Is drunken boxing effective?

The drunken boxing fighting style has been around for centuries and has been popularised in numerous kung fu movies.  However, is drunken boxing an effective fighting style?

What is the drunken boxing fighting style?

Drunken boxing is not a seperate martial art but rather a series of forms or movements within particular styles of Chinese Kung Fu.

Drunken boxing incorporates swaying, bobbing and weaving movements that imitate an inebriated individual. It is highly deceptive in nature, using feints, concealed strikes from unusual angles, and sudden changes in direction.



The fighting style was popularised in Jackie Chan’s film “Drunken Master”.  The elderly Master is a notorious drunkard but he uses his irregular, swaying movements to his advantage when he is attacked.

In this article, I’ll look at whether this style is effective in real life.


Is drunken boxing a real style?

It would be wrong to think of drunken boxing as a distinct style in itself,  such as Shotokan Karate. Instead, it’s a collection of techniques within certain styles of kung fu. 

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to pinpoint the origin of these techniques and trace their development over the centuries.  There’s very little documentation available and it seems likely that certain techniques developed independently from each other.

The 18th century  kung fu manual, called Quan Jing or “Boxing Classic”, describes Shaolin monks fighting in a style of eight drunken immortals.

There are a number of theories as to how these techniques found their way to the Shaolin temple.

The first puts the introduction during the period of the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD) when 13 Shaolin monks assisted Li Shimin (the future emperor) in a war against rebel forces.  Their impact was apparently so great that they were granted land and wealth. As part of the victory celebration, the temple was sent meat and wine, which were forbidden under Buddhist teachings.  However, as the gifts were from the emperor, the monks were allowed to consume them. Since this time, some of the monks have continued to consume wine.

In my opinion, this account doesn’t really ring true.  Even if they had been granted a gift of meat and wine, it still doesn’t explain how the drunken boxing style developed.

According to another theory, the style was introduced to the Shaolin temple during the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) when a well-known martial arts expert, Liu Qizan, killed someone and sought shelter in the Shaolin temple both to seek spiritual forgiveness and also avoid being prosecuted.  Whilst in the temple, Liu Qizan continued to drink and after one particularly heavy session fought with and defeated 30 of the monks. The head monk, or Abbott, saw this and was so impressed that he decided to incorporate elements of Liu Qizan’s drunken fighting style into the Temple’s syllabus.

The reality is that we’ll never know where these techniques originated from but it’s clear they’ve been around for a long time.


Is Drunken Boxing Effective?

The unpredictable movements involved on drunken boxing makes it a difficult style to counter.  Because of this it’s been adopted by a number of modern day fighters. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Emanuel  Augustus.

Emanuel Augustus (born January 2, 1975), was a professional American boxer who competed from the 1990s to 2011. 

Here’s a video of the man in action:

He had an elusive style, bobbing and weaving in an unpredictable fashion and sporadically breaking out in what can only be described as dance moves.  He had a broken rhythm to his movements and it was this that made him so hard to hit.

Bizarre as his fighting style sounds, it was brutally effective.

In 2004, he won the IBA light welterweight title.  In 2006, he became the WBC Continental Americas light welterweight champion, and in 2008 he won the WBO Oriental welterweight title in Australia.  

Out of his 38 victories, he won 20 by knockout.

Floyd Mayweather maintained for years that Augustus was his toughest opponent and called his talent “unbelievable.”

This style also has another benefit in that you can appear weaker than you actually are.  Appearing disorientated and stumbling around can make you seem weakened and vulnerable. This may even play on your opponents sympathies making them less likely to attack with their full force and fool them into dropping their guard.  This leaves them open to counter attack.

This is exactly what happened in the fight between Derrick Lewis vs Alexander Volkov.



Lewis was being seriously out punched by Volkov and it was at this point that he seemed to go into retreat, feigning an eye injury and constantly moving away from his opponent.  

This went on for some time until suddenly Lewis sprang into a surprise counter attack with devastating consequences:  Volkov was knocked out. .

Lewis was simply following the wise words of Chinese Commander, Sun Tzu.

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak”.  Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Here’s an example of the drunken boxing style being used in a Muay Thai fight.


The fighter that has adopted this style can be seen staggering around the ring, often collapsing in an apparent state of complete inebriation.  However, he effectively uses his unpredictable swaying movements to avoid a large number of strikes.  

His slow, stumbling gait acts a perfect disguise when he does decide to counter attack.  His kick to his opponents liver comes complete out of the blue and from this point onwards the fight is practically over.




Drunken boxing is an effective fighting style: the unpredictable swaying movements makes the individual a difficult target; the style can make the fighter appear weakened and vulnerable which can play on the opponent’s sympathathies, and it heavily disguises any rapid counter attacks.


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