This article is one little piece of an ongoing effort by MixedMartialArts.com to understand what really works in martial arts. The focus is not on what happens in the arena, but rather what happens on the street, or in this case, in the gym. If you enjoyed it, check out more stories on:
1. Martial Arts on The Street
2. Dojo Storms
3. Style vs. Style
Fervent Wing Chun expert Shawn Obasi once showed up at an open tryout for M-1 Global. Obasi's stated goal was to prove to the world that Wing Chun is a dominant style.
One member of the team making the selections was Oleg Savitsky, an MMA vet, multi-time medalist at the world combat sambo championships who twice faced Fedor, and badass. Another panel member was Apy Echteld, a co-founder of M-1 Global, and a longtime trainer in Holland.
As is typical of a tryout, Obasi was asked to demonstrate his striking skills on Thai pads. The result, as you can see below, was wanting. The M-1 staffers were not impressed and "The Wing Chun Kid" did not make it to the next stage of the selection process.
Obasi complained, loudly and bitterly.
"I've been a martial artist for many lifetimes," he yelled. "Many lifetimes! Not just 27 years!"
The M-1 reps were entirely unmoved.
"You don't like the way we select, fine, it's a free country, tell us f*** off and it's done," said Savitsky. "But don't f*** shout."
Watch what happened here:
Obasi eventually had a regulated amateur MMA bout, and lost. Then he turned pro and had a fight vs. Chris "The Big Buck" Birchler, at the great Ring of Combat on September 9, 2001. Check out the Wing Chun man's pro debut below:
Birchler went on to have a solid MMA career, going 7-4, capped with an appearance in 2018 on Dana White's Contender Series, which he unfortunately did not win. Obasi never fought again.
At first glance, this has the appearance of a man twisted into utter incompetence, by blind allegiance to one of the demonstrably less effective martial arts. However, there is more to the story.
Prior to entering regulated MMA events, Obasi had a number of fights in Peter Storm's Underground Combat League, a fighting club that held unregulated bouts across New York City, at locations that were announced just hours beforehand. Obasi used Wing Chun technique to some degree, and made it work.
Obasi also learned jiu-jitsu from Fabio Clemente and Babs Olusanmokun (you may know the 3rd-degree BJJ black belt as Jamis from Dune). Obasi eventually created his own approach he calls Obasi Wing-Jitsu, a hybrid of the two styles.
And he is not blind to the shortcomings of his foundational style.
"I think the methods of Wing Chun training and sparring are fine, if they only look to fight other Wing Chun practitioners, or styles of Kung Fu," he told an interviewer. "However, in reality, the issue of takedown defense needs to be focused on in more detail, so that the style won’t become obsolete."
Obasi was asked to respond to Joe Rogan's repeated comments that the traditional Chinese martial arts collectively referred to as Kung Fu have no apparent effectiveness in a self-defense or combat sports scenario.
"I somewhat agree with him," said Obasi. "Until someone proves him wrong, [Wing Chun] will be forever looked down upon by the more dominant striking styles of MMA such as Boxing and Muay Thai.
So Shawn Obasi trained hard, tested himself over and again, and made a lot of changes in his approach as a result. That's very cool.
The purpose of mixed martial arts is not to prove which style is best (and which worst), but rather, to identify what parts of any given martial art might prove useful. And Shawn Obasi seems to have found things in Wing Chun that work for him.