The Aftermath of that MMA vs. Tai Chi Incident – Omega’s Take

In an almost comical proposal, mma fighter Xiaodong Xu and Tai Chi “master” Lei Wei decided to “cross hands” in a gong sau fight May 7 th 2017. And in classic modern fashion, “video or it didn’t happen”, they recorded the “fight” which according to the various click baits ended in 10 seconds, though in truth the fight actually lasted (approximately) 29 seconds. Of course, that doesn’t make things much better.

So how did this all come to be? Xu, looking to expose the insular attitude of Chinese Martial Arts, issued a challenge on Weibo. He claimed that he could take on two or three of these so-called masters. Lei Wei, of whom I could not find much information, chose to accept the challenge. Aside from that, not much is known on how this fight finally came together.

Many are wondering what’s wrong with this fight. So many things, but let’s just stick with the basics. Tai Chi is a joke as a practical martial art. Tai Chi is essentially standing Yoga. Sure, there is a combat aspect to Tai Chi, but it is so rare that almost nobody takes it seriously. Tai Chi uses a fun game of sparring called push hands which is a toned-down version of Sumo. That was not a typo.

very toned down

Tai Chi is meant to be studied for improved health both physically and mentally; you don’t study it to learn how to fight. Seriously, what’s next, a Spin Instructor challenging Connor MacGregor? The next problem about this fight is the history of Chinese Martial Arts, or, more to the point, Chinese History. We are talking about a culture who thought so much of itself that they convinced a bunch Chinese Boxers to take on British Soldiers. The British Soldiers had guns, the Chinese Boxers, not so much. Of course there is more to this story, and I am over simplifying the situation; but this still reflects the dedication of the Chinese people who are married to the rituals, and morals which hampers their ability to modernize their practices. There were also the Chinese Revolution of 1911, World War II, and the rise of Communism during the 1949 Chinese Revolution, all of which led to China being isolated from the rest of the world for nearly 50 years. During this time, the Chinese Government forbade practice of practical martial arts, forcing most practitioners to resort to performance style martial arts called Wu Shu, and (wait for it…) Tai Chi, because these were NOT fighting arts.

The video in question

Mike Tyson said “everybody has a plan until they get hit”. As I have said before Tai Chi is philosophical martial art based on meditative combat theory, and its practice does not involve actually getting hit. If you’ve never been hit before, a publicized challenge match is not the time to test your deeply contemplated theories.

Ironically Xiaodong Xu only wanted to break open the shell that a lot of these masters like to hide in. He wanted to show the Chinese people that these masters have been bullshitting you (and likely themselves) with their tales of awesomeness. Instead of being hailed as a hero he is now being bashed by his fellow Chinese citizens and has had to go into hiding. He’s been threatened with death and is currently a social pariah, because he chose to break the illusion of the cultural norm.

What to should we make out of this? This was a good reality check, but obviously nothing worth turning a bearer of harsh truth into an outcast. You and I already know the truth when it comes to real fighting, and the people of China are not that far behind. Already they have several MMA based events including the UFC in China. The US had this awakening in 1993 and China is in the process of its own. But even still in the USA and other Western Countries, we have these braggadocios “masters” and the naive willing to follow them.

This video went viral simply because they showed yet another example of a culture locked ideal that was exposed years ago by the Gracie family and again when an Aikido master was smacked down by an MMA fighter over a decade ago. Until the common layman, looking into martial arts world through movies and other fantasy based media, recognizes the differences between performance art based in martial theory and practical application of martial techniques, I predict we will see an unfortunate humiliation of these misguided and misleading “masters” approximately every decade or so.

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  1. Well said – Most MA have a BS factor but Tai Chi is particularly susceptible – I will happily teach Tai Chi for SELF DEFENCE but that is different to fighting – Self defence is the ability to use techniques to defend and to attack in a sudden and violent manner against someone who is NOT expecting trained resistance. Will ANY self defence always work – NO of course not. That’s why not being an idiot and doing your best to NOT get into fights is the real skill.

  2. I largely agree with this article. I do Taijiquan, and i am a 43 year old ex martial artist who’s knees are not exactly as they used to be. There are some things that i think should be noted. (I am in no way arguing against any style)

    Rickson Gracie can not roll anymore as e has 8 inflamed discs in his back. Cody Garbrand was send to Germany because injections of Stem cells Didn’t work. Rumble Johnson quit MMA because he didn’t want his brain to be poured out his left ear one day. The idea that MMA is in any way an ideal fighting style only rings true if you have no care for what state you are going to be in in 20 years. I know these are famous people who train professionally, but they are also in a system that can afford doctors, stem cells, and physiotherapists. Straight Blast Gym in Dublin has a resident Physio…you know, just in case (€60 a visit, i think).

    Now to Tai chi. Yes, the martial side of Tai Chi is largely gone. when i was a kid all the fighters went to Judo (Circa Neil Adams), then Karate (Alfie Lewis anyone?), then Kick Boxing, and Now MMA. The fighters never really “went” to Tai Chi. Tai Chi was always seen as an art for meditation and health, so those muscles were never really trained and eventually…mostly lost. Most of the best Tai Chi exponents i’ve come across came through the martial route, and retired to Tai Chi. Is there a martial aspect to it…yes. But the money isn’t there, it’s in the health side. No chakra brigade ,no Tai Chi.

    So what we have ironically is two extremes of the same art (martial arts). One that forgoes physical well being for martial superiority, and one that forgone it’s martial capabilities for physical well being. So, which is better? Tai Chi (i talk of this because it is what i do, and cross train less than i should) needs to up it’s game. There are martial applications, but if it is to be called a martial art it needs to open itself up in that area. Cross training seems like the best way to bring it back to a level worthy of the title,and where as i don’t think students of any art should need to put themselves in harms way…instructors who claim ability probably should.

    MMA on the other hand is not ideal for the guy or girl who has work in the morning. Being blasted in the face, or having your shoulder wrenched n a regular basis is great when you’re 21…but good luck with that when you’re 41. Dana White will be swimming in a pool of Children’s tears shipped in from Tibet to help alleviate ,while you’re trying to work through it till retirement. God luck with that.

    Not sure what point i want to make here. At my age i’l never be i an Octagon, but it’s not something i’d want for my daughter either. Like the evolving of Rugby, MMA is the effect of A pursuit injected with professionalism and money, to the detriment of the participants. Tai Chi being sold as snake oil is also detrimental i different ways.

    Like most things, in the opinion of this nameless cipher, the answer lands somewhere in the middle.

  3. Thank you Robert for correcting the writers gross misrepresentation ofmTainChi. Your comments hold true for all classic martial arts practiced i.e. Okinawa Karate, Gung Fu, etc., arts created for lethal, effective self defense. BJJ and MM as effective as they are in competition, suffers in the real worlld where there are no “rules.”

  4. @Brian: Ugh more sport vs street nonsense. If you cant even fight in the relative safety of the ring you will have no chance outside if it.

    @Sean: you got a point there. The mma/bjj guys I know have frequent injuries and have required surgery to fix it. Effectiveness and stress testing comes at a cost. Finding a balance between safety and realism can be difficult.

  5. Not arguing that Tai Chi doesn’t have a large bullshido factor.
    Not arguing that that Tai Chi is equivalent in any way to MMA.
    Not arguing most of what you say.
    Agreeing that displays of actual skill in the Tai Chi world is rare.


    Tai Chi (particularly Chen Style Tai Chi) has some pretty hard-hitting martial competitions that are well known in China, and all over Youtube.

    Would challenge you to watch the following:

    So, no extravagent claims, here. But I think that there are some talented Tai Chi fighters out there who can take care of themselves.

    I don’t see them competing and winning in MMA anytime soon.


  6. really tai chi is taught mostly for health many do not spend the time to train for combat. I was a Shotokan expert but street fightinfg taught me that first strike and continuous attacks will give you the edge. To use tai chi in combat, hours of conditioning, heavy bag work are needed. Chen styles Seem to still retain this and so does a few Yang stylist. If you want good striking, chin-na it takes hours of practise and conditioning. You also need street smarts and to train as close to street encounters as safely as possible. I also recommend avoid stupid altercations

  7. People were mad because everyone in China knows that Tai Chi is a martial art the same way golf is a sport. It kind of sucks watching an out of shape blowhard beat up a man who was last in fighting shape twenty years ago, and calling it ultimate victory. The difference is, in China, life involves a lot of emotional (and sometimes literal) kicks to the face that you just have to take with a smile, so even a seemingly small thing like this can really set people off. They see Xu yelling taunts and being an asshole and they think of their high school bully or their current boss who is the son of the owner.

    And in fairness, that Tai Chi master took a lot more blows than I thought he would. And at the first block, he even had a moment where he could have swept the leg and made it a very different fight.

  8. which Aikido fight was smacked down by an MMA fighter? Who? The old man was not a KIAI master you dumbshit. That’s the problem with MMAtards like you… pretend to know stuff when you really don’t.

  9. MMA is ok until an individual gets in there 40’s 50’s and 60’s then it loses its effectiveness because it is a sport and it uses muscle power and you lose that as you get older and most of these young MMA guys are going to be doing Taichi in 30 yrs from now I do not know why a person involved in Taichi would go against an MMA guy because it is two different martial arts MMA is for people aged 20 to 35. Taichi is for people 40 and above whose bodies are breaking down. it is an unfair comparison in my opinion.