Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

Is Drunken Boxing A Real Martial Art?

Perhaps you’ve seen this martial art style in movies or anime, where a martial artist begins to move fluidly and unpredictably, similar to how a drunk person would. The popular movie Drunken Master, which stars Jackie Chan, is based around this concept of “Drunken Boxing”.

In the movie, Jackie Chan’s master is notoriously alcoholic, but he uses this attribute to his advantage when he fights. But you may have seen this description of Drunken Boxing somewhere and wondered how feasible it is. So in this post, I am going to address your concerns and answer the question: Is “drunken boxing” a real martial art?

Although it may not be as well known as other martial arts, Drunken Boxing was a real martial art, used most notably by Chinese martial artist So Chan (蘇燦), who practiced it during the 1800s. So Chan was a part of the ‘Ten Tigers of Canton’ a group of martial artists who were credited with being the best fighters in China. So Chan’s fighting style has been credited as being a derivation of Shaolin Kung Fu. However, the concept of “drunk boxing” is still used today, most notably by Pro Boxer Emanuel Augustus.

But yet, there still remains many questions about Drunken Boxing, both as an actual martial art, and as an adaptable style that can be used while fighting. In the rest of the post, I will address other questions related to drunken boxing, such as what it actually is, if it was ever taught, and how its concept has been used in recent times.

What Exactly Is Drunken Boxing?

So as mentioned already before, drunken boxing has been described as a style of fighting in which one imitates the movement of a drunk person in their fluidity and unpredictability.

In this section, I initially wanted to describe techniques used by So Chan, and how his fighting style played with his ‘drunken’ movements. However, there is no formal set of moves or techniques associated with drunken boxing.

Jackie Chan (left) and Yuen Siu-Tien, the latter portraying So Chan a.k.a. Beggar So in the film Drunken Master.
Jackie Chan (left) and Yuen Siu-Tien, the latter portraying So Chan a.k.a. Beggar So in the film Drunken Master.

Despite not knowing the exact techniques or forms used for traditional drunken boxing, there is evidence of martial arts that it is derivative of. For example, there was a Kung Fu manual written in the 1800s called Quan Jing (拳經, English: “Boxing Classic”), which states that Shaolin Monks practiced a form of drunken boxing based on the Eight Immortals of Chinese mythology.

According to the Quan Jing, this form of drunken boxing is based on a martial art known as Ditangquan (地趟拳). Ditangquan is an ancient martial art based on falls, tumbles, and acrobatics used in a way that helps the user offensively and defensively.

At some point, someone got the idea of using these tumbling techniques in a more unpredictable way, including swaying to avoid attacks while remaining upright, creating the drunken style of fighting.

As mentioned earlier, Drunken Boxing is not necessarily a martial art with forms and techniques, and should not be thought of as one. Instead, it should be a way of fighting, being able to incorporate basic techniques taught from an actual martial art into a more fluid style of fighting.

Ditangquan (地趟拳) techniques were often illustrated to show their complex acrobatic maneuvers. 
Ditangquan (地趟拳) techniques were often illustrated to show their complex acrobatic maneuvers.

Because it is not tied to a certain martial art, drunken boxing emphasized the role of ‘Fa Jin’ when fighting. Fa Jin (發勁) is the idea of creating explosive strikes by focusing on the striking point and using energy from the whole body.

This was thought of as the “internal” aspect of fighting in Chinese martial arts, and is very similar to the way a boxer drives power from his legs all the way into his fist. A drunken boxer would use his awkward momentum to drive power into his shots.

Overall, drunken boxing seemed to employ the feigning instability and switches in momentum to create an unpredictable target for the opponent. While the opponent was focused on one’s movements, the drunken boxer could strike unexpectedly, catching their opponent off-guard.

When Was Drunken Boxing Created?

Before we start this section, I must note that there is very little history on Drunken Boxing. However, I will explain as much about Drunken Boxing history that I could find.

First, we know that So Chan was a drunken boxing practitioner, and a part of the Ten Tigers of Canton. One other thing we know is that Chan taught Wong Fei-hung, the son of Wong Kei-ying, who was also one of the Ten Tigers.

Wong Fei-hung is considered one of the most influential martial artists in popularizing the martial art Hung Ga (洪家), which contains one form of drunken boxing. From this, we can assume So Chan was one of the first Drunken Boxers, and that he created the style sometime in the 1800s.

An illustration of a few forms used in Hung Ga (洪家), which has its own style of drunken boxing.
An illustration of a few forms used in Hung Ga (洪家), which has its own style of drunken boxing.

However, it is claimed that the Drunken Boxing style could have first been seen during the Song Dynasty, from 960-1279. The story goes as follows:

Famous martial artist Liu Qizan killed someone accidentally, after which he joined the Shaolin temple for refuge and to repent. However, he refused to stop drinking wine, despite his monastic vows prohibiting him from doing so.

When the monks attempted to expel him while he was drunk, he allegedly beat 30 of them or more in a fight. From this event, the Shaolin monks learned and practiced the Drunken style of Liu Qizan, and the style was refined and passed down over generations.

How Has Drunken Boxing Been Used More Recently?

Although we have not seen anyone use drunken boxing in the traditional sense, the concept of imitating a drunk person during a fight has been used in boxing. Professional Boxer Emanuel Augustus was very well known for his odd and unpredictable fighting style, which very much imitated a drunk person.

Here you can see Emanuel Augustus doing a dance of some sort.
Here you can see Emanuel Augustus doing a dance of some sort.

While fighting, Augustus would often sway, dance, and jump around in very odd ways which were not often seen in boxing bouts. While moving in this way, Augustus was very elusive and able to dodge a majority of the punches that were thrown at him.

Aside from making him more elusive, his style also made him very unpredictable, as his punches would come from weird and unexpected angles.

In MMA, one of the most unorthodox fighters to ever step foot in the cage was Genki Sudo. Sudo was known for his weird tactics and unorthodox movements, sometimes approaching his opponent with his back towards them, and dancing sporadically throughout his fights. The video below gives an accurate summary of his fighting style.

The highlights of Genki Sudo’s unusual and unorthodox fighting style.

In conclusion, drunken boxing is not really a martial art of its own but rather, a style of fighting that can be applied to any basic martial art. As we’ve seen, this concept can be successfully used in real combat, as it has been used by boxer Emanuel Augustus and MMA fighter Genki Sudo.

If you have questions about martial arts in general, feel free to check out the Martial Arts History Page, or if you are thinking about training, the Training Tips page. Thanks for reading!