Karate vs. Kung Fu

Dave mentioned this link and poked me a bit to write about it. Consider me poked. :-) First, check out the video:

This video has been around for a while now and I remember shaking my head the first time I saw it.  Now before I go on some qualifiers: As I don’t speak Japanese, I can’t comment on what was said or what the context is: Were there any rules? What’s the background of the fighters (Lots of experience? Just a bit?) and how was the “matchmaking” done. Etc.

So we better assume we’re missing some information before coming to any hard conclusions. That said, there are a couple of things you notice right away:

  • The kung fu guys have trouble finding the right striking distance.
  • Their defense isn’t all that good.
  • They don’t seem able to generate sufficient force to drive their opponent backwards.

There’s more but these three problems are the most apparent.

Obviously, a load of non-kung fu practitioners use this video to “prove” how Chinese arts are crap and don’t work in a real fight. Which is a load of crap in and of itself. I’ve practiced Chinese arts for over twenty years and have used them in “real fights”, whatever that may be. The techniques worked just fine. I’ve also seen a bunch of other practitioners who couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag. Some did Japanese arts, others did Chinese or Indonesian ones. It was rarely, if ever, the style they practiced that made them good or bad as a fighter. It was a bunch of other things. Just for the record, I’ve gotten my butt kicked too by guys from other styles so we’re all nothing but mere mortals.

There are many factors involved to become a good fighter and a million different ways of training them. The most effective fighters I’ve seen all had similar traits though:

  • They knew the strong and weak points of their art well.
  • They had a good understanding of these very same things in other styles.
  • They always focused on exploiting this information to their benefit.
  • Their defense was versatile enough to handle attacks from many other styles as opposed to only from their own style.
  • They had stopping-power in their techniques. Regardless if they had to punch, kick or throw, you couldn’t just ignore their attack.

In this video, the kung fu guys didn’t seem to have any of those traits:

  • I saw a bunch of ineffective attacks, done at the wrong range.
  • They seemed surprised to get clocked in the head by those kicks; their defense was clearly not ready for these techniques.
  • When they did connect, the impacts were negligible to their opponents.

My guess is that the kung fu guys were never exposed to this type of karate sparring and didn’t know how to handle it.

Foot to the face aka "Where did that come from?!"

Foot to the face aka "Where did that come from?!"

When I started training in my early teens, I thought I was hot shit because we trained hard. Then I got my butt kicked by muay Thai guys. Back to the drawing board and learn what they do. Once I could hold my own there, those nasty South-East Asian guys got through with their funky techniques and left me gasping in pain. Once again, time to learn their way. Then I got put on my butt as if I were a sick, little child by tai chi players.  And so the story goes on and on.

Obviously, I don’t train in every style out there because there’s only 24 hours in a day. But if I could, I would. That said, there are striking similarities between styles and the trick in handling them is not learning the same thing twice: The differences between kickboxing and muay Thai are smaller than those between judo and harimau silat. Once you start seeing the differences and similarities, it becomes a bit easier. Of course, knowing a solution and implementing it is not the same thing. You still have to train hard to have a prayer of pulling it off. Which is why I train in as many arts as I can, with certain limitations: Sports fighting becomes less important as I get older.

I’m not going to compete anymore so there’s little point in focusing all my time on those arts. They have immense value but also a bunch of limitations you don’t find in traditional arts. By training both, I feel I get the best of everything and am a better fighter for it:

  • I may not be the best Tai Chi player out there but I’m a better Sanshou fighter than most of them.
  • I may not be the best Sanshou fighter but I’m a better Silat player than most of them.
  • I may not be the best Silat player out there but I’m a better muay Thai fighter than most of them.

In case you missed it, I didn’t say I was the best in any one of those arts and everybody else sucks. I am saying I try to be more versatile than people who train in just one art or in a bunch of arts from the same family.  So far, I feel this has given me far more benefits than drawbacks.  To each his own and you have to live with the consequences of your choices. I’m OK with mine. But perhaps these kung fu fighters should have done something similar. Or at least gone out and sparred some more first.

UPDATE: Just finished Part Two.

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Comments

  1. Garry Hodgins says:

    It looks like the kung fu guys should have avoided drinking copious amounts of plum wine before they sparred. People practice martial arts for different reasons. For me its about having a few techniques that really work, keeping fit and healthy and sober (most of the time) and developing my awareness of how I move and behave in relation to other people. I dont believe in the hype and mythology any more but do enjoy the life long thrill I get from modifying a technique in free movement as I no longer have an interest in competition, not that I was ever that good. Your heavy bag book and combat san shou d.v.d.s have been a good source of new, practical material, which is easily added on to the syllabus of practical tai chi chuan and helps to vary my personal training and give me good, solid basics and has inspired me to purchase a Bob so I can spend even more time in my garage away from my wife and kids. Your mirroring drill on striking is simple and very effective in helping beginners to develop some confidence in their capacity to move efficiently and adheres to the principle of moving in concert with the opponent as Chen tin hung was told by Qi Minuan was the fundamental principle for tai chi practitioners to use in self defence. Thanks for the work. You are doing a great job and I hope to meet you some time in the future to absorb some more knowledge.

    • Thanks for the kind words Garry. It’s also great to hear you’re enjoying the book and videos.
      We do indeed all train for our own reasons and that’s the most important factor to consider. If you train for SD, you shouldn’t expect to be good at ring fighting. And the same goes for practicing Kung fu and then going out to spar Karate guys.
      I felt sorry for those guys in the videoclip. They were obviously not prepared for what happened. Or perhaps they were mislead… Japanese TV shows would NEVER do that to practitioners of Chinese arts… :-/

  2. Garry Hodgins says:

    It looks like the kung fu guys should have avoided drinking copious amounts of plum wine before they sparred. People practice martial arts for different reasons. For me its about having a few techniques that really work, keeping fit and healthy and sober (most of the time) and developing my awareness of how I move and behave in relation to other people. I dont believe in the hype and mythology any more but do enjoy the life long thrill I get from modifying a technique in free movement as I no longer have an interest in competition, not that I was ever that good. Your heavy bag book and combat san shou d.v.d.s have been a good source of new, practical material, which is easily added on to the syllabus of practical tai chi chuan and helps to vary my personal training and give me good, solid basics and has inspired me to purchase a Bob so I can spend even more time in my garage away from my wife and kids. Your mirroring drill on striking is simple and very effective in helping beginners to develop some confidence in their capacity to move efficiently and adheres to the principle of moving in concert with the opponent as Chen tin hung was told by Qi Minuan was the fundamental principle for tai chi practitioners to use in self defence. Thanks for the work. You are doing a great job and I hope to meet you some time in the future to absorb some more knowledge.

    • Thanks for the kind words Garry. It’s also great to hear you’re enjoying the book and videos.
      We do indeed all train for our own reasons and that’s the most important factor to consider. If you train for SD, you shouldn’t expect to be good at ring fighting. And the same goes for practicing Kung fu and then going out to spar Karate guys.
      I felt sorry for those guys in the videoclip. They were obviously not prepared for what happened. Or perhaps they were mislead… Japanese TV shows would NEVER do that to practitioners of Chinese arts… :-/

  3. Hi Wim,

    I think in the end, that’s all any of us can hope for… there is always someone better out there but at least for me – the competition is with myself. You know – self-improvement/enlightenment.

    It would have been funny to see a counter point – you know, some bad karate players vs. some good kung fu players. :)

    • Hey John,

      It’s one of those things that probably comes with age, no longer needing to prove yourself. I know what I can and cannot do. I also know a lot of people who are better than me. So what? Their skill doesn’t negate any of mine. But that’s probably not easy to see when you’re 18 and full of hormones… :-)

      BTW, I’ll post a counterpoint tomorrow. :-)

  4. Hi Wim,

    I think in the end, that’s all any of us can hope for… there is always someone better out there but at least for me – the competition is with myself. You know – self-improvement/enlightenment.

    It would have been funny to see a counter point – you know, some bad karate players vs. some good kung fu players. :)

    • Hey John,

      It’s one of those things that probably comes with age, no longer needing to prove yourself. I know what I can and cannot do. I also know a lot of people who are better than me. So what? Their skill doesn’t negate any of mine. But that’s probably not easy to see when you’re 18 and full of hormones… :-)

      BTW, I’ll post a counterpoint tomorrow. :-)

  5. Anyone who would introduce their style as “Kung Fu”, without further elaboration, has already shown low competence–wouldn’t you agree? (Not saying that happened in this case.)

    Whereas the Kyokushin black belts actually make Karate look pretty good. They have strong and seemingly irrational preference for high kicks, but then again, they are quite good with them.

    Yes, this video clip looks like revenge for “The Chinese Connection”.

    • @Chris: Dunno, “kung fu” is still widely used today, simply because people “know” it. If you mention wushu or traditional wushu or the name of the style, they look at you funny.

  6. Anyone who would introduce their style as “Kung Fu”, without further elaboration, has already shown low competence–wouldn’t you agree? (Not saying that happened in this case.)

    Whereas the Kyokushin black belts actually make Karate look pretty good. They have strong and seemingly irrational preference for high kicks, but then again, they are quite good with them.

    Yes, this video clip looks like revenge for “The Chinese Connection”.

    • @Chris: Dunno, “kung fu” is still widely used today, simply because people “know” it. If you mention wushu or traditional wushu or the name of the style, they look at you funny.

      • Actually, pretty sure “wushu” is post-Communist China. (Bejing vs. Peking) Pretty sure Bruce Lee **didn’t** call it “Wushu”. ;)

        –GG

        • Ehm… Your point being?

          • Ah!

            That “Wushu” is the “fake” name. That the reason people don’t use that is that “Wushu” really just refers to the “artistic”/acrobatic stuff that’s condoned by the Chinese govt. Mantis is **not** Wushu; Hung Gar is **not** Wushu; White Crane is **not** Wushu; Ba Guag is **not** Wushu… ;)

            The stuff done in Red Square, in pretty silk outfits? Yep — **that’s** Wushu.

            Therefore: the reason that people don’t refer to various CMAs as “Wushu” is that the ancient traditional “fighting arts” **ain’t** Wushu. “Familiarity with the name” is not the reason.

            At least, in my assessment/observation. :)

            –GG

  7. Good points, and your post about not being prepared for what happens to you reminded me of a story, which I posted on my blog today…

    http://www.mokurendojo.com/2009/11/karate-vs-kung-fu.html

    Keep up the great work, Wim!

    P

  8. Good points, and your post about not being prepared for what happens to you reminded me of a story, which I posted on my blog today…

    http://www.mokurendojo.com/2009/11/karate-vs-kung-fu.html

    Keep up the great work, Wim!

    P

  9. Great Blog,
    There was a time when it was important that your martial art worked in fight situation but now days all the skills in the world wont stop a bullet. For me I have been learning Tai chi for 19 years and have found it useful in a fight but more useful in my life to me on a internal level.
    It keeps me fit and healthy and is a reason to get up early each morning.
    The video gives me the creeps and also think that this kind of stuff is just negative to both the students involved.

    • Thanks Carolynn. I agree but only in part though. Not all confrontations will involve bullets. If you’re lucky, you can avoid those all together. But there will always be people willing to take a swing at you. So I think the fighting skills are still very valid today. Of course, staying fit and in good health for a long life is the absolute victory over all those who wish us harm. :-)

  10. Great Blog,
    There was a time when it was important that your martial art worked in fight situation but now days all the skills in the world wont stop a bullet. For me I have been learning Tai chi for 19 years and have found it useful in a fight but more useful in my life to me on a internal level.
    It keeps me fit and healthy and is a reason to get up early each morning.
    The video gives me the creeps and also think that this kind of stuff is just negative to both the students involved.

    • Thanks Carolynn. I agree but only in part though. Not all confrontations will involve bullets. If you’re lucky, you can avoid those all together. But there will always be people willing to take a swing at you. So I think the fighting skills are still very valid today. Of course, staying fit and in good health for a long life is the absolute victory over all those who wish us harm. :-)

  11. Some very good points you make here. Firstly, you are correct when you say that it is NOT the style that makes a fighter good or bad but that person. Unfortunatly, a lot of people dont get this, and sadly never will. Just becuase a style has not been marketed through combat sports or that a person who trains a particular style has been beat does not mean that the style has no merits. It is nearly always the PERSON that makes a good fighter, not the style.

    Also, veritilaty, cross training, keeping an open mind etc. These are all phrases that compliment every martial artist and can do nothing but GOOD for there fighting. It is not uncommen for an expert fighter to train in another style and get dominated. It is best to train with as many styles as possible, as all knowledge gained will be useful. Having said that, I do feel that it is wise to stick to one style only for a few years to grasp the basic principles of movment, body useage etc, if you are just starting out. This would also help you pick up other styles easier later on.

    Great Article!!

    • Thanks Mark. And I agree that it’s best to stick with an art for a few years before going to another. Ten years is nothing in one style. That’s usually the point where you realize just how much you still have left to learn.

  12. Some very good points you make here. Firstly, you are correct when you say that it is NOT the style that makes a fighter good or bad but that person. Unfortunatly, a lot of people dont get this, and sadly never will. Just becuase a style has not been marketed through combat sports or that a person who trains a particular style has been beat does not mean that the style has no merits. It is nearly always the PERSON that makes a good fighter, not the style.

    Also, veritilaty, cross training, keeping an open mind etc. These are all phrases that compliment every martial artist and can do nothing but GOOD for there fighting. It is not uncommen for an expert fighter to train in another style and get dominated. It is best to train with as many styles as possible, as all knowledge gained will be useful. Having said that, I do feel that it is wise to stick to one style only for a few years to grasp the basic principles of movment, body useage etc, if you are just starting out. This would also help you pick up other styles easier later on.

    Great Article!!

    • Thanks Mark. And I agree that it’s best to stick with an art for a few years before going to another. Ten years is nothing in one style. That’s usually the point where you realize just how much you still have left to learn.

  13. I’m sure this video is the answer..kungfu is so much better than karate :o
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5MDhPVrhvo

  14. I’m sure this video is the answer..kungfu is so much better than karate :o
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5MDhPVrhvo

  15. Wim I do agree, there are times when bullets are not evolved. In this case fighting arts do come into there own. Back to the point at hand styles fighting other style, Which is better karate or Kung Fu? the problem is this anyone who truly is a master in ether art would not step in a ring to prove which is better as this in it’s self would prove there art inferior in spirit, what do you think. As for a plug heres my new site http://www.tao-of-tai-chi.com Wim I would love for you to write me and article how about it.

    • Carolynn: I understand what you mean about masters not entering the ring but can only agree up to a point. It’ll probably depend on what your definition of “master” is so we might be talking about different things. That said, some of the most famous tai chi masters of the past were fighters to the bone. They took on all comers and didn’t shy away from challenges, public or otherwise.
      Also, stepping into the ring doesn’t necessarily need to be about proving the superiority of a style. Some people just like to fight and mastery of their style doesn’t change that. I know of several such teachers, who are at the top of their style, well past their middle years and still love to fight. They have an immensely strong warrior spirit that doesn’t lessen with age. Other masters seem to be the opposite: you hardly see them do anything and they only act decisively when backed into the proverbial corner. I wouldn’t say the one has a better or worse spirit than the other.

      I’ll see for the article. Depends on what topic you’d like me to write.

  16. Wim I do agree, there are times when bullets are not evolved. In this case fighting arts do come into there own. Back to the point at hand styles fighting other style, Which is better karate or Kung Fu? the problem is this anyone who truly is a master in ether art would not step in a ring to prove which is better as this in it’s self would prove there art inferior in spirit, what do you think. As for a plug heres my new site http://www.tao-of-tai-chi.com Wim I would love for you to write me and article how about it.

    • Carolynn: I understand what you mean about masters not entering the ring but can only agree up to a point. It’ll probably depend on what your definition of “master” is so we might be talking about different things. That said, some of the most famous tai chi masters of the past were fighters to the bone. They took on all comers and didn’t shy away from challenges, public or otherwise.
      Also, stepping into the ring doesn’t necessarily need to be about proving the superiority of a style. Some people just like to fight and mastery of their style doesn’t change that. I know of several such teachers, who are at the top of their style, well past their middle years and still love to fight. They have an immensely strong warrior spirit that doesn’t lessen with age. Other masters seem to be the opposite: you hardly see them do anything and they only act decisively when backed into the proverbial corner. I wouldn’t say the one has a better or worse spirit than the other.

      I’ll see for the article. Depends on what topic you’d like me to write.

  17. Wim I’d say your right again after thinking about it but for me I loved to fight and enter comps all the time for the first 12 years or so but since then I find that the art to me is in avoiding all that. Let me give an example where this applies. Say you learn your art to deafened your self and for your health so you spend the first few years fighting and getting hurt and damaging your body with bent fingures and torn muscles so that you wont get attacked in a fight and get hurt by your attacker. GO Figure. :-). I would like you to write about your journey and lessons you have learned with Tai Chi.

    • I’ll see if I can whip somethign together Carolynn. No idea when as things are crazy right now. But I’ll get back to you on it.

  18. Wim I’d say your right again after thinking about it but for me I loved to fight and enter comps all the time for the first 12 years or so but since then I find that the art to me is in avoiding all that. Let me give an example where this applies. Say you learn your art to deafened your self and for your health so you spend the first few years fighting and getting hurt and damaging your body with bent fingures and torn muscles so that you wont get attacked in a fight and get hurt by your attacker. GO Figure. :-). I would like you to write about your journey and lessons you have learned with Tai Chi.

    • I’ll see if I can whip somethign together Carolynn. No idea when as things are crazy right now. But I’ll get back to you on it.

  19. To me it was obvious that the gungfu stylests where not good fighters infact they looked like beginners despite the red sash on one ?. And the karateka was a very good black belt . And trying to use upright monkey techniques was not only showing a lack of skill, power & speed . But unfortunately he showed what gungfu should be in a really bad light . So again it’s not the style but the man.
    I had a very similar thing happin to me early in my training.
    I had only been training Jook lum S.P.M. mixed with some Jeet kune do for about five months .And had never fought anyone but my fellow students and sifu. My sifu took about six of his students ,Or should i say human punching bags .To chinatown in N.Y. to experiance fighting with other styles . And he put me against a very big powerful shotokan brown belt . Of course i had never seen this style intill that day and was very young 17, and scared . No gloves ,no padding and full contact .This was around 1977. Things where different then .HARDCORE.

    • Things sure changed Phil. If you do even a fraction of what was normal twenty years ago, you go to jail.
      That said, there are some serious potential injuries when you spar that way. I didn’t mind as much when I was younger. But nowadays, when something breaks, it takes longer to heal and can cause even more long term damage. Also, I don’t need to have my nose broke once again to know what it feels like. I still remember well enough from the previous times… :-)

    • Actually, I would’ve said that the first two guys were some sort of Drunken style, not Monkey (yes, I know they’re related). No idea what the third guy was — but he didn’t protect his centerline very well.

      I agree that they didn’t seem to be very advanced: second year, maybe?

      A bit of a “straw man”, to put up novice kung fu guys against experienced karate guys, and then to declare that one **style** was better than the other. For that matter: there’s so many Karate styles — and even more CMA styles — so you can’t really draw a blanket “better than” conclusion. (Which has better food: Europe or Asia? Well, depends on which **country**…)

      –GG

  20. To me it was obvious that the gungfu stylests where not good fighters infact they looked like beginners despite the red sash on one ?. And the karateka was a very good black belt . And trying to use upright monkey techniques was not only showing a lack of skill, power & speed . But unfortunately he showed what gungfu should be in a really bad light . So again it’s not the style but the man.
    I had a very similar thing happin to me early in my training.
    I had only been training Jook lum S.P.M. mixed with some Jeet kune do for about five months .And had never fought anyone but my fellow students and sifu. My sifu took about six of his students ,Or should i say human punching bags .To chinatown in N.Y. to experiance fighting with other styles . And he put me against a very big powerful shotokan brown belt . Of course i had never seen this style intill that day and was very young 17, and scared . No gloves ,no padding and full contact .This was around 1977. Things where different then .HARDCORE.

    • Things sure changed Phil. If you do even a fraction of what was normal twenty years ago, you go to jail.
      That said, there are some serious potential injuries when you spar that way. I didn’t mind as much when I was younger. But nowadays, when something breaks, it takes longer to heal and can cause even more long term damage. Also, I don’t need to have my nose broke once again to know what it feels like. I still remember well enough from the previous times… :-)