Style vs style debates seem almost retro to modern American fans of MMA and its component skills. Popular Instagram feeds such as @mcdojolife are dedicated to the mockery of ‘LARPy arts.’ However it appears that not everyone is up to speed… as a number of MMA vs Tai Chi videos have surfaced over the past several years.
MMA vs Tai Chi in a fight?
Although most people wouldn’t consider Tai Chi a serious contender for a complete style, several high profile fights between various Chinese Tai Chi masters and Chinese MMA fighter Xu “Mad Dog” Xiaodong have gone viral and garnered much attention. A 2018 short special by Vice highlighted Xiaodong’s “mission to expose fake martial artists.”
It goes without saying that Xiaodong, a professional Mixed Martial Artist, basically did whatever he wanted in the ring against venerated, albeit delusional Tai Chi Masters. For anyone who doubted, Tai Chi and all its variants were useless against a competent professional striker.
If you aren’t familiar with the videos, check them out. There are also endless breakdown vids of the various fights. In fact, ‘Xu Xiaodong MMA vs Tai Chi Masters’ is now an entire viral phenomenon.
Reactions to ‘Mad Dog’
Xiaodong’s mission is not without controversy in China. Things such as MMA vs Tai Chi are less popular when Tai Chi and its lore have been ingrained in culture and family for generations. Believe it or not, before his last several fights, the Chinese government pressed charges against him for insulting Tai Chi grandmaster Chen Xiaowang.
Xiaodong was ordered to pay over $58,000 in yuan and had his social credit score lowed (a system China uses to track the various infringements committed by its citizens). He was also forced to apologize on social media for his behavior. Nevertheless, he continued to fight and defeat several high-profile Tai Chi masters.
Is MMA vs Tai Chi Necessary?
I initially saw the first fight video where Xiaodong obliterates a “no touch knockout” guru-type guy. I thought it was a hilarious and excellent example of why martial arts needed ‘MMA vs Tai Chi’ to dispel much of the nonsense associated with the lore of traditional Eastern martial arts.
Nevertheless, after watching the third Xu Xiaodong beatdown that happened last January, I found myself feeling dirty with a bad taste in my mouth. Unlike the first fight, which looked more like a dojo-on-dojo smoker, his most recent fight was televised and had the ring format of a professional muay thai fight, and apparently a 30 million dollar purse. They let it go on for much longer than his previous bouts.
It’s not a pretty sight to watch a man twice Xiaodong’s age stagger around with a broken nose, getting blasted by muay thai strikes, while his younger opponent casually walks around the cage shrugging at the crowd every time he drops the old man.
For the record, I don’t think Xu Xiaodong did anything wrong by fighting these guys. They agreed to back up some potentially questionable martial arts claims in a prizefight environment. As someone who has experienced being in a cage fight woefully unprepared for the opponent… it sucks… but that’s on you. Unless you are being forced to fight, you really cannot blame the outcome on anyone but yourself.
Furthermore, I am as guilty of feeling sense of elation and self-confirmation as I watch someone skilled in the arts I believe in crush multiple purveyors-of-woo. It is a guilty pleasure seeing a supposed master get red-pilled harder than Keanu Reeves by a flying knee.
However I found myself wondering after, is all that really necessary? Should style vs style even be a thing anymore? We know which arts are effective, and a lot of dudes got their ass kicked trying to prove it. We also know that a well rounded guy can dispatch someone whose knowledge is deep but limited to a single martial art. MMA gets enough publicity in the U.S. that most people here who believe in Eastern woo are not in the business of fighting anyways. There is also no shortage of guys training MMA who will happily fight each other on equal terms.
Can’t Style vs Style be Fun?
It is possible to have style vs style encounters without turning them into a violent beatdown spectacle. The following video shows Marcelo Garcia and Karate and Tai Chi master Tuishou Chen engaging in some playful wrestling and rolls. The point isn’t who wins, the point is to have fun and engage with a master from another style.
The video Posted by Black Horse Tai Chi, iterates the previous sentiment. It’s clear from the comments that most of the Tai Chi guys feel the same way… They appreciate the humility and playfulness of the encounter.
It’s not for me to comment whether Chinese martial arts culture needs a guy like Xiaodong now the way North America needed Royce Gracie in the 90’s. There is an argument to be made that someone convinced enough of their skill to step into the ring against a skilled fighter deserves to get what’s coming to them.
Nevertheless, in post-UFC America, style vs style spectacles such as the MMA vs Tai Chi videos are little more than a way for us BJJ players and MMA fans to pat ourselves on the back for knowing the “truth.”