How traditional Chinese martial arts is reacting to recent online embarrassment
Update (May 12, 2017): A rugby player in a video below has since written a post on Weibo (Chinese) in which he admits that the footage was staged and apologizes for deceiving the public. Though honestly, how many did he really deceive?
Traditional Chinese martial arts (TCMA) has seen a resurgence of interest in the past few weeks, but not for the best of reasons: Chances are you’ve already seen that video of a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Xu Xiaodong, delivering a technical knockout (TKO) to a revered taichi master of the “Thunder style”, Lei Lei. (It is important to note that Lei Lei is the founder of “Thunder style” and is only in his forties.)
If you haven’t—or wish to relive the drama—you can watch it below.
The video has poked the sleeping bear, as the TCMA community—and in particular, practitioners and fans of taichi—have come out in droves to post content that aims to prove their martial competence. Some of them, however, have employed questionable methods in the name of redemption and revenge, which may be bringing more harm than benefit to TCMA.
Taichi is a form of “internal” Chinese martial arts, focused on the cultivation the body’s inner strength and qualities as opposed to speed, explosiveness, and practical fighting application. In particular, taichi stresses the strengthening of qi in addition to the body. The flowing nature of the exercises is suppose to help redirect external force exerted upon the practitioner.
Many of the clips posted online aim to showcase the advantages that taichi practitioners can achieve by displaying comic-levels of pushing force.
In this video, we see taichi master Yan Fang channeling her strength through numerous people and ultimately send her victims flying. However, when the reporter insisted on experiencing this force-channeling himself, the results were…well…not as Yan intended.
As if anticipating the skepticism that would follow, Yan explains that the technique only works on those who have also practiced taichi and that her disciples were nervous, thus unable to facilitate her force. What she fails to explain is why her students were fine before the reporter joined in and why the reporter was able to channel her power despite not being a practitioner.
The TCMA community has remained undeterred by this setback and is particular spurred by the disrespect shown by Xu. After his victory, Xu ignited criticism from the TCMA community as well as general public for unsportsmanlike gloating, and has issued an open challenge to any master willing to fight him.
Billionaire drinks tycoon and taichi enthusiast Chen Sheng offered to put up 10 million RMB as prize money for anyone willing to step into the cage/ring/mat/ancient temple grounds with Xu and teach him a lesson. Others have taken a different approach. The village of Chenjiagou, Henan, which claim to be the birthplace of taichi, stood in support of this traditional art by…standing.
Another taichi master, Wang Zhanhai, took to television to attempt to showcase a more practical use of the martial art—by challenging three university rugby “players” to a game. With the use of suspect editing—footage is reused and presented as new—and questionable rugby skills, the taichi man comes out as the eventual winner and explains just how he used his martial arts to great effectiveness.
The results also encourages the viewer to question either just how large the bribe was or just how much more practice rugby teams in China will need to become comparable to middle schoolers in New Zealand.
Rugby Player 1: He looks quite muscular. Can’t be normal.
Commentator: Li attacks Wang’s legs. Wang evades with a spritely leap. He missed completely!
Commentator: Li grabs Wang’s clothes and drags him down. Is this the opportunity they’ve been waiting for?
Wang: I used taichi techniques such as the “silk spiral,” “flash and move,” and “channel energy” to evade them.
Rugby Player 1: I never thought Wang could be so agile at his age. I’d never seen such moves on the rugby field. I grabbed him numerous times, but he would either hold my shoulder to restrict my strength or push me to redirect my force.
Rugby Player 2: I felt that he would always negate my strength.
These types of videos are unfortunate in light of the recent social media activities of Xu, nicknamed “Mad Dog,” after his victory. Realizing that his publicity is unlikely to last forever, he has taken it upon himself to start a one-man crusade to expose taichi as fraudulent, as well as challenge opponents from other disciplines, such as Olympic champion boxer Zou Shiming and Jack Ma’s bodyguard.
More recently, Xu was seen in an interview (Chinese) in which he repeatedly claimed that the taichi demonstrators challenging him online were frauds and that he personally knew someone who was in the masquerade.
Despite the hubbub, one particular group from the TCMA world has yet to speak out.
Although the Chinese Wushu Association has publicly condemned privately organized fights, we have yet to hear any response from individuals practicing other styles of Chinese martial arts. One would think that someone that dabbles in the art of wing chun or Shaolin kung fu may want to chime in, considering how “Mad Dog” is threatening to discredit TCMA as a whole and not just taichi.
In fact, even though there has been much coverage, the public has yet to have real confirmation of any individual who have taken up Xu’s provocation, at the time of writing. While this could be due to practitioners of TCMA sticking to their morals and not involving themselves in petty material disputes, the art that they practice does contain the word “martial” and not “civil” or “pacifistic” or “cowardly.”
Fortunately, for supporters of TCMA, someone overseas has taken initiative.
I’m Your Huckleberry… I was a traditional martial artist first before transitioning to MMA. I have always tried to honor the history and traditions of our martial culture and represent the discipline, respect, humbleness, and other valuable life lessons that martial arts teaches throughout my career. I proudly represent the traditional martial arts.
A former Strikeforce champion and sanshou practitioner, Vietnamese-American Cung Le has combined a background in TCMA with success inside the MMA arena. And if you don’t know who Cung Le is, this video will show you everything you need to know.
Xu has not yet responded to Cung’s message, but with all this attention and potential money in the mix, we can expect him to behave exactly how a promoter/prize-fighter should.
Cover image is a scene from Man of Tai Chi, from Mtime