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MMA and Honor
Understanding the Postmodern Paradigm in Physical Culture
© 2014 James LaFond
“It's the bicep flexor—you have one in the leg too. You guys fought with axe handles? What, no axe heads you sick nut!”
-Doc, 10/15/14
Doc is an amateur MMA fighter and a high level martial artist who is also a doctor with a couple of specialties. We periodically have dinner at a dying suburban eatery—me ogling the ebony waitress and he the blonde hostess—now largely reduced to bouncing ideas off of each other’s brains as opposed to the sticks of our not-so-distant past. This guy swims in the Chesapeake Bay in winter, once fought me with a dislocated foot, which he would occasionally reset so it faced out in the right direction between rounds, and thought nothing of continuing sparring with me at Damien Kestle’s MMA Sanctum after I knocked his thumbnail off! Here is a snippet of his monologue on the nature of being an open door jock doctor:
“This kid, twenty four years old, comes in with a boxers fracture. He got mad and punched a refrigerator so I give him the patent line, ‘Look, you either have to stop hitting hard objects or learn how to do it correctly.’
“This sends him off into a tangent about how he’s an MMA fighter. He wants a cast. I say, ‘Look, that’s old technology and I have something that will slide right on that is just as good as long as you do as instructed.’
But no, he wants a cast. He then goes off on me about how I could be jeopardizing his MMA career. So I ask him, ‘How many amateur fights have you had?’
“He’s like ‘huh?’
“ ‘How many pro fights have you had?’
“That’s right none. I told him, ‘Look if you haven’t had any fights you are not an MMA fighter. You might be training it. But you are not a fighter. And I can see by the way you move that you have a ways to go. I just had an amateur fight myself and I can tell you’re a ways off.’
“Of course he goes off and tells me that he thinks I can’t give him the treatment he needs. I don’t need this shit, so I tell him, ‘Then get out, leave. You are twenty-four and you’re acting like your sixteen. I don’t want you here. Get out.’
“You know, the walls are thin. The waiting room is packed. After this so called MMA fighter leaves I have an older patient who says he can’t believe I put up with the kid as long as I did. The next patient after that is an eighteen year old BJJ champion who has a black belt in karate and a black belt in judo too—real throw you around judo. This kid could be an MMA fighter, but of course he might not even make that decision. He’s a sharp kid who could be anything he wants. And later on, the real deal walks into my office; a thirty seven year old pro with nine fights who needs a physical to get cleared for a fight up in Philly. This guy’s elbow is so messed up that he can’t even straighten his arm out. But it’s his right, and is still good for a hook or a cross. That's a professional.
“So my question is, how did we end up in a world where all three of these guys are ostensibly involved in the same thing? I’ve been involved in MMA since long before it was MMA and now when I hear the term I often cringe with distaste.”
The Third Eye
What follows is my attempt to answer this question that has often been put to me in various ways by martial artists over the age of 40, a concern that the mixed art format they all dreamed of decades ago has been hijacked by people without honor.
Doc used honor in our conversation 3 times, though not once in an MMA context. He works five times as many hours as I do, so even though his latent brain power is enough that if you put my brain in a tank and dropped his brain in with it and made them fight, I’d suffer an early KO, he is in the habit of asking me to make sense of social nuances for him from my reclusive vantage; outsourcing his consternation I suppose.
So Doc, based on this and many previous conversations with you, Mister Frank, Master Lee, and others, here is my attempt to correlate the contents of your overworked megabrain—so that you can experience H. P. Lovecraft’s definition of a psychic break.
What else are friends for?
Boxing & MMA Contrasts
In the 19th Century boxing was a joint effort between working class ‘sports’ and aristocratic ‘sports’ to preserve a manly tradition of honorable combat in the face of a rising industrial war machine that overshadowed the single combatant. This was done in opposition to the middle-class who now ruled the political and economic world. Boxing was a spasm of masculine reactionary angst on the part of the now disenfranchised upper class that was no longer permitted to legally duel [for they officered the armies of the middle-class politicians and dueling to such a military establishment was as taboo as suicide to the catholic church] and the perennially disenfranchised lower class which had always aped their lords with less expensive and less lethal forms of man-to-man combat. Boxing therefore preserves much of the duel.
The referee generally does not use force but his voice and is regarded as more of an admonishing voice that one is breaking the code, than the MMA style ref who often yells and dives in and throws one fighter to the side. While the MMA style ref comes from boxing he is more of a law officer than an advisor and has little connection to the dueling second of old.
Boxing, like dueling, has such a severe limitation on combat options that a small margin of skill can achieve victory. This results in a usually stable fighter hierarchy in which top fighters reign for decades and second tier fighters act as gatekeepers. In contrast there are so many ways to lose an MMA fight that the sport will never have a decade long reign by a single champion in a given weight class, with the second tier fighters taking on more the role of circling wolves in relation to the champion than a hierarchy of gatekeepers and challengers. This does make for a good simulation of street level violence, down to the referee acting as law officer and ending the encounter.
Each generation of men to suffer under the mother-rule of civilization has sought their own masculine culture, usually as an attempt to keep alive the form of man-to-man combat engaged in by their immediate ancestors but in a current context.
Officers dueled with the weapons that their grandfathers had fought battles with.
Boxers fought with fists, not in the manner that brawlers did in free-for-alls, but according to the conventions of the duel.
MMA fighters keep alive some of the conventions of boxing, of the manly art of old, but also honor their fathers and grandfathers who once lived in a world where one could engage in a fight with another man and not be shot or stabbed or gang stomped, but pulled apart by the bartender, bouncer or peace officer.
The Place of Honor
Where the dueling ground is advanced freely on to by the duelist, the boxing ring is a symbolic precinct of honor, representing a modern industrial man’s ability to step not onto but into an older more honorable world as a noble combatant. The boxing ring is a compromise between civil society and primal masculinity.
The MMA cage represents a further devolution of the esteem in which the honorable struggle is held by the greater society, and is just a cage, a pit where men struggle. The cage is symbolic of prison, the place of internal exile where a world surrounded by no wild place to which the ostracized person can be condemned to wander, is confined in order to quench the fire of defiance that fuels crime and other things more threatening to the social order. The thing that world seem most odd to an ancient person about our postmodern society is the existence of prisons. Cars would at least make sense as horseless carts. But prisons rarely had a corollary in pre-modern societies. The MMA fighter must become a symbolic prisoner of society to acceptably ply his manly art. On a deeper level, in terms of the viewer, he is also a caged animal, a cautionary creature to be viewed but not emulated—unless the viewer [like your wannabe boy Doc] has been spiritually compromised to the point where the painful heroics of a caged man seems preferable to his own ennui.
The postmodern prize fighter has hit the bottom of the social order and is attempting to punch a hole in the social floor to a make his temporary escape. He seeks to loop the masculine all the way back to the primal, by a return to animalistic combat. The cage offers confinement for the primal man, protection for the postmodern feminist sensibility of much of the audience, and an imagery of control to satisfy the need of the greater society to dominate the man who strives.
This man, who combined the spirit of defiance with the will to power has been the sole conduit of all social upheavals, from Gilgamesh, to Genghis Khan, to George Washington, to Hitler, every overturned order has been done to death by a man. It is no accident that the collective apparatus of the modern nation state is dedicated to promoting feminine values at the expense of the masculine. In the end, it is all about keeping the hood ornament in the Oval Office in his place, and it starts with keeping every fighting man from the boxing gym to the military operator in his place, and making sure that no such person ascends to executive power.
Hip Hop Lifestyle
The wild combat inside the cage that calls for much more adaptability and ruthlessness than boxing, and fells great and small talents with equal rapidity, which is officiated by a law officer like ref who does not insist on mutual respect between fighters in a touch up ritual, but keeps them apart and unleashes them like fighting dogs, and then rushes in to keep the looser from being killed or maimed, recalls the ghetto life of postmodern gangsters. Modern urban police essentially try to keep gangsters from killing each other, with their other main aim to keep these same gangsters from making a profit.
Just as the early bare knuckle boxers were reflections of tribal gangs who backed fighters to the knife hilt on occasion, the modern MMA fighter reflects the general aspiration of the postmodern youth to lash out in a spasm of violence within the greater society that confines him, and to get away with it so as to return to his cozy feminized den. MMA provides a metaphor for the wilderness within, the city as primal jungle.
The greatest commercial success story in MMA other than the UFC is the Tap Out label which is clearly a hip hop lifestyle branding gambit.
Phony Tribalism & Tattoos
Fantasy writer and musician Steven Michael Sechi once wrote a book titled Talislanta, about a fantastical pre-Atlantean world. One of the most interesting fantasy races was a nation of men made through sorcery who were all identical. To differentiate themselves these featureless men engaged in extensive tattooing. In our own celebrity society where most men lack a meaningful identity tattooing has become endemic. Just as youths without families or tribes invent ephemeral gangs as surrogate families and tribes, the post industrial wage slave tethered to a world that only holds heroic options for criminals, slave-soldiers and genetic freaks hires a tattoo artist to help establish a symbolic individuality.
Permitting Men to be Women
While boxing requires less adaptability than MMA, it requires greater discipline and self control, and is the aspect of MMA least often engaged in enthusiastically by new practitioners and most often avoided as a separate contact discipline in the gym. All MMA clubs mandate grappling only sparring and most advocate ‘standup’ sparring separate from grappling as well. However, very few MMA clubs make their fighters just box, as it is too nasty for most to tolerate. Although boxing is a less useful part of MMA than grappling it retains more of a psychological hold on the fighters. Unlike boxing MMA provides potential comfort zones for the losing fighter, and once beaten to the point that he must be rescued, he is not made to return to the combat for more punishment as in boxing.
MMA is safer. Just like social media is safer than a face-to-face conversation. FaceBook I tried, and found its primary purpose to be the turning of men into gossipy women. MMA is safer than boxing just like boxing is safer than dueling, and does represent a watering down of the masculine. It is also though a preserving agent, for the best MMA fighters will not play the ‘lay and pray’ safe game and will fight as honestly as any ancient warrior. So despite its safety valves which were not present in the ancient pankration, it is still a masculine force for the primal in our sissy society.
Last, but not least, is the law-enforcement type MMA ref—the prototype of which is ‘Big’ John McCarthy, and was said to be an actual police officer—who rushes in to break up the fight in much the manner of a man prying two battling women apart, rather than as a boxing ref who acts more like a father separating his sons. This is an important metaphorical message in regards to civil and criminal violence in the greater society.
The Refuge of Honor
Aspects of the duel and of boxing remain in MMA. The most important aspect is that these MMA fighters—the real ones who are now imitated by jerks in the greater community to the degree that boxers were imitated in the 1930s by street toughs—are drawn from among the same psychological population as fighting men of all eras.
Note, that even though the promoters and officials and the crowd at these MMA events act in such a way as to encourage maximum violence—with the ref sometimes berating fighters for lack of violent expression as opposed to the more foul-based admonishments of the boxing ref—that MMA fighters are more likely to praise their opponent than to discount him. Disrespecting the opponent has been the unfortunate habit in boxing since Ali lowered the sportsmanship bar to the acclaim and worship of the liberal white press, who liked nothing more than to see frightening black men like Sony Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ron Lyle, Ernie Shavers, and Ken Norton called ‘gorillas’ and ‘dummies’ and ‘acorns’ by their more Caucasian looking masculine surrogate.
While the lesson of boxing in Ali’s shadow was that one man can reign unbeaten and justify those who would decline through cowardice to take up his masculine art, the current lesson of MMA is that anyone can be beaten at any time; that no man can stay above the roiling pack for long. Both of these state-controlled combat sports inevitably adopted an ethos that belittles the combatant, that turn him into a struggling cipher that suffers needlessly or to a fleeting end. Whether it is the boxing message that challenging the best is pointless, or the MMA message that avoiding defeat is impossible, both serve the will of a society that is built on the feminine obsessions with easy comfort, risk-free security and assured plenty.
But the postmodern prizefighter is staging a subtle revolt and preserving what the best fighters have always fought for, which is honor. When so many MMA fighters like Benson Henderson ignore the ref’s bloodthirsty—and sometimes even copyrighted—encouragement to charge at each other as soon as the bell rings, and instead hold their glove out to be touched and then circle and begin fighting on their own terms, more like a duelist than a fighting dog, a crack in the construct is there for the few open eyes in the audience to see.
When a hated foe of the liberal media like Bernard Hopkins [see my article Far Above The Mangina Sea] declines to play into the interviewer’s request that he demean the abilities of his younger challenger, and instead puts his arm around the man that will be trying to knock his head off in a few months and declares that he is ‘great’ and ‘worthy’, and the fighters stand together laughing at the neutered thing holding the microphone that pretends to manhood and makes a living belittling real men to the couch bound millions who want nothing more than to never be tested as a man, then we have a crack in the motherly body politic, a crack of honor to stain the liberal sensibilities of our corporate slave masters.
I will never grow weary of seeing an MMA fight card or boxing match, if for no other reason than to see how many fighters form alliances in the face of their manipulative and contentious boxing handlers and how many fighters touch gloves at the beginning of an MMA fight despite their master’s command to ‘get it on!’
As a coach I might watch the fight for technique and tactics. But as a writer I watch a fight for the little rebellions staged by the few men who have survived our collective emasculation, to defy the bloodthirsty world with a moment of mutual respect. Although the feminists and the liberals out there will claim not to be bloodthirsty—and are indeed fearful of the sight of the stuff of life—they all want these fighters to fail. A liberal feminist dream for boxing or MMA is a champion who never wins two fights in a row, and is forever dethroned, reminding us that we may have but one ruler, and that it sits behind a desk.
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Jeremy Bentham     Oct 21, 2014

“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche

“Tell the truth about what you see and what you do. There is an army depending on us for correct information. You can lie all you please when you tell other folks about the Rangers, but don’t never lie to a Ranger or officer.”

-Standing Orders-Roger’s Rangers, 1759

“A lie is as good as the truth if you can get someone to believe it.”

-Flip Wilson

Yeah where have all the posers and phonies come from? I’m sure Doc is dismayed that so many phonies have attached themselves to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). One thing I learned in the past 50 plus years is that there is no cause so noble that it will NOT attract frauds, lunatics and criminals to its ranks. In fact the higher an endeavor is held in esteem by the public the more likely it is to attract posers. MMA is attracting a lot now because it is the “in thing” these days; MMA fighters are seen by many in the public as the toughest and most dangerous of all the athletes participating in the various combat sports. So welcome to the club MMA! The military veteran’s community has had to deal with frauds posing as war heroes for many years (even though most people would rather not serve in the military and are quick to say so). In The post-Vietnam era American society has experienced a deluge of phony war vets. For example one encounters so many people claiming to have been Navy SEALs in Vietnam that if one were to take just half of their claims at face value one would have to imagine that the U.S. Navy deployed at least five full divisions of SEALs to Southeast Asia. It’s become outrageous to the point that many in the veteran’s community have set up web sites to expose people fraudulently claiming military honors. But we do live in “post-modern” times don’t we? And in our post-modern era all the old “bourgeois” morals and manners of the past are considered to be obsolete, irrelevant, no longer valid. In particular the old morals about honesty and honor are no longer considered valid. There is no objective morality or objective truth, no right or wrong in the post-modern world (except for racism, racism is still considered to be “evil” by the post-modern/ multicultural/ PC Left largely because it is a useful political tactic to demonize your opponents by accusing them of racism rather than engaging them in a debate over the issues, which you might lose of course, AND the boogeyman of a return of state sanctioned racism keeps minority voting blocs loyal to the cause). So if you need to tell a few lies to boost your self-esteem (like pretending to be an MMA tough guy) that’s all right! Who are we to judge? Conflict arises because there still seems to be so many “judgmental” people in society who believe the old values of honesty and honor and good manners have merit. The long-term problem with these post-modern values is that they are causing American society to transition rather quickly from a high-trust first-world society, where you can take most people at face value, to a low-trust third-world society, where a large segment of the population are strangers to the truth and cannot be trusted to do what they should. Or even truly be who and what they say they are.
James     Oct 23, 2014

Jeremy, when I write the book of Jeremy Bentham quotes, you shall be duly credited.No Cause Too Noble—how is that for a title?
Jeremy Bentham     Oct 23, 2014

I like it! Thanks James.
Bruno Dias     Jan 30, 2017

Every time i read one of your articles about boxing, i felt the urge to step into the ring to test myself. I've establish as my mkain goal this year getting in shape to fight, doesn't matter if it boxing or kickboxing.

Just want to thank you for the inspiration.
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