Why Are There No Kung Fu Masters In MMA?

If you follow MMA closely, you might be forgiven for thinking that there are no Kung Fu masters present. Many people say that they’ve seen a huge number of fights but not a single Kung Fu master. So, what’s going on? Why are there no Kung Fu masters in MMA?

There are Kung Fu masters in MMA but due to the nature of MMA fights, it may mean that you rarely see them practicing Kung Fu in the MMA ring.

Let’s take a look at why.

Why are there no Kung Fu masters in MMA? - CraftofCombat.com
Why are there no Kung Fu masters in MMA? – CraftofCombat.com

The Beginnings Of UFC

If we look back at the beginnings of the modern UFC, the first major MMA competition, then we can get some insight into how things began.

In 1993, inspired by the Pankration (a sort of Greek Olympics MMA event in 648 B.C) and a Brazilian event called Vale Tudo (which literally means “anything goes”) the UFC was organized and then sought and received permission to introduce MMA into the United States.

The philosophy of the UFC was simple. They intended to find the “Ultimate Fighting Champion” by holding a one-night event in which the top sportspeople from all martial arts could compete against each other.

That meant karate against jiu-jitsu, Kung Fu against Judo, wrestling against sumo, etc. until only the best person was left standing.

Most of these original fighters were not MMA fighters. They were single discipline fighters seeing if their discipline could trounce that of the other fighters and many of these were Kung Fu masters.

There was a problem, however. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu spanked everybody. Grappling techniques completely overwhelmed most striking techniques nearly all of the time. Karate, Kung Fu, etc. didn’t get a look in.

The Birth Of True MMA Fighters

This meant that nearly every fighter who wanted a crack at the UFC would need to change their plans. Thus, there was a huge rush of professional fighters seeking to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – if they wanted to win, they had to be able to go to the mat.

Simultaneously, UFC was professionalizing. They’d learned a lot of lessons in the early years and they wanted to select the fighters who competed. No longer would UFC be a free for all, but their talent scouts would go and seek the best fighters from around the world and invite them.

Where did they look? Well, local MMA championships. And for reasons, as already demonstrated above, Kung Fu specialists couldn’t compete in those. If they weren’t proficient in grappling – they weren’t winning.

This doesn’t mean that Kung Fu stylists don’t enter MMA competitions. They do. It’s just that they don’t get invites to the big tournaments because they don’t win often enough to justify an invite.

What Are The Reasons That Kung Fu Isn’t A Winning Choice For MMA?

We’re not hating on Kung Fu here. It’s an excellent martial art which is both effective and thrilling to watch in a fight. What we’re trying to do is drill down and understand why it is that Kung Fu just doesn’t make the grade, by itself, in top level MMA tourneys. (Honestly, I personally LOVE Kung Fu.)

It’s All Down To The Training

When you want to be the best at any given sport, you need to be able to outdo everyone in that sport. That means realistic training simulations that allow you to compete against opponents who are throwing everything at you.

Kung Fu training doesn’t work like that. Kung Fu fighting is all about striking. When Kung Fu masters spar with each other, they tend to not go beyond free fighting into clinching and groundwork.

Yet, it is clinching and groundwork that makes a top-level MMA fighter a winner.

When Practice Doesn’t Make For Perfect

If a Kung Fu master doesn’t know how to handle someone who is not focused on kicking them but rather on trying to rip their legs out from under them,so that they can then smash them in the face over and over again – how are they going to beat them?

If you don’t spend time in training learning to counter grabs, throws, low leg kicks, face punches, etc. then you’re simply not being trained for participation in UFC style events.

When There’s No Live Practice At All

For some Kung Fu school practitioners, things are even worse – those schools don’t participate in competitions at all. Those schools specialize in teaching forms and the acrobatic side of Kung Fu. What little “sparring” they do, is highly controlled and partners are expected to work with you rather than to resist you.

Yes, in these schools the “opponent” isn’t your opponent at all, they’re a passive willing victim to a display of your innate mastery of the craft. Now, there’s no denying that this look amazing when two Kung Fu practitioners are giving a public display but it’s useless for learning how to fight.

Can you imagine an MMA fighter offering their arm passively for an arm lock followed by a kick to the body? No, neither can we.

You must have real opposition to be able to learn to fight effectively. This is particularly true when you think about the speed and power in a move. When your opponent is cooperating, they’re likely to be slow and soft not fast and hard.

This is why many Kung Fu practitioners may also find it hard to fight a good boxer – the boxer doesn’t learn to pull or slow down their punches.

Why Doesn’t Kung Fu Train For MMA?

Well there are a ton of reasons given by the Kung Fu community that include:

  • Kung Fu techniques are “too deadly” for competition. It’s certainly true that Kung Fu was once a genuine “martial” art and was used in war but it’s also true that modern Kung Fu isn’t all that similar to its original martial variants.
  • They say ground fighting develops “bad habits”. This seems pretty ridiculous when you realize that ground fighting seems to beat everyone in the MMA. If it was a “bad habit”, you’d expect it to get you beaten not to help you win.
  • They say that being on the ground is “dangerous in real life”. They argue that you might get cut from a bit of rock, a hypodermic needle or something similar. We’d just note that all fighting is inherently dangerous, and this feels more like an excuse than a solid reason.
  • They say they prefer to focus on fighting on their feet. Which is fine, it just means that MMA events aren’t going to work for a Kung Fu stylist.
  • They say that “sport fighting” is against the ethics of “Wu De” (the principles that govern martial arts) but again, we’re not convinced because armies that don’t practice actual combat tend to get beaten pretty badly by those who do, in our experience.

It’s also possible that there is something to be said for the argument that Kung Fu is simply too Chinese to be adaptable. Chinese culture is based around the concept of “face”. This means that it can be very hard (if not impossible) to criticize things around you and, in particular, your superiors.

It may be that Kung Fu artists don’t articulate their desires to learn other techniques for fear of being seen as critical and thus losing face for themselves.

However, given that MMA is becoming more and more popular in China, we can only think that sooner or later – somebody at the top is going to take note and start changing Kung Fu from within.

Kung Fu Master Gets Slapped Around By MMA Fighter

One reason we think things are going to change in China is the recent humiliation of “Kung Fu Master” Tian Ye by the MMA Fighter Xu Xiaodong. Tian had been begging for a fight for 2 years but when he got one – it was clear he wasn’t ready at all.

Tian was knocked out cold in the second round with a kick after being beaten senseless in the first round. Observers weren’t even sure that he had used any Kung Fu at all, during his drubbing.

You can watch the “fight” in the video below. It’s not a pretty sight.

So, Those Kung Fu Masters In MMA?

None of this means there are no Kung Fu masters in MMA. What it does mean is that those that are in the MMA are multi-disciplinary martial art masters and that they fight using the styles of those other disciplines.

They keep most of their Kung Fu out of the MMA ring and reserve it for when they practice Kung Fu.


Why are there no Kung Fu masters in MMA? Well, there are some, but you won’t spot them because they’re either fighting at a very low level or they’re not using their Kung Fu in MMA because it will get them beaten by someone using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Kung Fu, for the moment, is simply not well-designed for MMA fighting and until (or unless) the sport adapts, you won’t see it at the highest levels of MMA for the foreseeable future.

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