“Fight Science” : A No-Holds-Barred Review

by Michael Joyce

Before I begin this review of Fight Science: Mixed Martial Arts, which was aired in January 2008 on the National Geographic Channel, I’d like to state for the record that I’m a fan, promoter, teacher and (naturally) a critic of the martial sciences.  It’s this last characteristic that I’d like to clarify.  I’m not the type of critic that gets pleasure from casting shadows on people, styles, or anything of the kind.  Personally (and the teacher in me) sincerely hopes that it’s moreso seen as “light” than anything else.  There is a creed that every teacher must follow:  teach from the heart [with love]…teach the truth [without ego, without secrets, with honesty]…and become an example of what you teach.  Now, with that said…

Fight Science is a television program in which scientists and martial artists work together to discover the mysteries of the artform, the capabilities of the human body and the damage that the human body can cause with various striking techniques.  The latest episode of Fight Science featured four of the most prominent fighters of the Ultimate Fighting Championships: Randy Couture, Bas Rutton, Tito Ortiz and Dean Lister.  The questions were the obvious ones: how do these Mixed Martial Art (MMA) athletes compare to the average person, traditional martial artists, how much force/damage are they able to inflict and how is it possible that the human body can produce such results. 

I’m not going to spoil the results for you.  You can watch and enjoy the program on your own.  However, I wouldn’t have decided to make this a blog entry unless I had something to say….


NO STYLE, OR STYLE: We, the masses, obviously know that MMA is now a pop culture phenomenon.  It is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and clearly gives society a clear view of “what works” in an actual, real-to-life fight (ok. minus the gloves).  Fight Science clearly made MMA fighters out to be the pinnacle of athletic excellence and implied MMA as the most effective “style” (if you call it a style).  Can MMA be a “style” when it’s just a combination of effective, battle-hardened techniques?  Isn’t this just what Bruce Lee did with Jeet Kune Do, but vowed never to refer to as a “style.” 

* Who,… What…umm…Who again? :  Exercise scientists tested these MMA stars on crash test dummies rigged with state-of-the-art, pressure measuring sensors.  When these researchers spoke to us (the audience) in terms like pounds per square inch (for the knowledgeable) and concusionable (for the less knowledgeable…[and ok, “concusionable” isn’t a word.] ), they neglected to give actual results.  How did these traditionalists (i.e. boxer, muay thai boxer, taekwondo “so-called experts”) fare result-wise?  Who were these so-called traditionalists and how close did they actually come to these MMA phenoms?  Not revelling this information only softens the argument that these MMA athletes are superior.

The Remark:  There was a remark regarding fighting as “a game of chess” in which a fighter uses strategy to plan several moves ahead.  I’ve heard this analogy before and think it’s utter nonsense.  Fighting is nothing like chess… it’s actually more like ping-pong.  Fighters simply react.  They react with a conditioned response forged by countless hours of training.  Fighting is not a sport that requires a great deal of intelligence (as the show implies).  Intelligence helps (don’t get me wrong)… but genetics, training, desire and the dent of hard work makes a much greater impression!  It’s like in the movie Top Gun when Maverick says (regarding an aerial dogfight), “You don’t have time to think up there…if you think, you’re dead.”  The instructor follows up by adding, “That’s one hell of a gamble with a 30 million dollar aircraft.”  My advice… don’t think like chess…. otherwise, “Yeeha, Jester’s dead.’

MMA less dangerous than boxing?  Hmmm…. okay, I see the logic.  The higher-ups are trying to justify MMA as being a less risky hobby/sport/profession than boxing due to lack of repetitive head trauma.  Avid fan of both here….university graduate…umm…still not buying it.  Let’s look at these fighters at the end of their careers and count their aches, pains and nervous disorders shall we?  I’ll bet my pinky-toe that more MMA fighters are carried away on stretchers, visited the hospital more times and even become paralysed when compared to the sport of boxing.

MMA fighters are saints… yeah…. I said it.  Ok, that’s a lie.  Ok, I’m going to do what a teacher should do and tell the truth.  There are some gentlemen in the sport.  “some”… not many.  The ones that spring to mind are George St. Pierre, Carlos Newton, Cung Le, Rich Franklin and (my favorite) Kazushi Sakuraba.  Apart from these examples…examples of stellar sportsmen… there are nearly twice as many ego-driven, barbarous “thugs.”  I understand the mindset of fighting “in the zone”… but a true martial art professional knows when his opponent is “out of commission.”  Hint… if you are a fighter and you see your opponent’s skull ricochet off the campus and limbs stiffen straight, don’t hit him again. He’s not faking!

Brain over Brawn:“MMA fighters are brain over brawn,” says the legendary Randy Couture.  (I roll my eyes sarcastically)  Well,… yes Mr. Heavyweight Champion.  My opinion is… in the UFC, don’t always bet your money on the bigger guy, however, it hasn’t been a true “David vs. Goliath” since the early days of UFC when they threw in a sumo wrestler.  But let’s face it…  Royce did a great job fighting at a natural weight of 170 lbs (give or take),  but he’s been doing jujitsu since he came out of the womb.  The reality is this…if you are under 200 lbs, plan on making the opponent miss… a lot.

Final Note:  Martial arts are more than mere strikes and armbars.  There is often neglected a spiritual side to the martial arts… and it is this side that I hope all martial artists are able to find.  Our goal as teachers is to help guide our students towards self-knowledge.  Our goal as students is to find meaning and bliss behind what we do.  I said once (3 years ago), that if I had it to do all over again… I would have become a fighter.  I wanted to fight in order to promote taijiquan as a legitimate fighting art and thereby draw more students into my studio (we all must make a living).  But that was all a fleeting thought.  My heart is in teaching and in spreading the art of Chen Style Taijiquan.  And although I think I can handle myself with a few of those guys, I’m not a big fan of being bruised…or bleeding for that matter.  🙂   And also…look at the statistics, even the “champion” and “hall-of’-fame” fighters lose one-out-of-four fights.  I’m content with my record of 0-0-0.  That’s undefeated, baby!

Final words,… Much respect to all martial artists, Mixed Martial Artists and Traditionalists alike.  Gracious bows to those masters that choose to fight honorably.  

Overall review of this particular episode:  2 and a half stars (out of 5).  “I wish they didn’t sugar-coat the fighters and the UFC as much as they did.  The show and the athletes can stand on their own merit.  The animated skeletons, Bas Rutton’s comical remarks and the desire to write this review (having watched the entire show) were the only things that kept me from flipping the channel.  I can still hear Bas saying (about his biceps), ‘they’re not marshmellows.’  Did I mention he makes me laugh?”

Extended Question to Readers:  

What was your take on the show?  Did I miss anything?  Do you disagree with anything any this review?  Anything you’d like to add?  (Don’t forget to mention if you’re a student, teacher, fan, fighter, or all-the above)


~ by chencenter on February 1, 2008.

18 Responses to ““Fight Science” : A No-Holds-Barred Review”

  1. Yea dog.. I totally agree.. fighting is all about reaction.. when I am in a fight I NEVER think about what is going on next. And even though I am a Professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter and Pro Muay Thai fighter my background is in the traditional art of MUAY Thai. So my striking would naturally be harder than a wrestlers strikes.. cuz that’s my game, to punch and kick you till I win.. lol. I agree with you about the no style thing also… What I think the show failed to say was that MMA is a sport not a style. IN mma you have wrestlers but a wrestler is will never react like a striker.. its not in their make up of training. Everyone excels at different aspects of the SPORT of MMA but to be a true champion you have to be a master in a traditional martial art first such as boxing, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, whatever and be good enough in the others to take the fight to your comfort zone so you can win… I do think that they wanted to Glamorize the sport of MMA by making it feel like MMA athletes are super human, I personally, haven’t seen the show, but hard work is what wins fights… oh, and bas ruttens humor..lol. I love that guy too….

  2. NOTE TO READERS: If you’ve followed this link MySpace or Facebook, please just erase my name, email and website from the boxes and leave your comment. Just a little technical gliche there. Peace and Love. ~Joyce

  3. You tell em! 🙂

  4. Good review, i thought the show didn’t depict the many facets of MMA, I know the show was called fight Science, so alot of the test were to measure sheer force, but there is so much more that goes into being a complete fighter.

  5. I have a few things to say. One this was well thought out and good job. Two, Boxing is far more dangerous when looking at it in terms of fatalities (Only 1 in MMA history while over 100 boxers die every year)and long term brain illness (dementia pugilistica). The standing ten count in boxing is what makes it so dangerous, it allows a person to be basically knocked out over and over. the gloves make a large difference in the resulting injuries. Three, spirituality is something which is inherently learned from the martial arts. Martial Arts are about fighting, you train and you do better. Thinking about spirituality is taking time away from training and should be sought after as a personal endeavor away from the gym.

  6. Adam. You’re truly one of the great contributors and I’m glad you responded to this one! The standing ten count is indeed very dangerous in terms of injury, re-injury and damage…but it is still hard to believe the 1-to-100 statistic. I see MMA fighters go out on stretchers all the time with neck and head trauma and I hardly ever see the same in boxing. I need to check the validity of that statistic before I hand you my pinky-toe on a platter. I love your pragmatic stance on this issue. Youre a tremendous martial artist, I respect you greatly and I definately look to hear more!

  7. I have written four college papers on the subject of MMA in relation to all Martial Arts with one of them focusing on MMA vs Boxing. If I may find it I will send it your way. Thank God my for writing teachers with open minds.

  8. Good Review. I like your point on the “game of chess” comment. In this case, thinking will indeed doom you. Ironic you should choose a Tom Cruise movie for an example. My first thought was of the movie “The Last Samurai”. In that movie, Cruise’s character is getting a good beating with the staff when a small child comes up to him and says, “No mind.” In other words, “Quit thinking so much.” The author of “An Unfettered Mind”, a book written by a Zen Master to a Samurai Sword Master says pretty much the same thing:
    “There is no place to put the mind…No mater where I put my mind, my intentions are held in check in the place where my mind goes, and I lose to my opponent. Because of that, I place my mind just below navel and do not let it wander. Thus I am able to change according to the actions of my opponent.” We recognize this place as the Dan Tien. This also lends insight to the spiritual aspect of martial arts. A key practice on the path to enlightenment is mindfulness, or residing totally in the present moment; also not something to think about, but to do.

  9. Thanks Rodney. Insightful. Yes, “mindfulness, mindfulness…always mindfulness.” As I agree with the true path is the path of mindfulness, I would have to disagree with the mind residing in the dantian. The dantian, as I understand it, is merely a reference point (in the martial aspect). Moving from the dantian gives power, a steady base and enables us to adapt to our oppenent. The Zen master, and the martial artist would, in my opinion, best be served by wuwei, mindful mindlessness. With intention never focused on one thing, intention is instead, everywhere. This Zen master that you speak of is Shunryu Suzuki, correct?

  10. I teach Yang style tai chi chuan and have much respect form master Feng, my friend Andrew Dale teaches that style in Seattle. He was asked to be a disciple by Feng. I primarily practice the Old form of Yang style that features the silk reeling energy as well.

    RE: the Show,

    As an exercise physiologist I was eagerly waiting to see what the show had to show. Unfortunately there was not much science, but a lot of show. What would have interested me would probably bore most viewers, factual data and numbers, but I think real information would have been better.

    Having said that I think the people shown on there, Bas Rutten for example are extremely well skilled martial artists in their own right. He is a black belt in Kyokushinkai if I remember correctly and is an exceptional athlete. I have the highest regard for him. I have worked out with Kyokushinkai groups and they are tough. Not your grandma’s tai chi class.

    What they did on the show was compare apples to oranges, for example different weight classes against each other. A ligher boxer against a heavier fighter.
    They should have had similar weight athletes at similar levels in experience demonstrating. Anything other than that would give meaningless results.

    What is interesting is in older research int he 60’s that I reviewed, people off the street who were athletic actually hit as hard as black belt karate students. The difference was the efficiency. Many people on the street can hit as hard, or harder than your local martial art teacher, just they can’t hit you if you have some skill.

    My interest primarily is in health promotion and tai chi chuan. So the MMA is interesting but is not health promotion.

    Still I respect their skill.

    There are many very exceptional athletes in that arena. And a lot of lower level ones too. Still it is a very specific method that requires a lot of training and skill to exceed.

    Having said that, I will stick to tai chi chuan,
    Harvey Kurland

    Tai Chi Chuan in the Inland Empire


  11. BTW Cung Le is one of my favorites, his skill is wonderful. He has wonderful take down skill. Though I suspect he outclasses his opponents.

    Then there are the raw power athletes, they also excel in the MMA. Pure power and a little technique can often destroy low power but excellent technique.

  12. From reading this review, I discovered that there are martial artists out there like myself. I’ve been learning since I was eight years old. From Karate to the formless Jeet Kune Do.
    Recently, it’s been under my skin that there are people learning martial arts because of the trend of UFC and such. When I converse with them, they’ve obviously have been trained by arrogant fools, who haven’t heard of respect and honor. Which I might add, probably believe that MMA is the answer. What about the improvement of one’s self.
    I’m now begining research of Tai Chi Quan. I’m enjoying the eternal knowledge it has to offer. It’s something that the average eye could not concieve.

  13. Nathan. Amen. No doubt they are good athletes…but the martial are world should start distinguishing two categories:
    (1) the martial arts: artistic and stylistic methods of fighting… and (2) the combative techiques system: which is ufc, pure and simple. Congrats on the Taijiquan. Good luck. you’re in for a fun and enlightening time. Remember the words of Bruce: “knowledge is ultimately self knowledge”. Look forward to hearing from you again Nathan! Welcome to our blog! -M

  14. The “game of chess” sounds like a misquote or some kind of misunderstanding as the analogy is usually applied to bjj, from which mma (the ufc incarnation at least) came from, not mma itself. That analogy is extremely aptly applied to bjj. I agree it likely doesn’t apply to the less restricted mma format, especially in stand-up striking, but many times one (well if one has some of this training) can see this thinking at work on the ground between fighters with a lot of bjj background. One can also see them trying to spring a trap (like a chess game) in order to try a different technique.

  15. I’ve enjoyed and respect your blog. I would like to add that in a “real world” fighting situation where there are no rules and no referee is the only true test of fighting ability, confidence, skill, etc.. MMA is a sport that prepares you for that particular style and rules, much like boxing, wrestling, BJJ and the all other Martial Arts and fighting techniques. Bruce Lee is the only person who has been completely honest with himself and realized that each situation requires unique and individual reactions and that the adaptation of all techniques and arts while not being bound by any one style or discipline is the truest form of martial arts mastery. I also believe in the clearing of your mind while in combat to allow the natural instincts, reflexes and appropriate responses that the subconscious will allow far faster that any train of thought is capable. I am an avid fan of MMA but know that if you put a MMA fighter into a Boxing match, the MMA fighter will not fare as well as in his own environment or vice versa. That being said, I also agree that the show seemed more like an infomercial for UFC and MMA than a true science of fighting program. BTW. I am a lifelong student of many different disciplines ranging from boxing (from age 9,) to Shorin Ryu- Karate, Kempo-Karate, Wrestling, Tai Chi, Aikido, and Yoga to name a few. I look forward to more blogs seeking truth. Thanks.

  16. a sad thing about nat geo is that it tends to slant a lot of things in a particular person/country/style/whatever’s favour. this is totally wrong. i am a student of taekwondo, and i feel this show is an ad for ufc and bjj , glorifying them just to make a program. mma athletes are so not ‘the best’ nor is a brazilian jujitsu fighter the ‘best’. ok lets see this bjj guy commin atcha. when he goes to take you to the ground, knee him of whack him on the face and he’ll start bleeding. wow how efficient. a master of any martial arts style has just as good a chance to defeat an mma expert, as another mma expert, if he’s a fighter with the right qualities. quoting alex hyunh from ‘fight science ‘ no martial arts style is the best, and as mma is refferred to as a ‘ style ‘ , it too isnt the best.
    so remember, don’t ever underestimate any martial artist cause it may be the last thing you do.

    fight science wasnt the most accurate series for representing martial arts and such, but it was interesting. on the whole i give the 1st episode (diff. fighting style), the one showing self defence techniques 7.5 / 10. i give the one showing elite forces 7/10 and the mma one 4/10.
    martial arts are for self defence, personal betterment and health, not for making a cheap public show of so called ‘skills’. they are a legacy and here we are tarnishing this legacy by mixing them up, quarrelling over which is best and using them as means of entertainment.
    many mma people are disreputable and in several older mma matches, fighters like tito ortiz use swear words with impunity. wow something we want all kids to learn.
    shows like human weapon and fight quest, even though of not very high quality at least doesnt discriminate as much as nat geo does in figt science and fight masters.

  17. p.s. any style you train in is unique and trains both mind and body to perfection and allows you to take care of yourself.

  18. I enjoyed reading this review. I loved watching it, mostly because Bas Rutten is the man.

    I love MMA, I’m up to date on all the pro circuits but I thought it was odd (although awesome) to bring out a retired MMA Fighter to do the show (Bas Rutten) who retired because it hurt too much to train.

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