In the now infamous video posted to Weibo this month millions of viewers saw what looks like a strange match between a Taiji master and a MMA fighter. One man, dressed in all white flowing silk, could have been on the movie poster for any Chinese Kung Fu film from the 70’s. The other man is all modern athletic wear and bulging muscles—he looks like he could have stepped right out of a men’s fitness magazine.
They are surrounded by hooting onlookers and as they start to go at it the fight quickly dissolves into an all-out demonstration of dominance by the MMA fighter and total stunned submission by the man who is the apparent picture of a Taiji master.
The fight was the outcome of an ongoing online trash-talking melee between Xu Xiaodong, 38, who owns two MMA gyms in Beijing and Wei Lei, 41, a man who describes himself as a “master” of Yang Style Taiji. The basic premise of vitriol? Xu claimed that “Traditional Kung Fu is just for show and Tai Chi [sic] is fake.”
After the video rocked the martial arts world in China and beyond, many media sources and figures did some digging. According to Chinese media sources, this Taiji “master” may not exactly fit the bill that many in the field would’ve originally thought.
Apparently Wei Lei is a massage therapist that trained in Taiji for an undetermined amount of time. Both his Taiji teacher and other students who knew him said that he never earned the title of “master” in Taiji.
According to a comprehensive article on the topic at Taiwannews.com, this stunt has brought all kinds of bonafide masters and highly respected practitioners out of the woodwork. They reported that,
“The Chinese Wushu Association, represented by 2008 Beijing Olympics Sanda gold medalist Qin Lizi (秦力子), and more than 10 other prominent Chinese martial artists released a 3,000 word statement on Wednesday saying that Xu’s comments and actions are only serving to promote himself and the match between him and Wei violated martial arts ethics and potentially the law.”
As far as Xu’s motivations for instigating the fight, there has been a lot of push-back from netizens numbering in the millions and from many respected figures both in the martial arts world and beyond. The fact of the matter is, that even if Xu’s criticism of Kung Fu or Taiji were warranted, it is clear that a single fight with a casual practitioner of Taiji would not be the evidence that Xu would need to prove his point.
Perhaps if there is any solid takeaway from this match, it is that the world of competitive fighting is facing a kind of crossover phenomenon where martial artists from many different backgrounds will be looking to come out on top of the dog-pile of different fighting styles (such as the much-hyped possible match-up of McGregor and Mayweather). But some would argue that we shouldn’t mistake this kind of showmanship for enduring prestige.
Just like many writers in the West consider Shakespeare’s work great not just because of the brilliance of his rhyme, but also because it has stood up to the greatest test of any human endeavor— time.
Through the rise and fall of civilizations and nations, there have been many challengers to Traditional Chinese Martial Arts, but the fact that it’s still such an important part of millions of practitioners lives speaks for itself.
Furthermore, a side of this story that has not received a lot of attention is the fact that there are practitioners of Taiji that dominate in the MMA world. One of these innovative fighters, Nick Osipczak even wrote about the fascinating crossover experience for us here.
What this shows is that although the discussion about this unequally matched fight between Xu and Lei has been highly polarized and sensationalized, there is a legitimate question that all martial arts practitioners and enthusiasts should consider asking themselves: What does the future of martial arts look like?
What do you think? Will Traditional Chinese Martial Arts meet its end in the MMA era? Will we see more new hybrid matches? Will Traditional Chinese Martial Arts stand the test of time?