On Monday, Shanghai police officers intervened before a planned mass brawl between mixed martial artists and tai chi practitioners could take place. The proposed fight is the latest in a string of incidents that have shaken up the Chinese martial arts’ scene. It comes on the heels of rumours that the government of China had taken action - via internet censorship - to squash the rivalry between MMA and traditional martial arts.
At the centre of this latest incident is Xu Xiaodong, head of of the Beijing MMA association. It was Xu’s streetfight with Wei Lei (a tai chi master) that caused the MMA vs tai chi/traditional martial arts rivalry to go viral last May. Xu won that fight in around 10 seconds, after a single flurry of punches. The conflict between Xu and Wei started with an argument online over the merits of various forms of martial arts.
After Xu knocked out Wei, he told a crowded gym that he believed tai chi - and disciplines like it - were a ‘sham’. This lead to a number of tai chi masters circling Xu and offering to fight him. Xu escaped that situation unscathed and then took to Chinese social media platform Weibo to continue his diatribe against traditional martial arts. Xu’s rants culminated in him issuing a challenge to traditional martial artists to fight him for a cash prize.
Like the fight with Wei, Xu’s challenge went viral and a number of Chinese martial artists took him up on his offer. Later, Xu’s Weibo account was taken offline (along with a number of posts mentioning his challenge). An article in The Economist suggested that this was another incident of the Chinese government censoring Weibo, possibly motivated by a vested interest in upholding the popularity of traditional Chinese martial arts; which they view as an important tool for diplomacy and tourism. After his Weibo account was disabled, Xu told the BBC that he was going to study traditional martial arts himself, as well as keep quiet on the internet.
However, it seems Xu’s belief that MMA is superior to tai chi and kung fu has not died down. Nor has his eagerness to prove it. The South China Morning Post reports that Xu was set to lead a team of four mixed martial artists into battle versus four tai chi experts, led by Ma Baoguo (a master of Chen style tai chi). Reportedly, the ‘group brawl’ was arranged online.
Moments before the group fight was set to begin Shanghai police raided the venue. Videos posted to YouTube show the moment officers confront Xu. With a large crowd circling around them Xu is heard (per South China Morning Post) telling the officers that, “I will certainly cooperate, but don’t push me. You won’t be able to push me!” A separate video then shows Xu being escorted from the venue.
Despite Xu’s social media presence dwindling (because either he or someone else closed his accounts) there remains some support for the MMA advocate online. South China Morning Post reports that internet users had dubbed the cancelled group brawl as Xu’s “resurrection” after weeks of online silence. Users also alleged that messages about Xu and the group brawl were being censored.
One user is reported to have written, “Blocked again! This is regional politics! [Xu] can defeat all of the ‘fakeness’ across the lakes and rivers, but he cannot defeat the government.”