Cung Le, Kung Fu, and MMA

Cung Le is a California-based MMA fighter. The significance of his victory over Frank Shamrock is that he is not an MMA fighter. His background is primarily in San Shou, which a full contact sport frequently done by fighters trained in kung fu styles. In fact, San Shou appears very much like the more popular Muay Thai and is sometimes called San Da. There are some very talented San Shou fighters and I refer interested readers to the fights of Max Chen for some entertaining examples.

Watching Cung Le fight is a different experience. He looks completely different from the more well-known fighters of the UFC, Pride, or K-1. Some of this is related to his use of slam takedowns that he developed while wrestling in high school. But Cung Le is more than that. His kicks are amazing. He is imaginative. He is creative. Watching Cung Le is like watching a dancer. He uses kicks that no one else can make work. Compare this video of Cung Le highlights with this from Croatian policeman and Pride high-powered kicker Micro Crocop. Crocop is dynamite. He has more power than a steaming locomotive. The problem is that while his kicking is one-dimensional, Cung Le brings a whole different dimension of kicking into the ring.

But then Cung Le has never fought anyone remotely of the caliber of the opponents that Mirco Crocop faces regularly. Sure Cung Le is only 175 pounds compared with Crocop’s 230. But there’s plenty of welterweight power in MMA just waiting to be tested. The fight with Frank Shamrock in which Shamrock’s arm got broken was hardly a real test of what’s out there; in fact, it was kind of boring. But this weightclass is packed full of power just waiting to get released, including some of the sport’s best fighters ever – Matt Huges, BJ Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Karo Parisyan, and Shinya Aoki, not to mention the newest MMA sensation Anderson Silva.

My honest opinion is that the Cung Le’s style and flair come from the fact that his opponents are so outclassed he can do pretty much anything he wants. Cung Le fights in events promoted by EliteXC, which lists some very interesting up and coming fighters. But EliteXC is a new fight league and while starting off very well, does not have the same record for promoting top events as the UFC.

Cung Le inspires a whole different approach to fighting. Up until now, MMA has been dominated by training in boxing, muay thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and to a certain degree judo – all are contact combat sports. It is extremely unusual to see techniques that come out of anywhere else. Even Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo, which used to be regular starting points for full contact fighters, have faded into the background. While occasionally very imaginative fighters like Genki Sudo can be seen using techniques that appear more like those of traditional martial art styles, in fact, he has a very conventional MMA background.

But you’d never know this reading the kung fu forums on the Internet. Practitioners continue to post that the most powerful techniques and most effective training come out of styles that claim their origins long, long ago often in mythical battles that involve Buddhist clergy, animals and a source of power in theories of qi. And Cung Le comes from this tradition, or at least much more so than any of the current stars of MMA ring and Octagon.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Cung Le is great. I enjoy watching him compete and I truly hope he makes something new for the sport. I just doubt he can. Sure there will be new techniques that appear in MMA, and some of them will appear to be like the more traditional techniques of kung fu. But there will almost certainly never be a fighter to emerge among the big boys of the sport who came up any other way than through the school of hard knocks in contact combat sports. They just can’t. MMA fighters train the way they do because that’s the best way to train. If there was a better way to train and win, they would be there already.

For an interesting perspective on the Shamrock/Le fight, have a look at this link.


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