Traditional Chinese martial arts will lose to brutal MMA

By John Harold Armstrong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/9 18:43:40

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Can thousand-years-old traditional martial arts withstand the heavy rain of body blows being delivered to it by upstart MMA (mixed martial arts)? Unless you live under a rock, you've probably heard about recent brutal defeat of tai chi master Wei Lei by MMA swashbuckler Xu Xiaodong. What began as a war of words and accusations ended with master Wei being bloodied in as little as 10 seconds in a severely lopsided contest, with footage going viral worldwide.

The ease of "Mad Dog" Xu's victory has cast the martial arts community into paroxysms of self-doubt and touched off a fierce debate whether traditional kung fu has become an anachronism in the modern world or whether it has been a sham all along. It's not just kung fu and traditional Chinese martial arts that have felt the disrupting influence of MMA. Globally, MMA has trodden on the turf of all martial sports, most notably in boxing, where the much-hyped McGregor vs. Mayweather battle has been the talk of fighting circles despite no agreement has been reached.

It is remarkable that a discipline that was regarded just a few years ago as a freak show has come to represent bouts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet it was inevitable that this runaway freight train of a sport would collide with traditional martial arts in a nation where hand-to-hand sports have deep cultural roots. In fact, most successful MMA fighters train in a variety of martial disciplines, many of which are rooted in Asian combat styles.

After his one-sided victory on his opponent's home turf in Chengdu, Xu subsequently issued an open challenge to all Chinese martial arts masters. Those foolish enough to do so will be making a mistake. All reputable martial arts schools have already stated their abhorrence for such contests and have distanced themselves from those who submit to "vulgar displays of violence" in exchange for money.

For the record, I am one of those who believe that martial arts practitioners will end up on the losing side of such circus-like contests. This is simply because most civilized societies have long understood that solutions to life's problems are not to be found in blood sports. Every martial art has a long, complicated history and evolution unique to it that usually involves a highly codified structure of rules and practices.

In some ways, the rules and rituals of most martial arts are far stricter than those of the population that it thrives among. This is why kung fu masters, muay thai teachers and other combat experts have developed a deserved reputation for asceticism and abstinence. The image of a scholar monk who is also a warrior represents an attractive ideal that many wish to emulate; an image that is easily shattered when it collides with the win-at-all-costs mentality inherent in MMA.

It is extremely hard to reconcile this with the spirit of tai chi as I have experienced it in the graceful footsteps of elderly pensioners in Fuxing Park, as they fight off the winter chill in pursuit of mental health and physical well-being. Even Western boxing, which is often viewed by the Eastern world as the ultimate "brute" sport at the furthest fringes of respectable society, is actually well-regulated in comparison to the Wild West of MMA.

There is a body of lore that goes hand-in-hand with the insular world of the squared circle, and let's not even begin to ponder the absurdly ritualized pageantry of music, dancing and prayer that surround a muay thai competition. Yet the modern form of MMA eschews these codes in favor of raw spectacle. Not since the lions were pitted against the gladiators and Nero fiddled while Rome burned has the crowd been treated to such a pure form of reality entertainment.

Unfortunately, Chinese soft drink tycoon Chen Sheng has emerged to throw fuel on the fire with his offer of 10 million yuan ($1.45 million) to anyone who can defeat Xu. The literal sweetening of the pot will only encourage and increase the frequency of this new culture war between old and new. And as the freshest grasshopper knows, the only sensible reason to study martial arts in the first place is so one never has to actually use it.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


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