Recently the Chinese MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong challenged the Tai Chi master Wei Lei to a fight. In the weeks before, Xu had blasphemed about various old masters and called some of them cheaters. Traditional martial arts such as Tai-Chi or Kung-Fu have been highly regarded in their country of origin China for centuries and are rarely questioned. Therefore, it caused a sensation when Xu pronounced his challenge.
While the confrontation was probably initially hyped by martial arts fans only, the result produced a far greater response. Within ten seconds, Xu beat the old master and knocked him out. You can watch the video below.
It is clear that there is no universe in which the MMA fighter has not won. This clear defeat for the Tai Chi expert resulted in an outcry from the Chinese population. Not, as Xu had wished, because an impostor had been caught, but because the victory was seen as an insult to a cultural tradition. The fighting result made people outside of China doubt the credibility of Asian martial arts and for many Chinese, Xu was directly responsible for international ridicule. The anger and indignation that were thrown at him were so strong that he had to withdraw from public life. To this day his whereabouts are unknown.
You can see this event as a bizarre event in a distant country, or you can see something more in it. The conflict between old and new, tradition and revolution is one that exists everywhere. Rarely, however, is it presented to us so clearly as here.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a martial art that has long been on the verge of becoming an accepted sport. Often regarded as barbaric or amateurish, it was only in recent years that he found real mainstream success. The largest MMA organization Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC for short, has made fighters like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor international superstars. Nevertheless, there are still countries where UFC events are banned or at least viewed with much scepticism. Most Germans see more value in boxes than in MMA. Wladimir Klitschkos collected 15 million euros for his defeat against Anthony Joshua this April. The highest paycheck an MMA fighter has ever seen, however, was only around 3 million Euros.
At the moment everything looks like the boxing world will soon get its own version of Xu/Wei fighting. After a long period of mutual incitement, a duel between UFC figurehead Conor McGregor and boxing world champion Floyd Mayweather now seems almost certain. A win for McGregor against the undefeated (49-0) Mayweather, although unlikely, would undoubtedly make many boxing fans cry out. Certainly their complaints would often correspond to those of the tradition-conscious Chinese.
We humans have a paradoxical double problem. On the one hand we lack respect for tradition, on the other hand we find it difficult to give the new a fair chance. Apparently, both can hardly exist in parallel. Be it music, film, cars or sports, the new wants to displace the old, while the old looks down on the new.
However, the conflict rarely leads to a direct fistfight with a clear winner. The discussion about new and old is extremely subjective. A definitive answer cannot be found even in the case of Xu Xiadong. Because surely martial arts is about more than the mere ability to stomp your opponent into the ground. Tai-Chi is an expression of a certain philosophy of life and is closely linked to Chinese culture. To consider it a mere martial art would do him an injustice. At the same time, we should admit that MMA fighters are highly talented top athletes who work on their skills every day and push the limits of the human body. This insight can be applied to every area of our lives. Old and new should not fight each other, but learn from each other. Mutual respect will ultimately benefit both.
Note: To Xu’s credit, he saw it as his job to convict an impostor. Whether he succeeded in this with his victory is doubtful. However, there are cases of justified confrontation, even if they are rare. For example, a few years ago, an MMA fighter unmasked an impostor posing as a master of a kung fu style in which he could eliminate his opponent by sheer willpower and without physical contact. The fight of the two can be seen in this video. In what result this resulted is probably obvious.