Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques, from a mixture of martial arts traditions, to be used in competitions. The rules allow the use of striking and grappling techniques, both while standing and on the ground.
In 648 B.C.E., the Greeks introduced the sport of pankration into the Olympic Games. The word pankration is a combination of two Greek words, pan, meaning “all,” and kratos, meaning “powers.” This is an accurate depiction of the sport itself, as it was a potent mixture of Hellenic boxing and wrestling. The sport only truly had two rules: no biting and no eye gouging, though even these techniques were allowed by the Spartans. The bouts could end only when one competitor was knocked unconscious, or submitted to his opponent by raising his hand. Often times, these matches would last for hours, and sometimes ended with the death of one, or even both competitors. The sport became the most popular event in the Olympic Games, and across the Hellenic world.
The matches took place in an arena, or “ring” which was a square approximately 12 to 14 feet across, which the Greeks hoped would encourage close-quarter combat. The matches also featured a referee armed with a rod or switch he used to enforce the rules, which were often broken by opponents that were overmatched. Common techniques included punches, joint locks, choke holds, elbow and knee strikes, and kicks. Kicks to the legs, groin and stomach were quite commonly used. Standing strikes such as these were common, though the overwhelming majority of pankration bouts were settled on the ground, where submission holds and strikes were both accepted practices. Pankratiasts were renowned for their grappling skills, and would employ a variety of grappling techniques, such as takedowns, chokes and joint locks, often to great effect. Strangulation was the most common cause of death in pankration matches.
Ancient Greek pankratiasts became heroes, and the subject of numerous myths and legends. These include the legends of Arrichion, Dioxxipus, Polydamos and even Hercules was believed to be a pankratiast. Alexander the Great sought out pankratiasts as soldiers because of their legendary skills at unarmed combat. When he invaded India in 326 B.C.E., he had a great number of pankratiasts serving with him. This is believed to be the beginning of Asian martial arts, as most Asian martial arts trace their history to India at around this time. Pankration is the first recorded form of what would later come to be known as mixed martial arts, and is the closest any society has come to allowing a truly no-holds-barred unarmed combat sport.