The Unwritten Rules of Mixed Martial Arts

Last week, we considered the evolution of mixed martial arts, specifically:

How do we define the ecosystem of mixed martial arts? Where are its boundaries?

The most obvious boundaries of MMA are its official competition rules. Techniques carrying the highest risk of injury are typically banned:

  • Headbutting
  • Eye gouging
  • Hair pulling
  • Biting
  • Fish-hooking
  • Attacking the groin
  • Striking the back of the head, or spine
  • Striking the trachea

Significant as they are, these explicit rules do not fully capture the difference between a sporting event and a “martial art” (when conventionally defined as an art of life and death, killing and self-preservation). The majority of rules governing MMA fights are implicit.

So how many unsportsmanlike, illegal, unethical and effective fighting techniques are disallowed in mixed martial arts, really? Let’s list a few of these unwritten rules—rules which are routinely violated in real individual assaults, and in group warfare.

MMA competitors may not:

  1. Ambush and kill the opponent before the match is officially scheduled to begin.
  2. Subcontract to another hungry fighter, promising to pay them a percentage of any winnings.
  3. Threaten to murder the opponent’s family unless they submit.
  4. Continue to attack after the bout has ended.
  5. Bribe the judges and referees.
  6. Use a concealed weapon.
  7. Call a timeout when they are losing.
  8. Lie about their weight or experience, to secure a weaker competitor.
  9. Change the rules of engagement, unilaterally and in secret.

Consider this an exercise, to uncover your assumptions about martial arts and self-defense. Can you think of any other “unwritten rules”?


  1. This is why I would suck at any ring fight or fight with rules every thing you listed I would do. There is a big difference between the ring and the street 😀

  2. Never crowd your family into the ring. Don’t pull out piercings. Don’t spit, drool, or vomit on the enemy. Oh there’s so many…sport fighting is for sporting sorties.

    No tickling or vocalizing soundtracks. No high-pitched, happy screams of delight. Pelvic thrusts as a show of manliness are also forbidden, at least socially. Healing hugs seem contrary too, even if they cause submission.

  3. those are unwritten? i though it is stated specifically in the rules.
    Even though you listed that as unwritten rules, i believe it is still performed behind the scene. if that fighter need money, why dont he forfeit the match for a sum of gold?

  4. Victor,
    Well, yes, they are written now. Haha.

    Forfeit for the loser’s purse? Following the theme of this post, why not just pretend to forfeit, then mug the winner and take his gold too?

    On that subject, why not mug Dana White, and all the front row ticketholders? Those UFC undercard payouts are ridiculous.

  5. Yeah!I would be more confident in the abilities of someone that’s trained in MMA for three years than an Olympic martial arts purist.When they put an MMA fighter on a box of Wheaties, then you’ll know it has become an official pastime.Thanks for sharing.

  6. Funny, you can’t do any of this in traditional martial arts competitions either. I guess the Wing Chun and Krotty aren’t the real deadly and I have to invent some sort of system where we train with gangs of hired thugs that we send after each other.

  7. Yeah, invent it! Right now the universe is composed entirely of MMA, Wing Chun tournaments, and sport Karate, so you will increase the sum of world knowledge by 33%.

    We’ll need a name for your new system. Something that sounds ancient and Eastern would be best. How about geopolitica. (I just made that up!)

  8. Show up with a bunch of mates waiting just outside the cage, ready to jump on your opponent if he gets the upper hand.

    Take some PCP or other adrenaline inducing drug so you can run around like superman and feel no pain at all.

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