting was never fun for me. When I was young, I hated it. When I got older, I liked it - but that, I later realized, was only because I was nuts. For me, fighting was always potentially life or death, and I was ill-equipped, both mentally and physically, for anything that limited tactical options. So when these young guys started telling me about the Gracies, the UFC and "no holds barred" fights, I listened. They told me that "anything goes" in these fights - that there were no rules. I asked them why I didn't hear of a bunch of guys getting killed or maimed. They said that this was because the fighters were so well trained and in such great shape. I asked them how you get an eyeball "in great shape". They told me that Gracie and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu was superior to every other fighting style, and was unbeatable. I told them that, while the pictures in the magazines they carried around with them were certainly well lit, and the fighters were nicely dressed, I would have to see it in action before I would accept the claims of Gracie and Brazilian invincibility.

One day, one of my students brought in a video tape that showed a match of Royce Gracie fighting in one of the UFCs, so several of us sat down to watch it. The fight went to the ground pretty quickly, just as my young visitors had advised me that "90% of all fights" do, but only because Gracie purposefully took it there, and the striker he was fighting did not, for whatever reason, attack a number of targets that were open to him. Once on the deck, the tempo slowed down considerably (from an already slow start), with Gracie and his opponent obviously playing it safe, and for time, each waiting for an opening from the other. During the match, I was surprised at the number of available targets on Gracie that the "striker" did not attack. At one point toward the end of the match, I paused the tape. Gracie had his opponent in a hold that left a number of vital targets (on Gracie) totally exposed, yet the "striker" did not even attempt to strike any of these targets. I asked some of my students who were watching the tape with me to name some targets that were open on Gracie. Every single one, down to the newest student of a couple of months, could name more than a few. I asked them why they thought the striker wasn't accessing those targets. They didn't know. Neither did I. Gracie won the match.

I didn't understand how so many people could think that what I had just watched was the "ultimate" fighting system. If Gracie, or anyone else, tried to fight like that on the street, he would have soon rolled onto something hard, sharp or both, had a knife stuck up between his ribs or a brick laid up side his head, or had several of his "opponent"'s compadres step dancing on his face. There must be more to this, I thought. So I checked out a few tapes from my local Blockbuster and watched some more.. I saw some good matches. I saw some poor matches. And I saw some very good and very poor matches. But what I did not see was reality. This is not meant to put down the matches or the fighters. These guys are in great shape, have great skills for competition, and some of them obviously have hearts of lions. It's great sport. But reality it ain't.

If you want reality, start by taking the padding off the fence. Now make sure that the sharp ends are sticking up above the top rail, and that the top rail is chest to throat level and some is torn off the post. A little barb wire on top helps the reality too. Now cut off most of the lights and throw a bunch of cinderblocks, gravel, broken bottles, boards and discarded television sets into the ring. An old washing machine or refrigerator laying on its side, or a junk car with parts laying all over the place would be a nice touch. And my personal favorite was always an old rusty set of bedsprings that you could barely see in the dark (I always wondered where all the bedsprings came from!). Now let the competitors bring whatever they want to into the ring. And just for fun, maybe a Rottweiler going nuts on a long chain that he's about to pull loose from the junk car's door handle. Reality? Well, now we're gettin' close.

Again, my purpose is not to disparage the UFC or any other fight game, but to make the point that it is not "reality". And it shouldn't be. Reality is no fun to watch, or to be a participant in. Rather, the use of the term Mixed Martial Arts is more appropriate and more truthful. It acknowledges the rules that make it a sport.

Competition can bring out the best in people. Reality can bring out the worst. And the difference can be as great as that between life and death.
Several years ago, young guys started coming into my club asking if I taught grappling. I told them that we taught some techniques that might be considered grappling, but they were not the primary focus of what we taught, and were not introduced until a student was well into the system.