Tai Chi Vs MMA

You have probably seen it, or heard about it – the short-lived match between Lei Lei, the Tai Chi “thunder style” master and Xu Yao Dong, an MMA fighter. Xu Yao Dong declared traditional martial arts styles to be useless and ineffective, and thus precipitated the match up.

That concern is not new. Bruce Lee rejected many of the traditional arts. Certainly, countless others in centuries past did the same. At any point in time, there are poor, mediocre, and quality approaches and practices, and always there is the song, “I can do anything better than you”.

In terms of the match-up, the two men are reasonably close in age, 41, and 38, the Tai Chi master being the older. We can assume they both spend the majority of their time on their skills. The Tai Chi master operates a school, and therefore teaches and practices daily. The MMA fighter also operates a school, is a fight promoter and coach, and thus must practice every day. Therefore, the physical match was fair.

On the surface, the match-up suggests the old “my style versus your style” trope. This always drains down to this individual versus that individual. Some folk are better at fighting for fight’s sake. Xu Yao Dong, the MMA fighter, is known as “Mad Dog”, given to a full-press driving approach, which is clear in the video. The Tai Chi master may lack that killer instinct.

Why do people train in a martial art? MMA fighters train with a single purpose – to win in the ring. They do not concern themselves with calm, soul, reflection, or any internal matters. Beat the opponent, period. Tai Chi practitioners may have these other considerations. Health, relaxation may even be the primary concern over winning matched fights.

Those who train with a specific goal, in anything, will outdo those who work with multiple points of focus. Pit Mark Twain in a technical manual writing contest against a person who writes only technical manuals, and the technical journalist will do better, likewise, ask them both to write a short fiction story and Mr. Twain would win. However, both must be proficient in writing.

I think it is fair to say a person accustomed to sparring and the MMA and Boxing approaches, though still focused on a single style, would hold up better in a match-up such as this. In short, a Tai Chi practitioner who regularly sparred with aggressive opponents would not be so easily overwhelmed. I am not saying they would win, nor lose. At such a point, it would come down to the individuals.

This would suggest the difficulties the Tai Chi master experienced was not the style of fighting, but the lack of experience in fighting. Likewise, were the contest something like, ‘who can stand on one leg longer’, the MMA fighter despite all his fighting skills would probably have not fared as well. There are two sides to every coin.

It is true that many traditional artist camps do not spar enough. It is also true that many practitioners in those arts do not want to spar, at least not on a daily or weekly basis. Folk who want to mix it up regularly tend to gravitate toward the MMA and Boxing gyms. Those who do not but want to be better prepared than doing nothing at all migrate toward traditional arts. Heck, some people want to just punch and kick. They do not want to learn how to fight, nor be concerned with any traditional or structural burdens, and so gyms offer kickboxing against bags and nothing more. This does not make one better than the other. Fortunately, we can have many choices in this world.

As stated earlier, this match-up calls up the very old idea of “My style versus your style”. It leaves out the questions, ‘why do you train?’, ‘what is your focus or need?’ If you intend to enter the ring, train for the ring. If you intend to enter everyday life, while having some preparation for the unexpected, train for longevity and health.

It is not “versus”. It is about picking your path.


About Sifu

I teach Wing Chun, both traditional and practical, at KDA Karate Academy. I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager. In addition to being a Martial Arts Instructor, I am an author. My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge".

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