Pankration Athlima Best martial arts. Jim Arvanitis. Pankration. Greek culture. Greek history. IOC. International Olympic Committee. Martial arts for sports. Combat sports. History of the Olympics.

Digging Up the Dead Pt 2: Pankration Athlima

Continuing our look at the history of modern Pankration its influences, pioneers and obstacles.

The story so far...

Ancient Pankration and its Revival

A recap from the previous article, Pankration was an Ancient Greek fighting art.  This combat sport was practiced throughout the Greek and Roman worlds at least 648 BC up until roughly 393 AD when it was banned by the Emperor Theodosius.

Fast forward to the United States in the 1970s. Enter Jim Arvanitis a combat sports athlete of Greek heritage with big ideas of changing combat sports.  Jim had ideas of creating a new fighting system that successfully blended both striking and wrestling methods.  Looking to his Greek heritage, he studies the ancient historical descriptions and depictions of Ancient Pankration.  He then compares Ancient Pankration techniques to techniques found in modern day martial arts.  Using the techniques that were relevant and similar, Arvanitis chains them together to form a fighting system that effectively combines the methods.  He calls his new method Neo Pankration (New Pankration).  His system begins to gain followers throughout the martial arts community.

The Spread

Throughout the 1980s-1990s Pankration organisations began to appear in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.  They also proved very popular in Greece where martial artists there were eager to practice a martial art with links to their homeland.  

Enter Aris Makris

In 1985, another Pankratiast Aris Makris tried to bring Pankration even closer to its origins, removing obsolete and impractical techniques.  Makris was interested in Pankration’s original intention as an ‘art of war’ and felt the reemerging fighting arts philosophy needed to emphasise this.  If Arvanitis laid the foundations for Pankration’s revival then Makris helped perfect the art, ironing out some of the creases.  

Makris developed the belief that pankration was more than just a fighting art, but a way of life.  He helped develop a philosophy and an ethical code of conduct.  He wanted to make Pankration more than just a style that simply borrows the best techniques from others.

Aris Makris, one of the pioneers of modern Pankration.

Taking things further

Thinking along the same lines as Arvanitis, Makris also wanted in Pankration, ‘greater harmony’ between the striking and the grappling aspects. Prior to 1970’s, there were not many martial arts that combined both of these aspects.  You were either a striker (karate, boxing) or a grappler (wrestling, Judo).  Makris aimed to make the transitions between striking and wrestling techniques chain together more effortlessly.  Makris also believed fighters should be armed with a knowledge of physiology and an understanding of the human body.  He believed you had to know your own capabilities in order to become a complete fighter.

Another of Makris’s achievements was he was primarily responsible for exposing the art to a wider international audience, thus increasing its popularity.   He worked with Pankration organisations to set up global tournaments to promote the sport. Makris became a member of the International Federation of Pankration Athlima (IFPA), which is a worldwide governing body of the sport.  He opened the Spartan Pankration Academy of Canada in 1985 in Laval, Quebec.  His academy would become one of the few authentic Pankration dojos in the world.

Over the years Arvanitis, Makris, Greek scholars and martial artists collaborated to make Modern Pankration as true to the original as possible. 

The Schism in Methodology - Pangration Athlima

Olympic Bid

When Greece was named the host country for the 2004 Olympics it was allowed to choose a sport for demonstration only.  This is normally a step toward ‘recognised sport’ status with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and eventually ‘permanent sport’ status.  The re-emerging Pankration was chosen as the sport the Greeks wished to present to the world.  This was viewed as good publicity and a way to bring Modern Pankration into the limelight on the world stage.

However, the Greeks realised they would have to make the sport more palatable to the family-oriented atmosphere of the Olympic Games.  Around the same time, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was being dragged through the mire by politicians in the US.  Labelled as ‘Human cock-fighting’ the sport was having a hard time getting off the ground.  Indeed MMA had to make some serious changes to its rules and regulations to enable the politicians to change their opinions on the matter.  

The early UFC was seen as little more than ‘human cock fighting’.  Many were calling for it to be banned.  Pankration event organisers were eager to avoid a similar fate.  Some changes would be needed.

Pankration promoters wanted to avoid this.  They knew that to promote Pankration as an Olympic combat sport changes were needed.  They would have to tone down some of pankration’s more brutal techniques.  In 2004, they mounted an all-out effort to make modern pankration more of a points-scoring sport than an actual combat sport.

Olympic Fail

The sport version (Pankration Athlima as it came to be known) ultimately failed to gain Olympic entry after a decision from the IOC (International Olympic Committee).  The IOC were not impressed with ‘Pankration-lite’, it looked too similar to karate with all of its grappling and boxing removed.  Pankration did not make it into the Games and even today, no international pankration organisation is recognized by the IOC. 

Pankration Athlima or ‘Sports Pankration’ has removed some of the more vicious techniques.  This was to make it more palatable to the Olympic committee.

Ultimately, the Olympics are primarily concerned with sportsmanship and safety, and combat sports are heavily scrutinised as a result.  This version of Pankration was severely watered down, so one can only imagine what changes would be needed for the IOC to consider any future proposals.  Needless to say, the end result would hardly resemble the true pankration.


Despite their Olympic setback, Pankration pressed ahead and in 2010, the sport was accepted by United World Wrestling (UWW)*.  The UWW is the international governing body for the sport of amateur wrestling.  UWW governs the Olympic wrestling codes and recognised Pankration as an associated discipline and a form of modern Mixed Martial Art.  Pankration was first contested at the World Combat Games in 2010 and Pankration competition continues to be found internationally since.

*Formerly FILA (Federation Internationale des Luttes Associees).

The Future

Modern Pankration

The popularity of Pankration has grown in popularity due to the efforts of individuals such as Makris and organisations like the UWW.  Pankration has grown in popularity in many European countries.  People of Greek descent are particularly proud of their cultural heritage.  Indeed uptake of the sport in Greece has grown exponentially. Worldwide, Makris’ school in Canada is still perhaps the best place to study this reincarnated fighting art. Modern Pankration is also popular in Russia. (Former UFC fighters Ali Bagautinov and Khabib Nurmagomedov both have a background in the combat system). 

Pankration is one of the foundation styles of former UFC champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, alongside Combat Sombo and Judo.

Submission Fighting

In Greece, there has been a push to get Pankration back as a combat sport but also with self-defence and real-life applications. Many prefer the original versions taught by Arvanitis and Makris.  They also believe tournament Pankration has deviated too far from its ancient origins.  Subsequently, there has been the emergence of groups within the country that practise full-contact sparring, with ground fighting and even self-defence (such as knife work). However, the Greek government does not allow these groups to use the term ‘pankration.’  This term is reserved specifically for the sports variant run by the UWW and its contemporaries. Resultantly, these groups have had to settle for the moniker ’submission fighting.’  At present, these fights have not had much coverage and have only been held in low-budget venues.

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