Part One – Is Wing Chun for Sport?
You must have been there, at a seminar, workshop or maybe in class, when a hand goes up and the inevitable question is asked….
“Why isn’t there any Wing Chun in MMA?”
On the surface it’s a really boring question and makes as much sense as asking “Why isn’t there any Rugby in Football?” I personally believe that MMA and traditional Martial Arts are two different beasts. But my issue isn’t only with the question, it is also in how the person answers it. The repost usually comes quite abruptly with something like, “Wing Chun is not a sport!” Or “Wing Chun is too deadly for sport fighting!” This lack of understanding of why Wing Chun is not generally seen in MMA is in my opinion down to a lack of focus in the particular group or class and a complete disregard for the MMA movement and how it has evolved and developed into a modern day fighting sport.
I believe it is important for a Wing Chun school to have focus and this is possibly something that some Wing Chun clubs lack. They call themselves fighters, but fighters have a record of wins, draws and losses? They claim to be teaching “Self Defence” but spend more time working on skill rather than mindset. This is understandable. Wing Chun can be tricky to label.
When questioning most Wing Chun practitioners they will generally all agree on the one thing:
So if you say that Wing Chun is not a sport then why do some clubs engage in sparring or rules based fighting as oppose to a system of training that allows anything to happen. Sparring can obviously play a vital role in mobility and thinking on your feet, but surely by sparring you are implying that you are working to win, lose or draw according to the rules of the bout? Could this be via knockout, point scoring or maybe some kind of submission? I personally believe that a lot of the Wing Chun out there could come unstuck in an MMA style fight, especially if the opponent is a good wrestler and the Wing Chun guy has no fighting skill or experience. Notice I said “could” this is by no means set in stone especially if you have a MMA savvy coach.
The nearest we can get to “no holds barred” in the current legal fight world is UFC style Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and as “Martial Artists” I believe we should be very grateful to those that have and still do compete in MMA events. Because what the UFC and other such competitions have done for us is essentially sort the wheat from the chaff in regards to what “works” in a fair “rules based” fight with stand up striking, clinch and ground fighting allowed. Now of course in any kind of combat sport there has to be rules to ensure the safety of the competitors with weight classes so that it is a well matched fight. If you have seen some of the early UFC footage you can see how not having weight classes is unworkable. There also has to be a referee to enforce these rules and if the event is legitimate you would hope to have paramedics on stand by for any serious injuries that may occur. It would also need judges to score the fight should it go the distant. MMA has evolved immensely since its inception and you could argue that it’s rules now favour certain fighting strategies, but that is another discussion entirely.
I understand that Wing Chun teaches that we can overcome a larger and stronger opponent, but in a full range fight with rounds and rules I find this highly unlikely to succeed without modification. Imagine if you cloned a 200 pound heavier version of yourself, with exactly the same skill set? Who would come off better?
I suggest a listen to the latest Joe Rogan podcast where he has Bas Rutten in as a guest. These two know what the are talking about and they discuss early MMA and how it evolved plus a new Sport Karate competition which Bas is working with. They also talk about some of the horrific damage MMA can do to your body, short and long term.
What skills are essential in MMA?
Clearly a good striking ability is essential, usually developed from Western or Thai boxing. Powerful leg kicks are also a must, again usually from Muai Thai boxing. The ability to hold your own in a stand up clinch – again Muai Thai and various wrestling styles can also help here. And most importantly an ability to fight on the ground, with these skills usually taken from Brazilian Ju Jutsu, shoot wrestling or possibly Judo. Clearly I am generalizing here,but you get the point. I know that some of you Wing Chun guys out there are going to be screaming, “but Wing Chun moves are too dangerous for these events” or “Wing Chun is deadly!” Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but if you really think you can somehow target vulnerable areas such as eyes or throat before a skilled MMA player can take you down and choke you out, you are living in a total dream world.
And of course another thing you need in any combat sport that allows striking, is the ability to take punishment to your own body. This is something else most Wing Chun clubs don’t take into consideration. Just watch some footage of Wing Chun classes or demos on YouTube. Is anyone actually getting hit with powerful strikes? This is probably because this way of training is not very enjoyable and not too good for your overall well being. Speak to any professional combat sportsman and they will tell you that the enjoyment is not in the training itself, in fact the training is more than likely a living hell! Because the only way they can get to the top of their game is to push themselves so hard it hurts. The pay off is winning the fight and the possible financial benefits that it brings. Martial Arts however should be fun though, right?
Of course MMA isn’t the only combat sport available. You have Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Boxing, Sanda and many others. And just like MMA all these sports have a defined set of rules and ways of winning or losing the bout. So if you want to win in these events then the best way is to learn from a dedicated school of the chosen art. Its the same with MMA.
So if you are hoping to use Wing Chun for sport then fine, but you are either going to need to back it up with other skills to make it work in any kind of MMA competition or Wing Chun itself is going to need to go through some evolution until it can work in sport. Would this be a good thing? Well that’s for you decide. I believe Wing Chun should be life enhancing not life destroying and if you see how much damage these modern MMA fighters are doing to their bodies AND their brains then I want no part of it. Life’s too short.
This is a good video from Sifu Mark Phillips which discusses some similar points.
So Why isn’t there any Wing Chun in MMA?
So we’re back to our original question. If you do some research there are no (or very few) professional fighters with a Wing Chun background. I know that Anderson Silva gets linked with Wing Chun and that’s great, but if you look at his Martial Arts training background, then you’ll see that Wing Chun doesn’t have much influence. He has black belts in TKD, BJJ is a pro boxer and even has a Yellow Rope in Caporeia. I also recognise the great work that Sifu Alan Orr has put in with his Iron Wolves MMA team but as I discussed above they still cross train to a very high level in other systems to allow them to compete with the best on all levels.
I also believe (and this may upset some people, if I haven’t already….) that if Wing Chun as it is practised today was that effective in an MMA fighting competition, then surely all MMA practitioners would be doing it at a high level, just like they have done with Muai Thai and BJJ? Think about it, there is nothing stopping any MMA fighter from joining a Wing Chun class, picking up the skills and taking them to the cage. But they don’t. Why is that? I don’t no the answer either.
Judging by some of the awful Wing Chun on offer around the world (as seen on Youtube etc) the reason we do not see Wing Chun in MMA could simply be a lack of good coaches or “Sifu’s” with a complete knowledge of the Wing Chun system or an understanding of MMA and its specific training needs. Or maybe it could be simply that Wing Chun is just not suited to that particular arena of fighting. Or as I said before it could be that Wing Chun just has not moved with the times in regards to modern sport fighting. Look at Brazilian Ju Jutsu and how Royce Gracie took his families art to the cage and proved how it worked. For Wing Chun to evolve and move on in MMA we may need our own Royce Gracie. It will need money and sports scientists, plus a few mavericks to push the art into the future.
My personal belief is that Wing Chun as it currently stands can offer the MMA fighter some useful tools that may or may not be helpful in that arena but it would be hard to spot them if they were used as they would mainly be structure based, or concerned with mechanics and the way you use your own body. And the fact of the matter is that most (not all) Wing Chun practitioners are amateurs or hobbyists and have no interest in fighting in competitions, let alone the gruelling training that a professional fighter must endure to reach a good level. But if they don’t want to compete in MMA then what do they want
Next time on the HVT BLOG….. IS WING CHUN FOR SELF DEFENCE!
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