Though Wing Chun was popular with legends like Bruce Lee and Ip Man, recent years have seen people be quick to criticise the art. We caught up with Tasmanian mixed martial artist Ethan Duniam, who fancies himself a Wing Chun practitioner, to get his perspective on the Southern Chinese style of Kung Fu. Ethan also spoke about MMA in Tasmania and how he went from training Wing Chun to competing in MMA professionally. We also got into how applicable he thinks Wing Chun is to MMA in the current era and the painful process of cutting weight that is required to remain competitive in MMA.

Like most who get involved with martial arts from a young age, Ethan faced some adversity at school. This led him down the path of the Wing Chun which in turn introduced him to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This training eventually saw Ethan compete in the first ever MMA card in Tasmania and has helped him build a strong professional record. More recently, Ethan picked up a unanimous decision victory at Diamondback Fighting Championships 5 and is now scheduled for a title shot in August this year at Diamondback FC 6.

Ethan Duniam

Image: Facebook

Ethan: I don’t remember a whole lot from school, but I was getting picked on and I changed schools a fair bit. So my mum wanted me to do something that would help give me some confidence – Wing Chun. About five years later, they added Jiu Jitsu as well, so I started doing Jiu Jitsu. I was there until late last year and then a few of us went off, we’re doing our own thing now (360 Martial Arts and Fitness).
The Neversphere: What pushed you from training Wing Chun and Jiu Jitsu to competing in MMA?
Ethan: I never really thought about it at a young age. I always wanted to hit certain markers, as far as martial arts gradings go. I think I was at my Auntie’s and they knew I did martial arts, so they put this old VHS tape on. It was an early UFC tape. I just remember watching it and thinking, ‘this looks really cool, I want to do that one day’. But It didn’t really seem possible at the time.

One day I got a message from my coach asking if I wanted an MMA fight in 12 weeks. At that stage, there were no promotions down in Tassie [Tasmania]. I said, ‘sure, why not? Let’s do it’. Craig Gresham came down had a charity event in Hobart, that was the first ever Tassie MMA show.
The Neversphere: You were on the first ever MMA card in Tassie? That’s a solid claim.
Ethan: I think I was 17 at the time. I’ve had a few breaks here and there, it’s been a fairly consistent thing throughout my life.
The Neversphere: Looking at the 360 Martial Arts and Fitness socials, it seems as though you guys have all aspects of MMA covered. Can you tell me a bit about the gym, your coaches and training partners?
Ethan: The head coach is Tracey Aldridge. She’s done martial arts for as many years as I’ve been alive. She’s a Wing Chu red belt under Rick Spain and she has a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu. It’s her business, she runs it and coordinates it day to day. 360 is affiliated with Maromba under Thiago Stefanutti. There’s a few of us who help Tracey out. They’re great coaches, and that’s part of the reason I’m so determined to hang around in Ulverstone and see my career out here.

Then there’s Rhiannon Thompson, she’s a professional fighter as well. She recently won the first Brace women’s title. And there are a few other people who help out with classes as well. I’m actually quite lucky, Adam Cook – another lightweight from Tasmania – he’s a really good training partner. He’s been down here doing some work as well, which is great. I also go to nearby Maromba affiliate in Launceston on a regular basis to train with Brad Lowe.

Ethan Duniam 360 martial arts and fitness team

Image: Facebook

The Neversphere: People love to rip on Kung Fu, particularly Wing Chun. In your opinion, what’s the applicability of Wing Chun to MMA?
Ethan: I don’t know if it’s the same with all martial arts but the Wing Chun we do, the Wing Chun I grew up learning, was not the same Wing Chun you see in movies. The leader of the organisation I train under, Rick Spain, he had a long, fairly successful kickboxing career. I think he has 38 or 39 professional wins, something like that. Wing Chun started as the coming together of all these different Kung Fu disciplines, to create a more effective system. So, following that theme of bringing the best stuff together, he [Spain] brought in kickboxing, some Muay Thai style techniques.

Everything I do, I classify as Wing Chun, because it’s always been a part of it for me. The more traditional stuff definitely has its limits, for me. Some of the footwork and stances – I’m sure it works for them, I just haven’t practised it for ten years. I can’t do that.
The Neversphere: As you said earlier, you’ve been competing in MMA since you were 17. Have you noticed a change in people’s attitude when you tell them what you do?
Ethan: There definitely has been a change. [Laughs] Tasmania’s generally can be pretty slow to change…We catch up a little while after the mainland. That’s the way it generally goes. People are starting to have an understanding of what it is as well, I used to always get people saying, ‘oh, you’re a boxer?’ I’m not a boxer, I’d get torn apart in a ring with a professional, I reckon. It’s catching up though. I guess with the popularity of the star UFC fighters making their names. There’s less of the assumption that all fighters are thugs who just want to smash someone’s face in. Which…I’ve never really seen any evidence of people being like that.

It’s a time thing too. People still take issue with boxing and boxing has been around for hundreds of years. Some people will always look for something to complain about.
The Neversphere: Very true. Over that same time period, I’m sure you’ve become well acquainted with weight cutting. I know organisations in Australia and abroad have new regulations regarding weight cuts. In the US, the ABC (American Boxing Commission) and the CSAC (California State Athletic Commission) are trying to bring in 4 new weight classes. What are your thoughts?
Ethan: I’ve seen those new weight classes. That’s a good idea. I think one of them suits me, I think I could walk straight into that weight as well [laughs].

Ethan Duniam weighing in

Image: Facebook

The Neversphere: Would that be 165?
Ethan: Yeah, I’d be able to walk straight into that one. Adding new weight classes might make people cut weight less. Everyone is cutting weight. I guess the fact remains, weight is an advantage. That’s why people do it. So, it is a massive risk to say that you’re not going to cut weight anymore, then come in against guys who are 8 to 10 kilos heavier than you on fight day. That’s a bit of a risk for your health.

I like how they do it with boxing, just a couple of pounds between each division. I saw a comment the other day, someone commenting on the Jeff Horn fight. He had to drop 4 kilos in 24 hours. They were like, ‘ah this is crazy, he’ll be wrecked’ [laughs].
The Neversphere: Still, I get the doubt. From the outside, that’s a crazy amount of weight to lose in such a short period – to most people.
Ethan: I really, really don’t like cutting. I don’t mind the training sessions where everything sucks, I can get through that. It’s just the cutting, why do we have to do this to try to get an advantage? I don’t cut a lot of weight myself, I try to get as close to the weight as I can. I haven’t found too much of a difference between a small and a medium cut on the day of the fight. If I come in a little bit lighter, sometimes I move a bit better, so I tend to get it off early and keep it off.
The Neversphere: Sounds like the intelligent way to go about it, safer too.
Ethan: I spoke to an expert in that area. He said for my weight, 3.5 kilograms is safe. I’d be pushing it to go more. But there’s also been new information about the body needing 48 hours to rehydrate.
The Neversphere: Especially the brain, from what I hear, which is the biggest concern.
Ethan: I try to stick to that, I try to aim for just a couple of kilos. It’s just putting your body through too much. I like the idea of regulations. One Championship do it but they’re actually able to test every athlete. I’m not expecting a small organisation to test people every week, that’s ridiculous. But if you’re going to say that there’s no dehydrating or water cutting, then you need to test every fighter. It’s a great idea, it might just need some effort to make it work.
The Neversphere: It’s surely a step in the right direction. If we were to play hypotheticals and you’re the president of MMA, what would you do about the issue?
Ethan: I like a couple of ideas. I like the idea of fighting at your walk around weight, I also like the idea of more divisions too. You know, it could be every 10 pounds instead of it being every 15, especially in the lighter weights. I also don’t mind the idea of how amateur boxing does it with same day weigh-ins, and if you want to let them cut a little bit, you check their weight as they walk out to the cage and not let them be over a certain weight. There’s a lot of ways to do it.
The Neversphere: Clearly a topic you’ve put quite a bit of thought into, and I don’t blame you!
Ethan: There’s plenty of time to think sitting in a hot bath, sore and miserable [laughs].