Content warning for a mention of domestic abuse.
MMA doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation in every circle, something I’ve learned as I’ve trained in aspects of the sport and become a huge fan, at least of the sport itself if not some of the organizations promoting it. But the art of it — the level of technique that athletes spend years pursuing, training thousands of hours, sparring, drilling, learning — is beautiful. It’s stunning, sometimes, the (consensual) violence that’s enacted in the octagon, the sometimes apparently physics-defying movement and momentum, the ability of some fighters to read and predict one another, to counter and attack and defend in so many positions and situations is like watching high level tacticians AND body magicians at work.
Chris Rini — a longtime MMA writer and illustrator — has a new book out that understands this fundamental beauty. The fine art of violence is a collection of essays and illustrations from the last two years of watching MMA at its highest level, from observing and capturing it in motion. Rini examines a few fights and fighters — and moments, really — in great detail. His essays touch on everything from fighters like the incredible technical ability of flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, or the event in early 2019 where an abuse survivor (Rachel Ostovich) fought on the same card as Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic abuse (though, as the parentheticals always go, the charges were dismissed on appeal, despite the graphic evidence).
There’s even a piece on the mundane brutality of leg kicks, one of the least impressive-looking, yet most damaging techniques in all the sport. It’s a gnarly delight.
I’ve followed Rini for some time, and he did work on coverage at VICE’s Fightland (I don’t believe we had overlap there, but I’m noting that here just in case). His live-illustration threads of major MMA events on twitter have become a highlight for me while watching fights, since he captures — again — the motion, momentum, triumph and pain of the sport so well. It feels like his drawings really capture the intensity of feeling of, say, sinking in a choke or finding the perfect angle on a kneebar, something that’s genuinely difficult to convey in words.
His book does a wonderful job with both, and I can’t recommend it enough for folks who enjoy the sport and the, yes, the fine art of it. The book is available on his website.