MMA vs. Kung Fu (Who Wins?)

MMA vs. Kung Fu and who would win is an interesting topic. It is a typical matchup between traditional and modern fighting styles. But the ultimate question is — who would win in a one-on-one fight, Kung Fu or MMA?

MMA fighters are superior to Kung Fu fighters in every aspect of real combat. MMA is more effective in just about every fighting scenario you can imagine, whether the fight occurs in a closed or open space.

Cage fighters have better instincts, automatic reactions, and more effective techniques at their disposal. And overall, MMA as a concept is oriented toward real combat more effectively than Kung Fu.

What is Kung Fu?

Kung Fu is an oriental martial art known as “wushu” and “quanfa.” In China, Kung Fu stands for any skill you develop through hard work, study, and effort.

The name “Kung Fu” was first used in the 20th century in the western world to describe a Chinese martial art similar to karate. And the term got stamped deep into the western vernacular.

In the context of martial arts, Kung Fu represents a group of styles practiced across the country. These martial arts could further be split into Northern and Southern styles. Some of the most popular styles are:

The concepts, as well as the teaching methods, vary between these styles. Each has its own techniques and principles, and it’s almost impossible to put the term “Kung Fu” into one context.

However, there are some general rules. Most Kung Fu styles focus on fast and precise striking with hands and legs, interception of attacks, re-direction of force, and quick movements. They basically teach different variations of the same techniques.

What is MMA?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) emerged in 1993 as a combat sport. But over time, it became its own entity and a full-contact martial art. It is freestyle combat where athletes can fight in all elements, strike with all limbs on the feet, grapple, and fight on the ground. Or in other words, MMA is the closest humans have to legal street fighting.

As its name suggests, MMA combines grappling and striking techniques from various martial arts into one combat system. It is a well-regulated sport with strict rules in place.

Matches last between 15 and 25 minutes (3 or 5 rounds), with fighters being split into different weight classes. There are few restrictions when it comes to techniques. The events are organized by popular promotions such as the UFC, Bellator, or ONE FC.

Though oriented towards competition and fighting under strict rules, MMA is a very practical system. In modern times, many people train in it to improve self-defense abilities or fitness and overall health.

MMA vs. Kung Fu — What Are the Main Differences?

MMA vs Kung Fu

The main difference is the concept. MMA is a brutal full-contact sport oriented toward real freestyle combat. Kung Fu is a traditional martial art focused on pre-arranged sets of moves (forms) and is nowhere near as practical as MMA in a real fight.


Kung Fu represents a group of Chinese martial arts whose earliest origins date to 4,000 years ago. But the term “Kung Fu” first appeared in the 20th century in western countries. Various journalists and experts used it to describe Chinese combat systems similar to karate.

MMA is a modern martial art. Its origins go back to ancient Greece and the Olympic sport called “Pankration.”

Other combat systems, such as Vale Tudo and Sambo, which both emerged in the 20th century, also resemble modern MMA. But in the present form, the sport first appeared in 1993 with the birth of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Concept and objectives

MMA is a full-contact combat sport where athletes compete in all three elements — on the feet, in the clinch, and on the ground.

The main objective is to win a match by knocking the opponent out, hurting them to the point they no longer can continue or submit with chokes and joint locks. The ultimate goal is to win enough matches to become the world champion and global star.

Kung Fu is a traditional martial art involving soft martial art practices and religious aspects. Most styles focus on pre-arranged moves (forms) and personal growth through martial art practice. There is no competition, intense physical contact, hard sparring, or violence.


MMA resembles freestyle combat, where fighters can utilize all techniques as long as these are in line with the sport’s official rules. Since there are few restrictions, they can strike using all limbs as weapons, grapple, and strike each other both in the clinch and on the ground. The following are the most used techniques:

  • Kicks: roundhouse kicks, front kicks, side-kicks
  • Punches: uppercut, hook, cross (backhand), jab (lead hand)
  • Takedowns: single/double leg, various throws, trips, and sweeps
  • Chokes: guillotine choke, rear-naked choke, Americana, triangle
  • Joint locks: kimura, armbar, kneebar

Kung Fu has dozens of different styles, each with different techniques and variations. Most styles focus on stances, quick movements, and intercepting the attack with fast and precise leg and hand striking.

The system also focuses on the mental aspect, and students do a lot of breathing exercises to reach a meditative state of mind. There is no grappling or advanced wrestling in any style. However, some styles, like Shaolin, include weapon-based training.

Equipment and gear

MMA fighters use the following gear and equipment:

Competition gear: Shorts, mouthguard, groin cup, 4 oz open-fingered MMA gloves or boxing gloves (in training)

Training equipment: Heavy bags, pads, jumping ropes, shin and knee pads, headgear, grappling dummy, reflex bags, medicine balls, sparring gloves, and various other fitness equipment.

Kung Fu practitioners utilize the following equipment:

  • Uniform (depending on the style)
  • Belts
  • Elastic ropes
  • Plum Blossom Poles
  • Striking weapons
  • Bladed weapons such as swords
  • Sticks
  • Shoes
  • Gloves

MMA vs. Kung Fu: Who Would Win in a Fight?

MMA vs Kung Fu For Self Defense

MMA fighters are superior in every aspect of actual fighting and will beat a trained Kung Fu fighter most of the time. First, they have superior athleticism, instincts, and automatic reactions.

They also learn more practical techniques and how to apply these moves, while Kung Fu focuses mainly on pre-arranged moves (forms). Here is a detailed explanation of an MMA vs. Kung Fu matchup and why cage fighters will win most of the time.

MMA is more in line with real fighting

Despite being a sport where athletes compete under strict rules, MMA is the closest humans have to legal street fighting. Athletes compete in continuous action, without any breaks, as long as the round lasts (5 min).

They can use all limbs to strike, grapple, and submit each other on the ground. Out of all martial arts, MMA is a rare one that covers most of the scenarios you may face on the streets.

Whether they meet a Kung Fu fighter in the bar, parking lot, hall, or in closed or open space, MMA fighters have all the tools to beat them. They have all the skills to defend against anything Kung Fu offers and are better trained.

Kung Fu is the total opposite. Although considered self-defense martial art, students rarely do any sparring. It gives you a basic understanding of self-defense and freestyle combat, but nothing more than that. It conceptually differs too much from MMA, which is why its fighters would lose most of the time.

MMA teaches more practical techniques

Every single technique you learn in MMA is practical and works in a real-life situation. Each strike, grappling, or submission move students learn in training is designed and tested in real combat.

You won’t spend a second working on things not related to real fighting. No pre-arranged forms or various types of acrobatic moves are effective only in movies. No, MMA as a system adopts only battle-tested techniques.

However, you can’t say the same for Kung Fu, as most of their techniques are not tested in freestyle combat. For example, its students learn to stay in a wide stance with their hands low and extended in front, which is not practical.

They also rely heavily on pre-arranged forms, which have some benefits to a certain degree but won’t help you much in a real fight.

MMA teaching methods are more effective

MMA is superior when it comes to training and teaching methods. Students spend a lot of time sparring with grappling and striking, which is the most efficient way to prepare for real combat.

You can only develop reactions, and instincts, learn to stay calm or apply techniques with sparring against the fully resisting opponent. And this is what makes MMA so effective.

Intense training also makes MMA fighters superior when it comes to athleticism. They are among the finest athletes in the world, notably regarding functional strength. They are strong, explosive, durable, and agile, and their bodies and minds are conditioned to absorb damage and punishment.

In most Kung Fu styles, there is no intense physical contact like sparring. Students practice alone doing pre-arranged moves and never test their skills against a fully-resisting opponent.

In some way, they will know if their skills work once they get attacked on the streets, which is not the most efficient way to prepare for a fight. Due to the lack of sparring and other aspects of intense combat training, they are also inferior to MMA fighters in overall athleticism.

MMA or Kung Fu: Which One is Better for Self-Defense?

MMA is more in line with freestyle combat you may encounter in real life and more practical for self-defense than Kung Fu in every aspect. Yes, MMA is a sport with strict rules. But these rules do not limit its effectiveness in any way.

This is notably true in comparison with Kung Fu, which is a traditional martial art with more than a few downsides when it comes to realism.

MMA is a system where athletes strike and grapple against each other using full force. The emphasis is on doing as much damage as possible with every strike or takedown and hurting the opponent until they can no longer continue.

To achieve this, athletes undergo brutal cardio and strength training regimes and intense sparring against fully resisting opponents. They also do drills of repeating each technique and combo until it gets stamped deep into their muscle memory.

Once in a fight, MMA athletes do not have to think about what to do. Their minds will recognize all the patterns and give the muscles a command to execute the move without thinking about it. And this is the required level of skills, instincts, and reactions for self-defense.

Most styles of Kung Fu do not include any of this. They focus on forms, katas, and other pre-arranged attacking and defensive principles, which won’t help you much in a real fight.

Knowing the correct motion of the punch or kick is good. But this means nothing if you can’t apply these moves in an actual situation on the streets.

MMA vs. Kung Fu — Which One is Harder to Learn?

Is Kung Fu Good For MMA

MMA is a more versatile system, includes more techniques, and has a higher injury rate than Kung Fu, which makes it harder to learn.

However, becoming proficient in any martial art style is challenging and a lifelong achievement for most people. To determine which is harder, let’s look at the following aspects.

More techniques — MMA

MMA is the most complex combat sport and combines grappling and striking techniques into one system. All practitioners must learn dozens of different punches, kicks, takedowns, and submissions.

There are many variations of each move and combination. Kung Fu primarily combines direct punches and kicks with different stances and movements.

Takes more time to learn — MMA

MMA as a concept includes many variables, and experts and coaches often say that learning never stops. The sport is evolving rapidly, with new techniques and tricks constantly emerging.

On average, students need up to 5 years to develop amateur-level techniques, while Kung Fu takes around 3.

Physically more demanding — MMA

MMA fighters are often considered the finest and most capable athletes out of all sports. Reaching a level of fitness, body mechanics, and athleticism required to mix striking and grappling together effectively is physically demanding.

It takes a lot of time and effort. Training is intense, hard on your body, and painful. However, this is the price you need to pay to reach a high level of functional fitness.

More dangerous — MMA

According to studies, MMA has the highest rate of injuries out of all other combat sports. It is often considered THE most dangerous sport in the world, and injuries are inevitable in training and competition.

Most Kung Fu styles are considered low-impact workouts, and people rarely get hurt. This is mainly due to the students’ lack of hand-to-hand physical contact.

Is Kung Fu Good For MMA?

Relying on Kung Fu skills alone won’t help you much in MMA, and this Chinese martial art does not represent an ideal base for cage fighting. This is due to the lack of proper techniques and elements like full-contact sparring and competition. Thus, fighters from conceptually different arts, such as Muay Thai or BJJ, are far more successful.

However, this doesn’t make Kung Fu terrible for MMA. Combining some of its unorthodox elements with conventional and proven MMA techniques can improve your game. The following fighters have a strong background in Kung Fu and have reached the highest level of the sport.

  • Tony Ferguson
  • Zhang Weili
  • Zabit Magomedsharipov

Final thoughts on MMA vs. Kung Fu

Although it is primarily a sport and a modern fighting style, MMA is superior to Kung Fu in just about every aspect of combat. Its fighters will likely win in a one-on-one unarmed fight. They are better trained, have more advanced skills and techniques at their disposal, and are also superior in athleticism.

Kung Fu practice is not bad by any means, and if you are interested in it, you should give it a go. Training provides a solid understanding of self-defense principles and builds strength, stamina, and mental resistance. However, Kung Fu as a concept is less practical and effective than MMA, which we have proven in this article.


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