In most sports, you have to learn a few different skills. Tennis players, for example, need to learn different strokes like the serve and forehand. Basketball players learn how to dribble and shoot. In mixed martial arts, you not only have to learn different skills, you have to learn multiple martial arts.
Some fighting sports are fairly simple, such as boxing. You have two hands that you can hit your opponent with and sometimes you can grab them in a clinch. Other martial arts, like Judo, have a myriad moves that you can do to take your opponent down and force them to submit.
The martial arts vary in complexity and the style of fighting that takes place. Generally, the styles are broken down into striking and grappling. Boxing and kickboxing are forms of striking arts, while wrestling and jiu-jitsu use grappling techniques.
Striking Martial Arts
Performed standing, the striking martial arts are extremely quick and dangerous. Mixed martial artists use these when they're attempting to damage an opponent or knock them out.
One of the most well-known fighting sports worldwide is boxing. It's one of the most basic — yet incredibly skillful — styles of fighting. Boxers use two fists to try to hit their opponent. They're limited to hitting above the waistline, and they're discouraged from hitting the back of the head and torso.
Mixed martial artists that train in boxing become extremely adept at using their hands to strike their opponent, as well as dodge any incoming punches.
Add elbows, knees and shins to the world of boxing, and you have its more complex cousin: kickboxing. The sport is even more dangerous because you can kick, elbow and knee your opponent. Those bones are sharper and heavier than your knuckles.
While it helps to have more options to use when attacking an opponent, it also means that you have to defend a wider array of strikes. Kickboxers generally stand farther apart than boxers because kicks have a longer range. Muay Thai is a spinoff of kickboxing that uses generally the same rules, although opponents can knock each other down to the ground.
Boxing helps mixed martial artists, but kickboxing is closer to what they experience in a fight. In mixed martial arts, almost every strike is legal as long as it isn't in the crotch or back of the head. Training in kickboxing prepares a fighter for the myriad striking options in mixed martial arts.
Grappling Martial Arts
Unlike striking, which is quick and fairly violent, grappling is an attempt to gain the upper hand on an opponent by wrestling them to the ground and forcing them to submit, or tap out. Bending limbs or choking an opponent can force them to tap out, which means that you win the fight.
Since ancient Greece — and possibly before — wrestling has given athletes a chance to demonstrate their dominance. It's a common sport in schools in the United States, making it one of the most accessible fighting sports for a mixed martial artist.
The sport of wrestling is based around a points system where athletes win points by taking their opponent down, gaining the upper hand, defending against a maneuver, submitting them or pinning them. It's a fairly raw test of strength, where the goal is to use a combination of technique and muscle to gain the upper hand on an opponent.
In mixed martial arts, wrestling is used to take opponents down and gain the upper hand once they're on the ground. You can hit an opponent while they're on the ground in mixed martial arts, so it helps to be on top of the other person where you have the advantage in striking. Wrestling will help you get into that position and make you better at defending against submissions.
When the Ultimate Fighting Championship, this biggest organization in mixed martial arts, hosted their first tournament, a jiu-jitsu specialist won. His name is Royce Gracie, and from that moment on jiu-jitsu has been a staple in the world of mixed martial arts.
The Gracie family is credited with creating the modern version of the art, called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It's based on an ancient Japanese version of the art but tweaked to focus on grappling and submissions. They use a multitude of chokes and limb-bending holds to force opponents to surrender, which is why mixed martial artists are so enamored with this martial art.
Interestingly, the founder of Judo was also a practitioner of the ancient Japanese version of jiu jitsu. His goal was to create something that fit his smaller, more fragile frame according to an article from Judo Info.
Judo rose through the ranks of martial arts since its inception in the late 1800s to the point where it became an official Olympic sport in 1964. It's similar to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but Judo has more emphasis on taking an opponent down using throwing techniques. Mixed martial artists can add these techniques to their repertoire to force an opponent to the ground.