Xu Xiaodong, a mixed martial arts fighter in China, had spent week issuing challenges to traditional Chinese martial arts masters. Wei Lei, a tai chi practitioner focused on “thunder style,” stepped up, agreed to an exhibition match, and was promptly defeated by Mr. Xu. Though Mr. Xu won the fight, he didn’t win the hearts of the Chinese people.
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As reported by The New York Times, Mr. Xu had claimed the masters were frauds and that their skills were overly commercialized, asserting that his MMA skills would allow him to win in a fight. While he did prove his point during his exhibition match against Mr. Wei, the Chinese people became outraged after the video of the fight went viral, and they interpreted Mr. Xu’s actions as an insult to traditional Chinese culture.
State-run organizations like the Chinese Wushu Association and the Chinese Boxing Association offered public criticism regarding the match, including a statement on the Chinese Wushu Association website that suggested the fight “violates the morals of martial arts.”
An article released by the state news agency Xinhua said the match was leading some people to doubt the usefulness of Chinese martial arts and question the associated long-standing traditions.
As outrage spread, Mr. Xu determined it was necessary to go into hiding.
Based on a message that has circulated online, Mr. Xu said, “I’ve lost everything, my career, and everything.” He continued, “I think many people misunderstood me. I’m fighting fraudulence, but now I’ve become the target.”
The match between Mr. Xu and Mr. Wei might be considered brutal by some standards. While Mr. Wei moved slowly, using a traditional tai chi defense posture, Mr. Xu went on the offensive, quickly taking Mr. Wei to the floor and then turning to a popular “ground and pound” technique before the match was called. The entire fight lasted only about 10 seconds.
This isn’t the first match between an MMA fighter and traditional martial artist. Many have occurred that pitted mixed martial arts fighters against practitioners of traditional art forms like karate, kung fu, and jiu-jitsu, and, more often than not, the traditional martial artist lost. This led many people from around the world to consider this particular debate a close subject.
However, when Mr. Xu suggested that the Chinese masters were only giving staged performances and weren’t effective fighters, many traditional martial artists took the statement as a threat to their livelihoods.
MMA is generally considered a combat sport, where the intent is to defeat one’s opponent quickly and decisively, and in a typically violent manner. Martial arts in China aren’t necessarily considered competitive sports. Instead, many see them as long-term practices and art forms that one should strive to master.