Why Isn’t Wing Chun in the UFC?

“I’m going to show the world why the Rangers belong in the Octagon.”
Greg Stott, a former Airborne Ranger, prior to getting knocked out in 18 seconds.

“When the UFC was formed in 1993 there was one simple purpose: Determine which form of martial art was the most effective in a real fight.” Matt Saccaro in The Bleacher Report

{Revised version, 18 February, 2014}

If Wing Chun is so great, why isn’t somebody kicking ass with it in the UFC?

A friend of mine (a former professional boxer) gave a seminar on boxing to a bunch of Wing Chun guys (and a few other visitors). One of the things he had them do was to jab for half an hour, till their arms were falling off. By all reports, they were  dying!

That’s how professional boxers train. That’s how professional Muay Thai guys train.

They do it till they throw up, for hours and hours, day in and day out, for years.  They work on their skills and they condition their bodies.  It takes a lot to fight for three five minute rounds with another professional fighter.

It’s hard to do that sort of training and have a job and a life.   Some guys do it but most of us can’t do it.

So the first big reason should be obvious – training intensity.   It’s the difference between professional athletes and amateurs.

The fighters in the UFC train for a living and fight others who fight for a living.   They are genetically-gifted young men and women in their 20s and 30s, with the extremely rare fighter continuing into their 40s.

Most martial artists are amateur.   They train at night and on the weekends and have regular jobs.

So why isn’t someone doing Wing Chun in this manner?

Some do, but its very rare.

This is why Wong Shun Leung kicked everyone’s ass in the 1950s in Hong Hong.   He was someone who had trained in Western Boxing, then discovered Wing Chun.   He trained Wing Chun Western boxing style, that is, more like a professional.

He did one thing (kicks, punches) hundreds of times before fights.  He did hundreds of Tan Da’s with someone on his shoulders.   Thousands of hours of drill training.   Lots of pole and dummy and everything.   Then he blew through the competition, few of whom were training as hard as he was.

The style is great but as usual it was the unique practitioner who put it on the map.  The really hard worker.

So lets say we have a few hundred people in the world who are training Wing in this manner (I know I’m not).  Why aren’t any of these people showing how great our art is in the UFC?

In order for an art to be “represented” in the UFC, you have to have a gifted young athlete start in your style and then get the UFC bug.

Then they have to learn to fight in the other ranges.

Wing Chun specializes in a close mid-range – ¾ or an arm to half an arm away.  

Muay Thai and Tae Kwan Do are long range styles.  Judo, Jujitsu, Chin Na, and Greco-Roman are good for grappling standing up.  Jujitsu and wresting best on the ground.

Every fighting technology has their preferred range that they specialize in, even if they have ideas and techniques for handling the other ranges.

This was really how the UFC developed. It began as a showcase for the Gracies – they proved that BJJ could dominate in a ring with no time limit and few rules, fighting people from other styles who had little ground game.

As time went by, some wrestlers started giving them a run for their money.   Rules changed, because only a few fans wanted to watch a lengthy technical match between two ground specialists.

The Refs started standing fighters up who took too long to find a position of advantage.

More time went by and people started training “MMA.” Mixed martial arts is the idea of using the right tool for each job.  Think of Bruce Lee in Game of Death.  He fights Inosanto with a whip and nunchaku against escrima sticks.  He fights Kareem with jujitsu on the ground.  He uses different specialties for each situation.

In the UFC, people had to evolve and they started cross-training into other specialty ranges.

Now everyone has to have a ground component (BJJ, wrestling) and a stand-up game (usually boxing or Muay Thai with some karate and other stuff thrown in).  Is there anyone in the UFC who is just doing Muay Thai or BJJ with no other training?

Could Wing Chun be used for the stand-up game?

Absolutely (as long as its a lean, simple version of the system).

Why hasn’t anyone done it yet?

I think this question will be answered in the not-too-distant future, and I’ll tell you how it will play out.

Some strong genetically gifted guy or girl is going to have a talented Sifu with a simple, direct, efficient approach and they are going to be Wing Chun crazy.

Just as Judo has its Ronda Rousey and Karate has its Lyoto Machida, at some point, someone will come along.

Wing Chun’s specialty is the medium-range – this is Wing Chun’s bread and butter.   If we go to the ground, if we are pushed off in to kicking distance, we have tools but we are at a disadvantage against someone who is a specialist at those ranges.

This what Biu Gee is for – a set of tools for recovering from bad positions, often finding yourself in one of the ranges you haven’t specialized in.

This is why Sifu Gary Lam added Muay Thai tools to his version of Wing Chun – he gave us some long range tools and some conditioning drills.

Our Wing Chun crazy kid has to learn BJJ or wrestling to fight in the UFC – period. They have to get really good at it, while also training thousands of hours in their Wing Chun repertoire: wall bag, pole, dummy, drills, Chi Sao, Gwoh Sao.   Then they have to spar with fighters from other systems: MMA fighter, Thai boxers, UFC style, to find the holes and gaps in their game.

This is what is takes to fight professionally in the UFC.

Does this mean that Wing Chun is not a good street art – hell no!

How you will fare in a fight always comes down to the balance sheet between you and your opponent.

Picture the stats card before a UFC fight, with the weight and height and reach and age.   Let’s add sheer balls and mental toughness, how many hours trained in the last year, cardio, capacity in other ranges, specialty ranges, versatility, mastery of the system.

So you have two or more fighters in a conflict. How do their strengths and weaknesses play out in that moment under those conditions? Is anyone armed? Who has experience with weapons?

So that’s the pure math of it.  How does it translate into real life?

The fact is we need to make compromises in real life.  How much time do you have in a day?   Are you married?   You like to go see a movie now and then?   Are you getting paid to train?

Most of us will have to pick a specialty (hopefully a style of training we enjoy – I am not a fan of rolling around on the ground) and see how much skill they can pick up in the other ranges (to be more balanced), and just hope for the best when that street fight happens (if it ever happens), because who the hell knows?  Real fights are chaotic and random.  All you can do is prepare the best you can with the spare time you have, while still trying to have a full and rounded life.

For more on this, see: Wing Chun: A Gentleman’s Art

Another interesting take: How to Be a Great Mediocre BJJ Student

Comments

  1. Carl says

    The knee destruction techniques you talk about are complely legal. Both Jon jones and Anderson silva have used them. A knee is not as easy to destroy as you seem to thing, and there is a good reason you have this misconception it’s because you probably haven’t tested it.

    The reason fighters from muay Thai, Bjj and other combat sports create consistently better fighters is because they spar. Sparing teaches you what works, what doesn’t and helps simulate a fight. Lots of realistic hits with rules in place simulated a fight far better than any amount of complaint drilling or chi Sao.

    Mma is not a game it is merely a balance between safety and realisum. It’s the best balance we have found between keeping fighters safe and allowing them to use a full range of martial arts techniques. Even in the early days on vale tudo and the UFC where everything from hair pulling to groin shots were allowed wing Chun rarely did well. This is because of the lack of alive training.

    You wouldn’t claim to be able to surf by only practicing on land and never getting in the water yet so many martial artists claim to be able to fight by only practicing the moves and never doing anything close to fighting. Chi Sao is far closer to a game than sparring is.

    Please anyone who trains martial arts and do not spar, push start sparing if you can. You will learn what does and does not work in your system of martial arts and not only will your art become better when certain illusions are shattered but you will be better able to defend yourself.

    • steven says

      I’m a big fan of MMA and have trained in Muay Thai and boxing. My Sigung ran one of the best Muay Thai gyms in Hong Kong and incorporated that training into our Wing Chun lineage. One of my former training partners in Wing Chun was a professional boxer.

      So I’m not antagonistic to your point of view and I have a little bit of understanding of the results from these approaches to fighting. My teachers and my training partners know what it means to spar and fight in the ring. But they chose Chi Sao for their long term training.

      I’ve thought about this a lot and think I’ve come closer to the truth in my later article “Wing Chun: A Gentleman’s Art.”

      Its all a matter of what your goals are in the training. If you want to fight in the MMA, then boxing and Muay Thai and BJJ are obviously the way to go. Plus tons of cardio and strength training.

      If you are a normal person with ten hours a week available and you want to be able to handle yourself in a fight but don’t want to be plagued by injuries, I think certain approaches to Wing Chun are an excellent choice.

    • steven says

      Your point about the knee kicks is well-taken:

      http://www.cagepotato.com/despite-what-rampage-jackson-says-linear-knee-strikes-are-much-ado-about-nothing/

      However, I have seen a friend sustain an injury from one of a kick to the knee in training which put him in a brace for 6 months and ended his Wing Chun training.

      I think it is one of those unwritten rules in the UFC. Most fighters aren’t trying to use “career ending” techniques on their opponents.

      And yes, I agree the timing would be tough to pull off against a skilled opponent in a cage fight scenario.

    • Anonymous says

      I pretty much agree with this. The knee technique described can be seen here:

      http://www.kwokwingchun.com/img/assets/wing-chun-style-front-kick-in-ufc.jpg

      That is a picture perfect execution, if i do say so myself!

      Sadly, wing chun suffers more than most arts for teachers who do not combat test their techniques. Finding those that have is difficult, but they do exist.

      The reason that you don’t see wing chun in UFC is not because ‘it is too deadly’ or any cop out excuse. It is because nobody has put in the hard work required to do it successfully yet.

      Karate was similarly ignored, until Machida came along. Give it time, wing chun will be represented soon enough. The system is far too good not to be!

      You read it here first!

      • Adam says

        I 100% agree with you! The problem is no that wing chun can’t work in the ring, the problem is that people spend WAY too much time on the wooden dummy and doing chi sau and NOT sparring. Sparring is essential to functionalizing ANY art. Wing chun works well, Bruce Lee was an example of that. But no art will work well without real world combat training.

        Trapping has even been used in mma as well. Check out this clip of the dutch hand trap.

    • steven says

      I don’t think its bullshit but I hear ya. I just think that the rules and context and goals are all different, so its not apples and apples. I really enjoy about 20% of the fights on the UFC. But the internet trolls bug me (I don’t know why!) with their narrow views – but they probably bug me because of the grain of truth in their comments. Most “martial artists” I’ve met wouldn’t last a second in a real fight. But by no means all. Its that Sturgeon’s Law – 90% of everything is bullshit.

    • steven says

      Well, those fights were not far from a circus. I remember watching them on VHS. It was a little sleazy. Not every martial style field representatives for those events.

  2. steven says

    I agree with what the other guy said above. Although Karate didn’t get as much bad press as WC before Machida, it took a Machida to show it could work in that context (but what he did was modified a lot for competition). Maybe someone will come around and do the same for WC – we’ll see. But not being in the UFC doesn’t invalidate WC. Escrima isn’t in the UFC. Krav Maga. Penjat Silat. Not every style has a champion in the sport. In fact, most don’t. And all the styles that are in the sport have altered themselves for participation.

    I think its interesting. Most street fighters who write (Geoff Thompson, Marc MacYoung) respect WC. Many sport followers don’t.

  3. Anonymous says

    Karate didn’t get as much bad press because despite what you guys think there were a lot of early mma fighters even champions using Karate successfully. Ever heard of guys like Bas Rutten, Guy Mezger, and Chuck Liddell?

    • steven says

      Good point – Machida was the first guy I saw fighting in what I would call a karate style. The squared hips and shoulders thing. Lidell’s standup was more of a boxing approach (to my eye). I don’t think I’ve seen Rutten or Mezger fight, so …..

      Machida seemed like a Karate guy, except for the fading away thing he developed, but that was a adjustment to the ring and the rules.

  4. B says

    This seems to be a problem with a lot of westerners, they don’t understand martial arts at all, they only want to use it to “kick ass” because of daddy problems or something.
    Wing chun wont work in MMA because its meant for street defense, and a lot of the techniques would be banned in MMA, hence not making it wing chun. You can’t use a combat martial art in sport. There’s a difference between a sport art and combat art.
    MMA isn’t real combat by the way, because they fight for the judges and the rules and the scorecards, I agree with bruce lee. If a sport MA combatant went up against a self defense martial artist combatant, the self defense would win. Why ? because they’re trained for self defense and have more tools to work with, unlike sports where they fight to impress judges and get scores. The mindset between the two is also different. Wing chun is a self defense martial art, not a sport.
    Wing chun is a very effective art, if you go up against someone that’s trained in it for years and not against someone that’s only been in it for 6 months or so and you try to pick on them to show wing chun. The biggest mistake for martial arts was it being introduced to the western world because its been ruined, bastardized, and highly misunderstood. The people you see in UFC are not martial artists, they’re just prize fighters. There’s a difference between the two.

    • Steve says

      I think its interesting that this post has by far the most comments. I think its because on the one hand there are MMA/UFC people (both people who do it and people who watch it and talk about it) who are very concerned to let people who train in traditional arts know that they suck and aren’t real fighters. And on the other hand, we have people who train in (or watch and talk about) various traditional arts who get a little pissed off at this stupididity, but there is an additional emotional content because so much of traditional training is exactly what they say it is.

      As usual in the world, I think the truth is somewhere in between. I think that many UFC fighters are highly ranked in traditional arts. Many black belts in Ju Jitsu, many high ranked karateka and Sambo players, etc. Then they get into the sport and start training for the ring, which, as you say, is a specialized thing which is not the same as a street fight. But I do not agree that these fighters would not do well in a street fight. The worst (for them) thing that might happen is they would break their hands because they are used to fighting with gloves. But in my experience, the most out of shape UFC guy is 100% better shape than 99% of traditional people, if only because they train for a living.

      As for the different techniques, really, who knows? I think all fights are determined by the vagaries of the day. Who is conscious and paying attention in that split second? Who is sick or hung over or has an injury?

      Most importantly, who hits first?

  5. B says

    I respect the UFC and MMA as a sport but I don’t like these hardcore fans that automatically think they understand martial arts because of watching UFC.
    Even Dana white has called those people idiots, and I hate dana white but I agree with him.
    The hardcore fans have no respect for other martial arts at all and put down a lot of it, just because it’s not effective in MMA. yeah ? well if your going to decide that don’t strip down the art of what it is and fight it as it is without any rules and judges and fight for yourself, not for money and scorecards. THEN decide wether the art is effective or not. In this case Wing chun, Fight someone with no rules, fight a wing chun practitioner (one whos trained in it for years and has great experience) fight the style as it is, you cant strip down an art with rules and call it ineffective, this is the problem with western culture, they’ll never understand martial arts at all.
    Now as a note id like to point out I respect all martial arts styles. Both Sport and Self defense, but I hate it when people write styles off as ineffective in particular in UFC. The ufc isn’t the god event of martial arts, those guys are just fighters fighting under rules for money, they’re not martial artists. Even joe rogans a moron, that loser pothead runs his mouth off thinking he knows everything hes so biased, only reason people like him is cus hes a pothead loser like them.

    • Steve says

      I hear you. I kind of like Rogan, more or less, and I enjoy the UFC and I appreciate both Joe ROgan and White’s outspokenness and no bullshit attitudes. But I basically feel like its all a lot of speculation. People love to talk and throw out broad opinions and shit talk and flame, but when it comes down to it, what are your goals, and what sort of training will get you there. Me, I want to be a good fighter but am not interested in being injured all the time and I want to keep training even though I’m 51 now. So its Wing Chun for me!

  6. anonymous says

    Except WC is a *real* martial art, just like Judo, Karate, Tai Chi, Muay Thai, etc.. As for why it’s not used in the octagon is due to a fact it doesn’t actually work. The Chinese banned martial arts practice during the revolution and now they’re taught very differently and less effective than they used to be. Chinese Martial Arts just aren’t combat-oriented anymore.

    • Steve says

      Well, karate and Muay Thai and Judo are used in the Octogon. George St. Pierre, Lyotto Machida, etc, etc. Everyone does Muay Thai. Its the second most popular form of striking aside from Boxing.

      You need to be careful when making broad statements. The Chinese ban had about as much effect on kung fu as the Spanish ban had on Kali and Escrima. It drove it underground or people left the country (like Ip Man did).

      And I can tell you – Chinese martial arts do work and to paint the entire martial output of a country with thousands of years of martial history and 1.35 billion people is a bit careless.

  7. Ryan says

    Great article. I’m a recent wing chun convert myself and although I have not been practicing long, I enjoy the art. I completely respect MMA folks as the finely tuned athletes they are. One thing to keep in mind, which the article nicely points out, is that traditional martial arts folks don’t have the time to fully focus on their craft. I can’t speak for everyone but I have a full time professional career, family and other obligations to attend to. I don’t have the luxury of spending hours training on end: enter wing chun and other art forms which some may find appealing.

    • Steve says

      Thanks. I think Wing Chun is an outstanding way to accomplish my goals, none of which are to fight in the Octagon.

      Also, most commenters know very little about Wing Chun outside what they see in Youtube videos. I know what my Sifu and Sigung can do. I’ve felt their power and speed and accuracy.

Thanks for stopping by.