Xu Xiaodong, the Chinese MMA fighter challenging fake kung fu, gets backing from Shaolin Temple monk
- Shaolin Temple abbot says Xu Xiaodong is ‘doing the right thing’
- The 40-year-old’s actions are ‘good for the traditional art form’
Chinese MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong has received support from a Shaolin Monk in his bid to expose “kung fu fakery” by pummelling traditional martial arts masters.
A video of the fighter known as “Mad Dog” brutally knocking out tai chi master Wei Lei in 10 seconds went viral last year, but his attempts to expose those who “scam” and “brainwash” people with fake martial arts has caused huge debate in China.
Xu said he had to go into hiding for several months in 2017 after claiming he was assaulted by two strangers who represented traditional martial arts.
The 40-year-old returned to the public spotlight though by beating wing chun master Ding Hao in under two minutes in April.
And abbot Shi Yong Xin of the Shaolin Temple – a Zen Buddhist monastery on Mount Songshan in Henan province which trains its monks in martial arts – has backed the actions of Xu.
“Xu’s challenge against the fakery in kung fu is good for the traditional art form. His intent is good,” Shi told Time Magazine.
“He’s a good guy, even though he’s a totally amateur MMA fighter,” said Shi, adding that “a hundred people in Henan province alone” could defeat Xu.
But Shi concluded: “Xu is doing the right thing by fighting fake kung fu.”
Shi also expressed his dismay at what he said were some kung fu teachers and practitioners exploiting the Shaolin Temple’s name without permission for personal gain.
“I had one worker who wasn’t even a monk but quit and started his own Shaolin school,” Shi said.
Xu has angered some purists in China, with one tycoon offering a total of US$1.45 million to anyone who could defeat Xu and “defend the dignity” of martial artists.
But Shi said kung fu cannot be compared to MMA because its true essence is spiritual rather than simply physical.
Practitioners of kung fu in its original uncorrupted form try to achieve inner peace rather than any kind of supposed supernatural powers, according to Shi.
MMA has boomed in China in recent years, but not all aspiring fighters seem to share Xu’s opinion of traditional martial arts, it seems.
“I know Chinese MMA fighters who believe there are kung fu experts who live in mountain caves and can disappear and reappear at will,” Bellator MMA veteran Vaughn Anderson, who is now based in China as a trainer at the EnBo Fight Club in Chengdu, told Time.
“It just isn’t efficient as a form of full-contact combat with a resisting opponent,” Anderson added. “Bullfrog kung fu cannot be what defended the empire.”
Anderson said when he moved to Beijing in 2008 there were five MMA shows a year, while today there might be 10 in a single weekend.
“It’s growing faster here than anywhere else in the world,” Anderson said.
In June 2017, police shut down a contest arranged by Xu in Shanghai where he and a team of MMA fighters were set to battle a team of tai chi fighters.
China’s General Authority of Sport then banned kung fu practitioners from organising unauthorised fights last November.
Xu also said he was barred “indefinitely” earlier this month from organising tournaments for fighters at his Beijing gym.
However, he said he is still planning on organising another event where he fights three “top” kung fu masters in a single day.
With President Xi Jinping looking to revive traditional Chinese culture as a way of boosting China’s “soft power” overseas, kung fu has come to play an important role.
The Shaolin Temple controversially flew the Chinese national flag in August for the first time in its 1,500-year history, following a joint proposal to raise national flags at all religious venues by state-sanctioned religious organisations.
The move was part of a “patriotism campaign” as China tightens control over its religious institutions.
The high-profile ceremony was criticised for mixing religion with politics – the first time a well-known Buddhist organisation has been involved in such a display of patriotism.
Hong Kong-born kung fu icon Jackie Chan also became a political adviser to the Chinese Communist Party in 2013.