You may know of drunken boxing from certain Jackie Chan movies, from watching famous fighters like Emmanuel Augustus, or from playing video games like Tekken 7. You may not know that drunken boxing is aldo called Zui Quan. Perhaps you have wondered whether this style of fighting is real or not. Do you have to get drunk in order to practice drunken boxing?
So, is drunken boxing a real thing? Well, the short answer is yes, but not literally! You do not get drunk in order to do drunken boxing. In fact, drunken boxing is one of many traditional fighting styles which originated in China. Fighters combine unpredictable, swaying movements, impersonating a drunk person in a effective fight style.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at the origins of drunken boxing, the most prominent fight styles, how it has been covered in media form, some famous fighters who practice drunken boxing, the status of drunken boxing today, and the pros and cons of practising this fight style.
What Is Drunken Boxing?
Drunken boxing, also known as Zui Quan, is not a martial art in itself, it is a fight style. Fighters stagger, sway, falter, and waddle much like someone who is intoxicated. They turn this into an effective fighting style, cathcing their opponent off-guard with the unpredictability of their moves.
Sudden changes of direction, or changes of pace aim to confuse opponents. It requires fighters to have great agility and a high level of balance, coordination and acrobatic skills. It is generally agreed that drunken boxing is derived from Kung Fu.
Zui Quan is a blend of different moves from various martial arts, or sometimes a set of moves within one martial art. For example, Choi Li Fut incorporates a drunken boxing set. Often these drunken sets are well-guarded secrets only taught to those who serisouly practice the martial art.
Origins Of Drunken Boxing
Although it is not confirmed, drunken boxing may have originated from Buddhist and Dao religions. Today the Buddhist and Dao styles of drunken boxing are perhaps the best known. The first written reference about Zui Quan was in an incredibly old book called Water Margin (English translation) which was written around the mid 14th century but based around the year 1120 AD. Wu Song, a rebel during the Song Dynasty was a master of Zui Quan according to the book.
Other sources claim drunken boxing was only properly developed in the 18th century, when it was widely practiced, in China by So Chan. He was a fighter from a famous group called the Ten Tigers of Canton or Guangdong. So Chan’s technique was particularly fluid and unpredictable. It is believed that this style came from Shaolin Kung fu.
According to Quan Jing, a manuscript detailing Kung fu, drunken boxing may have derived from Ditangquan – a particularly old martial art originating in China. Apparently monks practiced this style of fighting.
The origins of Zui Quan are controversial and uncertain, but it has gathered interest for many years due to its legendary status and intriguing style.
Drunken Boxing: Buddhist Style
One theory is that the Buddhist style of Zui Quan came from the Shaolin temple around the beginning of the 7th Century (Tang Dynasty) and was practiced by monks. These monks helped to protect the emperor and were permitted to drink wine
Other theories suggest this style begain in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) by Liu Qizan who was a famous martial artist. He joined a Shaolin temple to try and redeem himself after killing someone but kept on drinking wine. This resulted in him fighting the monks who were not happy about his drinking habits in the temple. However, he was highly skilled and praised for this, so the practice was adopted by the monks over several generations.
Although the origins are not wholly known, Buddhist style drunken boxing (Shaolin Zui Quan) can vary greatly. There are some bare-handed forms, and other weapon forms. See here for a demonstration of this style.
Drunken Boxing: Daoist Style
The Daoist Zui Quan style is sometimes called Boxing of the Eight Drunkards. This is because the style imitates the Drunken Eight Immortals – legendary immortal characters from Chinese mythology. It is believed these revered immortals were around during either the Tang or Song dynasty.
These characters are used within Zui Quan as martial archetypes – each one has a unique strategy or technique which are applied to 8 different forms of Daoist Zui Quan. Although the drunken sword is the main weapon applied in Boxing of the Eight Drunkards, there are other weapon forms too including the use of a staff.
You can see some techniques and moves associated with the Eight Drunkards here.
Drunken Boxing In Media
Many people may be familiar with drunken boxing due to references in media. Films, series and video games have depicted this style of fighting mainly due to its intrigue. There are a few stand-out examples of drunken boxing in media.
Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master
The most famous example of Zui Quan in media is probably the Jackie Chan movies Drunken Master and Drunken Master II, released in 1978 and 1994 respectively. Jackie Chan plays an unruly young man, Wong Fei-Hung, who is sent to train with a master of drunken boxing (or drunken martial arts).
These movies may be partially to blame for the misconception that drunken boxing is performed only when drunk, as there are some scenes in which Jackie Chan is intoxicated before fighting! However, the form of fighting is shown in incredible style in these movies, and some would call the original a “perfect Kung fu movie”.
Drunken boxing features surprisingly often in fight games on many different online and offline platforms. The most famous examples which feature drunken boxing are Mortal Kombat 11 and Tekken 7.
Mortal Kombat 11 features a character Bo’ Rai Cho who uses Drunken Fist as his primary fight style. There is even a legend built around him being the creator of drunken boxing.
A few characters in Tekken 7 employ Zui Quan as a fight style, including Lei Wulong, Mokujin, and Tetsujin.
Other notable characters that use drunken boxing in popular fight video games include:
- Chin Gentsai, King of Fighters series
- Shun Di, Virtua Fighter series
- Brad Wong, Dead or Alive series
It is often associated with rogue or rebellious characters in games. The association with video games keeps the fighting style alive in the minds of new generations. This is especially important nowadays as very few people actually practice Zui Quan today.
Drunken Boxing Today
Although wide-spread and popular in China in the 18th century, drunken boxing has declined in popularity and a very small number of people practice it actively today.
There are a couple of notable famous martial artists who used Zui Quan moves:
A famous and very successful MMA middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya (“The Last Stylebender”) has been known to use moves with great similarity to drunken boxing. He is known to be a fan of Zui Quan and has been seen to mimick Rock Lee – a drunken anime character from the show Naruto.
Also known as “the Drunken Master”, Emanuel Augustus was on of the most famous boxers to use drunken boxing techniques in the ring. He was given this nickname due to his elusive style, missing blows from his opponents and striking blows from unexpected angles.
Floyd Mayweather was complimentary about Emanuel Augustus’s fighting style, and named him one of his toughest opponents during an interview in 2012.
Drunken Boxing: Pros And Cons
If you’re interested in practicing drunken boxing yourself – and who wouldn’t be fascinated by this intriguing, unpredictable artform! – there are a few pros and cons to think about when considering using Zui Quan as a fighting style.
The pros of practicing drunken boxing include:
- Making your fight style more unpredictable
- Dodging blows and striking blows from unexpected angles, catching your opponent by surprise
- Can ruin an opponent’s game plan with elusive moves
- It’s awesome!
And some of the cons include:
- Very few practitioners – makes it hard to learn and master the technique
- Can be harsh on your knees, ligaments and back – a strain on the joints
- Takes a long time to master, not accessible for beginners
- Common misperceptions that is associated with drunkards!
Martial Arts Explained rate the drunken boxing technique as follows:
- Ease of learning: 2/10
- Effectiveness: 9/10
- Physical engagement: 10/10
- Multi-disciplinary completeness: 8/10
- Athletic range of motion: 9/10
So, as you can see, it’s a pretty tough discipline to master! While drunken boxing carries myths, legends, and intrigue, the low number of practitioners and wide variety of styles, sets and moves makes it an elusive fight style.