The word Pankration is a Greek word which translated means “all powers” or “all powerful”, both are acceptable translations by Greek scholars. Pankration was a sporting event in the ancient Greek Olympic games that was first introduced in the games of 648 BC. The rules of the sport were simple, no biting or eye gouging and victory was secured through knockout, submission or death. The historical records of the early pankration are shrouded and mixed with Greek mythology and it is not known whether these accounts of championship bouts and feats of strength of the champions were myth or actual accounts. What is known is that just like the boxers and wrestlers of the Olympic games the Pankration competitors refined their skills for many generations through hundreds of years and became extremely proficient at all elements of their sport including ground fighting and submission holds to standing fighting with all types of strikes. Many of the holds, throws and striking techniques can be seen on the pottery, statues and drawings of those times. The ancient Olympic games were intertwined with many ceremonies and connections to the worship of gods that were pagan to the rising christian population. Because of this association and the rise of christianity the games eventually came to a halt and along with it Pankration competition disappeared for many centuries.
The Olympic games were eventually adopted and reborn throughout the world alternating the competition in a new country every 4 years, however, Pankration competition was not included. It is only because of the sparse historical records and the special interests of a few individuals that Pankration is having a rebirth in this generation.
The current wave of “no holds barred” and pay per view fighting events has brought with it a curiosity and interest to it’s ancient predecessor Pankration. Just as the boxing venue grew and evolved from ancient Greece to Madison square garden and the rest of the world, the skills, techniques, training methods, rules, attire and safety measures have also evolved. For the most part this evolution has been beneficial to the sport and it’s participants. Now after centuries ancient Greek Pankration is getting the opportunity to become Modern Pankrationin the same way as it’s brother boxing did.
There is only one major organization today that holds and sanctions events as Pankration events. That organization is the U.F.C.F.: United Full Contact Federation. The Pankration division of the U.F.C.F. was founded by Matt Hume, a professional fighter, with a vision and desire to see the sport that he has a passion for evolve to the level that modern boxing has, and with it the Pankration competitors would get the respect and benefits that go along with that type of growth and evolution. While the U.F.C.F. is the only major sanctioning body that uses the name Pankration there are certainly other organizations that hold events under the same concept. The two largest and most well known U.S. organizations are Battlecade’s Extreme fighting and S.E.G.’s Ultimate challenge events. In Japan, Brazil, and Russia there are also some large organizations that hold their events under the Pankration concept. The Shooto organization in Japan, founded by Satoru Sayama, was started based on his studies of ancient Pankration and has been holding competitions for 20 years. Another organization in Japan utilized the Pankration concept and calls themselves Pancrace. Even though only a few of the many modern organizations relate their begining to the evolution of ancient Pankration, all of the previously stated events are modern versions of the ancient sport. There are a few differences between the rules, fighters attire, time limits and a few other issues between these organizations but the same was true of boxing as it evolved through many countries and sanctioning bodies to become the sport it is today.
There are a few individuals who hold arrogant claims that they are the sole heirs to ancient Greek Pankration and anyone else who associates themselves with Pankration is a charleton. They try to justify this claim with ancestry to Greece and state that “if its not from Greece its not Pankration”. Under this same misguided thinking one would have to conclude that Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. are not boxers but instead are charletons because they are Americans of African descent who are trained by Americans of Italian Descent. This logic is obviously flawed. When you put speculation aside one thing is clear about the ancient sport of Pankration that holds true with today’s modern counterparts. That is, to be recognized as a noted Pankratiast you must compete and compete well. When you look through the annals of Greek history the only recognized names were those of great competitors who were champions in the sport. These champions came from many different areas and had different fighting specialties or styles. We see this parralleled today as many fighters from different countries and styles try to prove themselves as the best. This brings up another question.
To answer this question consider a boxer or freestyle wrestler who enters into a Pankration or No Holds Barred event. No one would refute the claim that their style is boxing or freestyle wrestling. The way these individuals got the right to title themselves and their style as boxing or wrestling was by training for competition in the sport of boxing or wrestling and then actually competing. Under the same criteria if an individual is training for competition and actually competing in pankration events then they have met the criteria of modern boxers, wrestlers and Pankratiasts as well as their ancient counterparts to claim their style as Pankration if they so desire. There is no need for a pilgrimage to Greece, or to learn the Greek language in order to become an effective Pankration stylist or competitor, but instead to train and compete in a manner that will be effective and successful in Pankration competition.
Modern Pankration has a bright but uncertain future. The U.F.C.F. and it’s Pankration President, Matt Hume, will continue to hold many amatuer events to develop fighters and will continue it’s world championship events in Hawaii. These U.F.C.F. Pankration events have given competitors like Kimo Leopoldo, Todd Bjornethun, John Lewis, Victor Belfort Gracie, Jerry Bohlander and many others like them, an outstanding venue to get their early experience before moving into the more highly publicized pay-per-view events that they now have success in. All of the individuals who dare to step into the ring will know what Teddy Roosevelt meant in his poem “The Man in the Arena” when he said, “their souls will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”. As this new era of Pankration unfolds, the fighters who press towards the mark will permanantly carve their notch in history as our era’s great Pankration champions.