MMA vs. Shaolin Monk (Who Wins?)

Although these are conceptually different martial arts, Shaolin Monk vs. MMA is one of the hottest topics in martial art circles. Who would win in a Shaolin Kung Fu vs. MMA matchup, and why?

MMA is more in line with freestyle combat, and its fighters have an advantage in a one vs. one fight against Shaolin Kung Fu Monk. They are superior athletes with better skills and more prominent fighting instincts and reactions.

Shaolin monks are strong, durable, and have solid fighting skills, but they are technically less advanced than MMA fighters.

Let’s further explore this exciting matchup, the differences between these two arts, and how they compare in various aspects.

What Is Shaolin Kung Fu?

Shaolin Kung Fu is also known as “Shaolin Wushu” and is widely recognized as the hardest form of Kung Fu. It is also one of the oldest Kung Fu styles and martial arts overall.

According to legend, all other martial art originated from Shaolin. The system emerged in a Shaolin Temple in Henan province and was developed around 1500 years ago.

The concept of Shaolin Kung Fu revolves around two different legacies unified under one martial art practice: Chan and Quan.

Chan is a Chinese form of Buddhism and the religious aspect of Shaolin practice. The second one is Quan which focuses on learning combat techniques. The training concept is further split into three major contents.

The first one is basic skills which focus on stamina, strong balance, and flexibility. The second aspect is known as “power skills,” which include static and dynamic meditation methods and exercises. The last one is “Combat Skills,” where students learn how to strike, grapple, and handle various weapons.

What Is MMA?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a combat sport, and its origins go back to ancient Greece and the sport called “pankration.” However, the modern form developed in the early 90s with the birth of the UFC. It is a sport where athletes are allowed to compete in all three elements.

They can strike with all limbs on their feet, battle in the clinch, take each other down with takedowns, and fight on the ground with chokes and joint locks. It is a form of freestyle combat which is why MMA is the closest humans have got to legal street fighting.

The matches are split into rounds (5 minutes each), and there are between 3 (regular matches) and 5 (championship fights) per fight. Fighters are divided into weight categories, so they always compete against an opponent similar in weight and size.

Over time, MMA evolved from being a combat sport to a proper combat system. A hybrid mix of grappling and striking skills, very practical for self-defense and any other form of freestyle combat. This makes it popular among people looking to improve their fighting skills or fitness.

Shaolin Monk vs. MMA — What Are The Main Differences?

MMA vs Shaolin Monk

The key difference is the concept. MMA is a full-contact combat sport where athletes compete under strict rules to win matches, titles, and money. Shaolin Kung Fu is rooted in tradition, religion, and martial art practice, and there is no competition.

Let’s take a closer look at the following differences.

Concept and objectives

MMA emerged in the early 90s as a form of “legal street fighting.” The rules enable the fighters to fight in the standup, grapple in the clinch, or fight on the ground.

The main objective is to hurt the opponent and cause injuries to win matches with strikes, wrestle them on the ground and finish with chokes or joint locks. It emphasizes violence, power, and damage to win a competitive match.

Shaolin Kung Fu is different as the concept revolves around tradition, religion, and elements of combat skills all into one. The main goal is to overcome oneself through martial art practice, adopt strong religious beliefs, and get physically stronger.

There is no competition, nor does the system propagate this martial art application. Instead, the focus is on utilizing martial art moves solely for self-defense and when your life is in danger.


MMA is the most versatile combat sport of them all. It enables you to strike using all limbs, grapple utilizing wrestling, judo, or any other style, and fight on the ground with chokes and joint locks from BJJ.

MMA includes all techniques as long as these are in line with the official rules. The following are the most used MMA techniques:

  • Muay Thai (kicks, elbows, knees, clinch fighting)
  • Boxing (punches, stances, footwork, head movement)
  • BJJ (positioning, chokes, joint locks)
  • Wrestling (takedowns, trips, throws)

Shaoling Kung Fu techniques are standardized but vary between styles and forms. Most styles emphasize the development of physical strength and a high level of balance and flexibility. They also focus on meditation practices and various breathing exercises.

When it comes to martial art techniques, most styles include punches and kicks, as well as the basics of grappling and weapon-based training.

The exact techniques and emphasis vary between the styles. Some focus more on kicks, while others might emphasize hand attacks.


MMA fighters train in multiple grappling and striking martial arts at once. Due to the nature of the sport, they spend a lot of time learning how to apply techniques in a continuous and spontaneous action against a fully resisting opponent.

Thus, training involves a lot of hard sparring and match simulations. There are also strength and conditioning workouts, heavy bag drills, hitting the pads, and other exercises.

Shaolin Kung Fu teaching methods differ between styles and forms. In most, training revolves around forms and practicing pre-arranged set of moves. This is a part of training where students perform techniques alone or with a partner.

However, there is no full-contact fight simulation. Shaolin Kung Fu has over 300 forms students must learn to master the art.

Equipment and gear

MMA practitioners utilize the following gear and equipment in training and competition:

Competition gear: 4oz open-fingered gloves, shorts, mouthguard, groin cup

Training equipment: heavy bag, reflex bag, grappling dummy, shin, knee pads, headgear, sparring gloves, and other fitness equipment.

Shaolin Kung Fu includes the following training equipment:

  • Uniform (depending on the style)
  • Belts (depending on the style)
  • Striking dummies
  • Nunchaku
  • Sticks
  • Throwing weapons
  • Rattan Rings

Shaolin Monk vs. MMA — Who Would Win?

MMA Fighter vs Shaolin Monk

MMA Fighters will likely beat Shaolin Monks most of the time. They are better trained, have more practical techniques, and are far superior in applying these skills in a real fight.

The gap in skills, techniques, athleticism, body mechanics and many other aspects is too big to give Shaolin Monks any chance of winning in an unarmed one-on-one fight.

Overall, MMA fighters are better trained for real, freestyle combat. They spar all the time, a required method for learning to apply specific techniques in a fight. You can’t learn to stay calm in a stressful moment or develop instincts and reactions without sparring and live drills.

How would you know if your skills work in a fight if you have never tested yourself against a fully resisting opponent trying to hurt you?

Conversely, MMA as a sport resembles real fighting, so students spar almost daily. They don’t spend a second doing forms or other exercises unrelated to fighting and performance enhancement.

Each technique is stamped deep into their muscle memory. Once in a fight, they execute all those moves without thinking about it. And unlike Shaolin Monks, they are all-around athletes with advanced wrestling, BJJ, boxing, and Muay Thai skills.

Shaolin Monks would lose most of the time because they rarely do fight simulations. Training focuses on forms, pre-arranged defensive and offensive scenarios, meditation, and strength exercises. It is tough to imagine any scenario in which they would beat an MMA athlete with a similar skill level.

Is Shaolin Kung Fu Good For MMA? 

Shaolin Kung Fu and its principles do not fit well within the rules of MMA. And you will rarely see MMA fighters with a strong background in Kung Fu.

First, most Kung Fu moves are illegal, such as dirty tactics like eye gouging, throat and groin strikes, and many others. Second, teaching methods are not practical for this freestyle combat as Kung Fu focuses on forms.

Shaolin Kung Fu is standardized, old, and traditional. Techniques and teaching methods haven’t changed much over time, and the system hasn’t evolved much. In some way, the system never adopted the new concepts of a coherent mix of grappling, striking, and ground fighting. It remained rigid in some way.

The same stands for the lack of sparring or any advanced fight simulation where you can learn how to apply techniques against fully resisting opponents.

MMA is an intense, brutal, spontaneous, and dangerous form of freestyle combat. Each match lasts between 15 and 25 minutes. During this time, each fighter does their best to hurt the opponent as much as possible and finish them with strikes or submissions.

And this is something Kung Fu fighters never train for. They train only for specific patterns and scenarios you may encounter on the streets. To intercept the attack as fast as possible and decide the fight’s outcome in the first couple of seconds.

Overall, Shaolin Kung Fu conceptually differs too much, which is why this Chinese martial art is not used in cage fighting.

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

Is Shaolin Kung Fu Good For MMA

MMA is a more effective combat system for self-defense or any street fighting scenario. It is technically a more advanced system, covering more places and scenarios you may encounter on the streets.

MMA is a combat sport where people learn how to compete under strict rules. However, the competition rules do not limit the system’s effectiveness.

Students learn how to fight on the feet with strikes and keep their distance, grapple at close range, and stop or execute a takedown. And if the fight hits the ground, they know how to secure a dominant position and finish the opponent.

The advanced grappling segment of MMA is crucial for self-defense, as most regular people do not know how to grapple.

All humans can throw, block, or move away from a punch, as these are natural reactions. But grappling is all about technique, leverage, balance, and weight manipulation; it takes years to learn how to stop these attacks.

Shaolin Kung Fu teaches practical and proper self-defense techniques; most of these moves work in real life. However, teaching methods lack the realism of intense fighting you may encounter on the streets and specific workouts where students can learn how to apply techniques in those situations.

Doing forms and pre-arranged moves against the partner helps you to master the motion of the technique, but not how to use it in a fight. And this is the main reason why Shaolin Kung Fu is not as practical for self-defense as MMA.

Final Thoughts on Shaoling Monk vs. MMA Fighter

Shaolin Monk vs. MMA fighter is an interesting matchup, but the outcome is obvious. MMA fighters have superior skills and athleticism and will win in a one vs. one unarmed match most of the time. Whether the fight occurs in a closed or open space, bar, or parking lot, they have the advantage in almost all scenarios.

This doesn’t take anything away from Shaolin Kung Fu and its masters. It is still a practical system, and by enrolling in it, you will develop solid fighting skills and improve fitness and overall health. But seeing a Shaolin Monk beating a trained MMA fighter with an around set of skills is highly unlikely.

Still, street fighting has infinite variables and possible scenarios, including the ones in which Shaolin may come on top. There is always a chance for them to win a fight utilizing unconventional self-defense techniques MMA fighters are unfamiliar with, such as dirty tactics.


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