Gongfu may be one of the oldest styles of combat, but we don't see it practised too widely in the modern world of mixed martial arts (MMA).
More than just fancy flying kicks, the 5,000-year-old martial art comes with a wealth of attacks and conditioning techniques that can help any mixed martial artist improve vastly.
It would take a book to list all of the reasons mixed martial artists should study gongfu, so for brevity's sake, this article will only list three:
1) It teaches powerful kicking
Gongfu is a treasure trove of devastating kicks.
From the spinning back kick to the side kick, gongfu practioners can throw their legs in ways that can easily knock an opponent down.
Evidence of the effective kicking in gongfu can be witnessed in the match between multiple gongfu champion Liu Xiao Yang and Singapore's Nicholas Lee at ONE: VALOR OF CHAMPIONS.
Just 10 seconds into the first round, Yang dropped Lee with a textbook gongfu sidekick.
Though it did not end the match immediately, it stopped Lee from coming at Yang, sending a quick message to the Singaporean that he had better think twice about going on the offensive against such a powerful kicker.
ONE Championship lightweight Peter Davis has also showcased his gongfu feet.
At ONE: DESTINY OF WARRIORS, the wuji chuan (無極拳) practioner shattered the jaw of his opponent Kim Hock Quek from Singapore with a spinning back kick.
Davis has not only credited his wuji chuan with the kick itself, but for helping him "flow."
In an interview with MMA Mania, the Malaysian said, "My style of fighting is wuji chuan, but what that really means is 'like water,' so you can do whatever you want as long as you make it flow."
2) It teaches proper breathing
Breathing is an important but sadly overlooked part of any sport, including MMA.
According to Khadi Madama, the author of 'MMA Yoga on The Mat', "…If you're out of breath and your muscles are starving for oxygen, that strike isn't going to be as vital as it could be."
Gongfu has no shortage of breathing techniques to help mixed martial artists.
One of these techniques is known as "law hon gong" (Cantonese for "The Monk's Strength").
According to Sifu John Funk of the Praying Mantis Kung Fu Academy in Vancouver, "In the Law Hon Gong exercises the completion of the breath inward continues until the lungs cannot take any additional air. The exhalation follows a mirror opposite of the intake breath; the tongue and teeth are kept in the same position and the breath is exhaled out of the nose."
The law hon gong has two benefits:
First, it gives the gongfu practioner more energy and stamina by exercising the lungs to their capacity and detoxifying the body of bad air.
Second, it helps reduce injury as the breath is not exhaled through the mouth to protect the practitioner from potential injury.
For example, if a person were to be hit on the jaw during a confrontation and they had their mouth open for breathing then there would be a possibility of serious injury.
Keeping the mouth closed during combat is a safer method of breath control activity.
3) It toughens up the body
Mixed martial artists need to be able to withstand a barrage of strikes.
From punches to kicks, from knees to elbows, if an opponent can throw it, a mixed martial artist has to be prepared to take it.
Conditioning is therefore of the utmost importance to any athlete who dares set foot in the cage.
Shaolin monks use a variety of techniques and tools to condition their bodies.
Besides using popular techniques of hitting bags and wooden beams, they hit with bamboo and steel brushes to get their blood circulation flowing and to toughen up their muscles.
While some may question some of their conditioning methods, there can be little question that at least some of Shaolin gongfu's conditioning exercises help its athletes withstand heavy hits.
Just watch the Shaolin monk, Yi Long, react to being kicked in the leg at 1:12 in the video below:
Not only does he not even budge, but he shrugs his shoulders as if to say, "Is that the best you can do?"
He has a similar reaction at 1:32 in the video below:
Gongfu has certainly been misjudged by some in MMA.
Far from being outdated, the ancient Chinese martial art offers the MMA world an arsenal of effective attacks and a conditioning system that can make a fighter almost invincible.
As more and more Chinese mixed martial artists enter the ranks of large MMA promotions like ONE Championship, it may only be a matter of time before one of China's oldest and proudest traditions becomes a staple of the MMA world.