Guest Post: Mark Mireles on MMA and self defense

This is a guest post by a fellow author and amazing fighter, Mark Mireles. I’ll do a follow up post in a few days to touch on the great insights he gives here. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Martial Arts Question – Which Came First the Chicken or the Egg?

I’m a Wim’s Blog reader. I don’t say much here on the blog but I read and reflect. It has been said “observe much, learn much, train much”. Sage advice. In my voyaging time, I had the opportunity to follow the thread that outlined the argument between self defense, martial arts training and mixed martial arts.

The discussion was that no matter how visceral and brutal MMA is at the end of the day, it’s a sport that is governed by rules. There were several posts that interjected the fact that MMA does not include weapons defenses and multiple attackers. These are good points indeed. Although the self-defense crowd was very professional, at the end MMA was viewed as sport.

The MMA crowd argued that MMA was an effective fighting system because it arose out of the traditional martial arts. MMA was deemed a modern fighting system that was a sport but could be effectively used as a practical form of hand-to-hand combat. The sum was greater than its parts. Transversely, the traditional form of martial arts was viewed as limited because it didn’t address all ranges of real fighting.

At the end of the day, it appeared that the two groups agreed to disagree agreeably. From my computer (being a voyeur) I thought both sides made solid points and it got me thinking. Contemplating the point of view of both camps, I had the opportunity to witness something and wanted to share it with the “Wim-ers” (yes I just coined us, Wim’s Blog enthusiasts). If you don’t know me or my books let me tell you were I’m coming from.

Mark Mireles (top left) at an LAPD charity

Wim did an interview with me some time ago. If you didn’t read it, let me introduce myself. I’ve been a street cop for over 20 years and been practicing martial arts since 1977. After years of street experience and martial arts training, I came to my own conclusions related to real fighting, training, and teaching.

The one thing that I learned for sure is that people have to come to their own reality. Reality is always best when it’s based on experience. I also learned that I never really teach my art, I share it with others. After all, I can never fight like someone else and no one will ever fight just like me. So I share my experience and base it on concepts that are pretty universal. I don’t know it all but I have observed much, learned much, trained much.

Being a cop, I’ve had to subdue some of the most violent predators that the human mammal has to offer. You know the ones that come into the world that should have a disclaimer stamped of their foreheads “Defective Product.” In short, I’ll tell you that I came from combative sports and had to take what I learned and make adjustments to make what I knew street effective. I do mixed martial arts for the purpose of self-preservation and I’m a big fan of the UFC and MMA. I do and like both. Yes, it can be done although it’s not for everyone.

I’ll get to the story here soon, but I want to take a moment to share what I was thinking about the MMA vs. Self Defense thread because, like I said, I do and like both. I saw validity in both sides but the one thing that stuck out in my mind was that it’s not the system, but it’s who’s doing the fighting.

Fighting in the clinch

"Fighting in the clinch" by Loren W. Christensen and Mark Mireles

It is the individual aspect, the mental aspect, and ultimately what is in soul of the individual at the moment of truth. In the moment of truth for the person with the killer instinct, or, what Marc “Animal” MacYoung has called the Proper Combat Attitude or “PCA”, -karate, judo, or MMA, or a set of keys in the hands of an old lady – It’s the right person with the right attitude, a place where opportunity meets preparation. Again, the personal factor is the x-factor. It’s not the system – it’s who’s doing the fighting. All systems are artificial. The individual that makes the art work or not work.

So here’s the story. I work at night primarily. When the sun goes down the criminal element is waking up, reading the newspaper, and pondering what capers they will pull while enjoying there nocturnal morning coffee (or hitting the meth pipe with a bowl of cereal). A few nights ago, a couple of gangbangers had finished their power breakfast, kissed the wives goodbye, and headed to the office. There business was armed robbery.

The protagonist of our story is a male college student who we will call “Johnny”. Johnny was studying late and decided that he was in need of more caffeine so he headed to the corner market to get an energy drink with caffeine galore. Our two villains have acquired business intel that people who go to the store at night usually have money in there pocket and they engage in negotiations, with gun in hand. Of course, a hostile take over is always a part of their business plan.

While Johnny was thinking about his upcoming Algebra test, the gangsters walked up to him outside the market and demanded his money or his life. Johnny later told us that he was shocked and scared but when he saw the gun he knew he was going to have to act in self-defense. As Johnny told it, the crooks said, “Give us your money” and then one of the bad guys pulled his shirt up and exposed the butt of a gun and said “give it up now.” So Johnny gave it up in the form of a major league ass whipping that left some of the worst injuries inflicted I’ve ever seen.

Our villains were handing their business, but did not realize they just weren’t very good at it. On the night in question, the bad guys theorized that if they got caught with a real gun, they would be screwed, so they took a tequila bottle shaped as a pistol. They went so far as to spray paint it black to make it look like a real gun. Certainly, if they had a real gun, no one would be stupid enough to object to two of them beefing up their corporate account. Bad idea, but we are not dealing with rocket scientists here.

The wild card (the x-factor) in all of this was Johnny. In the moment of fight or flight, Johnny decided to fight. And so he fought. Johnny said he thought the gangster with the gun was going to shoot him. Johnny first pinned the gun down in the bad guy’s waistband and then punch him in the face so hard it make bad guy do a number two step back. According to a witness, it sounded like a baseball bat hitting a watermelon. Johnny then ripped the gun away out of the gangster’s waistband and began to beat his face in with it.

Made of glass, the “gun” exploded on impact of the bad guys face creating a cornucopia of glass fragments and chips of black spray paint which soon disappeared behind a sea of red blood. But Johnny was no ordinary student. Johnny was doing what all the kids are doing today: mixed martial arts and he was doing it for fun.

A year before Johnny wanted to do something different so he went to gym to learn kick boxing and then began to work in other classes and before he knew it he was training in mixed martial arts. He wasn’t a professional fighter and he wasn’t a reality based self-defense practitioner either. He was a kid learning to fight and I’m not even sure he knew what that training and exposure to the arts really meant.

Mark Mireles competing in MMA

Mark Mireles competing in MMA, showing side control here.

When we (the cops) caught up to the fleeing enterprisers in the getaway car, bad guy one was covered in blood. He had sustained several deep wounds that would take painful months to heal. As he alighted from the car, he crawled and collapsed. He then vomited excretion that could not be mistaken for anything than larva that can only result from a head injury.

After trying to convince us that they were both victims of an attack, the true story was pieced together thanks to numerous 9-1-1 calls from witnesses. It was a major league ass kicking on a criminal, a robbery that went bad.

The only moral to this didactic story is that crime doesn’t pay. What I got out of it was that a mixed martial artist that has practiced purely for sport, for fun, had defended himself and even preformed a gun takeaway. It reinforced what I had come to learn a long time ago: it’s not the system it’s who’s doing the fighting or put another way not the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Now I’m going back to voyaging.

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  1. You make a very good point: violence is violence.

    I mean training MMA exposes one to levels of violence and stress that the general population virtually never experiences. For sure, one could argue that that those who train MMA fight in a relatively safe environments (when compared to the potential dangers of street violence) with padded floors, refs, rules, athletic supporters :) . But what people fail to realize is that combat athletes are exposed to VERY similar physical and psychological stressors – namely fighting another human being and the fear of being hurt. Being a combat athlete (recreational) and a former security professional myself I can confirm this as being true.

    So, there is a lot of carry over and I think you hit the nail on the head because it is all about the fighter and his approach to his art – not the art, style, or system itself – that makes the difference.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Josh Skinner (donjitsu2)

    • Josh, Yes, there is certainly overlap. But as I have said ad nauseam, the differences are just as important. Case in point: In “On Combat” Loren and Grossman write about an MMA champion who was teaching LEOs. He performed great under stress in that context. But when the cops took him into firearms scenarios, he did real bad at first. Even dropped his gun. Once he got accustomed to the new context, he perfomed a lot better.
      My point is, *assuming* the carry over is automatic in the areas you *want* it to be is taking one big gamble with your personal safety. Sure it can pay off. But it can also prove you wrong, with deadly consequences. So once again, it boils down to priorities in your training, preparing for a specific context.
      And of course, like Mark says, what the individual practitioner brings to the table as far as mindset is concerned. That’s definitely a huge factor.

      • Well, you’re definitely right. It is just like everything else with training: You must follow the S.A.I.D. principle. You adapt specifically (very specifically in many cases) to the demands you impose on yourself.

        However, while competing in combats sports will never prepare you for the realities of a street fight* I think competition has its place in a holistic martial arts training program.



        * For example, certain types of situational awareness (“does that thug have a gun?”, “where are his buddies?”, ect…) can’t be improved in the ring/cage

        • That’s precisely the point Josh: you prepare for a specific context and train accordingly. Many things that work great in the cage are contraproductive in the street. Doesn’t mean MMA is worthless in the street. Only that you need to know what these things are *and* train for these differences. It’s not black and white, but shades of grey.

  2. Good stuff, Mark.

    Mark is one tough S.O.B., a guy I’ve had the pleasure of writing books with. Although I give him a lot of crap for training in spandex, the only way I would fight him is if I were armed with a 12 Gauge.

    By the way, Mark has been the recipient of three, yes three, Medal of Valor medals from LAPD. One was given to him by Arnold S himself. This past summer Mark was inducted into the Martial Arts Master’s Hall of Fame.

    He knows of what he speaks.


  3. Great addition to the blog for us Wim-ers. Would love to read more of your stuff in the future.

  4. Great article! As someone who trains in both combat sports and “self-defense,” I wholeheartedly agree that mindset is something that is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, not enough teachers have the foresight to emphasize the mental aspect.

    Does MMA and other combat sports help one become mentally stronger and cultivate “fighting spirit”? I can say with confidence that my experience in MMA, Muay Thai and Western boxing has helped me learn to fight through adversity and focus through pain. I love these arts, and they are actually a substantial part of my training.

    Does that mean combat sports are the only way to become a certified badass in the art of mental fortitude? HELLS NO. I know many people that are professional asskickers, and there are many on that list who have never done combat sports; it just wasn’t for them. Different strokes for different folks.

    As you mentioned Wim, the technical side is a different (and also important) animal, and I know that also needs to be addressed. As you know, however, without the mental fortitude, no technique or application will work.

    Again, great stuff! :-)

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