MMA vs Kung Fu: Who is Better in a Street Fight?

Have you ever watched an action movie and thought, “I want to learn how to do that.” It’s possible — today, it’s easy to apply for a class on martial arts and fighting techniques. The only question you need to ask is what kind of combat sport you want to study.

In this article, let’s compare two of the most popular schools of combat: the Western MMA and the Eastern Kung Fu.


Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), explaining its history and fighting style

Mixed martial arts is one of the most popular sports today. Players combine different combat techniques from karate, boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, Muay Thai, judo, and more. This leads to very dynamic matches that showcase not just their skill, strength, but unique fighting style.

HistoryHistory of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) from ancient Greece to the modern day

But MMA isn’t just the latest “trend”—its roots can be traced to Ancient Greece, and an ancient martial art called the Pankration.

Pankration was used to train the Greek military for hand-to-hand combat. There were virtually no rules: players could grapple, wrestle, strike, kick and even strangle their opponents. The strongest fighters would showcase their strength in public tournaments, including the ancient Olympics.

Though the Pankration battles ended after the fall of the Great Empires.  However, it continued to inspire generations of fighters—including the legendary Bruce Lee, who combined many combat techniques.

Bruce Lee’s blockbuster movies helped make mixed martial arts part of pop culture and reignited the interest in the sport. Then in 1993, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) started promoting MMA events and helped create the rules and safety precautions.

MovesMixed Martial Arts (MMA) incorporates moves and styles from different martial arts and fighting sports

MMA fighters can switch techniques from different combat sports in a split second. Here are some of the most common moves you’ll see, to show how it borrows from so many different kinds of sports.

  • Jab. This is a boxing move (MMA incorporates a lot of boxing techniques) that involves a quick straight punch. UFC fighters often use it to counterattack, or to break their opponent’s rhythm or sequence of moves. It is often combined with other attacks, like UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw’s signature move of sending a jab before a cross-kick and head kick.   
  • Overhand. Fighters can bend their knees low then swing a wide punch that sends opponents reeling. Some of the most epic MMA fights (such as Dan Henderson vs Michael Bisping) ended because of a KO from an overhand.
  • Round kick. This Muay Thai move is fast, powerful, and as debilitating as being hit by a baseball bat.
  • Double leg Takedown. This wrestling move needs perfect timing. As the opponent rushes forward to attack, swiftly grab his thighs, head pressed against the body, and drive him to the mat.
  • HaraiGoshi. Borrowed from Judo, this places opponents in a headlock, giving the opportunity to backstep into them and throw them over with the front leg.

Benefits of MMABenefits of training in MMA

Even if you have no plans of competing in an MMA tournament, the benefits of MMA will help you feel like a winner.

  • Physical fitness. MMA is one of the best ways to get physically fit. It improves strength, flexibility, and endurance. It uses all the muscle groups in the body and activates them in different ways. MMA incorporates a variety of martial arts like Boxing, Karate, Judo, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, and others, this creates a well-rounded training program that minimizes boredom or plateaus.
  • Weight loss. This is a high-intensity exercise that burns as much as 407 calories in just 30 minutes. It also builds lean muscle, which boosts metabolism and helps tone and sculpts the figure.
  • Mental clarity. MMA improves concentration, focus, and strategic thinking: you have to understand your opponent’s fighting style and his strengths and weaknesses to come up with the right plan of attack.
  • Self-defense. In a real life-threatening situation, your “opponent” can attack you any time—and there’s no referee who can step in. MMA teaches lightning-fast reflexes, and a wide variety of moves that you can use to break free from a stranglehold, or counterattacks like kicks or punches. If you are pinned to the ground, you will also know how to use your arms and legs to weaken your attacker and escape.

Kung FuKung Fu, its history and fighting style

Kung Fu refers to a series of fighting techniques and styles that were developed across centuries of Chinese history. These range from the strong and aggressive attacks of the Shaolin and Sanda schools, to the steady stances and precise force movements in the Wing Chun schools. Even the meditative Tai Chi and Qi Gong schools fall under Kung Fu.

HistoryHistory of Kung Fu goes back to ancient China

China’s tumultuous history included barbarian invasions, frequent wars both with other countries and within warring dynasties, and the constant threat of bandits and pirates. Fighting was done not just for sport, but for survival. And for those who were called to serve their king or master, it was part of the job.

In every Chinese Dynasty, a unique fighting method emerged. For example, the Shang and Zhou Dynasties helped developed many of the basic kung fu moves. However, as weaponry became more advanced in the Qin and Han Dynasties, swordplay and other weapon skills also emerged.  

Kinds of Kung FuDifferent Kinds of Kung Fu

There are about 300 recorded kung fu styles and many more that combine several schools or are hard to classify. There is even a difference between the fighting styles in the North and South, and some unique techniques that developed in specific provinces.

Kung fu styles can also be differentiated by their training methods, like the manipulation of inner breath (Neikiaquan style) or the improvement of muscles (Waijiaquan style).

Here are some of the more famous Kung Fu methods.

  • Shaolin Martial Arts. This is the most famous Kung Fu style, and involves intense physical training and mental discipline. Grounded on Buddhist philosophy, practitioners are also expected to meditate and reflect, and move purposefully. Texts describe the forms as “a stance like a pine and a leap like a fly.” Spinoffs of this school include Shaolin Boxing, Southern First, Northern Legs, and Wing Chun.
  • Wudang Martial Arts. Named after Mt. Wudang, where this style of Kung FU first emerged, it has a strong Taoist influence. The fighters are taught the principle of the five elements which guide the different fighting and sword techniques. The defensive move is based on the Eight Diagrams, and is characterized by moving in a circle.
  • Form / Intention Boxing. This Kung fu style is known for its fast fist attacks and powerful stances, which position the body to deliver powerful blows. Key techniques are the Twelve Animals Boxing and the Five Elements Boxing.  
  • Tai Chi Quan. Tai Chi fighting style is characterized by its graceful and elegant moves. They are slow but powerful, because of the training on how to accumulate strength and then focus it in one blow.
  • Eight-Diagram Palm. Developed by Kung Fu master Dong Haichuan, this unique fighting system teaches specific palm styles that can effectively transfer strong physical attacks in the right place and the right time.

Benefits of Kung FuBenefits of training in Kung Fu

Kung Fu is both a spiritual and physical exercise. Serious practitioners are taught that before you defeat any enemy, you must first conquer yourself: fears, trauma, inner noise, etc. Meditation and fasting are as important to its mastery as drills and strength exercises.

This spiritual element isn’t just “hokey pokey”: Kung Fu fighters are able to respond quickly to attacks because they are trained to be very aware of their environment. They also remain calm under pressure, which can make a big difference at the height of a match. This is what sets it apart from other fighting sports like MMA, Boxing, etc.

Outside of the fighting ring, here are other benefits of Kung Fu.

  • Physical fitness. Like MMA, kung fu martial arts improves strength, flexibility, and endurance. The moves also use a lot of the core muscle, with a huge emphasis on balance and grace. Many people compare kung fu moves to dance: very fluid, controlled, and powerful.
  • Weight loss. The calories burned in Kung Fu depends on the intensity and speed of the move. Moderate moves can burn about 375 to 450 calories every 30 minutes. However, slower Tai Chi moves will burn about 250 to 300 calories every 30 minutes. Like MMA, it will build lean muscle and boost metabolism.
  • Mental clarity and calm. All sports can improve concentration and focus, but Kung Fu pays special attention to mental and spiritual training. You will learn breathing and meditation techniques that are useful in every situation: reducing stress, getting better sleep, dealing with anger.
  • Self-defense. Kung Fu moves will serve you well in any dangerous real-life situation. After all, it was originally developed as a form of street fighting, so both warriors and everyday people could defend themselves from attack. Mental preparation can also help you think clearly in an emergency, and have sharper instincts that can help you sense when you are in danger.

MMA vs Kung FuMMA vs Kung Fu, how do they both compare

Both MMA and Kung Fu draw from different combat techniques. They also deliver similar physical benefits. You can become stronger, fitter, and healthier regardless of which one you choose. However, there are some key differences

Variety of MovementsMMA has a good Variety of Movements as it is a mix of different martial arts. Kung Fu, on the other hand, is only one martial art with one move set

As a sport, MMA employs a wider variety of moves than Kung Fu. It includes Western sports like boxing and wrestling, and martial arts from different Asian countries like Thailand’s Muy Thai, Japan’s jiu-jitsu, Judo, Korea’s Taekwondo, Karate.

Kung Fu is actually just one of the kind of martial arts you will learn when you do MMA. That’s not necessarily a drawback. If you want variety, then MMA is for you. If you want to focus on mastering just one martial art style, then try Kung Fu. Even if it has different schools of practice, the moves are very similar and complement each other very well.

Philosophical ApproachKung Fu has a Philosophical Approach unlike MMA, Which focuses on the fighting aspect

One huge difference between MMA and Kung Fu is the philosophy behind them. MMA is a purely contact sport, with a long history and tradition of training hard so you can become “the champion of the ring.”  The warrior spirit of the Ancient Greeks and Romans can still be seen in the modern-day gladiators of the UFC.

 Kung Fu, on the other hand, is based on Taoist and Buddhist philosophy, which actually frowns on the unnecessary use of aggression and force. While you learn very powerful attacks that can defend you both in an official tournament or on the streets, you are also taught that the true goal is to master yourself.

In conclusion, MMA and Kung Fu are both good. So if you’re choosing between them, just ask what kind of sports or fitness training is closer to your goals and personality. Whatever you pick, you will become healthier and feel safer on the streets.

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