What To Expect in Pankration | A Martial Arts Overview

Pankration is an interesting martial art that is essentially the precursor to MMA. It has roots in the ancient Olympics but modern pankration is different and emphasizes safety while combining both striking and grappling techniques.

Pankration combines both grappling and striking. It is the precursor to modern-day MMA. Modern Pankration has a strong emphasis on fighter safety and disallows dangerous strikes including those to the head. Dangerous takedowns and submissions are also disallowed.

Read on for a detailed overview of what to expect in a Pankration class. We’ll cover its style and benefits so that you can decide whether it’s the right martial art for you.

A Brief History of Pankration

Pankration is a martial art that originated in Greece over 2,000 years ago. It was created as a way for soldiers to train and prepare for battle. The word “pankration” comes from the Greek words “pan,” meaning “all,” and “Kratos,” meaning “strength.”

Pankration’s core philosophy is that a fighter should use any type of strike or hold to incapacitate their opponent. The martial art combines grappling and striking, making it a versatile form of self-defense.

In the early days, Pankration was a brutal and dangerous sport. There were no weight classes or rules, and fighters could use any type of strike or hold. The only way to win was to kill or incapacitate your opponent.

According to National Geographic, pankration was so brutal that the Roman Empire eventually banned it. The sport lay dormant for centuries before being revived in the early 20th century.

In modern times, Pankration has evolved into a much safer, controlled sport. Weight classes and rules regarding safety have been implemented to make the sport safe and fair.

What Do You Wear for Pankration?

While norms around what to wear at specific schools can differ, in Pankration, you typically wear clothing that allows freedom of movement while being tight and free of pockets. A rashguard or tight-fitting shirt with spats or combat shorts is typical attire.

In many schools, especially for a first-time beginner, simply wearing athletic clothes will be enough to get started in the classes.

Do You Wear Shoes in Pankration?

You do not need to wear shoes for pankration. Practicing barefoot offers better traction and grip on the mat. It also allows fighters to use their toes and feet in holds and strikes.

Besides, going barefoot helps to develop strong feet and toes. I strongly recommend practicing barefoot—it will improve your footwork and techniques.

I go into this in more depth in my article on the 7 benefits of training martial arts barefoot.

What Equipment Is Required for Pankration?

You don’t need much special equipment for pankration. You will need small MMA-style gloves and you should also pick up a mouthguard and athletic cup. In some schools, you wear head protection and shin guards, but since strikes to those areas are disallowed it might not be that important.

Do You Need To Be Fit To Start Pankration?

You don’t need to be fit to start pankration. The sport is suitable for all fitness levels at the start. However, Pankration is a tough sport with a lot of movement, and being fit will definition help you in both training and execution of techniques.

That said, as you train and get better at pankration, you will become more fit. Because of that, pankration is a great way to improve your fitness and overall health.

Do You Need To Be Strong for Pankration?

You don’t need to be extremely strong for pankration. However, being strong will help you in both your techniques and training. Techniques in combat sports and performance in matches require that you have good basic strength, so having strength is always relevant.

That said, as you train and get better at pankration, you will become stronger to a point. If you want to build strength for pankration you will need to build strength in a dedicated lifting program, typically focusing on compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups.

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Pankration?

You don’t need to be flexible for pankration. However, being flexible will also help you in your techniques and training while making you less vulnerable to injury, so building up some flexibility and mobility is a good idea to maximize longevity in the sport.

Nonetheless, thorough training will help you become flexible over time due to being active and the presence of some stretching and dynamic movements being a common staple of training pankration. Doing dedicated mobility training will pay dividends in training, while training flexibility can be helpful it isn’t quite as impactful.

Is Pankration Good for Getting in Shape?

Pankration is good for getting in shape because it is a full-body workout through intense training. Simply drilling and practicing pankration techniques and doing sparring will give you great cardiovascular gains as well as some strength and flexibility. It also burns plenty of calories.

In a nutshell, pankration is an excellent way to get in shape because it works for many different muscle groups and helps improve overall fitness.

Is Pankration Good for Self-Defense?

Pankration is a good martial art for self-defense. It has excellent coverage of both grappling and striking and teaches students how to be a fighter. Additionally, pankration develops stress tolerance and the ability to apply techniques in a live sparring environment.

In general, pankration is an excellent martial art for self-defense. However, remember that no martial art is completely effective in all situations and fighting should be avoided. The best way to defend yourself is to be aware of your surroundings and use common sense to avoid fighting in the first place.

What Style of Fighting Is Pankration?

Pankration is a blend of martial arts that combines striking and grappling techniques. It combines elements of boxing, wrestling, judo, BJJ, and muay thai. This hybrid martial art is essentially MMA with an emphasis on fighter safety.

Pankration fighters use various techniques, including punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and throws. In addition, they also use submission holds, such as chokes and joint locks.

Here’s a video demo of pankration practitioners in action:

Does Pankration Include Live Sparring?

Pankration includes live sparring. This helps practitioners develop their techniques and strategies in a realistic environment. Also, sparring allows pankration fighters to test their skills against resisting opponents and prepare for pankration fights.

Sparring is an important part of pankration training. It helps fighters become better prepared for competitions and self-defense situations.

Are There Pankration Competitions or Tournaments?

There are several pankration competitions and tournaments. The sport is growing in popularity, and more and more events are being organized. Examples of competitions include the Pan-Hellenic Championships, the World Pankration Championships, and the European Pankration Championships.

Competitions usually involve a series of matches between different fighters. The matches are either straight elimination or bracket-style.

Is Pankration Dangerous To Practice?

Unlike ancient pankration, modern pankration is a relatively safe martial art to practice. However, this does not mean that there is no risk of injury. Like any other combat sport, pankration has its fair share of risks.

The most common injuries in pankration are cuts and bruises and minor joint injuries and strains that can be expected in any combat sport.

Is Pankration Hard To Learn?

Pankration is not hard to learn the basics. Combining the many techniques into a cohesive ability to fight takes a longer time. Pankration schools will typically break down the techniques and concepts into smaller chunks to be digested over time.

However, your commitment and dedication are important factors in your ability to effectively learn pankration, since it is a complex combat sport with many moving parts. You must be willing to put in the hard work and practice regularly to improve your skills.

How Long To Learn Fundamentals in Pankration?

It takes 6-12 months to learn the fundamentals of pankration. However, previous martial arts experience can help athletes get a head start in building out the fundamentals. In addition, additional practice can allow athletes to improve their skills more quickly over time.

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Pankration?

It takes about 6-10 years to reach black belt level mastery in pankration. This martial art combines the techniques of boxing, wrestling, and Judo, which makes it take a long time to master.

It’s worth noting that there are no shortcuts in this process. You can’t become a black belt overnight—it takes years of training and practice to develop the skills and techniques required for success in this sport. So if you’re looking for an easy way out, pankration is not the right choice for you.

What To Expect at Your First Pankration Class

Now that you know a bit about pankration, it’s time to learn what to expect in your first class. 

Here’s a sequence of events that typically take place in your first pankration class:

  • Introduction. Before you step into training, you’ll get an overview of what to expect and what is expected of you.
  • Warm-ups. The instructor will then typically lead the class in a series of warm-up exercises. These exercises help prepare the body for the physical activity to come.
  • Technique demonstration. The instructor will demonstrate the techniques taught in the class.
  • Practice. The students will then practice the techniques with a partner.
  • Live sparring. After learning and applying techniques with partners there is typically a live sparring portion of the class. Unless you have previous experience you will likely not be participating in this part of class.

What Does Pankration Cost?

Pankration classes typically cost between $100 and $300 per month. However, learners may incur extra costs for uniforms and other equipment. Some schools offer drop-in classes for $15-$20.

Drop-in classes are designed for those who want to try pankration before committing to a long-term membership. They are also ideal for those who are traveling and want to continue their training.

Is Pankration Good for Kids?

Pankration is good for kids. It helps teach them discipline, focus, and respect. In addition, it helps improve their physical fitness and motor skills. If kids have an interest in pursuing MMA pankration in a natural choice that balances skill building alongside training safety.

However, kids require close supervision when practicing pankration. They should only train with a certified instructor who can ensure their safety.

Is Pankration for Physically Smaller People?

Pankration is good for physically smaller people. People of all sizes and shapes can practice this martial art, and the sport has weight classes. During training, smaller people may be at a disadvantage but in good schools, larger training partners will be mindful of this and keep an eye on their safety.

Final Thoughts

While ancient pankration has roots that made it one of the most dangerous and tough sports available at the time, modern pankration has morphed into a much safer combat sport and martial art. Many modern pankration schools focus on safety and building up their athletes with an eye on focus, discipline, and sportsmanship.

Pankration is an excellent option for people that are interested in MMA or for kids interested in MMA that want to keep a closer eye on safety.

For more check out Martial Arts and Combat Sports | What is the Difference?


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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