Simon Yeo talks Traditional Martial Arts within MMA

The topic of Traditional Martial Arts is a sensitive one within MMA with many saying that they aren’t needed within the sport due to their outdated methods and techniques. I like the arguments that split people 50/50 and get people talking with relevant for and against topics of conversation.

In order to get a balanced argument, you need to have studied both Traditional Martial Arts as well as the more common martial arts within MMA which are in some sense seen as the base or core disciplines. That’s why we have gone to BJJ black belt and high level Bujinkan Ninjutsu practitioner, Simon Yeo to get both sides of the argument.

Soke Masaaki Hatsumi (left), Simon Yeo (right)

Simon Yeo has been training in martial arts since 1973, studying Judo, Kyokushin Karate, Pak Mei / Tai Chi Kung Fu and Tae Kwon Do when he was younger. Since 1987 he has studied Bujinkan Ninjutsu directly under the only recognized authentic Ninjutsu master, Soke Masaaki Hatsumi. This has meant traveling around the world to Japan and other countries to train with him multiple times per year. In 2009 Hatsumi awarded Simon the current top level in his art. Apart from this Yeo has also been studying BJJ since 2000, originally under Royce and Rorion Gracie, then at purple belt under Mauricio Gomes and Roger Gracie. In 2011 Roger awarded him with his black belt.

We managed to catch up with Simon to grab a few words with him about the traditional martial arts within MMA argument as well as asking him a bit about his recent teaching of MMA fighter Karl Lawrence who is fighting at UCMMA 32 on February 2nd.

He said;

“The Bujinkan system comes from a fighting period of Japan and has no rules to its style, so there are some incredibly unpleasant techniques. A lot of which are totally unsuitable for the cage due to their dangerous nature. The system contains a lot of weapons, however over the last 8 years I have focused on the skills more relevant to the 21st century in particular the unarmed fighting”

Compared to other traditional martial arts though, Bujinkan is a little different, it is ever evolving because each Grand Master adds a little piece to the ‘Densho’ scrolls which are handed down the line. In this, the master writes a relevant piece about current times to keep the arts alive and up to date.

17139_1184215525099_548724_nSimon has taught notable MMA fighters such as Nathan Jones of Combat Company albeit only his BJJ coach and recently, he has been working with Karl Lawrence using the Bujinkan as well as BJJ methods in preparation for his upcoming fight at UCMMA 32 on February 2nd;

“I started teaching Karl BJJ about two years ago. About 8 months ago, he contacted me again to teach him BJJ and while at my class in Fulham, it became apparent that there were a lot of elements of the Bujinkan system that would be useful to him. So I teach him both the Bujinkan system and BJJ. Due to his previously acquired skill sets, he is making good progress.

“Karl already has quite a few skill sets and it is more a matter of polishing the sword further and it is this polishing that makes the difference in performance between the good and average athlete.”

Simon has tried to change Karl from a ‘wild slugger’ as he described, to more of a technician, using his technique over his power and strength;

“Power and strength are useful, but if it is your only commodity, there will always be someone stronger and more powerful. Also power and strength will deplete within a few minutes. So should not be solely relied upon.”

Focusing on lots of technique based aspects, Simon has been including his Bujinkan skills within the training – teaching Karl how to target natural weak points of the human anatomy as well as, of course, the many other facets of the style which would benefit including distance and timing.

Predominantly, Bujinkan in the main is a standup art, as it would be considered unwise to be on the ground if there was more than one attacker, although it does have some interesting controls on the ground or in the knee on the belly position, which can be used to submit.

I think the main question of this article is whether Bujinkan is just as useful as the other main martial arts that are regarded as most useful within MMA (muay thai, wrestling, BJJ)?

Simon said;

“I think any fighter has to primarily have a good level in those three arts. Once they have this, I think the Bujinkan system has some very interesting add-ons.

“Like all arts, I don’t believe any art has everything, so you need to do what Bruce Lee suggested and take the best from each style. This of course presumes you have the level of understanding to correctly analyze what techniques are of value and those that aren’t.”

On the topic of why people look down on traditional martial arts within MMA, he went on to say;

“I think the problem is that a lot of people with a shallow understanding of the martial arts are making this critique and at their level of development their time is better spent on Muay Thai, Wrestling and BJJ, as this is the core.

“What I have found interesting is that I Iearnt a fair bit of Sport BJJ, however I have tried to keep a Bujinkan perspective of where strikes could be used or need blocking.

“Like any art, when rules become involved the original purpose of the art can become diluted and athletes can get away with movement and techniques that without the rules would be fundamentally dangerous. This is why I think some very good BJJ guys find it difficult to transition to MMA smoothly”

So after agreeing that the base/core knowledge of BJJ, Wrestling and Muay Thai are most needed initially within MMA/inside a cage with rules in place, I wondered about the street, where there are no rules – what one of his 2 studied disciplines, would Simon prefer to have if he was attacked in the street – BJJ or Bujinkan?

“If you are caught up in a street encounter it is totally unwise to choose to go to the ground. You have no idea who might come out of the wood work and give you a good kicking while you are down there.

“In the Bujinkan there is always a perspective of the possibility of more than one attacker and also the possibility of opponents being armed. However if you do end up on the ground you need to be able to escape positions and submissions and get back to your feet as quickly as possible.”

I would like to thank Simon for his time, I really appreciate it as it will get people talking, it’s a very sensitive subject within MMA and I’m sure people will be divided 50/50.

Simon had a few people to thank;

“I would like to give thanks to Soke Masaaki Hatsumi, Peter King,  Roger Gracie, Mauricio Gomes, Jose Teixeira, Royce Gracie, Marc Walder, Felipe Souza, Lucio Rodrigues, Braulio Estima, Rob Renner, Leo Nagao and Eduardo Carriello for all taking the time to teach me and if I have forgotten anyone, you know who you are and I apologise for missing you out.”

14 responses to “Simon Yeo talks Traditional Martial Arts within MMA

  1. Take a very traditional form of Kung fu and fuse it with let’s say tiger boxing, you simply couldn’t use it in the octagon, it’s far to dangerous a thing, crane form is a traditional form used in the days of old mainly by women because of its technical ability over strength, used in conjunction with the tiger boxing which incoperates strength you truly have a powerful human weapon, so not all traditional martial arts are applicable for the octagon.

  2. So basically as long as you have a good knowledge of striking,wrestling and BJJ ninja stuff will work? No shit.
    So as long as you “know” MMA you might be able to utilise other tma techniques. Your BJJ black belt i respect,the rest i feel is your way of justifying being conned into giving a big chunk of your life up to something that serves no purpose any more.

  3. If what you learn is relevant to what you want, then there can be no waste, it’s only wasteful if the knowledge one aquires is not necessary for the particular path one chooses to take, all knowledge is power.

  4. It’s the journey we take, and the things that happen along the way, that sometimes surpasses the destination itself.

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