Kung Fu and the rise of MMA.

A couple of days ago I was sent a video clip of a kung fu practitioner competing in mma talking about bringing kung fu to the mma world, and the trash talk that's been going on with some famous mma fighters/coaches. One interesting comment was about seeing a fight between two kung fu guys, with one ending up in a side control and hammering his opponent's face. "Here are these two kung fu guys doing mma, not kung fu!"

We should all know mma isn't a style, but a format of fighting competition. And of course a side control and hammering your opponent's face isn't exclusive to an mma format, but all sparring and fighting formats that allow it. What does one expect to see when you fight in mma? It's mixed martial arts, and put gloves on a man, in a cage and with rules, of course it's going to all look the same. The commentator was right and wrong to say they were doing mma, but not that it wasn't kung fu. Hammering an opponent in the face is very much kung fu! This does raise the question of why kung fu practitioners haven't been seen in the UFC or other big mma organisations though.

Firstly, kung fu was designed to fight other kung fu styles, but not the styles we see in mma such as BJJ and Muay Thai. Back in China when the art was initially developed (2000yrs ago!), the fighters weren't exposed to arts such as Muay Thai or BJJ. Their exposure was limited to other kung fu styles within China, and Karate from Japan. A lot of the 'fancy', 'useless' techniques work against other styles it was developed against, within no particular format except the unspoken rule that once your opponent hit the ground, the fight was over. Since kung fu has been brought out to the West in the last 30yrs or so, there obviously needs to be adaption to fight against other styles not previously exposed to. Bruce Lee comes to mind with his philosophy of taking strong points of different arts, and making it work for yourself. Be like water. Adapt. Does this make you any less of a kung fu practitioner? No, if kung fu is your base art. With the popularity of ground fighting and muay thai for mma, there simply has to be an evolution in the way kung fu styles are trained if one wishes to compete in that format. It's not because kung fu is crap and the moves don't work, it's simply adapting and evolving the approach to fighting 'new' styles not previously exposed to. Arts are not set in stone, and even kung fu evolved over the 2000yrs of existence. We now have San Shou/Sanda as the combative element to the martial arts training, and there are frequent bouts between kung fu and different boxing styles. Sure the kung fu guys don't always win, but it's a start. Arts or teachers who also focus on principles are more likely to be successful against those who concentrate on set applications of techniques. The way you generate power, footwork, positioning, intent... Focusing on these will make a fighter more successful, irrespective of style. Although put 16oz boxing gloves on someone not use to training with it, and that cuts out most of his arsenal.

Which brings me to my 2nd point of why kung fu doesn't work as well in the ring or cage. Most kung fu styles have a defence hand, and a striking hand. Put gloves on a man, and his defence hand is gone. Tell a guy who trains for self defence that he can't hit the back of his opponent's head, grab his hair, or kick a downed opponent, part of his defence is gone. Obviously with mma gloves, there is the chance of better control with blocks and parries, but then we also have to consider the ground game. Kung Fu doesn't have a ground game, full stop. Any traditional kung fu style with the exception of Shuai Jiao which thinks it does, needs to go test it with bjj or wrestling. Yes there are takedown defences, but any kung fu fighter who wants to compete in mma needs to also train in ground fighting. Does this make him any less of a kung fu fighter? No. Does it make him an mma fighter? Only if he competes in mma. What it does make him is a well rounded martial artist, so labels are just that. Useless tags people need to put on others for whatever reason.

At the end of the day, boxing gloves or no, rules or not, ring/cage fighting is an opportunity to apply all the basic strikes you'll also find in kung fu (jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts), footwork, and checks. There isn't an excuse for not appearing in mma, except for the simple fact that most kung fu practitioners don't realise or want to evolve their art to fight against 'new' arts it wasn't designed to fight against, and in a format that relies heavily on fitness and conditioning to last 4min rounds. Too often people get caught up in the mysticism of movie fu, of 'preserving' tradition and culture. My response to that is if someone wants to take that path of preserving the traditions of an art, that's what the forms are for. But the training should also include dynamic application drills, and full contact sparring. Not all traditional schools want to take the competition path, and that's perfectly fine so long as they actively apply their techniques in sparring. For those who don't even do that, then you gotta be 100% honest and realistic that what you practice isn't applicable, nor can your students fight. For the kung fu haters out there, mma or ring fighting isn't the be all or end all. People train for different reasons, usually either self defence or competition. The two are not the same. I do hope to see more kung fu fighters entering mma matches. Some of the techniques do work for competition, but the most important aspect is using the principles of your art in fighting, regardless of what it looks like. With the popularity of mma, all kung fu practitioners need to do is adapt the training, plain and simple.

Train hard, be realistic, and enjoy yourselves!


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