LOndon Wing Chun Article: Wing Chun and MMA

What Kind of Martial Artist are YOU?
Martial artists come in many different forms, some are casual hobbyists seeking to get fitter and learn the basics of self defence, others view their martial arts as a life-long committment to spritual and physical self-mastery, whereas others still regard their training as a profession pursuing glory through victory in competition.

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wing chun wooden dummyCurrently, Wing Chun is overwhelmingly favoured by the casual hobbysists and lifelong devotees yet undervalued by competition martial artists. Indeed, ask any Wing Chun practitioner and he will readily explain that Wing Chun is not intended as a competition martial art, the emphasis on quick strikes to the eyes, groin and throat (especially at higher levels) means that many of its most effective techniques would result in immediate disqualification from any competition bout. Furthermore, Wing Chun is also famous for its trapping hands to disarm an opponent, however most competitions require participants to wear heavy gloves which make such techniques impossible to apply in the ring.

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MMA and Wing Chun - The Gloves are Off!
However with regards to gloves, things have begun to change hugely in the past 5 years with the rise of mixed martial arts competitions such as UFC, Affliction and Strikeforce. Unlike Thai Boxing, Boxing and Kick Boxing, MMA gloves allow fighters to move their hands for intricate grappling techniques. Indeed, MMA gloves have actually been used widely within Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do training for a long time and now at last they are being incorporated into a mainstream fighting sport. Furthermore MMA competition permits an exceptionally high level of contact with punches, elbows, knees, kicks, chokes and submissions. On this basis, theoretically a Wing Chun fighter would only need to modify his training slightly (by reducing emphasis on strikes to eyes, throat and groin) to be able to be able to apply his skills.

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MMA and Traditional Martial Arts
Interestingly though, MMA has no famous Wing Chun students in its ranks. This is not unique to Wing Chun, as MMA has had an almost universal effect on making nearly all traditional arts appear uncool or ineffective in the eyes of most hardcore MMA fans. Nine times out of ten, fighters and MMA fans will proudly promote their training in Muay Thai and Brazilian ju-jutsu. As a result, these traditional arts in particular have been elevated to an especially high level of esteem within the eyes of many in the MMA community, and rightly so, they are awesome, highly effective fighting styles steeped in tradition and honour. However, this has had the effect of undermining the effectiveness of other traditional arts such as Karate, Kenpo, Tae Kwondo, Ninjitsu, Shaolin Kung Fu and of course Wing Chun. What a large proportion of MMA fans neglect to realise is that many of today's most famous MMA fighters began their training in traditional arts.

wing chun wooden dummyFor example Chuck Liddell, the figurehead of the UFC started his path towards MMA by first training in Kenpo whilst Georges St Pierre trained in Karate as a teenager. With this in mind, whilst a traditional art alone may not necessarily make an individual fighting fit to enter into a MMA cage fight, it can provide them with the foundations of co-ordination, reflexes, and power all of which are essential to become a fighter or adept at defending oneself. Of course, the effectiveness of a traditional martial art also largely comes down to the dedication of the individual, someone who trains in Wing Chun (or any other art) three times a week will obviously progress faster and achieve a higher level of skill than some who trains once a week. Whilst this provides a good case for the value of training in traditional arts, it does not explain why Thai boxing and Brazilian ju-jutsu have gained such higher respect in the MMA community.

Why Brazilian Ju-Jutsu and Thai Boxing are Key to MMA

In the eyes of MMA fans and fighters, Brazilian ju-jutsu is essential as it enables competitors is to take a battle to the mat and grapple their way to victory. Equally, Muay Thai boxing is commonly referred to as the ultimate stand-up striking art for competition fighting. Fans of MMA will know that in the early days the rules of the Ultimate Fighting Championship were set up in such a way that they greatly favoured groundfighters (due largely to the vital role that the Gracie family played in setting up the UFC) over stand-up fighters.

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As a result the early UFC competitions caused an overnight revolution in the martial arts community as students and teachers everywhere were suddenly awakened to what appeared to be the overwhelming effectiveness of Brazilian ju-jutsu. Over time however, MMA competitors and trainers have successfully adjusted their training systems to incorporate groundfighting attack and defence techiques, which have in turn made stand-up striking effective in the ring/ cage once again. So what is it about Brazilian ju-jutsu and Muay Thai so effective in MMA fighting, and what can teachers and students of other traditional learn from them?

What Wing Chun and Tradition Arts Can Learn from MMA...

The Competitive Edge
The effectiveness of Brazilian ju-jutsu and Muay Thai derives from the fact that both styles gear their training towards preparing fighters for intense competiton. Students from both arts are, from the moment they walk into a decent training academy, introduced to the prospect of fighting and competing for their club.

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Both arts also place great emphasis on exceptional explosive power, strength and cardiovascular fitness, all with a view to preparing students for intense (full-contact in the case of Muay Thai) (submission based in the case of Brazilian ju-jutsu) competition fighting. In contrast, traditional arts, and Wing Chun classes especially, rarely, if ever, train their students for competitions that are of the same intensity.

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MMA vs Wing Chun's Minimalist Approach For Streetfighting
With reference specifically to Wing Chun, this is because Wing Chun has always prided itself on being a street-fighting focused art. In the opinion of London Wing Chun, Wing Chun is undoubtedly highly effective for street-confrontation as it teaches its students to respond the moment contact is made with an attacker with a barrage of direct, brutal and potentially lethal strikes to highly delicate areas of the body. In contrast to Brazilian ju jutsu and Muay Thai, Wing Chun is a minimalist martial art which when trained to a high-level allows strategic manoeverability through precise footwork whilst minimising expenditure of physical energy. Power in Wing Chun striking is also generated from very slight sinking and twisting movements in the core of the body which again are intended to minimise expenditure of energy. Such movements are the basis of Bruce Lee's infamous one-inch punch. Wing Chun is also intended to be used in extremely close-range fighting where its speed and elements of surprise can be used to gain advantage over an attacker.

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Does Your Wing Chun have Speed, Power and Groundfighting?

As a result, some Wing Chun students will often neglect strength, flexibility and cardiovascular training and instead seek to rely on the minimalist elements of the Wing Chun fighting system. This is an extremely dangerous path, as is the notion that Wing Chun fighters should disregard groundfighting as a waste of time and instead expect to remain upright during a confrontation in the street. The fact is anything can happen in a street confrontation, and whilst many self-defence experts would warn against taking a fight to the ground, especially when faced with multiple attackers, students should still prepare for such an eventuality just so they will know how to respond appropriately. The avoidance of groundfighting training does not solely lie in the approach of Wing Chun students, in fact the responsibility rests firmly on the shoulders of its teachers. It is the responsibility of Wing Chun teachers to ensure that their students engage in strength training, pad-work to develop power in combination striking, and at least the basics of knowing how to defend themselves on the ground and get up as quickly as possible if tripped, thrown or rugby tackled.

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Chi-Sau is Great when Combined with Sparring
The final ingredient which is vital to all martial arts is sparring of various intensities. Wing Chun is (in the opinion of LWC) ahead of many other traditional arts by the fact that so much of a student's time is spent in chi-sau sensitivity training. Chi-sau is a phenomenal method through which students can build their reflexes to the point of automatic defence and attack mechanisms. However, few fights rarely resemble the form of chi-sau, so students must practise free-sparring to develop their experience of combat. Sparring should of course be tuned to the level and size of a particular student, beginners should always begin lightly to gain confidence, and as they progress intensity should increase accordingly so that students can get used to the feeling of being hit and hitting another. Again, all of this should be incorporated within a wider framework of demanding cardiovascular and power training to elevate a students fitness, as even though a Wing Chun student should not intend to rely on explosive power, this does not mean that they should not be encouraged to develop it. After all, Wing Chun is derived from the training techniques of Shaolin which emphasised form and technique just as much as power, precision and speed.

Finally... Go For A Walk

Finally, LWC would also recommend that Wing Chun teachers and students go and pay a visit to a local Brazilian ju-jutsu, Muay Thai or MMA training academy just to experience the intensity and benefits of its different training methods. Although some traditionalists might claim that Wing Chun is a complete fighting system and that its students should not cross-train, it should be remembered that Wing Chun was created because the monks of Shaolin needed a fighting system which incorporated all of the most effective elements of their kung fu which could be taught to students in three years. In such respects, Wing Chun was the original MMA of Chinese kung fu, and this innovative fighting spirit should be celebrated rather than forgotten.

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