When MMA started, it was all about style vs. style fights. We enjoyed watching karate vs. taekwondo, kung fu vs. Judo, wrestling vs. boxing, etc. Today we are left to wonder why kung fu is not used in MMA anymore? As the landscape of MMA has evolved over the years, it seems that kung fu as a fighting style just did not fit into the MMA mold.
Why is kung fu not used in MMA today? Kung fu is a self –defense orientated style of fighting. Many of its teachings (eye attacks, groin kicking) are in direct contrast to MMA rules. Kung fu fighters are not trained to fight on the ground and hardly ever face an opponent that actually fights back.
During the late ’70s and ’80s, kung fu movies hit the mainstream media and mesmerized a young generation. We were all drawn to this martial art and idolized Bruce Lee and his style of fighting. Fast forward to today’s martial arts landscape, and you will be sure to find MMA at the forefront. So, what happened? Why is kung fu not used in the modern cage fighting world? It seems that kung fu stayed true to its origins, failing to adapt to the new breed of martial arts.
Why Are We Not Seeing Kung Fu In MMA/UFC?
With the introduction of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) into the martial arts world, it proceeded to shine a spotlight on the effectiveness of certain martial art forms when it came to a fight. Some styles were more suited for the octagon, where others in their purest form would not survive without adding additional skills to it. Kung fu on its own did not survive or rather can’t survive in the MMA octagon.
Reasons Why Kung Fu Is Not Used In MMA Today
1) Inadequate Training
- Training in kung fu does not allow for sparring with an active fighting opponent. It is rather an orchestrated practice session. You and your partner will exchange the same punches and kicks, stopping after each one to reverse the roles. Normally done at slower speeds and without much power. This method will not prepare you for an actual fight with an opponent looking to take you down, make you submit, or trying to knock you out with kicks and punches to your face.
2) Kung fu goes against the rules of MMA
- Kung fu is a defense-orientated martial art form. You are not trained to fight on the ground, rather stop any fight as quickly as possible, using all sorts of dirty tricks. Attacking the eyes, elbowing the head, kicking the opponent in the face or groin when grounded is all illegal in MMA but taught in kung fu. Having a fighter employ any of these trained tactics will end the fight immediately.
3) Kung fu has not evolved
- Kung fu is an ancient and traditional self-defense-orientated martial art. Over the decades, it has not changed in the sense of adding techniques to it. Kung fu has not added any additional training that would help with free fighting, grappling or ground combat; its primary focus is to teach you to stay on your feet instead of fighting on the ground. MMA, on the other hand, requires that the fighters have the above-mentioned skills in their arsenal.
4) Kung fu stances are ineffective
- Kung fu has various stances; most of them will leave the fighter exposed in the octagon. Wide leg stances will leave the fighter open to take-downs and leg kicks, while outstretched arms will open other body areas to attack. A fighter with wrestling experience will take them down at will.
5) Kung fu has no fighting competitions
- Kung fu as a martial art does not actively engage in the world of sports fighting. Kung fu is guided by Wu De’s principle (Kung Fu’s martial arts ethics and general code of conduct). They don’t normally participate in fighting competitions as they believe it violates their code of conduct. If you hardly practice your skills in a real fight, you will be certainly be demolished in an MMA fight, where the fighters fight every few months.
6) Kung Fu is considered too “deadly”
- Any good student believes that their martial art form is the best, so do the students of kung fu. However, kung fu students and their teachers believe in their style that it takes on a religious reference. The passing down of the traditional styles and the stories of glory that accompanies it turns into something mythical. Kung fu is rarely criticized, and some practitioners believe that their combat style is too ‘’ deadly’’ for the ring; that is why we rarely see it in the MMA ring.
How Has Kung Fu Fared In The MMA?
Not well at all. Fighters who have dared to display their kung fu in an MMA ring rarely won without employing some additional martial art form. On its own, it could not counter the grappling, wrestling, and ground attacks frequently used by trained MMA fighters.
A famous example is the story of Jason Delucia. Delucia was a student of the famous Five Animal Kung Fu style and Aikido and Tae Kwon Do. Early in his career, he was invited to fight Rorion Gracie as part of the Gracie Challenge (The Gracie family was behind the invention of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). The fight took place at the Gracie gym in California. He lost the fight, and to him, it was an early indication of how important it was to grapple and fight on the ground.
There are kung fu fighters who did reasonably well in MMA, Cung Le springs to mind, but they all used other fighting forms to complement their kung fu fighting style. Just relying on kung fu did not make for good viewing when it came to MMA/UFC fights.
How did Bruce Lee Change Kung Fu?
The owner of the UFC, Dana White, proclaimed in 2014: ‘’ I think the sport of Mixed Martial Arts was started by Bruce Lee” often referring to him as the father of MMA. As a young boy, Bruce Lee trained in Wing Chun Kung Fu but later on in his life “felt that martial arts were too riddled with tradition to be of any use in a real fight.” He started to change his kung fu by adding boxing and western fencing, which his brother taught him.
After looking at fighting from a scientific view, he developed his own form of Kung fu, known as Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do. He felt that as a fighter, there is no one method or approach to superior fighting. He encouraged fighters to use whatever technique would win them the fight.
What Are The Most Effective Martial Arts Used In The MMA?
As the sport evolved, it became clear that fighters had to combine certain martial arts to succeed in the ring. As a fighter, you have to be versed in stand-up, clinch, and ground fighting. The following martial arts incorporate the styles and techniques modern MMA fighters require:
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Wrestling (Greco-Roman, Shoot, Catch, and Freestyle)
- Muay Thai
Kung fu as a fighting style on its own is hard to find in the MMA/UFC. This does not indicate that there is no kung fu to be found in the sport. There are elements that fighters with a kung fu background use; however, the sport demands a different set of skills to be successful. Combining the very best elements of different martial arts forms is usually what the fighters do.
Traditional kung fu was never going to be strong enough on its own regarding the changing fight world of sports. Bruce knew it and changed his style of Kung Fu to be a more effective fighter. A fighter with a kung fu background will have to follow in Bruce’s steps and add other martial art skills to his armor if he wants to succeed in MMA.
Kung fu does not teach ground or clinch fighting, not to mention wrestling, so it would always struggle in MMA. Numerous MMA dojos are being opened in China, and hopefully, in the future, we will see kung fu being combined with other martial arts.
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