A Rebuttal to the Ball Region

Wednesday’s Penny Arcade is about MMA, and while I do think it’s funny, I felt like the authors are missing out on a lot of what goes on in an MMA fight. I decided to shoot them an email, which I’ll also post here.

Hello Jerry,

As an amateur MMA fighter and long-time Penny Arcade fan, Wednesday’s comic is a delicious intersection of two of my most-loved domains – a venn diagram whose circles I never thought would intersect. I also enjoyed the old podcast where you originally talked about your forays into MMA. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of ridiculous email from ridiculous people on this topic. I’d just like to make a quick point and get out of your way.

In short, I think the strip is really funny – especially “kick-kicking, a kick-based form of combat” – but I sincerely believe you are missing out on some really good stuff, and I assure you the appeal is not in the “look-away” moments. The appeal of MMA is exactly what you desire – a contest between diverse “systems.” The results may not be as balletic as you expected, but when two guys get into a real fight it’s rarely very “pretty” to watch. That’s not to say there aren’t incredible displays of virtuosity!

In the early days, it was an open question which “system” would carry the day in an anything-goes fight. We just didn’t know. There were lots of people who claimed theirs would be the “ultimate” fighting art, especially those who lived on money from students. As it turned out, the jiu-jitsu guys were able to close the gap and force their game on all comers for most of the 90s. That’s changed, and even guys who specialize in striking are now usually world-class grapplers. It goes both ways, too – you’ll see guys who are primarily grapplers scoring knockouts with punches and kicks.

Ironically, grappling is the most complex part of fighting. While striking is relatively simple and is all about timing, grappling is a “deep” contest that moves more slowly and has a lot more room for strategy and improvisation. In practice, though, it’ll always look like “sweaty ball-punching” if it’s not your thing.

The new UFC video game actually does a good job of capturing the complexity of MMA. I was really impressed with it!

If you find grappling to be fundamentally a bummer, you might enjoy watching muay thai fights, which are basically MMA without the ground game. Fighters are allowed to grab each other while standing, and even throw each other, but there’s no ground fighting. It’s often very pretty to watch. If you’re sincerely interested in MMA, I’d also suggest the 2008 documentary “Renzo: Legacy” (Trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zENt9OpmhY)

(also, a story I wrote for a local magazine about my first MMA fight: http://www.thebollard.com/bollard/?p=6262)

Anyway, thanks for your time!

-John Bronson
Portland, ME

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2 thoughts on “A Rebuttal to the Ball Region

    • I haven’t been able to train since I joined the army! I’m going to check out the BJJ school here, which will probably give me something to write about. I definitely plan to get back into training once my life normalizes, and when I’m training I’ll start writing again too.

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