Is Kung Fu Effective in MMA?

Some MMA fighters have a Kung Fu background. But some of the most effective MMA fighters practice different martial arts. So, is Kung Fu effective in MMA?

Kung Fu can be effective in MMA. However, the most successful MMA fighters typically use a blend of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai as they are more adaptable in different situations.

But that’s just a quick snapshot and 1 man’s opinion.

After all, while I have practiced several styles of martial arts, Kung Fu is not one of them. So in this article, we’re diving deep into MMA and Kung Fu and exploring the plusses and minuses of how they work together.

And we’ll look at a few well-known MMA fighters who do have a Kung Fu background.

Let’s get started.

Which MMA fighters have a Kung Fu background?

The following are Kung Fu fighters who are in the MMA:

  • 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.
  • Yi Long: (WLF) Shaolin Kung Fu Master from the Shaolin Temple. Shaolin Kung Fu. Sanshou.
  • 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.”
  • Dan Hardy: (UFC) Trained with Shaolin Monks in China. Wushu, tdk, BJJ.
  • Pat Barry: (UFC) Sanshou. Trained with the Chinese National Sanshou team at the Shaolin Temple. Won the Sanda Kungfu Federation (SKF) United States Heavyweight Championship
  • Sami Berik: Wing Chun and T’ai Chi. Received gold medals at T’ai Chi tournaments in Britain and Europe
  • Peter Davis: (one fc 10-3) Kung Fu
  • Luke Cummo: (UFC) Kung Fu, Jeet Kune Do, BJJ. Also appeared on The Ultimate Fighter.
  • Jason Delucia: (UFC) Trained in Five Animals Kung Fu.
  • Bao Li Gao: (ruff) Sanshou


Why are Chinese martial arts not used in MMA?

Chinese martial arts such as Kung Fu are used in MMA. However, because of their effectiveness, more MMA fighters use a mix of BJJ, Muay Thai, and kickboxing. 

Let me clarify, MMA means mixed martial arts.

So, it’s open to almost any type of martial arts out there. But, there are rules. After all, MMA is a sport. It’s believed that it’s actually open to virtually all arts, as long as they do not go against the laid-down-rules.

There have to be rules to protect the participants. At a point in the past, MMA fights used to be promoted as NHB fights (No Holds Barred), but that was changed a long time ago.

And it makes sense.

Some believe that there are some techniques in some Chinese martial arts that are too deadly for the sport, while some say that Chinese martial arts just aren’t as effective against an opponent skilled in kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

It’s vital to stress that the Ultimate Fighting Company, the UFC, does not have a ban on any style of martial arts.

What is banned are specific skills/techniques such as:

  • Eye gouging
  • Head-butting
  • Biting
  • Hair pulling
  • Groin kicks

And pretty much anything else that could permanently injure your opponent.

Kung Fu looks really graceful, but what happens when it’s a street brawl? Let’s get into that below!

Can Kung Fu be used in a real fight?

Yes. Kung Fu can definitely be used in a real fight. Kung Fu is essentially a series of coordinated strikes, kicks, and punches and can easily defeat a would-be attacker who is not skilled in a martial art.

Many practitioners have trained on how to execute deadly strikes and kicks over and over again. My friend I worked with who had trained in Kung Fu and once done MMA had amazingly high (and deadly) kicks.

Those kinds of kicks are something that a street fighter may not know. And could easily knock them unconscious in a split second.

Of course, most Kung Fu is fought while standing up and with minimal contact.

A real street fight is messy. It’s not likely going to happen in an open space with good lighting. There might also be multiple attackers coming from different angles.

This sometimes poses a challenge to practitioners who have only practiced a series of choreographed moves with partners who respond exactly as they are supposed to.

There are many schools of Kung Fu (someone suggested that there could be up to 1000 schools!).

But, generally, they can be broken down into the Northern and the Southern schools. The former is known mainly for using a lot of kicks and combats executed from a bit of distance, while the latter involves close combats where the hand is used a lot.

You can employ both techniques in a real fight.

A trained Kung Fu fighter has been trained to be calm under pressure and to be exceedingly swift. These are “simple” abilities that could give you an edge in a real fight. This is because an untrained fighter is likely to be under immense stress and may have slower reflexes.

A Kung Fu fighter can jump, strike, punch, kick with so much power and speed that their movements alone could be a destabilizing factor, and if they’re very good, a powerful kick to the groin or the knee of the untrained fighter could end the fight as soon as it started.

Interesting, but how would a Kung Fu fighter fare if faced with an MMA fighter? Let’s look at that next!

Kung Fu vs. MMA: Which one is better?

If self-defense or competition is the goal, MMA is better than Kung Fu. MMA practitioners often know multiple styles of martial arts that make them more adaptable to any situation, and they can employ different techniques depending on the size and skill of their opponent.

If I am caught in a street fight, I’ll prefer to be skilled in a variety of MMA styles rather than having Kung Fu skills alone.

A street fight has no rules. It’s worth repeating: “A street fight has no rules.” So, the more skills you can bring, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get out of it alive.

MMA has rules, but it’s closer to a street fight experience than Kung Fu, which seems choreographed.

An MMA fighter has an arsenal of many fighting skills they can deploy in rapid succession and with greater freedom. They are not constrained by the desire to adhere to one template.

Modern MMA fighters are usually experts in three combat sports:

  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  • Kickboxing
  • Striking/Boxing

They focus on these because they’re believed to approximate the critical stages in a real fight.

Wrestling is essentially about grappling and takedowns, while kickboxing is about striking the opponent. Muay Thai is the form of boxing that’s employed. And someone like Connor McGregor, while deadly with his kicks, is also known for his formidable strikes.

In “combat theory,” it’s believed that the three phases are:

  • Stand up fighting
  • Clinch fighting
  • Ground fighting

Kung Fu addresses a facet of stand up fighting.

Just a facet. But, as we all know from experience, the “combat theory” is pretty close to what really happens in a fight. One minute you’re striking each other from a distance, the next, you’re on the ground, fighting for your life!

MMA is better because if you’re pretty good in the grappling and ground fighting part, you could easily deceive a Kung Fu fighter that you’re ready for their “standing up” approach.

You can suddenly delude and take them down, where you have greater ability. Am I saying Kung Fu is not useful? Let’s examine what I mean in the next section.

Is Kung Fu effective in a real fight?

Yes, Kung Fu is very effective in a real fight. A Shaolin Kung Fu practitioner knows grappling, takedowns, kicks, and strikes. While it takes several years to master, even a beginner could be very effective in a street fight against an attacker not trained in martial arts.

A trained Kung Fu fighter knows how to block, punch, strike, kick, and stand… and they can do it fast! They also know how to manage distance and how to quickly dodge when they’re attacked.

Because they’ve been trained at various skills, a Kung Fu fighter can switch to what they sense is the most ideal technique when they are caught in a real fight. They may switch to kickboxing or grappling

You might also be interested in how effective Aikido and BJJ are.

This is what I looked at in a recent article of mine.  In the article, I explored the difference between Aikido and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

But I also looked at whether BJJ or Aikido is effective for self-defense? And finally, I suggested which one is better.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Kung Fu in UFC (MUST WATCH!)


In this article, we looked at which MMA fighters have a background in Kung Fu.

But we also explored whether Kung Fu is effective, how it compared to MMA, but also how it would fare in a real street fight.

Ultimately any martial arts skill is better than none. And I don’t think you should start any martial arts practice with the #1 goal being fighting.

Martial arts provide a whole host of benefits, especially Kung Fu. And the most skilled practitioners rarely, if ever, get in a fight off the mats.

Photo which requires attribution:

Notorious by istolethetv is licensed under CC2.0


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