By Oiwan Lam
In about ten seconds, a Chinese Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, Xu Xiaodong, defeated Tai Chi Master Wei Lei in a fight in Chengdu on April 27, 2017. The fight came about after a few months of online quarrel between the two over the development of Chinese Kung Fu — Xu criticized traditional Chinese martial arts for being too performative, losing its practical combat skill thanks to the bureaucrats who run martial arts organizations like corporations.
His accusations about “fake combat competitions”, along with his open challenge to the representatives of traditional martial arts, created an online uproar that went on for more than a week.
The fight between Xu and Wei was streamed via social media and soon went viral online.
After the fight, the Tai Chi circle attempted to rescue its reputation by suggesting that Wei Lei is not a genuine master, while others pointed out that the combat competition rules are unfair towards traditional Chinese martial arts.
Xu responded via WeChat that he would continue challenging major representatives of Chinese martial arts, in order to expose the “fake Kung Fu” phenomenon in the sector:
On May 7, both Xu’s Weibo and WeChat accounts were suspended.
The problem of “fake Kung Fu” performance has caught public outrage in the past few years. The most well known example has been Tai Chi master Yan Fang’s public performance of “Chi” in September 2012. The fake performance of pushing down four big guys with Chi was exposed by one reporter on spot, and the video went viral. Yan was the fifth vice-chair of the Hebei Martial Arts Association.
Hence, many Chinese netizens supported Xu and were thrilled to see more public fights. But Tai Chi grandmaster Chen Zhenglei urged his students not to react to Xu’s challenge.
Below is Chen’s letter, which was circulated via various Chinese social media:
As anticipated, on May 3, the Chinese Martial Arts Association issued a statement accusing Xu of “fight picking”, and alleging that his behavior is illegal and against Kung Fu virtue.
Clearly, the public perception of martial arts has fallen behind the evolution and institutionalization of the martial arts sector. Local media outlet Beijing News ran an investigative report on the Chinese Martial Arts business and found out that major traditional martial arts streams, including Shaolin, Wudang, Qingcheng, Emei and Kongdong, have all evolved into business corporations that operate martial arts schools, produce movies, sell Chinese medicines, develop touristic sites and more.
The Chinese Martial Arts Association’s statement has successfully saved the faces of key representatives of major martial arts streams by forbidding its members to respond to the challenge.
However, those outside the Chinese martial arts institution are eager to fight Xu using their own rules. For example, Hu Qiong, a Xiaolin Chi master, dared Xu Xiaodong to take up a drilling machine challenge:
This article originally appeared on Global Voices.