BJJ and groundfighting… how did China miss out… or did it?

When I first caught on to MMA, courtesy of UFC back in the early 1990’s, MMA was pretty much a style vs style tournament. Those of us old enough may remember movies like Bloodsport or games like Street Fighter which was always a showdown of style vs style. I.e. Karateka’s fighting Boxers fighting Muay Thai fighters etc.

I grew up loving Chinese martial arts and believing that the “kung fu” styles I watched were the dominant martial arts. Long story short, the Kung Fu guys got their butts kicked in the UFC.  The other Asian martial arts, like Silat, Karate, Tae Kwan Do etc also fell. My understanding of the world of martial arts was flipped upside down.

The standouts in the first 5 UFC’s were Royce Gracie (by far) and other submission specialists like Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn. They were winning with chokes and arm locks, things I hardly ever saw in the Kung Fu movies that I grew up watching. BJJ was the big winner by far.

Chinese martial arts seemed to have missed the point about what worked. Or so I thought.

Years later, I stumbled across an interesting book. Qin Na Fa, or 擒拿法 and I was surprised to see moves which I thought entirely belonged in the world of BJJ! Admittedly, the technique looked a bit loose, but the fact was these moves did exist in ancient Chinese martial arts.

Arm triangle in Qin Na Fa

The author, Liu Jinsheng, wrote in 1936:

In recent years, the central government has begun to promote traditional martial arts, and every province has established martial arts training halls. Besides Chinese wrestling, the most popular arts are the Shaolin and Wudang styles of kung fu, both of which have methods of solo practice. yet the practical applications of these arts is a subject that is never breached. Those who have practiced these arts twenty or thirty years have never defeated anyone who has practiced Western boxing or judo. Why is this? It is because the practitioners of Shaolin and Wudang styles only pay attention to the beauty of their forms — they lack practical methods and spirit and have lost the true transmissions of their ancestors. Hence, our martial arts are viewed by outsiders merely as rigorous dancing.

…In the Ming dynasty, men such as Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou advocated this type of realistic practice and opposed any empty practice done for the sake of appearance. This is why these men have proud reputations in history.

Today the scientific method is employed the world over. All disciplines seek to refine their techniques. Only China fails to improve its traditional martial arts over time, and even our past knowledge is being lost. […] This is a great pity.

I began to understand the evolution or de-evolution of Chiniese Martial Arts and in fact many other forms of martial arts. As the need for Martial Arts for battle decreased, many forms degenrated into visually appealing stylisitc technique or technique “watered down” for specific sporting rules. Hence when UFC re-emerged in the early 1990’s many of these modified forms simply could not survive in a No Holds Barred event.

I believe a similar thing happened in other martial arts as well. Some Martial Arts like Muay Thai maintained it’s effectiveness because it was widely competed in at the highest level and in full contact.

What I also realised is that the human body is the same all over the world. Whether you are in Asia, Africa or the Americas, the arm can only bend in one way. So I began to see similarities in martial arts all around the world.

Check these out:

The above pic shows early Japanese Ju Jitsu, Qin Na and Catch Wrestling all executing a move all us BJJ practitioners are very familiar with as demonstrated by our very own Prof Leke here:






Examples of a collar choke used in BJJ, Qin Na and Judo


Bruce Lee got it right. If you wanna fight effective, then use whatever works, discard what doesn’t. MMA is not a Martial Art, it’s a sport. It’s a set of rules governing what you can do. To be successful at MMA, one takes everything that works, for those rules, and discards the rest. What works works. What doesn’t doesn’t. The ancients knew what worked because their lives depended on it. We’re kinda re-discovering a lot of that now in modern MMA.

The best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style, to be formless, to adopt an individual’s own style and not following the system of styles.” – Bruce Lee, the father of modern MMA

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One Response to BJJ and groundfighting… how did China miss out… or did it?

  1. Roger OBrian says:

    Bruce Lee was the best ! I love your website.

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