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Tai Chi vs. MMA
14May9 Comments
Tai Chi vs. MMA
Zhou Xuan Yun May 14, 2017 9 Comments

Tai Chi vs. MMA

Earlier this month, a video went viral on the Chinese internet and sent waves through the martial arts community.  The video showed a match between 38 year old MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong (徐晓冬) and 41 year old, tai chi master Lei Wei (雷魏).  The fight was over almost before it began.  Within seconds, with the tai chi master was pummeled to the ground.



The fight streamed live, and overnight Xu’s social media account exploded.  He brought in money doing Q&A sessions and streaming interviews.  In video rants filled with profanity, he declared traditional martial arts teachers liars and thieves, calling out many by name, including Chen Zhenglei, Chen Xiaowang, and Chinese kickboxer Yi Long.  


However, things quickly went downhill for Xu.  While many netizens agreed with him, others felt it was all a publicity stunt.  Xu’s words were unpopular in part because of the current sociopolitical climate in China.  Over the last hundred years, China has faced exploitation and humiliation at the hands of Western nations, civil war, Communist revolution, and self-imposed isolation.  China re-emerged onto the world scene in the 1980s.  Fueled by the destruction of our natural resources, China has ridden the wave of globalization and technological advancement to reach to a standard of living previously impossible.  With full bellies and comfortable lives, many have begun the soul-searching process of discovering what is means to be Chinese.  Part of this growing nationalism is a renewed interest in traditional art forms.  


Many called Xu a traitor for attacking a traditional Chinese style.  Some even suggested he was working for a foreign country to cause unrest.  One Chinese multi-millionaire offered a 10 million RMB ($1.45m) prize to anyone who could use tai chi to defeat Xu.  A video that surfaced online showed him being harassed on the street.  When the police came, even they taunted him, saying he should be able to protect himself.  Xu soon appeared crying, saying he had lost sponsorship, and that his businesses had been forced to close.  As I write this, his social media accounts have been blocked, and he has gone into hiding.


It took Xu only 10 seconds to destroy a tai chi master, and only 10 days to destroy his own life.


Whether you agree with Xu’s actions or not, both sides of the argument can agree on one thing: many people do not understand tai chi.  


Tai chi is misrepresented far too often.  Some people think that tai chi masters should be able to use their Qi energy to fight.  This is why you see bogus demonstrations where a teacher knocks over a dozen students without even touching them.  In kung fu movies, the older the master is, the better the fighter.  This is also not true in real life.  While one’s technique and understanding may deepen over time, strength and agility naturally decline with age.  For many years, unscrupulous teachers have perpetuated misconceptions in order to attract students, encouraging derision from the wider martial arts world.  


As I see it, martial arts began with violence.  Throughout history, in times of chaos and war, people have needed to protect themselves and their loved ones.  Those with skill and experience taught others.  Set training drills and forms were used as teaching tools.  But over time, warfare evolved beyond just hand to hand combat.  As the need for sparring and applications shrank, the role of forms grew.  In modern times, many martial arts students have technique (having learned through forms) but do not have experience fighting.  MMA is an exception, as its #1 goal is to train good fighters.


Fighting requires speed, force, and knowing how to take a hit.  Sure, tai chi contains techniques that can be used in a fight.  But, there is no way around it…the only way to learn how to fight is by fighting.  Practicing tai chi forms alone will not teach students to fight.


So, if we do not practice tai chi in order to fight, why do we practice tai chi?  


Tai Chi is more than a martial art, it is the synthesis of the best parts of Chinese culture.  It is what happens when martial arts meet qigong and Chinese philosophy head on.  Tai chi develops strength, balance, coordination, focus, and stillness of heart and mind.  Understanding the principles of yin and yang will benefit all aspects of your life, from business to interpersonal relationships.  Tai chi is a life art, and is an art you can practice for a lifetime.  Tai Chi and MMA have a very different focus.   When we practice tai chi, we are fighting weakness, uncertainty, instability, insecurity, and stress.  


What can help us advance our art is not to compare it another art with a different focus.  The goal of each style is different, and each is attaining its goals.  It is more valuable to understand the nature of your art, and seek the wisdom found there.



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Replies (9)

Me May 14, 2017 at 11:30 am

That’s sage advice.

I always figured doing the forms was for total conditioning but would use another approach for front end delivery. Baji Quan comes to mind in this regard.

Peter May 14, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Thanks for posting! Tai chi is amazing 🙂

Sean Lantis May 14, 2017 at 10:08 pm

Beautifully illustrated. As an instructor of both Taijiquan and Northern Mantis Kung Fu I have asked this question many time. I intend to plagiarize the snot out of this article to answer it in the future. Thank you! Absolutely going to share this. Twice…

David May 15, 2017 at 2:12 am

As society progresses, so do all it’s parallels. Martial Arts parallel the evolution of human beings. It is not surprising to me this fight went this way. Why it is a surprise to the tai chi master is a mystery to me. Though, he may not have the same access to media that I do and therefor may not have seen the overwhelming evidence that supports the superiority of cross trained martial arts in MMA. Even pure Brazilian Jiu Jitsu without throwing a punch would defeat this martial art now. Even Jiu-Jitsu is undergoing a new era of leg locks and so forth. These arts are wonderful for balance, functional movement, meditation, and supplemental martial forms, but no longer have singular viability in combat.

Michael May 15, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Very well said. I have rarely heard this kind of honesty from a martial arts practitioner, and it’s true: If you want to learn how to fight, you must practice fighting; taolu alone won’t do it. And I appreciate also your saying that while Tajiquan (and Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, Bajiquan, etc., etc.) began as a fighting art, it has today become so much more, encompassing culture, philosophy, and art.

Mark May 15, 2017 at 1:59 pm

It’s perfectly fine to study taichi for the purposes of health and spiritual growth. The problem starts when taichi masters start claiming that they will teach for self defense, or falsely advertise themselves as a combat focused art.

You see this all the time on youtube, where a taichi “master” sell send his students flying away with a flick of a finger. Or take down a six attackers who politely stand still whenever he puts an arm on them, and then just as politely fall down when he pushes them over.

The taichi community needs to do a better job of policing themselves and exposing frauds in their own community as a whole.

Paul Fraser May 17, 2017 at 10:09 am

Thank You, Master Zhou, once again! I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. It seems to me that the term “art” in mixed martial arts is misplaced. I think “mixed fighting style” is more appropriate. To call it an art, it seems to me that a strong moral code, the pursuit of virtue and a willingness to be of service to others should be a part of it. Of course, my understanding is superficial. I also agree that the true combat aspects have been lost, which makes what you offer even more valuable.

Aiken May 17, 2017 at 9:13 pm

Greetings Sifu, I am pleased that you responded to the content of that video and as usual your analysis is right and exact. However I am sure that the outcome would have been much different with a practitioner that was more versed in application………….

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