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,