The martial art, Pankration, was considered the ultimate fighting competition during its era in Ancient Greece. Fighters would come together and battle it out to find out who was superior by forcing their opponent to submit.
The origins of Pankration are thousands of years old, so it makes you wonder whether it would be suitable for the modern world and challenging situations.
In short, is Pankration effective in a street fight?
Pankration is effective in a street fight because it combines techniques from Boxing and Wrestling. The Boxing skills would help you to fight off an attacker and the Wrestling skills to take them down to the ground and submit them with chokes or joint locks.
To learn more about the effectiveness of this ancient martial art on the streets, keep reading to get a full comparison.
Modern Pankration And Competition
Pankration is a competitive sport, that takes place at regular combat events in the USA, Russia, and around the world.
Pankration can sometimes be considered as a different style of Wrestling, that just combines striking into it. Martial artists and grapplers compete in Pankration alongside their usual specialism because they can adapt to the different ruleset.
Wrestling, Sambo, and even Judo all have their similarities to Pankration and often fighters from these styles will compete in Pankration.
Even Khabib Nurmagomedov has been successful in Pankration tournaments, who is mostly known to have a strong background in Wrestling and Sambo:
The rules and allowed strikes can change depending on the level of competition, as well as the organization governing the competition.
Generally speaking, Pankration is very similar to Mixed Martial Arts and the two might often look the same but specific rules can entirely change the style of fighting and outcomes.
With Pankration, the allowances on striking are different from what you might expect.
The United World Wrestling organization (UWW), which includes adult Pankration tournaments, has the following allowances for striking:
Pankration Traditional: Punches and kicks to the body, controlled round house kicks to the head are allowed according to the present rules.International Pankration Regulations, UWW, July 2016
Pankration Elite: Punches and kicks to the body and to the head are allowed according to the present rules.
At the UWW, the following strikes are illegal:
Underground MMA Conditioning System
By James De Lacy from Sweet Science Of Fighting
A complete systematic strategy for understanding everything about getting into shape for MMA. You’ll learn how to maximize your gas tank for MMA fighting, gather automatic calculations for testing yourself and optimize and analyze every step of your progress!
- Back of the head
- Knees and below
- Along the spine
These rules follow fairly closely to mixed martial arts, except that knee strikes and below are allowed in MMA.
With the USFL, which is a youth tournament organization, the legal strikes change considerably than their adult counterpart:
- Striking area is below the collar bone, and above the hip
- Punches and kicks to the front body, front and side rib areas
- Kicks to the thigh, above the knee, on the outer or inner sides
- Knees to the body (in some competitions)
- Kicking upper thigh to guard pass (on the ground)
- Three punches to the legal areas maximum, before moving position, while on the ground
Illegal strikes in a USFL competition (for youth) are:
- Striking the face or head
- Striking the back or spine
- Direct knee strikes, specifically the front
- Elbow or forearm strikes
- Non-glove portion of the hand (but hammer fists are accepted)
- “Punishment purpose” strikes
- Kicking from the ground
The obvious limitation here is that you can’t attack their head, but this is mostly only in Youth tournaments.
Learning Pankration Skills For Street Fighting
To fully understand why Pankration can be effective in self-defense or street fights, you need to know what this martial art teaches.
Ancient Pankration was likely much more violent than modern Pankration, as the only denied modes of attack were eye-gauging and biting during that time.
In modern Pankration, there are more rules about what is acceptable at the competition level. Because there are unique rules for modern Pankration, the modes of attack that you would learn and practice have some limitations.
While Pankration isn’t as commonly taught or competed as many other kinds of fighting arts, they do exist even in the USA and worldwide. In the USA, there are the World Combat Games, United World Wrestling, and USFL.
Pankration includes striking and grappling but any mode of attack that is used in a modern Pankration competitive match must always be within particular boundaries. Specifically, if an attack or submission attempt doesn’t allow reasonable time for voluntary submission or for the referee to intervene before injury could be caused, then it can be considered an illegal action and you can be penalized or disqualified.
In modern Pankration, it’s very important to have the skills and control to compete with reasonable safety and not injure other competitors.
With this in mind, learning Pankration as a means for self-defense or street fighting can be limited by how it teaches only competitively legal forms of striking and submissions.
Using Pankration Attacks In Self-Defense
Pankration has some limitations in the striking that is taught. But it does teach a good array of striking to the head like classic Boxing, as well as using leg kicks effectively around the body and thigh.
With Pankration, on the whole, you’d be learning an array of striking and grappling abilities that would serve you well in a street fight situation.
Pankration has a heavy focus on Wrestling takedowns and ground control. It also uses many kinds of submissions and chokeholds that you would find in other highly effective martial arts like BJJ, which are ideal for forcing an opponent to submit.
Kicks in Pankration are also very effective for subduing an opponent from the feet, as the style here is very similar to Muay Thai. Body kicks are taught by pivoting off the back foot and pushing full force through the leg onto the target.
A strong body kick into the area of the liver or ribcage can be devastating and cause an opponent to drop to the floor immediately when done right.
Pankration’s leg kicks are usually only allowed above the knee and around the thigh because it’s the densest area of muscle and fat in the leg which means it can take a better beating and heal up for returning to competition. Even so, leg kicks around the thigh can be powerful as they create swelling in the area and cause obstruction for your opponent’s movement.
A few strong kicks around the thigh can create that dead leg syndrome that takes days to recover from. So in this aspect, Pankration is teaching a valuable attack.
Should I Learn Pankration For Self-Defense?
Pankration teaches a strong mixture of striking attacks, takedowns, grappling, and submissions that make it a good tool in defending yourself in a street fight. But Pankration has some drawbacks in only teaching techniques which are safe for competition so it isn’t a complete martial art for self-defense.
Pankration has a lot of similarities to MMA (check out my comparison of Pankration Vs MMA) and it’s even considered as the inspiration origin for mixed martial arts as we know it today.
MMA is likely to have a better combination of skills and techniques to learn because there are fewer rules in competitive MMA fighting than there are in Pankration. You can use more kinds of martial arts in your training and attack more areas legally at a competition, which makes it a better toolset for defending yourself on the street (below the knee is an easy example, the calf kick is one of the most devastating leg kicks learned in MMA).
In my opinion, Pankration is certainly a better tool for self-defense and fighting generally than some martial arts like Kung Fu, Karate, or Judo on their own. As they only teach specific striking or grappling individually, rather than offering a unified system.
By now you should feel confident in the knowledge that Pankration is effective in a street fight, but you shouldn’t consider it the complete martial art for self-defense or fighting in general because it specifically removes many kinds of attacks in training and competitive due to safety. It’s still a great mixture of skills that will be helpful to have in case you need them.
Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.