Grappling, Ground Fighting and Chinese Martial Arts

Posted by on Sep 30, 2007 in Austin, General, Tai Chi | 13 Comments

Throughout martial arts circles, you’ll often see and hear debates about grappling and ground fighting. In one recent example, a Wing Chun proponent talked about some grappling moves in Wing Chun (WC).

A Brazilian Ju Jitsu (BJJ) person immediately went on and said that’s not grappling. Grappling has sweeps and counters and holds, etc. that clearly were not part of what was what the WC person was talking about. He went on and on about how there is no grappling in WC.

In my opinion, it’s all in the definition or semantics. To me, the BJJ person’s definition sounded more like “ground fighting” than “grappling”. It sounded like he was describing BJJ. It sounded like the BJJ person was saying, if it’s not BJJ, it’s not grappling.

Perhaps one needs to look at the word grapple, and it’s definition (from to seize another, or each other, in a firm grip, as in wrestling; clinch.

By this definition, grapple, or grappling, stands aside a bit from ground fighting. Does Wing Chun have movements where one “seizes another in a firm grip”? Sure. Is Wing Chun ground fighting? Heck no. Are there throws and grappling in Ba Gua, Tai Chi and most Chinese martial arts? Absolutely.

However, if one wanted to focus on grappling and ground fighting in Chinese martial arts, I think someone would need to study Chin Na (locks) and Shuai Chaio (wrestling) to get close to Judo, JJ or BJJ. Interestingly, Robert Smith in his book “Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods” wasn’t very impressed with how Shuai Chaio people on Taiwan stood up against his Judo. He said the art had stopped evolving where Judo hadn’t.

I found an interesting post in a forum by a guy who has studied both of the Chinese arts above and has tried them against some BJJ guys with only limited success. Again, we have no way of knowing if this guy is any good or if the BJJ guys he’s going against are any good, but it’s an interesting perspective on the topic and he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about:

Yeah, I do shuai chiao. Its basically wrestling. I also do chin na, which is pretty much kung fu submissions…leg locks, wrist locks, kneebars, armbars, chokes, etc. Sorta like judo or sambo but without the wrestling (which is why you need the shuai chiao background as a supplement!). Most kung fu schools only do standing wrist locks for chin na, though.

I can usually beat bjj blue belts about 50% of the time on a good day, but I have a lot of trouble with bjj purple belts. Been grappling in kung fu for about a year, but have been doing chin na and kung fu without the shuai chiao wrestling for about 7 years.

The chin na and chinese wrestling combination works well in the street. Probably not more effective than judo or bjj or whatever in mma competition, but it does work in the street. Comparitively, its pretty unorthodox, almost Sakuraba-esque, so it is possible to catch intermediate level grapplers with some subs, but I definately get my ass handed to me almost every time I roll with bjj brown belts.

Also, not all kung fu schools grapple. In fact, most don’t. Kung fu grapplers are at a disadvantage right off the bat. A lot of schools already teach a metric ****ton of material anyway. Add on weapons, all the damn chinese names and translations and different pronunciations and spellings, internal sytems, chi gong, etc. to the classic stand up kung fu in addition to TWO styles to learn to grapple effectively, it can get a little hectic to keep up with, especially when you’re trying to concentrate on your san da/san shou skills too.

You gotta understand that the shaolin temples weren’t teaching just thier own stuff. In fact, a great deal of the material taught there was from elsewhere. Thier whole philosophy was if it works, we’ll use it. So you wind up with hundreds of styles being practiced there and picked apart and analyzed and refined, some kinda suck, others kick a lot of ass.
But yeah, there’s grappling in kung fu.

The thread goes on a bit if your interested in reading it:

There you have my two cents on the difference between grappling, ground fighting and the Chinese martial arts that focus on these elements.

Ciao amici,



  1. Evan
    December 21, 2009

    The complete grappling art includes standing grappling in addition to groundwork. In the early Judo days, before it became a sport, Judo was probably the most complete grappling art. With experts in both newaza and tachiwaza. These days it’s rare to find an expert in both. In general, the best standing grapplers are Judoka while the best ground grapplers are BJJ guys. Remember BJJ, Sambo, sport Judo, all derive from the original Kano Judo. So even in the Japanese arts one has to cross train to be a complete grappler.
    As for the Chinese arts, that’s true, it takes both Shuai chiao and Chin Na, there is another, shaolin desui.
    As for the wing chun grappling, the proper term is standing grappling.

    • David
      August 20, 2010

      Interesting distinction, thanks! Standing grappling vs. ground grappling. Thanks for the info. I’ll have to check out shaolin desui.

  2. WC
    December 29, 2009

    I know this is a very hard thing to answer but hear it goes: Im a beginning martial artist and I don’t like the wing chun doing first I want to ask you inhabe been there for about six months is it ok to quit and what is a well rounded Chinese martial art that I could join instead

  3. David
    December 30, 2009

    Hi WC, what do you want to get from your martial art that you’re not getting from Wing Chun? Hsing-Yi first comes to mind, but my opinion may change depending on your response. Hsing-Yi is like a combination between Wing Chun and Tai Chi. It’s linear like Wing Chun, but involves a lot more movement and applies the internal concepts of rooting, fa jin, etc. Of the three most common Chinese internals, Ba Gua, Tai Chi and Hsing-Yi, it is the most accessible. Also, a lot depends on your location and the teachers near you. Regardless of the style, if it’s not a good teacher, then it may not suit. If you tell me what you want to get that you’re not getting from Wing Chun, then I can perhaps offer more advice.

  4. George
    May 3, 2010

    I’m a firm believer that it is more the martial artist than the martial art. I have been practicing wing chun for years and have found it very gratifying. I have also developed alot of respect for other styles as well. It comes down to what suits you. I have written a little about this on my site and discuss different aspects of wing chun – many of these are universally applied to martial arts.
    Grappling has always interested me (fan also of bjj) hae given me plenty of food for thought. thanks


    • David
      August 20, 2010

      Hey George, couldn’t agree more and thanks. I’m reading a book by Miyamoto Musashi who makes similar points about the artist, and one of my favorite quotes comes from the Hsing Yi manual: “The power of a punch is controlled by the depth of the will behind that punch.” Happy we got you thinking and thanks for reading. Looking forward to checking out your site.

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    June 7, 2010

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  6. kung fu training
    June 7, 2010

    From what i understand you need quite an element of fitness for bjj. Flexibility and stamina,, probably higher than most. Although i can see its value. Depending on the kung fu style you learn i agree its all about the practitioner and implementation. Which all comes down to training training and more training

    • David
      August 20, 2010

      Exactly. Read a lot of books, study from a lot of teachers, and practice, practice, practice.

    • Joan
      January 11, 2016

      Your answer was just what I nedeed. It’s made my day!

  7. Paul
    December 2, 2012

    My friend…there’s now way that Wing Chun doesn’t have ground grappling. Karate had ground grappling and standing grappling. Muay Boran has ground grappling. Why? Because you might end up on the ground! As always there’s one problem…finding an instructor that knows all the art…not only part of it! Good luck with that!

    In this world there are fighting styles, grappling arts and martial arts. A martial art is well rounded. You know what a grappling art is. A fighting style can be focused of kicking or striking or…you get the idea.

    You need an instructor that knows all that well rounded fighting style.

    BJJ is popular in the US so it might be a good idea to learn it so you’ll know what counters there are and what moves there are! Find an instructor that knows Wing Chun’s ground fighting if you can (might give you some new moves to surprise those who you fight).

    @David Martial arts weren’t meant to be popular. The more people know the martial art the harder it is to use the techniques.

  8. hachimitsu
    November 15, 2013

    i have been taught basic ground fighting in my hung gar. it has the usual basic ground fighting techniques that are taught in judo, submission grappling, ju jitsu etc.

  9. X
    June 13, 2015

    The CMA equivalent to BJJ is dog boxing or Gou Quan/Dishu Quan. This style predominantly focuses on ground fighting, you can find many examples of it on the web


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