The safety ladder is an example of a system designed to illustrate the progression of MMA from recreational exercise to elite sport. Seeing as MMA is a physically demanding sport that requires good fundamental abilities within martial arts, the Safety ladder approach classifies its practice into six levels. Only when a practitioner can exhibit sufficient experience and maturity should he/she move up a level, this to ensure the safety of all MMA practitioners. Naturally there are many ways that one can classify and divide the practice and teaching of MMA into different levels of maturity and profficiency, and how it’s done may differ from one country to the next. What is important is that there is awareness regarding safety and progression everywhere.
1. Martial arts without full-contact impacts
This is the first level of athletic development where practitioners will learn the movements and tactics of different kinds of martial arts without receiving any full-contact impacts. Examples of such martial arts are wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, semi-contact boxing and muaythai.
2. Full-contact martial arts
On this level practitioners exercise and compete in full-contact martial arts such as amateur boxing and amateur muaythai.
3. Full-contact sports closely related to amateur MMA
This level is very similar to amateur MMA but with a more restricted set of rules. For instance the rule set can allow for striking and kicking while standing but once on the ground only grappling is allowed. This is an appropriate level to start competing in before entering amateur MMA.
4. Amateur MMA
Amateur MMA is similar to professional MMA with the exception for some differences in the rule set and the length of the bouts which are limited to two rounds. Also the athletes do not receive payment for their athletic performances.
5. National Professional MMA
This is the highest professional level on a national scale. In different countries there might be differences in rules regarding the use of certain techniques.
6. International professional MMA
This is the most physically and mentally challenging level of MMA and follows the recognized rule set called the Unified Rules of MMA. Very few athletes around the world have the ability to compete at this level, and these rules are used for leading promotions such as the UFC.
The Safety Ladder system is an example of the kind of best practice that the IMMAF will seek out and make available for the members in their work on health and safety issues.