Modern mixed martial arts (MMA) originate from the ancient Greek martial art pankration, which was introduced to the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC and the first event to use the combination of grappling, striking and even submission techniques. The word pankration is a Greek word which means “all powers” or “all powerful” and many of the techniques used all those years ago can be seen in MMA today. But the ancient Greek mythology also laid the foundations of the original pankration.
Spartans, who were residents of the Greek city of Sparta which was the leading military land-power in ancient Greece, were taught pankration techniques primarily for use on the battlefield, and often for the purpose of killing opponents. Since it was performed not just as a competition, but as a method of real battle, Spartans were not allowed to fight in any competition that included other Greek participants.
The mythology behind the sport
In Greek mythology Theseus and Heracles are named as the “inventors” of pankration as they used different striking and wrestling methods when in combat with their enemies. This is the method that Theseus is said to have utilised in an extraordinary way in the Cretan Labyrinth when volunteered to kill Minotaur, the monster who dwelled there. Equally, the son of Zeus, Heracles, showed great bravery and combat skills when he slayed the dreaded Nemean lion. Killing the lion was one of the twelve labours set for him by his cousin King Eurystheus.
Principally, the only rules in the ancient Greek pankration competition were no gouging of eyes and no biting. Aside from that participants were allowed to do anything. There were no time limits set; the competition only ended when one of the participants submitted or when judges deemed it necessary to stop the game. The competitions were part of the Olympic Games but most of the pankration fights were held in other tournaments as well.
Many of the techniques we see in modern MMA fighting were used by the ancient Greeks first. These techniques have been depicted on antique pottery and art which provides a thorough insight into the methods that were used. Some of these techniques include striking with legs, choking techniques, arm and shoulder locking, and throws. Interestingly, the imagery on these objects show very little protection or MMA clothing being used, which is slightly different from today’s sporting events. The pankration participants could remain standing throughout the competition or fight on the ground – the choice could be a strategic one depending on the strength of the individual fighter.
Pankration in a milder form is still practised today as an MMA. Despite efforts to reintroduce the sporting event ahead of the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 the sport has never been part of the modern day Olympic Games.
Robin Jones is an amateur MMA wrestler and MMA enthusiast. For maximum comfort he recommends going to Made4Fighters for high quality MMA clothing and gear.