Mixed Martial Arts as a Postmodern Phenomenon

As long as there has been a so-called postmodern era in the humanities and arts, there have also been discussions about how to define the term and whether it still applies to how we perceive and depict our world. Apart from multiperspectivity, fragmentation and hybridity, Jean François Lyotard’s concept of the “collapse of the meta-narratives” is still one of the most impressive postmodern ideas. According to the French philosopher, meta-narratives are philosophical concepts and superordinate ideas such as the progress of history, the infallibility of science or the omnipresence of religion. While these ideas had long been part of our thinking, they eventually proved to be just as questionable as everything else in the postmodern era. Therefore, they have lost their general validity.

If you now look at the relatively young sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), you will immediately recognize many of the previously mentioned aspects. In MMA, single fighting styles, which could also be considered as meta-narratives in the martial arts world, have lost their general significance and merge into a new, hybrid form of fighting. As every athlete has a different cultural and fighting background, this then again creates multiperspectivity and leads to the fact that a single truth is not to be found anymore. While critics of the sport may tend to remark that this collapse of ideas also affects ethical standards and that MMA is an inhuman spectacle, it cannot be denied that it is a sport with clearly defined rules and an injury risk not higher than that of other sports. Of course the advertising for MMA often uses violent scenes and may be criticized, but the sport itself is highly complex from a technical and theoretical point of view.

What makes MMA even more interesting is the fact that not only the fighting, but also the culture behind it takes on a hybrid and fragmented character. Just as in postmodernism, in the world of MMA, there is no clear center anymore. Even though the United States have brought the sport to international popularity, other countries such as Japan as the birthplace of MMA with its dedicated audiences or Brazil as the country of origin of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu also play an essential role in MMA. It is also remarkable that there are not only MMA fans and practitioners all over the world, but also that many of the most popular professional fighters have a complex cultural background. Fighters such as BJ Penn, who was born in Hawaii, but is also of Korean and Irish descent, or Benson Henderson, who is the son of an African-American father and a Korean-American mother, represent postmodernism not only in their fighting, but also in their cultural backgrounds and therefore provide a source of inspiration for many fans all over the world.

Mixed Martial Arts is thus a postmodern phenomenon by any account and both reflects and inspires the contemporary world. Instead of condemning the sport, we should try to understand its actual characteristics, which include the immediate rules and circumstances as well the cultural backgrounds of both fighting styles and fighters themselves. By doing so, MMA may even help us to better understand other aspects of our postmodern world and to create mutual understanding.

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