It’s a big world out there and for every bearded, backyard YouTube fighter; I’ll wager there are a hundred Chinese Shaolin priests tucked away in spartan mountain temples doing one-finger pushups. And who knows how many sinewy monks who've mastered fear and pain dwell in other places like Korea, Laos, and Burma (now called Myanmar).
I can just visualize forty or fifty of these human machines in orange and maroon robes, chanting sacred prayers while shin-kicking granite pillars in perfect unison for seven or eight hours. Imagine the discipline and moral conviction required to survive that sort of lifestyle?
Back in 2003, while touring cities in Eastern China, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a real Shaolin temple to witness a martial arts demonstration performed before a small crowd consisting of mostly journalists. The Shaolin priests didn’t look so tough—a few looked a bit fleshy, if you ask me. (Then again, so does Fedor Emelianenko).
The monks politely declined my overanxious ex-girlfriend’s request to take their picture. Apparently, photographing a monk really screws up their karma or afterlife or something.
As expected, these martial artists put on dazzling array of choreographed, gymnastic-like performances—with and without weapons. Rounding out the event were several compelling sparring matches. These guys were skilled and fast, real fast.
So, how about that? Maybe those old “Kung Fu” episodes deserved a sliver of merit after all. Only, Kwi Chang Caine was in the Wild West defending himself against drunken bullies who didn’t know anything about anything (although he did have to mix it up here and there with skilled martial artists). But of course, that’s just the movies.
I wonder what it would take to coax one of those deadly masters in sheep’s clothing to throw down with a quality MMA guy, preferably one of Dana White’s UFC minions. Money probably won’t do it. Monks don’t drive Lexus’s or pay landscapers. And it’s unlikely that the mere honor of fighting would work. No real monk is supposed to have pride, right? They’re much too humble (in theory). Maybe nothing can convince them to come here to at least spar a little with some of the MMA gang.
Last week, while randomly surfing MMA fights on YouTube, I stumbled upon a short, worn out film. Perhaps some of you out there have also seen this. It featured a bare knuckle sparring match held sometime in the 1950’s in a boxing ring at an undisclosed location.
The principals were a Karate/Kick-Boxing fighter in a gi vs. (they claim) a real Shaolin priest. The monk wore some sort of thin animal-skin outfit and animal-skin boots. The film showed only the opening fifty-five or so seconds. I guess the rest of it was destroyed.
Right from the start the Karate guy advanced quickly and unleashed lightning-fast kicks and punches like a real pro. The monk, while gliding back in retreat, calmly blocked every single strike. The monk looked faster than anyone I’d ever seen, and he moved with fluidity and confidence.
The monk did launch some very sharp spinning heel kicks and axe kicks, all of which barely missed. By time the film cut off it seemed that neither fighter landed a solid blow. Nevertheless, the monk made his point. He was very light on his feet and he could counter-strike.
YouTube and other video websites also show real fights between non-MMA martial artists and MMA fighters—most of them taking place in a gym or Do-Jo. In nearly every match, the MMA fighter easily prevails. It seems the karate experts forgot that most street fights end up on the ground—those flashy spinning hook kicks look great but they rarely work against guys who really know the ground game.
The reality is that for the most part, pro boxers, kick-boxers, and Karate experts have failed in MMA, mostly because it’s hard to showcase Kung Fu or Kempo skills while tied up in a knot on the mat and eating head strikes.
But what about accomplished martial artists turned movie celebrities, such as the late Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Steven Segal? How would they have hypothetically fared in the octagon?
Sure, it’s fun to imagine your favorite boyhood TV warriors beating up on the best MMA fighters, but let’s face it: those guys would be hard-pressed to hang with even mid-tier MMA fighters unless they first learned and trained in all facets of MMA over an extensive time period.
So, that leads us back to the Shaolin priests. Make no mistake: These guys are not overpaid athletes or pampered movie stars living the American dream. And although they don't train for battle, they’re poor and tough and extremely spiritually disciplined, with centuries of strict tradition behind them.
Unlike say, Military commandos (who are no slouches either), the Shaolin order recruit boys as young as eight or nine-years-old. That affords them a huge head start over Special Forces personnel. And according to the documentaries I saw, a Shaolin's training regiment is nothing short of brutal, not to mention lengthy: as in decades.
Let’s say a real Buddhist monk with tremendous fighting skills but no knowledge of MMA, did agree to step into the octagon to take on an MMA champion. Of course, deciding whether or not to alter or even abandon some MMA rules and regulations ought to be considered.
For instance: Should the monk be forced to don MMA gear, gloves and all—and have to comply with the States Athletic Commissions numerous rules and regulations, including where and when they can strike and grip?
Under those conditions, I have a hard time believing a Shaolin priest could defeat any legitimate MMA fighter. But would the outcome be any different if the monks were allowed to wear—well, whatever it is they wear? Probably yes. The fight might last a few seconds longer.
By logic, the more MMA rules that are eliminated, the better chance a Shaolin priest has. Still, he would be fighting an uphill battle, partly due to the unfamiliar confines of the octagon or ring.
So, how can the playing field become level? What if the MMA fighter didn’t have the home cage advantage? For instance, suppose a behaviorally controversial fighter like Nick Diaz swaggered into a Beijing Shaolin temple with his posse and loudly proclaimed, “Hey, you ******* chumps! You think you can fight? Come here! I'll beat your *** right ******* now!”
Somehow, I think the Shaolin order would respond pretty quickly—by presenting some diminutive monk (like the one pictured above) for an impromptu match. And given that scenario, I get the feeling the outcome would probably not favor Nick Diaz.
I guess in the end, there's just too many variables to sort out before an estimate could be made on a likely outcome between a non-MMA martial artist and a top grade MMA fighter.
But one thing is for sure: you won't find an octagon cage or a boxing ring in a real Shaolin temple. Instead, the entire grounds is one big training and fighting surface.