See video of full debate (in French): http://bit.ly/1JJOvl9 On Sunday 26th April, IMMAF and CFMMA President Bertrand Amoussou took part in a live French television debate on MMA against French Judo President, Jean Luc Rougé. The CFMMA is French MMA governing body, Commission Française de Mixed Martial Arts and is affiliated to IMMAF. The debate was significant not only because it took part on terrestrial TV on France’s biggest Sports show, Stade 2, but also because Rougé has been a significant player in the lobby against MMA in France and in Europe. A successful lobby on the part of French Judo, which is among the country’s top watched sports, has been responsible for keeping MMA marginalised and events as good as illegal. Rougé was active in the campaign within European Judo that saw the British Judo Association stripped of its rights to host the European Judo Championships in Glasgow, due to a partnership with UFC which was deemed to be against judo values. Rougé has banned judo coaches from teaching MMA and judokas from participating in MMA competition. He has also made inflammatory remarks about the sport, including denoting it as a “haven for terrorists”. See below for a blow-by-blow accountt of what went down on in the Amoussou vs Rouge debate:
Thouars judo-club & Coaching
Presenter Céline Géraud opens the discussion by asking whether MMA is just a social phenomenon or a true sport. She makes the point that the coexistence of the two sports could be both possible and advantageous, and questions Rougé’s opposition to the development of MMA. Jean-Luc Rougé raises the case of the Thouars judo-club, which French Judo has opposed for practising Mixed Martial Arts. He cites the reason being that judo certification and insurance do not cover other disciplines. He then elaborates that the club did not in fact offer MMA, but karate and taekwondo classes, which require different certificates. He differentiates between the practice of a mix of martial arts in gyms and MMA competitions as organised by fighting organisations. Bertrand Amoussou disagrees, saying that MMA was practised at the club. He likens Rougé’s disassociation between the training and the competitive sides of MMA to saying that judo in the Olympic Games is not judo, or that what children do in judo clubs is not judo. When asked if education is acknowledged within MMA, Bertrand states that the values between judo and MMA are the same, that he is a judo teacher who teaches MMA in the same way. The difference is that MMA has its own techniques and that they are more numerous than in judo. This is is why the sport needs its own recognition.
Numbers in Judo and MMA
Jean Luc Rougé refutes that there has been flight of judo practitioners to MMA, although he acknowledges a rivalry. He states that judo has close to one million practitioners in France. Combat Sport journalist Arnaud Romera comments that there has been a 300% of growth in MMA less than 2 years and that neither media coverage or financial benefits are comparable between judo and MMA. While judo suffers from a lack of exposure, MMA is a communication giant, thanks to the UFC, which is the NBA of combat sports. Today, every UFC event is seen in 80 million of homes, broadcast in 149 countries, in 28 languages and generates between 5 and 10 million in revenue. It is big business. Romera cites Ronda Rousey as a judo world championship finalist and bronze medallist at the Peking Olympic Games, who is now the greatest women’s champion to participate in the UFC. Rousey wins all her fights using judo techniques, notably the Juji Gatame, an arm-bar. She graces magazine covers, garners millions of views on Youtube and promotes judo all over the world, much more than any current judo champion. Romera believes it is in judo and MMA’s best interests to cooperate. Rougé questions whether judo should be prioritising advertising interests above the judo “state of mind”. He states there is a difference in motivation between the two sports and as the President of the FFJDA he has a public service mission to honour. He is embarrassed by the goals of MMA which differ from judo’s. While the FFJDA goal is education on physical, intellectual, mental and social levels, MMA was developed above all for entertainment.
Safety in MMA and Judo
Presenter, Céline Géraud, makes the point that MMA surely needs a legal framework as the biggest obstacle to the development of the discipline is image. She asks Amoussou if it is MMA too violent, particularly in light of “Ground and Pound” and what efforts MMA is prepared to make to address these concerns. Commenting on video footage, Amoussou acknowledges that MMA is a contact sport but questions the term “violence”. The caged arena is a safety tool for the athletes. Some organisations use rings but these are not appropriate to contain take-downs as athletes can fall out of the ring. The octagon keeps fighters within the area of competition. Secretary of state, Thierry Braillard‘s position on MMA is brought into the debate via video link, as he questions the human dignity of punches being permitted on the ground. Amoussou does not accept this point, underlining that MMA is a combat sport, and that on the ground athletes engage in a technical exchange. The athlete beneath his opponent is not in a weakened position and it does not mean that he is going to be finished. The competition continues on the ground. Arnaud Romera explains that opponents of MMA who use this argument confuse “striking a competitor on the ground” with “stepping on a fallen man”. In MMA, a man on the ground has the technical weapons to defend himself and reverse the situation. If he cannot defend himself, the referee intervenes to stop the match. Using video illustrations, the presenter compares violence in MMA with that in rugby, football, skiing and boxing. Bizarrely, Rougé states that working for a Knock Out is forbidden even in boxing, and even on the street. He states that rules are needed. If there are no rules, there should be no fight. Amoussou contradicts Rougé saying that the Knock Out is authorized in all striking combat sports, in boxing, kick-boxing and Muay Thai. Rougé continues his argument saying that although a competitor may happen to win by KO, they can not work for a KO, which is again absolutely refuted by Amoussou. Arnaud Romera points out that likewise in judo, though it is a noble sport, it is sometimes violent and brutal. Is not judo then violating human dignity? (Video examples of judo are shown where a loss of consciousness results from chokes.) Rougé persists along the line that in judo the aim is not to strangle the opponent, but to make him tap out and that it does not happen every week. Amoussou retorts that a strangulation is designed for strangling, and if the opponent does not tap then he will pass out.
The presenter reigns in the debate to ask whether it is possible to find solutions, as admittedly public opinion around MMA has changed now for the positive. The question is, what is the best way to legalise the sport and regulate its practice? Amoussou refers his French MMA governing body, the CFMMA (La Commission Française de Mixed Martial Arts) which has been in existence since 2009. The CFMMA is active and has trained 150 MMA coaches, but is still struggling with recognition or to secure any meeting with the government. Mr. Braillard won’t meet them, Mr. Kanner won’t either. Jean-Luc Rougé is asked if coexistence of the two sports could be possible one day, to which he does not answer but refers to Amoussou’s past comment that MMA used to be very violent before it improved itself. Amoussou responds that it was not MMA when it was very violent. Rougé summarises by ceding that MMA is getting more civilized (“little by little”), and that he has nothing against MMA because it will soon be very civilized. However he believes that another more violent sport will then come along, because it creates a buzz.
Public Opinion (TV programme ends and debate continues online)
Arnaud Romera describes a swing in public opinion around MMA and notes serious, opinion forming newspapers such as Le Point, L’Express and Libération, whose stance on MMA has completely evolved from 5 years ago. Former Sports Minister David Douillet‘s recent comment is referred to, in which he stated that being afraid of disciplines such as MMA is totally ridiculous and that Judo should be enough open minded to accept, and even work with the discipline. Rougé backtracks saying that he agrees with the minister and that he had never said that he was against MMA or against Bertrand Amoussou’s activities. Amoussou responds that he currently has no right to carry out his activities in MMA and has no recognised certification, which is a problem. A previous speech of Rougé’s stated that Amoussou’s activities are copied from the UFC, which is precisely the reason he is not permitted to carry out his activities. Rougé states that Amoussou’s educational MMA coaching has nothing to do with the extremely violent fights featured in the UFC, which in the context of today’s violent society sets a damaging example. Amoussou compares this to him taking his car to go to work every day with competing in Formula 1, where he would crash at the first curve. There are 597 elite athletes in the UFC and, likewise, they are not representative of the millions of practitioners in the sport of MMA. It is a completely different level of practice.
Can MMA be Called a Martial Art?
The term “MMA” is discussed. Rougé believes that MMA is not a martial art, and that the UFC is a “sort of” boxing, not a martial art. In response, Amoussou refers to Ronda Rousey who uses judo techniques, drawing on her martial arts heritage. Every athlete comes with their own influences, which is what makes MMA so rich. Rouge states that judo is a duel, more similar to fencing than to wrestling. On the other hand MMA is boxing and wrestling. He thinks this is fine but MMA is simply not a martial art. There is a philosophy to martial arts. The presenter asks if the definition is the problem then. Amoussou is resolute that the name will not be changed, just because Mr Jean-Luc Rougé does not like it. Journalist Arnaud Romera likens the evolution of early MMA 20 years ago to the history of judo, which in the 30’s or the 40’s was known as a gangster sport run by mafia. The presenter refers to this as ‘jujitsu’, prompting a reaction from Rougé. Rougé declares judo has nothing to do with jujitsu, which had a very bad reputation and was endorsed by fascist dictators. Through judo, Jigoro Kano, created a martial art with an educational dimension which is not about teaching students how to fight or wage a war. Amoussou points out there is some confusion between education and competition. He recalls when Rougé was judo world champion, and would throw an opponent into the tatami, which there was there was nothing educational about.
Question from the audience 1: Human Dignity
Since athletes are equipped with techniques on the ground and can defend themselves, where lies the attack on human dignity? Rougé answers that he understands a punch standing is way more harmful than a punch on the ground, as trauma is caused by the head turning. The only problem he has with MMA is the punches on the ground and this is because of the image it gives to the youth. The presenter asks if the some of the 31 rules can be modified but Amoussou replies that the sport is already well developed across the world. Only 3 countries in the world have an issue with MMA. Amoussou names Norway as one. Amoussou describes the time he attended a UFC event in Stockholm with an MP from a Norway (where MMA is banned). The MP wanted to see for himself the sport in action. Leaving the arena, he confided in Amoussou that he had imagined the sport to be way more violent and that he had thought the referee had stopped some of the bouts too early. Other places where MMA is banned includes Thailand (due to the influence of Muay Thai), the state of New York and France. However in France the practice of MMA itself is not forbidden, but competitions are. Amoussou says it is paramount that athletes are given the freedom to compete if they wish.
Question from the audience 2: Mister Rougé, have you ever practised MMA?
Rougé says that he has never practised MMA. However, judo coaches used to learn to teach judo, karate and Aikido; and could teach all the sports, except boxing, because of the search for the KO. Rougé says that he did train in boxing, though.
Arnaud Romera accused Rougé of being afraid of a flight of judo practitioners to MMA, which Rouge denies. Presenter Céline Géraud mentions the reaction of judo world champion, Stéphane Traineau, on Twitter: “Judo will find its way. MMA would be better if within a strong judo federation”. Moving towards conclusion, Amoussou says that France still needs to address the issue of there being no recognised framework for MMA. He takes Rougé to task on his comments that MMA has no certification, while Rougé is at the same time responsible for this situation. MMA needs its own representation, not any dilution through Rougé’s own hybrid sport of MJA (Mixed Jujitsu Arts). Rougé answers that there will be a certificate for MMA coaches that he is currently working on, and that all martial arts federations have been consulted. Amoussou asks why he has not been consulted. Céline Géraud summarises that there seems to be some hope, but Amoussou is cynical saying that perhaps “in front of the cameras, yes, but we will see..” As head of CFMMA and IMMAF his interest lies in the safety of MMA’s practitioners, but as long as anyone can open an MMA club and teach the sport he is concerned about the risks. Rougé says that any sport can be taught as long as it is permitted by law. Amoussou finishes by branding a historical fact: In 1954, a judo teacher asked one of his pupils to strangle him and deceased as a result. It was only at that moment that public authorities decided to create a system of certificates. Rougé says that he does not think so. Céline Géraud ends the debate. Report by IMMAF Image courtesy of Julien Brondani, at the IMMAF Academy in Paris