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In my opinion, Kung Fu fighters seem to be stuck into their own environment/technique. I say this because I've never seen any Kung Fu guys fighting (for real/professionally) in a fight with MMA rules.

So, are there any Kung Fu fighters (of any style) who are really effective fighting MMA? And if there is no one, what would be the reason?

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Nelson_%28fighter%29 has a decent record. – Macaco Branco Feb 18 '15 at 21:06
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    He studied kung-fu and karate when he was 16. He's a BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie apparently. That appears to be his style. I've not seen really anything in his UFC fights that resembles kung-fu, but I could be wrong. – Steve Weigand Feb 18 '15 at 22:52
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    There was Jason Delucia from the early UFC's. He's an interesting guy. He started out as a 5 Animals kung-fu stylist. A few years before his UFC 2 debut (where he was tapped out by Royce Gracie), he accepted the "Gracie Challenge" to come and fight the Gracies at their school. He lost, and so he trained there in BJJ (for over a month I think). It was the stuff he learned there that he used in UFC 2, even though he was billed as a "kung-fu fighter". By then, he had completely discarded kung-fu. – Steve Weigand Feb 18 '15 at 23:00
  • I will search for Delucia's fight on UFC, thanks! I watched his underground fight with Gracie when I was searching about the topic's subject. He didn't even use his kung-fu on that occasion since he was taken to the ground very early. – El M Feb 19 '15 at 11:51
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    A lot of times people complain about these sorts of fights. They say, "He didn't even use such-n-such martial art. This fight shouldn't be taken seriously." The answer to that is that people find out very quickly what works and what doesn't in these cases. If they're not doing something that resembles kung-fu (or aikido, or karate, or whatever), then it's probably because they realized in that very moment that none of what they know would apply in this situation. Either that, or they simply didn't have enough time to show their style, which happens a lot also. – Steve Weigand Feb 19 '15 at 18:09
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Kung-Fu fighters pop up from time to time in MMA style fights. Early on in the UFC, there were a small number of kung-fu fighters. But by the end of its first year, you didn't see any. Why?

Well there's a reason for that. The first UFC's were open to all. They were very much about putting style vs. style. So they had karate, Taekwondo, kung-fu, wing-chun, judo, wrestling, etc. It was pretty cool.

But after a brief number of UFC's, a pattern emerged: Grapplers generally "owned" the strikers, who were mostly traditionalists and "purists" with no knowledge of grappling whatsoever. It was embarrassing for the traditionalists. Brazilian Jiujitsu emerged from obscurity to become the most well known and well respected styles that prepared people for MMA fights. Karate, kung-fu, and other traditional arts were starting to be seen as inferior.

Because of the influence the early UFC had, a lot of new students rushed to learn Brazilian Jiujitsu, Judo, Sambo, Wrestling, Submission Grappling, and Shoot-fighting. From this pool of talent came the next generation of UFC fighters. This new generation of fighters understood the value of grappling, and especially ground fighting.

At the same time, right after UFC 1, there were many local MMA venues opening up all over the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. It was in these local competitions where the new generation of fighters got their first fights. Every now and then, traditional stylists such as kung-fu fighters would enter these local MMA competitions, but they generally didn't win without grappling skill.

Then the UFC changed a bit. It became more selective. Instead of allowing anyone to enter the UFC, they would only look at fighters who had fought and won in local MMA competitions. They were looking for the best fighters, not the best stylists. Kung-fu stylists generally would not be able to win those fights enough to be recognized by and brought into the UFC to fight.

And now forward to today. There are local, regional, national, and international MMA competitions everywhere. There are now enough fighters to have organizations other than just the UFC. But the UFC is seen as the organization with the most elite competitions.

So your best bet for seeing how kung-fu stylists do in MMA is to actually look for stuff outside of the UFC or any other national or regional MMA organization. These would be local MMA competitions. Cage matches, tough man competitions, etc. Only there will you see newcomers with no fight history being allowed to fight, and so you sometimes can see kung-fu fighters.

Why, though, would kung-fu stylists not do well in MMA fights?

The answer is: You perform the way you are trained. It's not about the "style". It's not about the techniques. It's how you train that matters.

Kung-fu training rarely involves non-compliant, live partners who are trying their best to win against you, in matches that allow all 3 ranges of combat: free fighting, clinch, and ground.

If you don't train with people who are trying their best to take you down to the ground and submit you, you won't know how to handle that when the time comes to defend yourself from it. If you've never trained with partners who are allowed to grab you, throw you, kick you in the legs, punch you in the face, etc., then you'll be lost in a competition that allows those techniques.

It's even worse if you train in a style that doesn't even do competition at all. This happens in many kung-fu schools. In those styles, you're either just doing forms and punching to the air, or maybe you are lucky enough to have some partnered activities, but the partnered stuff is compliant and not "live".

By compliant, I mean that your partner is not resisting you. He's just letting you do stuff. He might throw a punch, for example, and then he stops and lets you do any number of crazy things to him. You might grab his wrist and yank at it until it locks his arm. And then you perform a standing arm bar. But he lets you do that. He doesn't try to pull his wrist away when he sees you reaching for it. He doesn't try to keep his elbow from being locked.

And by "live", I mean that your partner is thinking and able to change what he's doing on the fly, to make you aware of your problems. He's not just a robot, programmed to do one thing and stop. A "live" partner will not stop after he throws that first punch. He'll do another punch when he sees that you're too open on one side. He'll try to trip you when he sees that your stance is too wide. Etc. The most "live" a partner can be is during a sparring session, where things are done completely at random, and you have no idea what your partner will do next.

Another aspect to this training is speed and power. It's easy to practice trapping a punch and counter-striking to the face when things are slowed down. But speeding it up and adding power might show you that your elegant drill simply doesn't work at that point.

People who train in kung-fu styles have a lot of excuses and reasons why they don't train the way MMA trains. The most common reason they claim is that their techniques are "too deadly" for competition. They also disagree that ground fighting should be developed at all, because it would give students bad habits. They basically claim that being on the ground is dangerous in real life, for a variety of reasons (mobility, multiple-attacker scenarios, broken glass and used hypodermic needles, etc.). They would rather put all of their training into learning how to fight on their feet, instead. And they even dislike the notion of sport fighting, claiming that violates the principle of Wu De (martial ethics and code of conduct). For these and other reasons, they seldom even consider fighting in MMA competition.

By the way, there are good rebuttals to all of those claims. But we can save that discussion for another question.

Another thing to realize about kung-fu is that the styles are highly revered by their students and teachers, almost taking on religious significance. Criticizing any aspect of your kung-fu style is just not done. Kung-fu practitioners have faith that the traditional, old ways of training are the best, that their instructors are always right, and that their particular branch of kung-fu is the best. Each style passes down oral histories of their founders that make them sound near god-like. They talk about proponents of their style that once fought 30 people at a time and won, for example. And since their styles are generally thought to be "perfect", it means that if anyone does poorly using it in a fight, it's because that person just didn't train hard enough, wasn't very good at it, or may have had some sort of character flaw - laziness, egotistical, selfishness, etc.

So convincing kung-fu stylists that they need to train a different way or to start entering MMA competitions to test their skill is an uphill battle. It's just not very likely to happen on a large scale.

Incidentally, MMA is just starting to take root in China. It's unknown at this time how successful it will be at attracting students in a culture that's so deeply embedded in kung-fu.

We all would love to see a "pure" kung-fu stylist come into the MMA world and succeed. That would be amazing. There's no technique that you can see in MMA fights that isn't already in kung-fu. But like I said, it's not the technique that matters, it's the way you train. For that reason and the reasons discussed above, I doubt you're going to see any pure kung-fu fighters go very far in MMA.

Hope that helps.

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    Amazing answer Steve! Very informative! Let's say that tt would be something like a Kung Fu fighter in UFC 1, who, after loosing his fight, never started to learn ground moves after losing. This would be nonsense. But this would never happened (as it really didn't happen), because Kung Fu would win anyways (in a Kung Fu thought), so, why to fight? About your last statements, this expansion to China would maybe put a Kung-fu guy in a cage, like Lyoto Machida brings a Karate style to UFC. He does not fight pure Karate, but it is noticeable that he has his roots on this style. – El M Feb 19 '15 at 11:39
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    Yes, everyone has seen Lyoto Machida. He dominated the UFC for a good amount of time. And he bases his strategy, his footwork, and most importantly his timing, on his karate background. But, he's also a BJJ black belt and has put a lot of time into training for MMA. He is pretty far from being "pure" karate, but clearly he has taken something very positive from his karate training. That's what MMA is about. It takes what you know, tests it, and if it doesn't work, you must change. More recently I've been seeing a lot of Taekwondo black belts doing well in the UFC and other MMA venues. – Steve Weigand Feb 19 '15 at 18:05
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    Admittedly, it does so within certain restrictions for safety, but they're pretty reasonable ones. If a style can't stand on its own without requiring throat punches and groin crushes... – Macaco Branco Feb 20 '15 at 16:57
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    @code_fodder Strikes of any kind to the neck are not allowed in the current day UFC, no. The original UFC 1 rules were much more relaxed: no biting and eye gouging, enforced by a $1500 fine only. There have been a number of other competitions throughout the world (that weren't the UFC) where the rules were just as relaxed. It has been observed that these techniques (eye poke, throat jab, etc.) were not effective, mostly because the people that employ them in their training were unable to deliver them (due to having no opportunity) in the ring. There have been a number of MMA matches that... – Steve Weigand Mar 21 '16 at 3:55
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    ... able to deliver that spear-hand thrust, you're also able to deliver a punch to the face. Which is more effective? My money is on the punch to the face, because it requires less precision and is less risky to your fingers. In a competition where neck strikes are allowed, fighters would defend their necks more. And again, this requires you to become, essentially, an MMA fighter in order to pull it off reliably. My thoughts anyway. – Steve Weigand Mar 21 '16 at 4:06
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KUNG FU, MMA, and UFC

Roy Nelson, a top tier UFC fighter, commented on his kung fu background:

The Lohan school of Shaolin, I actually got started in my Sifu’s garage. I think I was 15 1/2, 16. Kung-fu is the root for I would say 95% of all martial arts. I practice it every day.

(With Sticky Hands) basically you’re just working with their body movement, where you’re feeling their energy, and just trying to manipulate that to your advantage.

Working on the wooden dummy you can work on some striking, and you can also work grappling, like grabbing the leg, pushing the hips away.

Meditation can help make you more mentally strong, especially during a fight. It slows everything down so that you can control the chaos.

In 2004 the UFC president, Dana White, called Bruce Lee the “FATHER OF MIXED MARTIAL ARTS.” White went on to say,"If you look at the way Bruce Lee trained, the way he fought, and many of the things he wrote, he said the perfect style was no style. You take a little something from everything. You take the good things from every different discipline, use what works, and you throw the rest away."

You do not see any martial arts in MMA in their pure traditional form. That is why it is called MIXED martial arts. It is MIXED in parts. People can't seem to understand this is why pure traditional Kung Fu is not seen in MMA.

Furthermore, pure traditional Kung Fu could not be used anyway in MMA matches due to rules and restrictions prohibiting various vital strikes and moves (which is why, as with other martial arts in MMA, Kung Fu is only seen in parts). Fighters ARE using Kung Fu in MMA and it is suitable. The pure traditional form, which is amazingly effective, is NOT suitable and cannot be used because MMA is a sport with rules and regulations. There are no aspects of MMA that are in accordance with the fighting style inside pure traditional Shaolin Kung Fu. Also Kung Fu has the advantage that it trains for multiple attackers while MMA is one on one.

Furthermore, Pure Traditional Kung Fu is not a “fighting sport” but it is a self defense; it is a self discipline; it is beautiful and harmonious; and it is a meditative way of life.

However some aspects of Kung Fu have been utilized in the ring. Sascha Matuszak, multimedia journalist in China, stated, “I think what is lacking is the recognition that certain techniques used today in MMA are straight out of Chinese Kung Fu. Headkicks, sidekicks, oblique kicks, elbows, centerline strikes … all of these are very prominent and basic features of Chinese Kung Fu.”

Here are a few fighters in MMA with some Kung Fu background (With links below for verification):

  • Cung Le (UFC, former StrikeForce middleweight champ) Wushu Kung Fu, Kuntao & Vietnamese Kung Fu,  Sanshou. Three time Bronze Medalist in the Wushu World Championships. The only American Wushu Kung Fu Athlete to have three World medals. [1]

  • Yi Long: (WLF) Shaolin Kung Fu Master from the Shaolin Temple.  Shaolin Kung Fu.  Sanshou. [2] [3] [4]

  • Roy Nelson (UFC, tuf 10 winner, former ifl hw champ & ifl 2007 hwgp champ): Shaolin Kung Fu black belt. Bjj. Nelson stated, “Kung-fu is the root for I would say 95% of all martial arts. I practice it every day.” [5]

  • Dan Hardy (UFC) Trained with Shaolin Monks in China. Wushu, tdk, bjj. [6]

  • Pat Barry (UFC) Sanshou. Trained with Chinese National Sanshou team at the Shaolin Temple. Won the Sanda Kungfu Federation (SKF) United States Heavyweight Championship [7]  

  • Sami Berik: Wing Chun and T'ai Chi. Received gold medals at T'ai Chi tournaments in Britain and Europe [8]

  • Peter Davis (one fc 10-3) Kung Fu [9]  

  • Luke Cummo (UFC) Kung Fu, Jeet Kune Do, bjj. Also appeared on The Ultimate Fighter. [10] [11]

  • Jason Delucia (UFC) Trained in Five Animals Kung Fu. [12]  

  • Bao Li Gao (ruff) Sanshou [13]

  • Zhang Tie Quan (UFC) Black sash in Sanshou (Sanda), brown belt in bjj. [14]  

  • Ian McCall (UFC, former tpf flw champ): Black belt in Kung Fu, bjj. [15]  
  • James Wilks (UFC, tuf 9 winner): Full instructor in Jeet Kune Do, black belt tdj, brown belt bjj. [16]

  • Michelle Waterson (UFC, invicta aw champ) Wushu, black belt in Karate [17]

  • Daniel Spohn: Iron Body Gong Fu System, black belt in traditional Kachido Aikijitsu. [18]

  • Jumabieke Tuerxun: Sanshou. He trains out of China’s elite Xian Physical Education University, where he is a pupil of Zhao Xuejun. [19]

  • Chuck Liddell:(UFC) Hawaiian Kempo. Kajukenbo. While he did not study literal Kung Fu, Liddells trainer, Hackleman, was schooled in Kajukenbo which is a mixture of Kempo Karate, Tang Soo Do, Judo, Jujitsu, Chinese Kempo, and Chinese Kung Fu. Hackleman later changed the name of this blend to Hawaiian Kempo. But Liddell was trained in traditional martial arts. [20] [21] [22]

  • Nick Osipczak (UFC) Tai Chi Chaun Kung Fu, bjj [23]

  • Bazigit Atajev (pride) Sanshou. He won a gold medal at the  World Wushu Championships. [24]

  • Wang Guan “The Dongbei Tiger”: Sanshou, Kung Fu. [25]

  • Yao Honggang: (LegendFC) Sanshou, Shuaijiao (traditional Chinese Wrestling). [26]

  • Vaughn Anderson: (Bellator) Sanshou [27]

  • Ao Hailin: (Art of War) Sanshou [28]

  • Zhang Meixuan: (Ruff) Sanshou [29]

  • Ji Xian: (Legend FC) Sanshou, bjj [30]

  • Liu Hailong: Sanshou. Called the “Super King of Sanda.” [31]

  • Xingxi: Shaolin Kung Fu Master from Shaolin Temple. Shaolin Kung Fu, training for mma. [32]

  • Felix Lee Mitchell: (UFC) Shaolin Kung Fu. [33]

  • Muslim Salikhov:** AKA King of Kung Fu.  Sanshou. BJJ. Champion of European Wushu Championships in 2004, and world champion in 2005. Won championship of World Wushu Championships in 2011. [34]

  • Shi Yanzi: (Hero Legends, WLF) Shaolin Kung Fu. Shaolin Sanshou. Formerly lived for some time at the Shaolin Temple. He was Chinese National Champion for 15 years. He was an eight time champion at the Chinese national sanda championships as well as twice crowned World Champion. He recently starred in a film. [35]

[1] http://www.ufc.com/fighter/Cung-Le (Read the bottom left hand section “Specific Accomplishments.”

[2] https://www.facebook.com/pages/Yi-Long/194852663998523?sk=info&tab=page_info

[3] http://www.wlfmartialarts.com.au/index.php?m=content&c=index&a=lists&catid=89

[4] http://www.wlfmartialarts.com.au/index.php?m=content&c=index&a=lists&catid=98

[5] http://fightland.vice.com/blog/the-golden-bell-the-secret-to-roy-nelsons-iron-chin

[6] http://www.kungfumagazine.com/forum/showthread.php?55693-UFC-s-Dan-Hardy-Shaolin-Temple-trained!

[7] http://forums.sherdog.com/forums/f2/pat-barry-real-shaolin-warrior-2475371/

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhT7C2TlVs8

[9] http://www.mmamania.com/2013/1/29/3915702/one-fc-lightweight-peter-davis-wants-to-prove-that-kung-fu-can-work

[10] http://www.mmaweekly.com/tuf-2-welterweight-finalist-luke-cummo

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luke_Cummo (See Fighting Stle in right cornor box)

[12] http://jasondelucia.com/

[13] http://www.kungfukulture.com/2011/04/kung-fu-fighter-destroys-experienced-k.html

[14] http://www.ufc.com/fighter/Tiequan-Zhang

[15] http://www.ufc.com/fighter/Ian-McCall

[16] http://www.ufc.com/fighter/james-wilks/media?id=

[17] https://www.onnit.com/pro-team/michelle-waterson/

[18] http://www.ufc.com/tuf/fighter/daniel-spohn

[19] http://www.ufc.com/fighter/Jumabieke-Tuerxun

[20] https://orgsync.com/63876/photos/albums/33624/photo/641998 (Chuck Liddell)

[21] http://www.kajukenboinfo.com/sijo.html (History of Kajukenbo

[22] http://thepitmalibu.com/hawaiiankempohistory.html (Ancient history of Kempo)

[23] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Osipczak

[24] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bazigit_Atajev

[25] http://www.tapology.com/fightcenter/fighters/17397-guan-wang

[26] http://www.legendfc.com/en/fighters/60/Yao-Honggang/

[27] http://www.mmafighting.com/fighter/2396/vaughn-anderson

[28] http://www.ruffchina.com/us/news/item/team-profile-ao-hai-lin-china-mma-club.html#.VWuysbnD9qw

[29] http://www.ruffchina.com/us/fightersprofiles/item/zhang-meixuan.html

[30] http://www.legendfc.com/en/fighters/79/Ji-Xian/

[31] https://www.facebook.com/pages/Liu-Hailong/105308006224111

[32] http://fightland.vice.com/blog/a-shaolin-monk-tries-mixed-martial-arts

[33] http://www.mmafighting.com/fighter/2354/felix-lee-mitchell

[34] http://www.tapology.com/fightcenter/fighters/44727-muslim-salikhov

[35] http://www.shaolintempleuk.org/portfolio/iron-monk-trailler/

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    Now, this is a good answer! – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Jun 1 '15 at 6:53
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    This is a solid and comprehensive answer, (despite some eye-rolly stuff about the immortal power of kung fu poking people in the eye). It also really shows why the question isn't useful: just because these people did kung fu doesn't tell us anything about which parts of kung fu are useful. Better to ask "what kung fu techniques (or tactics or strategies) have been used successfully in MMA"? – Dave Liepmann Jun 1 '15 at 6:59
  • Very nice answer! Thank you very much! +1 – El M Jul 10 '15 at 13:22
  • "Pure traditional Kung Fu could not be used anyway in MMA matches due to rules and restrictions prohibiting various vital strikes and moves" - This applies to many purely self-defensive styles (Hapkido, Krav Maga, etc.), because their goal is to disable the attacker, usually by destructive or even lethal means, not to fight/compete with him. – David R Tribble Nov 15 '19 at 20:22
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Sanshou (similar to sanda) is a major competitive outlet for kung fu styles, allowing kicks, punches, kick catches, and throws. Several fighters with sanshou experience have fought in the UFC, most notably Cung Le. Zhang Tiequan appears to also have some sanshou experience, but today seems to fight primarily as a grappler.

There are a small number of kung fu fighters on the amateur MMA circuit who have stepped up and fought MMA, for instance Bullshido's Omega.

Unfortunately, large swaths of the kung fu community in the Western world are not tailored to proving they know how to fight. Similar to the aikido or light-contact karate/taekwondo communities, many kung fu schools are not geared towards teaching people to fight, and they're certainly not prepared to prepare someone for a proper ring fight. This makes the available pool of kung fu fighters willing to prove their art in MMA rather small.

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    Yeah, I was going to mention Cung Le in my answer as well. Sanda / sanshou is legit. It just doesn't look anything like what we think of as "kung-fu". – Steve Weigand Feb 19 '15 at 23:05
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    After watch this Bullshido's Omega video, I came to a conclusion: When a guy steps into the ring, he will be fighting boxing (or something close to it). And I think the things that you and Steve said are true. When there's another opponent reacting, the whole story changes. – El M Feb 20 '15 at 10:44
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    @ElMynx Kennedy & Guo describe the Chinese Army coming to a similar conclusion in Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals. Boxing doesn't have all the answers, but the basics of boxing and wrestling have proven themselves useful to all stylists. – Dave Liepmann Feb 20 '15 at 11:33
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i thought kung fu was bs but know i think its the best, and really good for mma, cung lee is a world champ at sanshou kung fu, sanshou is the combat side of kung fu, wushu and all the spirital stuff is the other side of kung fu, sanshou is the closest thing to mma becides maybe sambo, its like a thai kickboxing match but throws and take downs are alowed but its stood up as soon as the throw is compleated and you get points for it, they also have mutch more hi tek kicks than kickboxing, really amazing to watch, cung lee was the first to use it in mma i think he is the most dynamic striker i have seen in mma, im not saying his the best striker ever but the most dynamic, he has more different kicks than anyone, michael page who is undefeted in mma is a kung fu fighter his new but going to be a huge star he might even more dynamic than cung his style is out of this world, pat barry is the only other sanshou fighter i have herd of in mma

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    This answer is in need of editing! As it currently stands, it is confusing and lacks references but it could be a really good answer. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Jul 24 '15 at 7:58
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It is actually very simple: MMA has rules that obstruct the effectiveness of real Kung Fu. Many Kung Fu styles have grappling, but this is usually done with the purpose of dislocating or breaking joints. In Chinese, it is called "fan guan jie" meaning against the normal motions of joints. Hence Kung Fu grappling often starts with the manipulation of the opponent's fingers which is not legal in MMA. Also when being pinned down in a fight, a Kung Fu practitioner will focus strike the opponent's weak points to escape. These include groin, spine, neck, poke eyes, pull ears, grab face, knuckle punch to the solar plexus, back of head, etc. These areas are all illegal in MMA. For example, very often you see an MMA fighter sitting on the opponent's chest; since the poor guy can't swing any strong punches in that position, the MMA fighter can take his time to punch the opponent's head. A Kung Fu fighter being pinned down in that position will just throw a straight, albeit weak, knuckle punch to the neck which would be good enough to choke the opponent for enough time to escape. Alternatively the Kung Fu fighter can go for the eyes or ears.

One might feel these are cheap shots but remember that Kung Fu is not a sport like MMA. Before the introduction of firearms, China had over 5000 years of warring history fought with mainly melee weapons and on war horses. Kung Fu is the art of killing that is not just bare handed fighting but also includes various melee weapons.

To really understand what Chinese Kung Fu is about, I suggest watching the 2014 movie "Kung Fu jungle" by Donnie Yen.

  • yup, i'm sure that's why you keep getting beaten by people who actually train to fight. the rules stopped you. what a great and versatile excuse. – Dave Liepmann Sep 21 '15 at 18:42
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    Your reply doesn't answer the original question; you haven't listed any effective Kung Fu fighters in MMA. – Mike P Sep 23 '15 at 15:17
  • This answer's atrocious formatting obscured the totally absurd mount escape it proposes: just punch them in the neck! Never mind that their neck is out of reach if they posture up, and a punch from under mount is about as strong as a stiff breeze. – Dave Liepmann Oct 1 '15 at 10:03

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