Kung Fu vs MMA: the 6 questions you are asking

Kung Fu vs MMA: the truth

The questions we are going to see have been asked by you (from our Patreon Core Course):

  1. Are there effective Kung Fu fighters in MMA?
  2. Which is better Kung Fu or MMA?
  3. Which is better in a self-defense scenario: MMA or Kung Fu?
  4. Can a Shaolin monks win against an MMA fighter in the cage?
  5. Why are there so few Kung Fu fighters in MMA competitions?
  6. Is Kung Fu effective in MMA competitions?

They refer to:

  • Kung Fu – In the meaning of an ensemble of combat styles
  • MMA – In the meaning of the ensemble of combat methods commonly used in sports competitions (like UFC, etc.)

1. Are there effective Kung Fu fighters in MMA?

Yes, it is only a matter of looking behind the surface. For example:

  • Michelle Waterson
  • Bao Li Gao
  • Ian McCall
  • Shi Yanzi (a Shaolin monk, read Shi Yan Zi: real master)
  • Ao Hai Lin
  • Zhang Tie Quan
  • Yi Long (the famous self-thought Shaolin warrior)
  • Jason Delucia
  • Daniel Spohn
  • Liu Hailong
  • James Wilks
  • Peter Davis
  • Jumabieke Tuerxun
  • Yao Honggang
  • Vaughn Anderson
  • Roy Nelson
  • Nick Osipczak
  • Xing Xi
  • Luke Cummo
  • Chuck Liddell
  • Bazigit Atajev
  • Cung Le
  • Sami Berik
  • Ji Xian
  • Wang Guan
  • Muslim Salikhov
  • Felix Lee Mitchell
  • Dan Hardy
  • Pat Barry
  • Zhang Meixuan


  • These are only examples (these are only famous medium and / or high-level athletes but as for every kind of sport / discipline there are also lower levels)
  • Almost none of these will ever put themselves in martial arts movie-like positions (only an expert can grasp the micro-differences in the setting)
  • Almost all of them practice more than one martial art (in the case, for example, of UFC it should be obvious that it is essential to adapt to implement more than one combat system, it is a Mixed Martial Arts competition)

The adaptation

It is necessary to understand that in MMA sports competitions (UFC, etc.), there are rules to respect, contexts to adapt to, approaches that are more favorable (etc.) and all of this cannot be ignored, so:

  • The stances changes
  • The mobility changes
  • The techniques change

Does this mean canceling the presence of Kung Fu in a practitioner? – Absolutely no, this would be impossible. It is the Kung Fu itself that (as in its origins) adapted to the other systems of struggle up to the single opponent.

A note by Master Kongling – We have to learn to look deeper, the techniques are the dead, dry, old part of the Kung Fu tree, the real sap are the principles they hide.

A funny example to understand

Let’s take the example of skiing. A BJJ and a Muay Thai practitioner participate in a skiing competition:

  • Like everyone, they will forcibly have to move in a certain way and be subject to certain specificities
  • We will never see the first one rolling on the snow embracing the skis and the other proceeding on a single leg
  • They will ski like everyone else, they will alter their original preparation in favor of the type of challenges they have to face

2. Which is better Kung Fu or MMA?

This question is too generic. It is like asking if apples or kitchens are better. They are 2 incredibly different things:

  • Kung Fu teaches through the art of fighting to embrace life, MMA is a (fantastic) sports competition where wins the tactically and physically stronger
  • Kung Fu teaches to be lethal but to avoid to apply uselessly its technical baggage, MMA’s first goal is to apply the combat techniques to win a (friendly) match (read The 6 types of martial clash)

Even only limiting ourselves to the fighting aspect, we need to know:

  • What type of combat? With rules or not?
  • Free-hand or with weapons?
  • Between who and who?
  • In what field?
  • With what goal?

Depending on these details, apparently secondary, the answer changes and in some cases, it changes directly the idea of Kung Fu or MMA.

For example:

  • A Kung Fu fight with protections and without lethal strikes, could it be truly called “Kung Fu fight”? Can a Ferrari remain a Ferrari with engine weakeners?
  • In MMA there are no weapons, what could an athlete (who has no experience in their use) do against an expert swordsman? It would be like having a puma vs a tank fight, it would not be reasonable

3. Which is better in a self-defense scenario: MMA or Kung Fu?

Both are totally out of range, read why in Best martial arts for self-defense.

Anyway, if we are talking about a street fight where we have to choose between life and death (read Personal defense: the S.A.F.E. method) and considering 2 people with the same preparation for the fight: we could have 2 answers.

Answer 1: theory

The answer should certainly be Kung Fu and the reasons are:

  • As we said, Kung Fu educates to the use of weapons, MMA no (for example, even only in Choy Li Fut style there are more than 50 different combat tools)
  • A big part of Kung Fu’s techniques have been primarily studied to kill in the shortest possible way / time, the MMA ones’ can certainly arrive at this but only secondarily (and in symmetric context)
  • Kung Fu educates to the martial clash (read Self defense, martial clash and war clash), without rules, protections, limits of time, space, etc. (read What is the difference between real fights and combative sports?)

Answer 2: practice

To be correct, it must be said that:

  • Real Kung Fu is not for everyone
  • On one side, the medium Kung Fu practitioner is (in most cases) extremely far from being ready to fight (no sparring, poor training, too much theoretical study, no conditioning, etc.)
  • On the other side, the medium MMA fighter (most of the times), has an at least basic preparation to the dynamics of a fight and a body athletically reactive

The fact is that when we talk about pure fighting, the difference lies always in how we train and not too much on the combat system.

Therefore, going from theory to reality: on average, the MMA practitioner is certainly more likely to prevail.

A note by Master Kongling – It is precisely for this reason that in 6 Dragons Kung Fu we stress so much the aspect related to serious and daily training: more practice, no jokes (read From white belt to black belt: your path).

4. Can a Shaolin monks win against an MMA fighter in the cage?

Most of today’s Shaolin monks (not necessarily all) would have no chances against a high-level MMA fighter.

A note by Master Kongling – Yi Long is not a recognized Shaolin Temple monk.

Let’s be clear, they are unreachable acrobatic athletes and experts of Chinese Kung Fu but the fight is no more their focus (their actual combat preparation, during the years, has diminished until almost disappear).

A note by Master Kongling – They are Pacific Warriors, you should go to the temple to understand what this does really mean.

On the other side, ancient Shaolin monks would have probably had no problems to win (read why in Ancient Shaolin monks vs modern ones).

A note by Master Kongling – This response may upset many readers but historically, there have been big changes at the Shaolin Temple during the last century (such as Grandmaster Jwing Ming teaches, read Yang Jwing Ming: real master).

5. Why are there so few Kung Fu fighters in MMA competitions?

Again: why don’t we see Kung Fu in MMA? Let’s try to reply in another way.

It is like asking:

  • If MMA fighters are so good, why we do not see them in Sanshou competitions (Chinese boxing)? Because it is Sanshou and not MMA
  • If MMA fighters are so strong, why we do not see them in weight lifting competitions? Because it is weight lifting and not MMA
  • If they move so sinuously, why don’t we see Kung Fu fighters in the Caribbean dance exhibitions?
  • If dolphins are really that smart, why has no one of them ever been seen in a university?

We wanted to joke but to underline an aspect that should not be underestimated (anyway, to deepen the topic more seriously, we can read Why is Kung Fu not used in MMA?).

6. Is Kung Fu effective in MMA competitions?

The answer is simple and it is the same for any other martial art (Karate, Wing Chun, Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, etc.):

  • Part of its technical baggage yes, part not
  • Part of its training methods yes, part not
  • Its core concepts surely yes

A note by Master Kongling – In any combat, there is always someone who prevails and this does depend on how he fights, how he is prepared, not simply on what he has studied. The doctor who correctly treats his patients surely uses his knowledge but makes decisions through his own head (experience and logic), even the best medical book, in the wrong hands, is totally useless.

The truth is that, at the highest level of martial arts, no one truly uses a preexistent combat method / system / style, they use their own style, made of all the experiences of their lives.

A note by Master Kongling – Do not trust my words, do not trust those who spend their time discrediting what has a rational sense and a demonstrable value, do not take everything for good: get informed, study, experiment, do your tests (only then will you have your answers, read Is it legit?).

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Author: Master Kongling

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