The Believer and MMA

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [meekness], self-control. Against such there is no law. [Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added]i

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness [meekness], with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,… [Ephesians 4:1-2]

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;… [Colossians 3:12]

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. [1 Timothy 3:2-6]

But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness [meekness]. [1 Timothy 6:11]

And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but [must] be gentle [meek] to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,… [2 Timothy 2:24-25]

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle [meek], showing all humility to all men. [Titus 3:1-2]

Recently I was involved briefly in a discussion on Facebook, in which I stated that sports which glorify violence and which involve the deliberate infliction of pain and injury upon one’s opponent do not glorify God—this was in specific reference to MMA [Mixed Martial Arts, for those not familiar with the term]/UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship – the biggest promoter of MMA fighting in the United States]. I basically compared MMA fighting to gladiator fighting in the Roman Empire.

Some youngster, who claimed expert knowledge of MMA fighting [but apparently utterly lacking in knowledge of the Bible, logic, or history] stated that my comparison was simplistic and ridiculous–and, by inference, stated that he believed I was stupid.

In his remarks, this young man displayed at least four logical fallacies which invalidated his remarks and rendered them as utter nonsense.

The first logical fallacy was the fallacy of ad hominem.  For those not versed in formal debate or rules of logic, the ad hominem fallacy is to attack one’s opponent personally when one has no factual basis for dismissing their points.  This young man committed the ad hominem fallacy when he dismissed me and my remarks as being “simplistic” and “ridiculous” without offering a shred of factual evidence to refute the comments.

In my remarks, I had described MMA fighting as basically having the goal of one combatant pummeling his [or her] opponent into senselessness.  The young man who wished to gainsay my comments again offered no solid evidence to refute my claims.  Instead, he resorted to a second logical fallacy—false equivocation—claiming that such competitive sports as baseball, basketball, football, and hockey are equally violent and that I was being hypocritical in not addressing the violence in those sports.  Another form of false equivocation in his “argument” is the inherent presumption which equates the risk of injury with violence.

This gainsayer claimed as “proof” of the inherent violence in these other sports, the fact that he had lost a tooth while playing a basketball game.  This presents the third and fourth logical fallacies—appealing to inappropriate authority and sweeping generalization.  An anecdote of personal injury presented without context as to the circumstances under which the injury occurred cannot be cited as expertise in evaluating the level of violence in one particular sport—and to make that the basis for claiming all sports as “violent” is simply a claim which has no epistemological warrant in terms of logic.

Before we examine the Biblical proscriptions which render any form of violence for the purpose of entertainment as unsuitable for the one who claims to serve Christ [either as a participant or as a spectator], let’s look at the history and facts surrounding the “sport” called MMA fighting.  We shall then compare those with other sports which my opponent claims to be equally violent.  In other words, I hope to disarm false logic with facts.

Contemporary MMA competitions originated as a means of incorporating different elements of martial arts in a situation resembling a street fight.ii  Because combatants are not trained in a formal style, such as tae kwan do, kung fu, hap ki do, or sanshou, they are not ranked according to levels of mastery.  The only evaluation of “mastery” is one’s win-loss record.

MMA matches are scored by a panel of three judges.  Wins are determined in one of three ways: a knock out, a submission [surrender by one’s opponent], or a judges’ decision.  This is similar to how matches are decided in boxing [the submission being the MMA equivalent of a TKO].

Although rules for the “sport” differ depending on which organization is promoting the fights, until very recently [since 2007], unified rules for this “sport” allowed for a combatant to kick or stomp a downed opponent in the head to accomplish a knockout–thereby leaving little doubt as to intent to inflict permanent injury upon an opponent.iii  While current rules allow for stomping on a downed opponent, kicking a downed opponent is now considered a foul.  Such egregious disregard for the well-being of another human being in the name of “entertainment” can hardly be considered “no more violent than any other sport.”

The names used for various fighting strategies within MMA also display its intentional, willful, prideful glorification of violence:  sprawl-and-brawl, grinding, and ground-and-pound.

So, the charge that my description that MMA has as its foundational philosophy the goal of pounding one’s opponent into senselessness was “simplistic” and “ridiculous” is without foundation when one carefully examines the facts instead of resorting to a knee-jerk attempt to justify one’s sinful pursuits.  After all, what does this person think a “knock-out” is?  It means one’s opponent has been rendered unconscious by repeated blows to the head.

What are the effects of MMA on its participants?  On average, approximately 26 percent of those participating in MMA combat receive lingering [having effects which last after the fight is over] injuries:  lacerations, abrasions, contusions, concussions, broken bones.  It has been determined that injury rates in MMA are similar to the injury rates in boxing, and full contact karate.iv

Long term medical studies of participants in MMA show those having at least six years of MMA experience show significant reduction in the size of the hippocampus and thalamus.  Those with at least twelve years of experience showed not only significant reduction in the size of the hippocampus and thalamus, but also showed significant memory loss and and diminished alertness.v  The memory loss and diminished alertness are directly attributable to the reduction in size of the hippocampus and thalamus—the same phenomenon observed in Alzheimer’s patients.

While statistics have not been kept concerning fatalities due to MMA emerging comparatively recently as a form of entertainment, there have been seven documented fatalities since 2005.  Because the injury rates for MMA participants are consistent with those of other sports involving the intentional infliction of head trauma such as boxing and contact karate, it would not be unreasonable to project similar fatality rates.  Professional boxing has documented over 900 fatalities in the period between 1890-2007.vi

How do these figures compare to the other sports mentioned?  During its entire history, there has only been one on-field fatality in major league baseball which can be attributed to a play-related injury.vii  Probably the best comparison would be to American Football, as this is the only sport which actually requires body contact with force as part of the game.  When evaluated across all levels of organized play [youth, high school, collegiate, and professional], we find the following:  High school students suffered 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 exposures [an exposure is defined as a game or practice].  College students suffered 6.3 concussions for every 10,000 exposures.  When we look at catastrophic [defined as career ending or disabling] injuries, the incident rate is less than 1 in 100,000 players at the high school and collegiate levels.  As far as fatalities are concerned, the average number of deaths per year is about twelve.  Of these twelve deaths, only four deaths per year have been found to be directly attributable to playing football.  The other eight were due to causes such as heat illness, cardiac arrest, asthma, sickle cell disease, or pulmonary embolism.  In other words, the remaining 2/3 of those deaths could have occurred during any type of strenuous exertion because of an underlying health condition and cannot be blamed solely on playing football.viii

The basic point is this: there is a crucial distinction between injuries incurred in MMA fighting, which are intentional, deliberate, and an integral feature of the “sport” and those which occur in other sports which are accidental and outside of the usual course of events in those sports.  In other words, people who participate in MMA do so expecting to hurt or be hurt.  Spectators view such events with the full expectation and even anticipation that someone will be hurt.

Outside of Oakland Raider fans, I know of no one who views baseball, basketball, American football, or hockey games with the expectation and anticipation that someone will be injured or worse.  The rules of those games are constructed to enhance the safety of the players and sanctions are imposed for violations of those rules.  And intentional, flagrant disregard for those rules results in stiff penalties against those in violation.  In other words, acts of violence which occur in the contexts of other sports are against the norms for those sports.  In MMA fighting, if the element of gratuitous violence did not exist in the sport, the sport itself would not exist.

With this factual basis laid, again I charge that those who are disposed to viewing MMA [or other forms of fighting] as entertainment are no better than the Roman citizens who went to the Colosseum to watch the gladiators kill each other. The difference is one of degree, not of kind.

What are the theological issues involved in participating in or viewing MMA?  As noted in the Scriptures cited, attributes of the Holy Spirit which are to be manifested in all believers are kindness and gentleness [meekness].  “Kindness” in the Greek is χрηστότης [pronounced “chrās-TŎ-tās” with the “ch” being given a hard sound].  It refers to benevolence and looking out for the well-being of others.ix  Can one say one is honestly looking out for the well-being of others when one is engaged in a “sport” or is paying to view a “sport” which glorifies and encourages inflicting pain and injury on another human?

Scripture also mandates that believers in Christ display “gentleness” or “meekness.”  The words rendered as such are επιεικής [pronounced “hĕp-ē-ī-KĀS” and found in 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 3:2], ηπιος [pronounced “HĀ-pē-ŏs” and found in 2 Timothy 2:24], and πραΰτης [pronounced “pră-Ü-tās” and found in Galatians 5:23; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:25;  Titus 3:2].  The words embrace the concepts of congeniality, amiability, benevolence, leniency, and mercy.  The concepts carry to the extent that one exhibiting such traits would advance the interests of others even to the extent of putting one’s own safety and well-being at risk.

Given the meanings of the words as used in Scripture, how then, can one legitimately claim that participating in, endorsing, and even subsidizing [via PPV and ticket purchases] MMA combat exhibits the requirements of God that His people must display kindness and gentleness to all?

While we cannot say that those who participate in, endorse, and/or subsidize MMA combat are not believers in Christ, because we do not know their hearts, we can question and even point out the fact that such affections and actions are contrary to the will of God and give cause to question the credibility of their witness since what is in their hearts will be made known by their actions and professions.

For further consideration, let’s look at this instruction from Scripture:  For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. [2 Corinthians 10:3-5, emphasis added]

How do we bring every thought into captivity to Christ?  Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble [honorable, respectable], whatever things are just [right], whatever things are pure [innocent, blameless], whatever things are lovely , [acceptable], whatever things are of good report [having a good reputation], if there is any virtue [having nothing but good qualities]—meditate on these things. [Philippians 4:8]

This gives us a checklist to evaluate any activity to determine whether or not it can be enjoyed with a clear conscience before God.  Unless our activities promote ALL of these qualities in exactly the same way those terms are used in Scripture, we cannot claim that they are acceptable to God.

And in this situation, we cannot claim that such activities are morally neutral.  It doesn’t matter how much a participant in MMA or boxing or professional wrestling may claim to be a Christian and that God is honored as long as he [or she] follows the rules of the sport and is being honest, the activity dishonors God because there is nothing commendable, good, respectable, right, or innocent in activities which involve the intentional infliction of pain on other human beings for the purpose of entertainment and amusement.  The greater hypocrisy lies with those who, while claiming to profess Christ as their Lord, pay their money into such amusements.

To claim to be a follower of Christ while participating in, or subsidizing violence against human beings for the sake of amusement, carries about as much moral value as claiming to be a follower of Christ while enjoying pornography.

i Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

ii http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_martial_arts

iii http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PRIDE_Fighting_Championships

iv See paragraph: “Injury Rates” in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_martial_arts

v See paragraph: “Mental Health” in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_martial_arts

vi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatalities_in_mixed_martial_arts_contests

viihttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pitch_That_Killed

viii http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_issues_in_American_football

ix All research in Greek references the following: Stephen Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), Ceslas Spicq (Translation by James D. Ernest), Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), and Spiros Zodhiates, The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 2008). See also articles on “kindness” and “meekness” in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.

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About davestheology

I found a book that was kind of worn, But to my surprise, not a page was torn; It had a title, that I could not read, "Red Letter Edition" was all I could see.
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6 Responses to The Believer and MMA

  1. mykgreen says:

    you had me at “the fruit of the spirit.”

  2. Dane Tyler says:

    Excellent points, all. Does this apply to the practice of martial arts in general, or only to participation in full-contact or MMA-style competitions?

    Many years ago, I practiced karate, but only participated in one competition, which wasn’t full contact. Since becoming a Christian, I’ve not had opportunity (or finances) to resume the practice, but it has always been of interest to me (though I have other health considerations now).

    Curious to hear your thoughts on it, if you’re willing.

    • Excellent questions.
      The answer, is not a simple yes or no. It is dependent upon several factors.
      1: What is the motivation for learning? If the motivation is for exercise, physical conditioning, and self-defense–I have no problem with the study or practice of martial arts.
      2: Does the discipline under consideration require participants to adopt a certain spiritual view? Problems enter in when one has to consider whether or not the martial art being studied requires the participant to adopt certain spiritual beliefs [such as Aikido, Taekkyeon, Taekwondo, and Tang Soo Do] linked to eastern mysticism and the occult. There are disciplines, such as Krav Maga and Judo which do not require practitioners to adopt an occult philosophy.
      3: Do competitions require practitioners to inflict injury or pain upon an opponent in order to advance? Another problem is how one earns rank in competitions. While most disciplines do not require full-contact in the lower ranks, if one is to achieve mastery, one is expected to participate in full-contact competitions. And the goal of full-contact sparring is to achieve a knockout or submission–which means one must inflict physical injury on one’s opponent. This is only a problem for disciplines which are based on striking one’s opponent. Disciplines which stress grappling, such as judo, on the other hand, stress safety for the practitioners and while seeking an opponent’s submission, competitors are penalized for any moves which might inflict injury.

      • Dane Tyler says:

        Interesting points. Thank you for responding.

        Most karate schools I’ve been to – and again, this was more than 25 years ago – weren’t practicing a spiritual component. When I found one in something like 1993, a Kung Fu school, which had some meditation elements to it, I didn’t pursue. Most others were sport based, and didn’t use traditional oriental training methods. So it will be intriguing to see what’s out there now.

        I think I should probably carefully examine my motivations for returning to it. At the time – and I wasn’t Christian (actively pursuing a relationship with Christ) when I did it originally – was for inflicting harm on others in self-defense. Not pure motives by any means. And if I’ve truly repented, maybe I’ve already found my answer.

        Thank you again. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Malech Ha Olam. 🙂

        God bless you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      • I think a lot of the dojos in the United States try to avoid the spiritual aspects and go more for the “sporting” aspect of the disciplines. And a lot of the oriental schools of martial arts believe the forms practiced here are perverted forms and not pure forms.
        I even know of a martial arts instructor in Topeka, Kansas who has sought to develop a Christian discipline. Sessions began with prayer and a devotion on a passage of Scripture and ended with prayer. There was no contact, no ranks apart from teacher and pupil. He also allows his students to achieve rank without having to participate in full contact competition.
        As for the self-defense aspects, I do not see any conflict here between Christianity and any form of martial art. The “turn the other cheek” passage in Matthew has been totally misapplied. In context, the passage refers to someone acting in a manner to humiliate a believer merely because he or she is a believer and in that case, the believer is required to accept the humiliation. But there is no command in Scripture which requires a believer to submit to an attack upon him/her self or others for the sake of “non-violence.” If so, then we would also have to say it would be sinful for believers to be police officers or members of the military–but that is a different topic altogether.
        At the same time, I see no moral problem with someone taking up martial

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