Chinese Martial Artist’s Disgust of MMA


I have something to admit as a practitioner of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, I love watching mixed martial arts (MMA) fights. Ever since the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) first appeared in the mid-1990’s I have enjoyed watching them from time-to-time. Although I have never put in the effort to train and compete in MMA (mostly because I prefer stand up fighting, and never dedicated myself enough to developing a “ground game”), I truly enjoy how well trained these fighters can be, especially in the UFC.

That being said, I also truly love Traditional Chinese Martial Arts (TCMA) which I have been enamored with since I was a teenager. I especially enjoy training in the arts of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang whom I have mostly learned from Tim Cartmell in Fountain Valley, CA. Tim has often provided a vast resource of knowledge in the martial arts, especially the Chinese Internal Martial Arts (CIMA) that have truly allowed me to grow in my ability to apply these arts in a combative arena. I have also trained in Jeet Kune Do, boxing, Sanda/Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiujitsu; all of which have helped me develop into some-what of a competent martial artist.

With that in mind, something really bothers me about the TCMA community as it stands now. They have completely refused to accept that MMA is an effective sporting platform in which to test their skills with as little rules as possible for a sanctioned sport within our current society-accepted morals. This troubles me some. In some sense, I do understand that from a self-defense/combative stand-point, fighting on the ground is dangerous, and can be deadly; however, it is completely necessary to learn for fighting in MMA bouts. I know that there is a stigma amongst the Chinese who train in their martial arts that ground fighting is what dogs do, and you don’t want to be a dog (I have had Chinese friends tell me personally that they think MMA fighters are beasts/animals and not even human).

Then there is Chinese Wrestling (Shuai Jiao), which is exclusively done on the feet, with a rule set that if something other than your feet touch the ground, you lose! This is fine, and Shuai Jiao is a fantastic martial art that can add a lot of value to other TCMA, and there is historical evidence that a great deal of masters throughout several Chinese styles would train in Shuai Jiao in addition to their art. Even if we look at several of the forms of different styles, they tactically only make sense in the context of Shuai Jiao.

I train primarily in Cheng School, Sun Style Baguazhang (I have also dabbled in Gao Yisheng Style as well) which is largely about throwing and takedowns, although there is striking, kicking, and grappling involved as well. This style of Baguazhang (of which there are many) was founded by Sun, Lu Tang in the early 1900’s where he was a student of Cheng, Ting Hua who was a Shuai Jiao expert before studying with Baguazhang creator Dong, Haichuan. Dong was noted for teaching his students based on their knowledge of whatever martial art they had been an expert in previously. This is why Baguazhang that comes from the Cheng, Tinghua line has a great deal of focus (or at least it should) on throwing and takedowns.

What does this have to do with my wonderment of why TCMA practitioners dislike MMA? Well, when I examine TCMA history from time-to-time, I find that such and such master fought lei tai matches and won. Knowing somewhat about these lei tai matches especially for Xingyiquan fighters, they often fought in these bouts which can be very likened to MMA bouts today sans the ground element. By some accounts these fights were quite brutal, sometimes involving the signing of death waivers, and resulting in serious and permanent injury. So why is that TCMA practitioners are so disturbed, generally speaking, by MMA? Is it cultural? Perhaps, but I think it has to do more with the modernization of TCMA for health back in the early to mid-1900’s, the disdain for anything considered “ancient and barbaric” by the Chinese Communists, as well as the introduction of the modern wushu performance art.

You might be asking yourself by now about San Da (aka San Shou) which is a good combat sport practiced throughout the world, one I have competed in at a minor, tournament level (I’m 1-2, LOL). San Da was originally developed in the 1950’s by the Chinese Red Army borrowing from its eclectic group of indigenous martial arts, boxing, and probably some Tae Kwon Do (which I am told is all the rage all over China). They use boxing gloves, and can kick, punch, and clinch where they are allowed to throw or takedown but stop just at the ground. They also score by knocking their opponent out of the ring, which comes from the lei tai traditions previously mentioned. All in all, it is a promising sport to aid in the development of future MMA fighters to a certain degree. The ground game, however, is an aspect still lacking in modern combative sports coming from China.

This is not to say that the Chinese have completely ignored ground fighting altogether, in fact many arts – Xingyiquan (Ground Dragon Canon) being one of them – have developed techniques of what to do when a fighter is knocked down. This makes sense when one thinks about how things might have been during a battle in ancient times, best to figure out how to get up as quickly as possible before you are killed. However, these methods are far from the sophistication of modern jujitsu or submission grappling.

The TCMA are also known for what is considered Qin Na (Chin na) which literally means Seize Control. It is primarily standing submission grappling, and sometimes used as submission wrestling where the lock/choke is applied and then the opponent is thrown to the ground. However, when I was training Xingyiquan with Tim one day and he showed me a figure-four lock from Pao Quan (the fourth element) I had asked him about Qin Na, stating that I always had trouble applying it unless I hit the person prior. He told me that he knew about three hundred techniques (and yes I’m remembering that number right) but said that maybe about six are actually considered relatively high percentage moves.

What does this have to do with TCMA’s disgust with MMA? A lot because it doesn’t make sense to me in light of the fact that martial artists of the 1800s enjoyed fighting, in fact they cared more about fighting and less about the styles they used. It fascinates me as well that modern TCMA practitioners often demonstrate an arrogant attitude in which they feel TCMA is somehow special when compared to other martial arts. There is also this attitude that MMA is not real fighting, and real fighting is only done on the streets. While I agree to this to some extent, I also see TCMA’s ignorance of MMA fighter’s training and abilities. If I’m going to be honest, and despite my absolute love for TCMA (and its true practical potential), I would rather have an MMA fighter (who trains and fights regularly) on my side in a fight than the guy who goes once or twice a week to class, never spars, only practices forms, and doesn’t hit bags/pads/mitts. MMA may not be “real fighting” but you won’t get any more real than that, unless you go pick a fight yourself.

9 thoughts on “Chinese Martial Artist’s Disgust of MMA

  1. I doubt one will ever see the best traditional martial artists compete. There is SO MUCH ego involved (on both sides). A traditional master, I feel, would perhaps not chance losing. However, the supreme ones would, yet refrain from it because most consider it morally improper, since there is no real “need” to fight. Saving someone’s life or your own is a need while “showing off” is not. Young blood is hot, wisdom blood is cool.

  2. I personally have competed and taught students to compete in MMA. I am TCMAs. We do have to draw on my background in catch wrestling mixed with Chinna to be able to do well against the grapplers of MMA. With that said if you train correctly in the context of MMA, not forsaking your TCMA roots you can be very successful in MMA competition. This has been our experience.

  3. The Chinese do not look favorably on MMA, because
    he’s just fighting! The TCMA are more than combat, they are a philosophy of life!
    You do not see an MMA fighter at 80 years old! Their useful life is small!
    but you see TCMA masters with more than 90 years old !!
    That’s why the Chinese are indifferent to MMA!

  4. This really isn’t a discussion. People have opinions and not all the time will everything work. Especially if not training within a combat method. There will be arrogance and has been arrogance throughout history and all Martial Arts and fighting systems continue to change and evolve. It really just has to do with the times and the changes, the continued evolution of fighting and why it’s practical and why it’s useful. There is no need to argue about it. That is what the competition is for, that’s why we train, get in rings to prove ourselves…to be at peace with war. Some CMA works for combat and some doesn’t. It isn’t anything to make a fuss about. However, there is no need to be boastful and arrogant either. Proof or no proof when the fight is over there is nothing more to say.

  5. I appreciate this take on the issue! I’m no historian and don’t much concern myself with tradition/lineage in particular, but I would be willing to bet (and you indirectly alluded to this notion) that the Japanese origins of JiuJitsu, and possibly the kind of matches portrayed so powerfully by Donnie Yen in the film “Ip Man” may have something to do with the prevailing attitudes about ground-fighting and MMA within the TCMA crowd. There is, interestingly, a legitimate track record in MMA (including some UFC bouts) for Taijiquan. Nick Osipczak, a fighter from the UK, training regularly/primarily in Taijiquan compiled a 2-3 record in UFC competition (including an appearance on TUF) as well as a number of wins in other promotions. Obviously those wins included the use of ideas and tactics from other martial arts, but so did the losses. To have and use Taiji skill is a worthwhile pursuit, but, in my humble opinion, to become trapped in Taiji- incapable of using Wuji- is a silly, and potentially dangerous, mistake! Especially in “The Octagon” 🙂

  6. I think in reality we simply have not seen too many real traditional chinese martial artists that have extreme skill go against MMA fighters most MMA fighter have strong skills in grappling because they feel they have to and you do need to be able to avoid the main traps, but many people fail to realize there are more rules than people think in these matches. And people fail to realize that China banned martial arts for over 50 years in recent times. Many masters either fled China to teach in western countries like Australia, England, Canada and the United States or they stopped training for 30-50 years. You can lose a bunch of forms as well as your distance and timing within just a few months if you stop training let alone 30 years. So in those particular lineages you would not see advanced students emerging from those schools after they were re set up. China has lost much of its actual martial training and has been focusing more on WUSHU performance styles over traditional martial arts systems that had more combat ready techniques, with more snap and power. And for years China did not really have people sparring in their schools the way the would have in the past. They do wushu more as a sport than as training for combat now. That is why you see that controversial video of a Tai Chi Master getting beaten way too easily by a challenging MMA fighter. Because he probably has not sparred in ages and definitely has not mastered Tai Chi sparring or he would not have looked like a blue belt in the match.

    Traditional Chinese Martial arts are alive and well in the United States, and I personally know a few people that would fair well in MMA bouts but for most people in Traditional Martial arts it isn’t all about that we are trying to increase the quality of our lives and that of others. To be honest Shaolin Kung Fu encompasses MMA within its walls, they had just about every martial technique and style imaginable over 900 forms I’ve been studying for 20 years and know or have at least learned and forgotten quite a few LOL at least 300+ forms including Dim Mak aka Tien Sui pressure point fighting and ground techniques and take downs so when people start rolling on the ground I see pressure points and sensitive areas, joints that can be snapped out and other techniques that would immediately stop the fight if they tried to take it to the ground. Now some of these target areas and techniques are illegal in MMA and with good reason, some however are not. And since Traditional martial arts were not teaching for sport they were teaching to preserve one’s life, submission was not as big of a part of the equation in as much so they didn’t develop it as high as Jiu Jitsu. Because if you tried to do that and got your eye gouged out or your groin crushed or your throat ripped or got hit on Stomach 9 (throat area) or any of the other 36 death points or 18 paralyzing points while you tried to armbar someone, well let’s face it, you are either crippled, partially immobilized or dead, so that kind of fighting doesn’t actually work as well as today’s people tend to believe because they don’t realize they are watching a combat sport that actually does have rules that slightly favor submission. Those fighters are very resilient and very well conditioned. They train hard and they are worthy of respect for how hard they train and for the level of skill and tenacity they display. Many have great technique in certain areas, but many also have weak technique in other areas. For instance many favor one side over another and often way over spin when doing kicks or spinning techniques like back hands and expose their backside for way longer than one should ever get away with before recovering. They also seem to be way more straight forward with their stand up techniques verses being more deceptive and strategic. There are a few fighters that do have a good overall set of skills however and they tend to do well.

    But I feel people just don’t see that in today’s day and age, the MMA fighters train and condition the way Traditional Martial artists used to when it used to be life or death. Whereas today’s traditional martial artists for the most part do not train as in depth as the masters of Old used to because it is a different time. Many people have jobs, school and life to attend to rather than train all day every day. We also are not at war in every country like we used to be and certainly not hand to hand and weapons fighting on the field like we used to so only an elite few would still train like that with that type of intensity, but to say that traditional martial arts and martial artists are relics of the past and cannot defend themselves against an MMA fighter would be a huge mistake. On the street, anything can happen and submission techniques and ground techniques if not finished fast in a bar fight or on the street will most likely get you killed or hurt by your opponent’s friends. Now I have seen speed grappling bouts where those guys have some serious skills in getting people into locks and holds with incredible speed and accuracy and if they decided to break your bones in an instant could. Those guys have exceptional grappling skills and could easily use it in real life and in the ring, but still would need decent striking skills and defense against striking to get a chance to use their other skills. It’s a hard debate because the traditional martial artists that are good aren’t necessarily training to enter the ring and the traditional martial artists that are training to enter the ring don’t always have the best techniques and the best styles, or have a good understanding of their style and how to utilize it. So until someone steps up to defend Traditional Martial arts as something viable in the Octagon (which we actually have had a little bit with Kung Lee and a few others) the age old debate will continue. –

  7. MMA is superior because of the “pressure testing” that is the capstone criteria to see if you have mastered x concepts of your art. TCMA protocol appears to only test those who agree with the philosophy of the master since one never sees the friendly sparring with non school masters. That is a telling point in 100% of whay I have seen! The only exceptions are shuaijiao masters who take on all volunteers but shuaijiao in some quarters is often undervalued since it isn’t ‘internal’ and that is a problem is what we see today. All soft and no ‘hard’ instead of
    hard and soft interchange when needed.
    The delusion of gatekeeper and yesmen does alot to prevent development and it will remain as such until the lesson is learned. I am a taijiquan ‘traditionalist’, have donne some competition some time ago,

    I still do TKD warmup, kiick as high as my age will allow but will I get a discount on my new Xingyi Hunyuan Taijiquan class due to the ex[pose of this event and consequences of this development? That is the telling outcome or will the price of instruction increase for studying Xingyi Hunyuan Taijiquan?

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