Why Are There No Kung Fu Fighters in MMA? Key Reasons Explained


Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is one of the most popular combat sports in the world. One of the aims of this sport is to bring a range of fighting styles together. Despite this, not all martial arts are represented. This has led many to question, why isn’t kung fu used in MMA? 

There are several reasons why kung fu isn’t prominent in MMA. Some forms of kung fu focus on illegal maneuvers and strikes. Another issue is the focus on strikes, which can leave fighters vulnerable to grappling techniques. Additionally, the way that kung fu often puts a greater focus on inner peace and self-defense, rather than the offensive techniques needed for MMA. 

Despite these difficulties, many fighters have incorporated elements of kung fu into their fighting style. Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between kung fu and MMA. 

Why is Kung Fu Not Used in MMA?

Several aspects have limited the use of kung fu. Though one of the biggest is the conflict with the MMA rules. All MMA fighters are expected to follow a strict set of rules. These are called the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. These dictate what a fighter can and cannot do during a match. 

For example, moves like eye-gouging, biting, and throat strikes are outlawed. This is designed to ensure that no one is seriously injured. On the other hand, some aspects of kung fu focus on strikes that would be banned in MMA. For example, Wing Chun focuses on attacking the soft tissues. This is because this form of martial arts is focused on ending the fight as quickly as possible. Often, the best way of doing this is hitting a sensitive area, like the groin. 

Additionally, there are some doubts about how effective kung fu would be in a combat situation. We’ll delve into these potential concerns later. 

However, it’s important to note that kung fu is a broad term, which covers a range of martial arts. Some of these techniques have been incorporated into the MMA. Some of these elements include; 

  • The “Drunken Master” style. This is designed to start slow, lulling the opponent into a false sense of security. Then, all of a sudden, the fighter will unleash a quick barrage of shots. These are designed to be unpredictable, making them more difficult to combat. 
  • Connor McGregor uses some hits to the shoulder that could have their origin in kung fu. 
  • The Feeding Crane technique has become a prominent way of trapping and controlling the opponent’s movement. 
  • The principle of using an opponent’s weight and strength against them is a common practice for many kung fu styles. 
  • Kung fu also emphasizes learning to predict the opponent’s moves and planning ahead. 

Why Did Kung Fu Not Do as Well as Other Martial Arts in MMA?

While some elements of kung fu are used in MMA, it doesn’t have the same popularity as other martial arts. For example, many fighters will study judo or Jiu-Jitsu, but won’t pay attention to kung fu. There are a few factors that might have contributed to kung fu becoming maligned. 

First, it could be linked to the way that kung fu is taught. Often, teachers will emphasize the importance of self-defense. While this is important, sports combat will place more focus on how the techniques can be used for offense. 

Secondly, one of the biggest issues is the lack of sparring contests in many kung fu schools. This makes it difficult to practice the skills that students will require to fight in MMA. Even when these contests do occur, it is typically against those who practice the same type of kung fu. MMA, on the other hand, necessities the fighters understanding and learning a wide range of martial arts forms. 

Thirdly, it neglects some important aspects of MMA. For example, there is a lack of ground techniques and clinch holds. These are important aspects of modern fighting, with many athletes priding themselves on a strong wrestling and grappling background. 

Other martial arts offer more practical fighting styles. Because of this, these styles will attract more attention from the athletes. As a result, they get more attention from the MMA community. Making this situation worse is the attitude of some teachers, who claim to have mystical abilities. This has led to some embarrassment as they were challenged and defeated by MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong. This has made more people skeptical about Chinese martial arts and their effectiveness in the world of combat sports. 

Another potential issue is that MMA requires fighters to wrap tape around their knuckles. This can limit the effectiveness of some of the strikes when compared to being delivered with a bare fist. However, arguably, this is something that will impact all disciplines of martial arts. 

However, one of the biggest issues is the focus on how kung fu can help students find inner peace. This has become increasingly popular, with many teachers honing in on this aspect. Many schools place a greater focus on physical fitness than they do on preparing for combat. 

What Martial Arts are Not Allowed in MMA?

One of the benefits of MMA is that all styles of martial arts can be employed. No disciplines are banned. Though some aren’t used because they won’t be effective enough to damage an opponent. But this doesn’t mean that anything goes. Certain elements of combat have been banned. For example, fighters won’t be able to do any of the following;

  • Biting
  • Scratching 
  • Raking the eyes
  • Small joint manipulation
  • Throat strikes
  • Fish hooking
  • Using the cage to gain leverage 
  • Kicking someone when they are down

The penalties for breaking these rules can vary. Sometimes, it will be accidental. In this case, the fight will be temporarily paused and the opponents will be given a warning. If it was intentional, they might be disqualified. 

Kung Fu – Is it Effective as a Combat Art?

Over the years, kung fu has often been branded as “fake”. While many of the tactics taught can, when used properly, injure an opponent there is still a question of how well kung fu would do in an MMA-style fight. 

As we mentioned, there are several issues that kung fu fighters might face. This includes things like not focusing on grappling and a lack of focus on combat situations. However, there are some reasons why kung fu can be valuable in a fight. 

One of the biggest reasons why kung fu would be valuable is because it emphasizes flexibility. The attack style will change, depending on how the opponent is reacting. Additionally, many forms of kung fu place a lot of emphasis on striking.

Eyewitness reports of kung fu master Bruce Lee show how dangerous this could be. According to those who witnessed him fight, his punches could send opponents flying as far as eight feet. This shows that, in the right hands, kung fu could be powerful enough to win a real fight. Though it should be noted that Lee studied multiple disciplines, rather than narrowly focusing on one type of kung fu. 

Final Thoughts

Kung fu dominated the martial arts scene during the 70s, with masters like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan helping popularize the fighting style. However, when MMA rose to popularity, many of the fighters chose to ignore kung fu. There are several reasons why this might have happened. Some of the techniques and strikes used in kung fu aren’t allowed in MMA. Another important contributing factor is that kung fu teachers don’t focus on sparring, which can make it harder for students to learn how to apply the techniques to a real fight. Despite these flaws, kung fu is still a good choice for those looking for basic self-defense methods. 

Jeff J.

Jeff J is a retired Gunnery Sgt. with the United States Marine Corps and a former Federal Police officer. He was involved with extensive training with weapons systems, and hand to hand combat, mentored and trained hundreds of Marines in high-level fitness programs.

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