"WING CHUN & MMA COMPETITION
FROM SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN THERE & DONE THAT"
BY SCOTT BAKER
In the Summer Issue of the Wing Chun Teahouse, I read an article
which I found interesting albeit misguided in some of its assertions and conclusions.
The article addressed several issues that confront the modern Wing Chun practitioner.
The most pressing of these issues being how Wing Chun has faired and would
against the modern MMA competition fighters? It became apparent that the author
had strong opinions about this, as do many of us in the Wing Chun family.
Unfortunately many of those opinions are misinformed, having never been forged within the fires of the international competitive experience.
I keep a rather low profile as a member of the Wing Chun community.
However, once in a while someone will contact me out of the blue and ask me
about what I practice and teach. Some even ask me about my competition days,
specifically when I was invited to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship
II. One such example was the note emailed to my web site a few months ago;
I think it asks for much of what those in the Wing Chun world are seeking when
it comes to
understanding how Wing Chun would hold up against MMA competitors? As stated in last issue’s article:
“Who in the traditional martial arts community is ready to take on Matt Hughes? Or Tito Ortiz? Or Randy Couture,or any of those guys? Sorry, but if I had to bet, my money’s going on the MMA guy. While I do not personally attempt training for the ring, they have allowed their system to modernize and have adopted training methods that work for what they do.”
The author of the article puts his money on the “other guy,” not the Wing Chun artist. He also clearly indicates he has a lack of experience in MMA full contact fighting. On the other hand I do not lack that experience, and my opinion differs significantly on this matter. So let’s set the record straight regarding Wing Chun and MMA competitions!
Wing Chun is NOT a sport martial art. It is NOT designed to work in the competition sport arena. It is a combat art designed for real self-defense situations. There are obviously some commonalities between sport fighting and real self-defense fighting, but there are also some significant differences. It is those differences that many seem to overlook, or trivialize to their detrement. It is through understanding these differences that we in the Wing Chun community can come to grips with how Wing Chun has and will fair against top MMA competition fighters like Hughes, Ortiz, or Couture.
The three key differences between MMA competition fighting and real self-defense fighting are; 1) the mental game of sport fighting, 2) the level of physical conditioning required, and 3) the politics of sport fighting. To elucidate the first two of these differences, allow me to share my response to the email inquiry below regarding my experience in the UFC:
To: Scott Baker
Having read Scott Baker’s book, I’m wondering if he is the
same Scott Baker who competed in the second UFC using Wing Chun? If so,
I’m just wondering if he had any comments on the
match and theories on why it ended in a loss. I practice Wing Chun often
and am a bit off-put as to why it has a very poor effect in MMA events
perhaps because of nothroat-strike rules? If you could take the time
to reply it would be very much appreciated.
|To: Scott Baker
Yes, I’m the same Scott Baker who competed in the UFC II. As far as comments on the match, that would depend on what you want to know? It was a great experience. However, I would do several things differently. But then hindsight is 20/20.
I don’t have any theories on why I lost the match, I know why I lost, it was quite simple really. I had been training with an old master who was very experience in full contact no rules combat, his name was David Nuuhiwa (uncle David), who sadly died a few months ago. He was going to run my corner during the fight, however the day before the match he was called away to Hawaii and was not able to attend, that left his student to run the corner and he had no experience in competition fighting, especially none in working with a fighter to fine tune the mental edge needed to compete.
Hence I went in the ring very relaxed (too relaxed really) and with no
aggressive mentality. My kickboxing days were very successful because my
coach was very good at getting me into the necessary half pissed off, mean
intentioned, ass kicking frame of mind before each fight, hence I KOed
most of my opponents
in the first round. My natural disposition is very different to this, so
I needed to work into a nasty frame of mind before competing. That is exactly
what I needed in the UFC, and would have received if Uncle David would
have been there, but instead my corner guys focused on getting me relaxed
and calm, which was the opposite frame of mind to what I
During the fight I felt like I was sparring with a friend, I passed over
many opportunities to strike him because I didn't want to injure him, just
wanted to have him submit. During the match I remember thinking that this
was not the right way to think, but I couldn't shake the feeling and was
focused on submitting him without injuring him; I didn't fight my fight.
Also my corner wanted me to wear the gi top with Uncle David's logo on
it for the first fight so everyone would see I was training with him, that
was a mistake as the damn thing got so hot under the TV lights, it filled
up with sweat, and felt like a lead coat. I should not have agreed to fight
in the gi top. But my corner thought it would throw Gracie off a bit given
he was my next fight as he would think I was grappler and would relax.
That is also why I grappled my first fight, to deceive Gracie into thinking
I would play a ground game with him, when in reality I was not going to
go or stay on the ground at all with Gracie. Hence, I spend the whole fight
on the ground with my first opponent to set up the strategy for the second
Sport or competition fighting, even NHB, is very different to street fighting,
this is something people will never understand or appreciate unless they
have been there and done it. Wing Chun is probably the best real street
fighting art there is. It is not a sport
When I competed in the UFC there really were NO RULES. They warned us
against biting and eye gouging, saying they would fine anyone for doing
it, but they would not stop them. Now UFC is full of all sorts of rules.
So the Competition itself did not matter to me, I was ready, I had a great
corner set up, but it fell through, the consequence is history. I was asked
to return by the promoters several times but did not have the led time
to do the physical conditioning I knew was required to be able to compete,
so I declined the offers. Jason my opponent told me after the fight that
he saw me training somehow and knew he could not match my stand up skills,
so he wanted to take it to the ground, unbeknownst to me he had been training
with the Gracie's for
So here we see that both the mental sport fighting component and the physical conditioning component are essential to competing at the international MMA level. Having reliable and skilled trainers for your corner is absolutely essential, and all the good competitors have this. Having access and the time and commitment to build the right type of physical conditioning is also essential. When I was training, I could not find a single sparing partner who would let me go full contact with them. So I compromised and would insist they go full out on me, and I would hold back and go ½ power with them, many would not even agree to that. It is very hard to get to the correct conditioning state without real hard-core training, but I felt I had done what was necessary to be ready in this way. Wing Chun does have all the tool and skills to deal with the skills shown throughout the UFC, Pride etc. I have seen nothing in any of those matches that I did not think Wing Chun could handle. The physical size and strength of some of the competitors gives them a significant edge, and that in itself would be a challenge, but not insurmountable. There are some physically big and strong Wing Chun people around also. Grappling and groundwork has been around longer than Wing Chun. Wing Chun has skills in it to overcome that style of fighting, we do not need to add counter grappling; we just need to unlock what’s there. But the real key to competing in MMA with Wing Chun is to train with experienced competition level trainers (most likely not your Wing Chun sifu!), gain some experience with the mental and political game through some full contact matches that are lower profile, and find some quality sparing partners for conditioning; partners that throw anything and everything at you, from any number of fighting styles, and then commit yourself to compete.
A good Wing Chun fighter is NOT the same thing as a successful competition fighter. They share some common skills; however, they also have some very different requirements. Wing Chun’s success throughout history has NOT been manifest in the modern notion of Martial Arts competitions. Wing Chun forged it’s reputation in the area of street fighting, spontaneous challenge fights, which are more akin to self defense combat than to the modern MMA competitions of today.
In the same Teahouse issue, Chu Shong Tin gave an interview where he expressed his opinion about some of the difference in Wing Chun practitioners in today’s world. He expressed his observations in the following way:
“some people will close themselves behind the door, and do research work. Then there are the people
out there selling it, pushing it. The people pushing it don’t have to have much ability…”
I have seen this also, and must add that those selling it should not consider
entering MMA competitions, as they do not have the common skills needed for
what it takes to succeed in competition fighting at the international MMA level.
Those who are “researchers closed behind the door” are the
fighters who will do well in MMA competition IF they add to their Wing Chun
skills, the abilities outlined above; a competent corner team with a full understanding
of the mental and political game, and the grueling conditioning training necessary
to compete at a world class level. My experience in UFC II was invaluable,
as was my full contact kickboxing days. I learned much about myself and my
art, and as one who is as Chu Shong Tin states “a researcher“ closed
behind the door, I prefer to keep a low profile. Morihei Usehiba once said: "Failure
is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something." Well I learned
some very hard lessons from my loss in the UFC. Some of which I have shared
Hence, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on Wing Chun and the MMA competition
game of today. Yes I competed, yes I failed, and yes I know exactly why. It
had nothing at all to do with my Wing Chun skill or the arts capabilities,
of that I am
absolutely certain. My suggestion to those who have not walked the walk; do not deride those who have tested themselves in the fires of world class competition, rather learn from us, and understand there is much more required to compete at world class MMA levels than simply being skilled in a quality self defense art like Wing Chun.
Dr. Scott Baker earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Brigham Young University in 1995. Born and raised in New Zealand, he began his training in Wing Chun there in 1972 under the direction of Master Tam Hung Fun. He is now a member of the Yuen Kay San line under Zopa Gyatso. Si-Fu Baker resides in New Zealand.
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