All Martial Arts begin as Mixed Martial Arts
When I say ” All martial arts begin as mixed martial arts” I don’t mean that all martial arts begin as the modern sport of mixed martial arts. I mean that the current sport is a modern expression of an age old concept. As a general rule the founder of any system whether traditional or eclectic first mastered several martial arts. They then took what they felt to be useful from each and combined them into their new system.
In systems created before the 20th century when guns became prevalent it was common for empty hand systems to be derived and developed from weapons systems. Men fight with weapons, empty hand fighting is for when you have lost your weapon, you are in a place where weapons are not allowed, or when you are looking to subdue and capture an opponent. Examples of this would be Xingyi which is said to be developed from spear fighting, Jiu Kung which is developed from sword fighting, Escrima and Kali still teach weapons first and then show the empty hand method of applying the same techniques/concepts. I would also suggest that the equal push/pull action of the striking and retracting hands in Karate may have originated with handling a staff or spear.
Each system is derived from the systems the creator of the art knows. Each has a different breadth of arts and understanding. For example in Japan there were over 700 distinct styles of jujitsu. Jujitsu was developed by the samurai for use on the battle field if they lost their weapon, or had to capture someone. When the systems were created it would be assumed the student learned or was learning weapons. With that in mind the focus was on grappling, throwing, locking and striking the opponent. Ground techniques could be used when capturing an opponent, or to escape being captured if your opponent was trying to capture you. However going to the ground in combat with fighting all around you normally meant your death. The most popular martial sport today derived from jujitsu is Judo created by Jigoro Kano. Kano first trained in Tenjin Shin Yo Ryu which is derived from Yoshin Ryu and Shin no Shindo Ryu. He trained with many masters through his life time. He experimented with sumo techniques and even added the fireman’s carry from western wrestling to his art because it worked. Kano believed that to be truly superior you had to combine the best methods of several ryu (schools).
An approach many have taken was to get a black belt (or equivalent) in a grappling system, a striking system, and a weapons system to be well rounded. There are many arts to choose from to fit each category. I would recommend earning your black belt in one system before adding the next. It is the way my teachers told me to approach it.
Chen style is an example of an art that developed over centuries. Chen Bu is accredited with originating this art about 1374 AD. His descendant Chen Wangting (1580-1660) is credited with incorporating theories from 16 different martial arts systems described in the classic text Ji Xiao Xin Shu. Chen Wangting is also accredited with being the originator of internal martial arts.
More modern examples would include the arts such as Jeet kun Do created by Bruce Lee, or any of the Kempo systems in America. These systems certainly took and still take today things they like from any other system they discover, and discard things the don’t find useful.
The current sport of MMA is the most recent sport oriented expression of this mind set. Reality Based Martial Arts are the newest expression of this mind set for those focused on street self defense. Each system and approach to the arts has to be viewed and stands on it’s own merit.