Classification of offensive holds in mixed martial arts (MMA)


Associate Professor, PhD V.A. Damdintsurunov1
Associate Professor, PhD K.V. Vaganova2
PhD A.S. Tedoradze3
V.S. Piyannikov1
1Russian State University of Physical Education, Sport, Youth and Tourism SCLIPC), Moscow
2National State University of Physical Culture, Sport and Health n.a. P.F. Lesgaft, St. Petersburg
3Academy of martial arts, Moscow

Keywords: martial arts, mixed martial arts (MMA), offensive actions classification, conceptual framework


Offensive actions classification issues are rated among the top priorities in the theory and practice of competitive martial arts for the reason that it is mostly through the offensive actions that the victory is achieved as a main goal of the bout.

Mixed martial arts (hereinafter referred to as MMA) are ranked among the most technically challenging combat sport disciplines since they combine all known hand-to-hand fighting techniques in standing and ground positions. However, this sport still lacks its own conceptual framework, and the athletes and coaches have to apply notions and denominations of other combat sports. This situation slows down the MMA theory development process and makes the sport studies and analysis less categorical.

In view of the MMA fighting techniques being so universal, the relevant sport analysis may benefit from the national practical experience of combat sport classifications. It is the offensive striking and wrestling actions that comprise the key typological category in the latter classifications. A classification is viewed as the process of scientific generalization based on the modern knowledge base in the specific area.

The national sport science have applied different classifications at the first development stages of a variety of competitive wrestling sports, the classifications being basically formed as the lists of diverse denominations of holds accumulated for a certain period. However, a scientific classification of sport techniques shall rather go down from an integrated knowledge of the wrestling style to the specific denominations of holds than from the inconsistent traditional sport terms combined for classification purposes [4].

It was the judo technique classification system offered by Dzigoro Kano (and later on accepted as a basis for the national sambo wrestling sport classification) that was the first classification system based on the above principle. The sambo techniques classification system was introduced in the national sport science by A.A. Kharlampiyev [3]. It was designed to sort out the sambo techniques based on the key body systems acting in the hold, i.e. hand/ leg/ trunk actions; albeit this system made no provisions for holds as one of the key category of competitive sport techniques and gave no description of a variety of actions acceptable in the fights.

One more step forward in the wrestling techniques research and classification was made when a new multilevel classification system was designed by N.M. Galkovskiy, A.Z. Katulin and N.G. Chionov [3]. All standing throws were categorized based on a single principle as the over-back, over-chest and – in case of freestyle wrestling – over-arm and over-leg throws. This classification, however, failed to fully cover the broad variety of the technical actions known by that time [4], but the high value of this work was primarily due to the new classification design as a multilevel structure driven by a single principle.

A.P. Kuptsov offered an integrated technical action classification system applicable to four wrestling styles. The upper tiers of the hierarchical system were designed for the general specifications of these competitive sports, and the lower tiers provided a structure for descriptions of the style-specific technical actions. This classification system provided a frame for scientific denominations of the competitive technical actions following the same pattern, with every hold being specified in a top-to-bottom manner, i.e. from the general class to the specific subclass [4]. Later on an attempt was made by Yu.A. Shulika to redesign the uniform technical action classification system for the same four wrestling styles [5]. Generally, this system largely copied the A.P. Kuptsov’s one, albeit in an unreasonably complicated format.

Since a number of new popular combat sports have emerged for the last few years (a variety of hand-to-hand fight styles, combat sambo etc.), it is no more unusual that a few classifications are in use within the same sport discipline each making an emphasis on its own sets of criteria different for the striking and wrestling actions. In addition to the usual typology of the hand kicking techniques based on the relevant boxing classifications, these systems apply the similar classifications for the leg kicking actions [1]. However, the sport science is still in need of a uniform classification to cover every striking and wrestling action applied in the universal combat sports to remove the artificial borders separating the disciplines and establish correlations and subordinations of elements within the whole system.

Further complicating the efforts to build up the new classification is the lack of clear divisions of and transitions from one class to the other. This fact is necessarily addressed by special classification procedures and arrangements when the same notion is placed and used in different segments of the same classification system. To give an example, there is still no clear differentiation between the main-action strike intended for a certain result and the supportive strike used to support a main throw or a takedown action; albeit the supportive strike may always be classified as a main action in case of a knockout.

Objective of the study was to design a uniform scientifically grounded classification for the variety of offensive actions applied in MMA for victory in fights.

Study results and discussion

It is the bio-mechanic specification of the athlete’s key offensive action that was used as a basis for the proposed classification system (see Table 1 hereunder). The classification system was designed as a four-tier hierarchical interrelated structure with the same classification criteria being applied for the striking and wrestling actions in the standing and ground positions. Every next tier of the system was designed to complement the previous one and provide frame specifications for further description of the subject hold/ action; with the upper tier being designed for the most general and essential frame specifications of the actions. In the classification process, specific action classes are split up in a sequential manner into the relevant multitudes and lower-level sub-multitudes.

The valid rules of MMA fights generally classify the MMA techniques into the standing and ground ones further broken down into the arm/ leg/ knee/ elbow kicks, throws, takedowns, painful holds and chokes. This is how two classification tiers out of four are basically designed – one for classes and the other for subclasses.

Therefore, the first classification tier (class tier) is designed to cover the varieties of technical actions performed in standing and ground positions. The second classification tier is designed for the scoring actions of fighters plus the non-scoring (under the rules of competitions) actions that still may secure a dominant position in a fight. And the third classification tier is designed to sort out the notions characteristic of the offensive actions taken by fighters with an emphasis on the bio-mechanic essence of these actions.

One of the top priority goals of motor action control process in any fight is to keep the optimal body position. In this context, the main group-level actions including throws, takedowns, switches, low-hold throws, low-hold switches, ground takedowns, pull-ins and low-hold pull-ins – may be reduced to the irreversible off-balancing techniques intended to tear the opponent off the ground or take him down; with the actions being further classified by the key directions – as pull/ push/ side/ side pull/ side push actions with a tear-off effect. The first five actions are designed to put the opponent’s centre of gravity projection off the support in whatever tactically resultant direction. The sixth action may be basically described as the centre of gravity of the offender being moved under the centre of gravity of the opponent to imbalance him, lift in the air and perform the winning action in either tactical side. Balanced position in the fight will be viewed as a key bio-mechanical factor making it possible to take offensive actions geared to imbalance the opponent and destruct his position versus the ground. Therefore, the opponent off-balancing goal may be viewed as an objective classification criterion for the MMA holds generally intended to destruct the opponent’s position versus the ground. Furthermore, the offender may, after the opponent is imbalanced, apply some trunk action (bent, layback etc.) to perform a throw.

The fourth classification tier (sub-group level) is designed to describe a variety of actions that compose multiple offensive techniques classifiable as holds, moves, trunk/ leg actions etc.

Therefore, it is an offensive action as an integral movement sequence of the attacking fighter acceptable by the rules of competitions, geared to win and classified from the class tier down to the subgroup tier that is viewed as the prime unit of an offensive technique under the MMA offensive holds classification. An offensive action is composed of elementary arm/ leg/ trunk movements forming a harmonic sequence in space and time.


The proposed classification gives the means to put together the base notions and denominations in a most definite format comfortable for the specialists. The MMA-specific conceptual framework design is viewed as a final goal of the classification process and an important prerequisite for the MMA being successfully developed as a relatively new sport discipline formally accepted by the Russian sport system in 2012. 

Classification of offensive holds applied in mixed martial arts (MMA)

I. Standing position fight class


Hand kicks

Leg kicks

Elbow kicks

Knee kicks





Painful holds




From below



From above



Reverse sideward

To a side


From below

From above


From below

Sideward Swipe

From above



From below





Side pull

Side push

With tear-off










Hold version forming actions


Objective of the research was to create a unified science-based classification of all offensive actions in mixed martial arts (MMA) applied to win a fight.

In the classification of mixed martial arts hold is an element of its technique. It is a complete motor action of an attacking fighter that is permitted by the competition rules and applied to win, fully classified from class level up to the level of sub-groups. Hold includes certain simple (elementary) movements with hands, feet and body, connected with each other in time and space.

This classification allows formulate strictly scientific basic concepts and definitions and make them unambiguous and comprehensible to all experts.

Development of special conceptual framework of mixed martial arts is a final purpose of classification and conditions necessary for the successful development of mixed martial arts - young sport which has been officially recognized in Russia in 2012. 


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