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Tai Chi MMA Fight: Some Afterthoughts

In my last post on Tai Chi MMA, I discussed my opinions on the fight between MMA guy Xu Xiao Dong and Tai Chi guy Wei Lei. The video has gained a huge amount of attention on Chinese social media, with people asking the question “what is the value of traditional martial arts”. In fact, Chinese state news even covered the story, where they interviewed a senior member of the Chinese Martial Arts Association as well as a professor of martial studies from Beijing.

The overall gist was that pride has been hurt and face lost, all kinds of excuses are coming out. But the issue of what is the appropriate image for kung fu to be portraying in the modern world? Is it just about health and socialising as some have stated? Is it about reconnecting to cultural roots? I want to discuss my ideas in a more detailed way, particularly as my last article was just a spur of the moment thing.

In this video, I talk about how sparring is the the biggest thing in martial arts training that helped me overcome obstacles in my own life. I believe strongly that the greatest part of all martial arts training is self improvement. But self improvement and combat are not antithetical (if you haven’t read Bruce Lee’s works, then you should!). The relationship between combat and self development has been discussed as far back as the ancient Greeks, and has been written about in many Chinese and Japanese military texts. (Hagakure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai for example)

If we are to develop ourselves fully as human beings, how can we fullfill our potential if we have never pushed ourselves to the edge of our comfort zone? The issue here I believe is that as modern day people we get too comfortable in our own lives, we dont “eat bitter” as the Chinese say. Once we become too content we dont push ourselves and egos grow. My teacher grew up in the Cultural Revolution, he trained his Praying Mantis Kung Fu in secret, while the country was falling apart around him. Moving on to the 80s, things stabilised, but people were still poor, and violence was very common. He grew up fighting, as did many males of his generation. There is a marked difference between martial artists of his generation and the younger ones.

My own answer to the question of the value of traditional martial arts is as follows. Most of us don’t live in a world of violence and turmoil. We don’t need to learn deadly techniques, weapon skills etc. But that doesn’t mean martial arts don’ have any value. As I said above, combat is one of the best methods of personal development, it is the only thing that pushes you beyond the edge of your comfort zones. Self defense is something we also need, and the confidence to know that should an altercation occur, we can handle ourselves easily. Sparring and other forms of combat training are a crucial part of martial arts, and challenges, done without ego or spite, are a good way to make friends. Visiting another school and exchanging skills in a mutually agreed environment is good fun, and allows for exchanges of skills to take place. The problem is that most Kung Fu people don’t spar, have never even been on the receiving end of a punch, and yet make big claims. I would like to see more Kung Fu people train for UFC and other competitive formats. Of course adaptations need to be made, but that doesn’t mean “not being true to your art”. It is doing the art a service. It also doesn’t mean getting rid of any traditions, it just means that people with the inclination to compete, can follow a certain road. This is not for everyone though.

Kung Fu has developed a bad reputation, mostly to frauds creating all kinds of scams, and as a good friend of mine says “good businessmen aren’t necessarily good martial artists, and vice versa”. The history of Kung Fu has also been askewed with myths and legends, and a lot of people struggle to seperate that from reality. A good book which clears up a lot of this is The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts.

So as a final thought, I think Xu Xiao Dong is doing a service to Kung Fu, and I don’t agree with figures like Jet Li, Cheng Zheng Lei and the Chinese Martial Arts Association shunning him. Regardless of what I think of him as a person, he is shaking things up, and I would love to see a good Kung Fu person step up and kick his ass. If this doesn’t get shut down by the Chinese government, then it’s only a matter of time.

7 thoughts on “Tai Chi MMA Fight: Some Afterthoughts

  1. […] (I’ve since written a more in depth article on my thoughts about the situation here) […]

  2. I totally agree with you that the generations before us produced some really great martial artists. We also need to understand that because of the cultural revolution and all the things going on before and after that, some really high-level teachers simply stopped teaching or only taught a few people (or left the country).

    In some schools of the Chinese martial arts there are open-door teachings that are given to everyone, closed-door teachings that are given to disciples, and the secret teachings that are given to those that have proven themselves to have good character as well as a high level of skill who will be the one’s the lineage is passed down to (obviously it depends on the school but I’m mostly referring to the internal arts taught by Bruce Frantzis or Jerry Alan Johnson…as an example). People need to keep this in mind because when they see a fight on youtube or t.v. they could just be seeing someone who calls himself a “master” who only has the open-door teachings and a lower level of ability… so when some people go on youtube comments and say “all traditional martial arts suck or their way of training is outdated” lol a person who says that doesn’t really know what they are talking about. also it should be noted that they did a lot more sparring back then as well as get in a lot of fights. this idea that traditional arts only do forms and no sparring is a modern way of training. the real old school tradition, they did everything because not winning a fight could be the end. and they also in the past they fought with different rules. the threat of death brings in a whole different dimension to the martial arts and fighting that many don’t really understand now.

    1. Yes, a lot has changed. At the turn of the 20th century there was also a lot of influence from Judo and Boxing, which were beginning to take root due to the colonial presense of Japan and the West.

      As for secret teachings, I don’t believe in it. Its usually the ones spouting the whole “secret knowledge” thing who get their ass kicked…. Ive seen it happen first hand. The teachers who can fight are usually pretty open about it in my experience.

  3. I don’t know who this asshole is, but he has not trained real taichi. See Adam Mizner at heaven, man, earth Taiji.

    1. I don’t know who this asshole is, but he has not trained real taichi. See Adam Mizner at heaven, man, earth Taiji. I played with taichi for years doing other arts, but there are very few people that have the real thing. You’ll know it when you cross arms with them.

  4. I could not agree more with your conclusions in this article. It is good for Chinese martial arts. We need someone to shake things up. Unfortunately I’ve heard recently that Xu Xiaodong has announced his retirement from MMA.

    I live and train in Beijing (originally from the USA) and when this happened I got asked about it quite a lot. I think face-saving culture(I’m sure you have become as well acquainted with it as I have, Will) has a lot to do with the ridiculous excuses and shunning that many figures spewed out since this fight went live.

    1. thanks.

      yes…. i think face is at the core of it, although the irony is, in their desperation to keep face, they have lost it

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