Are Traditional Martial Arts Really So Weak?
  ·  2017-05-13  ·   Source: NO. 20 MAY 18, 2017



A short video on social media showing a "fight" between a mixed martial artist and a tai chi "master" recently attracted a lot of attention. On one side was Xu Xiaodong, a Beijing-based fighter, coach and promoter of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) combat sport. In the other corner was Wei Lei, the founder of the fledgling "thunder style" of tai chi, from Chengdu. The tai chi practitioner was beaten up 13 seconds after the fighting began.

Wei was therefore mocked by netizens for being nothing more than a fraud. In Wei's defense, he said his "thunder style" was only the equivalent of a "primary school student" in the long history of Chinese martial arts and still has much to learn.

For many traditional martial arts fans, the issue is not just Wei's beating, but also the impact on their respect of and confidence in martial arts. They have begun to bemoan how weak traditional Chinese martial arts are in the face of more modern styles of fighting. Xu claims that he intended to lift the veil shrouding "fake martial artists."

The fight soon triggered debate about whether traditional martial arts are still as strong as has always been claimed by practitioners and believed by most Chinese. Also, people have put forward suggestions on how to promote traditional martial arts' status in China, given that they are being gradually marginalized as society modernizes.

Demystifying martial arts

Yang Hanxiao (Yanzhao Evening News): Why did this fight attract so much attention? For years, martial arts have been seen as a shield against aggression and enemies by the Chinese. In China, martial arts are not only something that can help protect oneself, but also a part of traditional Chinese culture. As such, they are highly respected among the Chinese people.

In this sense, what Xu beat is not a tai chi master, but a kind of cultural symbol. His behavior will undoubtedly hurt many people's feelings, as the public doesn't believe that Chinese martial arts are so weak. They hope that a top martial artist will come forth to challenge Xu.

Xu claims he is fighting against fraud. For centuries, many stories and novels have been created based on traditional martial arts. Many people believe martial arts are mysterious, and some take advantage of this sense of mystery to cheat the public. They label their fluff as martial arts and are swiftly defeated when they meet real martial artists. Therefore, Xu's claim deters fake martial artists to some extent.

Whether Chinese martial arts are just showy postures or miraculous kungfu is not only a concern for martial artists, but also for the wider public. We believe that Chinese martial arts have reason and value to exist. While the public hopes that a really strong martial artist will come forward to prove that martial arts are extraordinary, they also support Xu in exposing fake martial artists.

To preserve the quintessence of the nation's traditional culture, it's important to winnow truth from falsehood. In this sense, whether Xu is generating publicity by staging such a fight is not so important.

Bai Long (People's Daily): Although the two competitors both claim that they only represented themselves, still, when the tai chi master was beaten onto the ground soon after the fighting began, the public began to suspect the strength of traditional martial arts.

Modern fighting, including MMA, has already developed into competitive sports. There are explicit rules, scientific training programs and well-developed competition and commercial systems. All this leaves traditional martial arts far behind. Martial arts followers must make it clear whether they want traditional martial arts to be transformed into modern fighting sports or to continue to be a body-building exercise.

When fitness facilities were rare, even in cities, many people chose traditional martial arts as a means of physical exercise. However, with fighting sports emerging as a big business, if traditional martial artists are to highlight their fighting techniques and enter the ring, there must be some kind of modernization and updating.

As far as traditional martial arts fans are concerned, it makes no sense for them to feel indignant or depressed. In recent years, mature commercial competition models have been imported into China by some in martial arts circles. These standard competitions train people to respect rules and rivals and to challenge themselves and face up to triumph or defeat. Japan's judo and South Korea's taekwondo have gone through the process of transforming themselves into modern disciplines. Now, they are listed as Olympic events and attract followers from around the world.

The romantic memory of martial arts is something that belongs to the past. In the modern era, it's important for combat sports, whether traditional martial arts or mixed martial arts, to keep pace with the times.

Tao Feng (Beijing Business Today): Chinese martial arts were listed as a candidate Olympic event in 2011, but their application was declined in 2013. At that time, it was widely believed the failure could be blamed on martial arts' lack of popularity around the world and of rigorous competition rules.

In China, martial arts are promoted far less among young people than imported sports like taekwondo. Although martial arts have received a lot of attention at state level, and they are being introduced to other countries through channels like the Confucius Institutes, they are still not so well known outside China due to a lack of commercial involvement. Taekwondo, for example, is promoted around the world through private clubs which operate along clear commercial lines. By contrast, Chinese martial arts masters tend to be conservative, handing real fighting techniques only to family members and trusted pupils. Due to inadequate communication about them with wider society, traditional martial arts remain mysterious to the public.

A typical example is the martial arts contests held by the Wushu Masters Association (WMA), in which only a small number of martial arts lovers participate in due to various restrictions and regulations. Unable to attract an audience large enough to generate significant economic returns for the organizers, WMA struggles to sustain itself.

The first step for traditional martial arts to rescue themselves is to repeal the mysterious veil and become involved with modern operation models. Xu's action has probably just uncovered a small fraction of the concealed truth. In martial arts circles, there are all kinds of fake "masters," who try to trick money out of martial arts fans under the guise of passing on traditional cultural treasure, although they do not even grasp real fighting techniques or the truth of traditional martial arts.

How to curb the rampancy of fake masters and how to restore the status of traditional Chinese martial arts are problems that society must ponder.

A ridiculous competition

Que Huafeng ( The fight between Xu and Wei was first seen as a kind of publicity stunt, but later it triggered debate on modern fighting and traditional martial arts. Although Wei was soon brought to the ground by Xu, this does not mean traditional martial arts are no match for modern fighting techniques. It's ridiculous to compare the two. Without unified rules and strictly trained referees, any kind of competitive fighting is meaningless. More importantly, the value of traditional martial arts lies not only in fighting techniques, but also in their culture and spirit.

Traditional martial arts also attach great importance to a moral code, which teaches practitioners that the purpose of learning martial arts is not to rob, bully or even kill others, but to build up health and help the disadvantaged. For thousands of years, all real marital arts masters have possessed high moral standards apart from their strong kungfu abilities. By practicing Chinese martial arts, people are supposed to learn traditional philosophy and combat techniques, as well as to build up health and have fun.

In the value system of traditional martial arts, people do not learn kungfu to show off, and they don't need to prove how powerful they are. They learn it very diligently just to continuously improve themselves. The most striking difference between traditional martial arts and modern fighting styles is that the former possess a complete value system.

Traditional martial arts are not only precious cultural heritage for Chinese people, but also a cultural treasure for the whole of mankind. Attention to martial arts should not only focus on the fighting aspect; it should also be directed to the culture. We welcome activities that uphold both martial arts' cultural essence and useful techniques, but we must keep alert to defamation caused by any kind of hype.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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