MMA vs traditional Martial Arts

MMA vs traditional Martial Arts

Why do Chinese martial arts keep losing in challenge fights with MMA rules? This is an interesting question since Chinese martial arts have a long historic tradition of challenge fighting. MMA vs traditional Martial Arts is a debate that exposes Chinese martial arts like Wing Chun to ridicule. Which also leads to the question: if it is so good, then why are Chinese martial arts not used in MMA?

In this article I am going to address these questions by highlighting the differences in attitude between Hobbyist and Professional Martial Arts instructors. This will be a frank discussion, reflective my opinion only.

Before starting, lets frame the discussion in the context of Culture. Perhaps these MMA vs traditional Chinese martial arts fights demonstrate a difference in culture. A difference between Western and Eastern methods of training martial arts.

Western methods of training tend to include more functional training. If you walk into any MMA gym, one highlight is that these fighters hit heavy bags. They work strength, conditioning, embarrass the Grind, and train as they intend to fight. Something I have not observed when visiting many Wing Chun schools in Hong Kong and China in recent decades. The focus has often been more aesthetic in these instances. These observations suggest a difference in the culture of training for function.

Culture impacts and dictates the lens in which you function in the world. This is important to note as many people go to a martial arts class to learn how to defend themselves.

Not ALL Martial Arts Train the Same

When I was younger things were different. If I knew that I was going to be challenged to a fight, I prepared for it in advance. Doing whatever I needed to condition myself for that fight. That often meant leaving my comfort zone and training with people of other styles of martial arts.

The process was simple. If we knew we would be fighting a Thai Boxer then we trained with Thai Boxers. Even the physical characteristics of the fighter were recreated. If your opponent was short or tall or had a specific game. You would bring in a fighter that actually could simulate these variables. Now this approach is nothing new in professional fighting. Yet rare in Chinese martial arts schools today. Especially, in the Wing Chun community.

Correct fight preparation involves two components. Training your own game, while simulating the opposing fighter. The losses you see when you watch MMA vs Traditional Martial Arts online relates partly to this lack of preparation. You see a typical traditional martial arts teacher entering an MMA contest will often prepare for the fight with their students. Of course, these students lack experience. Worst of all they lack the skill sets of the potential MMA opponent. This doesn’t happen in professional fighting. Professional MMA fighters simulate who they’re going to fight.

The problem arises in that the majority of people that teach Chinese martial arts are hobbyist. They teach in addition to their daytime employment. This does not take away from their skills, but it does present a number of shortcomings when training people to fight in MMA contests. Therefore, it may not just an approach between Western and Eastern fighting. It may literally be a lack of experience in fight preparation.

MMA vs Traditional Martial Arts

So why do Chinese martial artist often lose in MMA fights? It is partly due to a lack of understanding and experience in how to prepare for a fight. These Chinese Kung Fu instructors (see video) appeared not to consider their opponent when they entered MMA contests. As arrogant as this may seem. It does point to a difference in the culture of training. Although this is only part of the problem.

MMA training methods tend to be more open minded, to encompass a wider set of skills. These also include mental preparation as in addition to physical preparation. In contrast, many traditional martial arts instructors refuse to embrace modern training methods or expand their wider training practices. To include gloved sparring, heavy bag, or focus pad and fitness training. Practices that are essential functionality of your martial art.

Why are Chinese Martial Arts Not Used in MMA?

Actually, a quick answer is that you do see Chinese martial arts used in MMA (Read: The Traditional Wing Chun Technique Jon Jones Uses to Win Fights). Interestingly, MMA fighters are more open minded to learn techniques from any martial art. However, the same is not true for traditional martial arts. Traditional Chinese martial arts do not expand beyond their boundary, because by definition that is what makes them traditional.

These are the types of people that won’t wear gloves in sparring as it breaks the tradition. Then use excuses that that their punches are to deadly to use in sparring. They operate with a blind faith that their training will work in a real fight without ever testing it. Unfortunately, these people suggest that sparring is a sport and not applicable to real fighting, hence why Chinese martial arts are not sued in MMA.

 What it Takes to Fight

Surviving a real fight requires strength conditioning and your mental ability to stay in the fight. These factors are linked. If you lack fitness and conditioning, then the first thing that often goes is your mind in a fight. Even if you don’t have fighting skills, an element of strength and conditioning can carry you through a fight. Combine that with a cocktail of aggression. Strength and conditioning can make a difference in a real fight. Hence, the greater emphasis in MMA.

Although there are individuals that study Chinese martial arts within the West that adopt Western MMA philosophy towards training. Like us they may work more on their physical conditioning to fight, rather than tradition of secret techniques.

Now I’m not suggesting the reason why these Chinese practitioners failed or lost their fights (in the videos) was due to their lack of physical conditioning. It’s more of a mindset and approach problems that has been exported from the East. They liked the idea that they could fight with MMA rules. Yet, they lack the ability to train for it realistically.

So What’s the Takeaway?

Well the takeaway is that if you’re going to fight in MMA, you have to prepare for it. The failure of most of these traditional martial arts fighters was not the martial art, but the way in which they prepared. Worst yet, they’ve gone into these contests without sparring with MMA rules. They’ve not prepared properly to fight someone in MMA. They’ve lacked, correct preparation.

After all, it doesn’t matter what style of martial art you fight. The most important thing is that you prepare for the person that you are going to fight.

So when people ask why are Chinese Martial Arts not used in MMA? The answer relates more to a number of differences (1) Arrogance and Attitude to Training; (2) Lack of willingness to understand new methods; and (3) Simple lack of preparation.

Thanks for reading.


The London Wing Chun Academy is a martial arts and functional fitness gym based in North London. Open 7 days a week with gym and functional fitness equipment. Our gym provides group fitness and martial arts classes in Wing ChunSan Shou KickboxingBrazilian Jiu JitsuFunctional Fitness, and non contact Fitness kick Boxing. Visit our gym today for a taster class. Get Started Now >>

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