Internationally known as the “Father of Modern Pankration,” Jim Arvanitis, the Black Belt Hall of Fame 2009 Instructor of the Year, contends that “be it a front kick, hammerfist or shoulder throw, the lineage of each can be traced back to the ancient Greeks.” He should know, having studied pankration and both its modern-combat and mixed-martial arts applications for decades.
When visiting the Black Belt photo studio for a technique shoot, he broke into a brief history of pankration and the Greek Olympic Games and how they tie into what we now know as mixed martial arts.
PANKRATION/GREEK OLYMPIC GAMES HISTORY VIDEO
Pankration Icon Jim Arvanitis Gives a Brief History of Ancient MMA and the Greek Olympic Games
"You look at MMA today [and] for us it's nothing new," Jim Arvanitis says. "This was goin' on 3,000 years ago and more.
"The Greeks were great documenters. They had great poets and great writers of the era who loved sports. [In Greek culture], sport dominated their everyday life."
The Sports of the Early Greek Olympic Games
"They were able to put everything together because they were looking for the ultimate sport," Jim Arvanitis says about the Greeks and their early Olympic Games. "Wrestling was introduced in the Olympics first as one of what was called the heavy events. And the Greeks were happy with that for a while. Then they introduced boxing.
"Then they felt, Well, we need something that combines the two. We need something a little bit more rigorous, a little more challenging. We've got the greatest athletes here!
"And that's where the pankration came from, which I simply modified as [modern] pankration."
How Jim Arvanitis Modernized the Pankration of the Early Greek Olympic Games
"I took some of the ideas [in ancient pankration techniques] and gave [them] a contemporary flair," Jim Arvanitis explains. "It has its roots in antiquity, going way back. It had to be modernized because (a.) we're not fighting naked anymore and (b.) I really felt some of the techniques were not simplistic techniques. You could see the end results ... you could see a throw, you could see a submission hold, you could see them actually doing fall tactics. You could see the referee using a stout rod to hit [athletes who were] doing something that considered forbidden — like gouging out an eye or biting the fingers."
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Differences Between Pankration of the Greek Olympic Games and the MMA of Today
"[Pankration] was to the submission," Jim Arvanitis says. "And they didn't submit verbally or tap out like they do in MMA today; they raised a finger. Basically, when a fighter knew he was being defeated and couldn't continue, he would raise his index finger in submission.
"[Sometimes] it did end in death because a lot of these guys were Spartan-type spirits and they would not know when to quit.
"There are some fascinating stories about Olympic champions who were actually being choked out and yet they made their opponent surrender with, let's say, an ankle lock and at the same time they were choked to death.
"However, [the fighter getting choked out was] given the kotinas (victory wreath) because actually they made the opponent quit before they died — so they were declared the winner!"
Jim Arvanitis' The First Mixed Martial Art: Pankration From Myths to Modern Times is a full-color, 230-page book that covers the history of the early Greek Olympic Games with beautiful artwork, maps, historical quotes and more, as well as dozens of modern-pankration techniques explained through full-color photo sequences and detailed captions.