The power of YouTube is no match for the power of a traditional martial artist as he becomes the latest ‘master’ to be exposed outside China. Photo: YouTube
Sensei Says
by Patrick Blennerhassett
Sensei Says
by Patrick Blennerhassett

Tai chi master’s embarrassing KO showcases vacuum in China as world mocks idiocy on YouTube

  • The fight, which took place in Shandong, shows Ma Baoguo being knocked to the ground easily before being knocked out cold in 30 seconds
  • Viral video once again showcases the cavernous divide between traditional martial arts practitioners in China and the undeniable power of YouTube

Ma Baoguo’s embarrassingly quick knockout in a tournament fight in Shandong last weekend is tough to watch. Ma, 69, is clearly way out of his league. He moves like any normal sexagenarian, a little slower and a little stiffer. In many ways, the fight looks more like an assault video than a competition.

Ma, who claims to be a master of Hunyuan tai chi, was taking part in his first domestic bout, but as the viral video shows, it ends in complete disaster. A 49-year-old former martial arts coach, Wang Qingmin, made quick work of Ma, knocking him out cold in 30 seconds in a match that should have never taken place in the beginning.

While the clip has become YouTube fodder for the masses, it paints an interesting picture about a number of larger macro-scope issues. Tai chi’s origins in China date back thousands of years and it has morphed over the centuries, passed on through various teaching styles and masters within the martial arts realm.

However, tai chi has remained predominately a Chinese-practised traditional martial art. The health benefits have given it new life in the modern world when it comes to its mind-body impact, as the Harvard Medical School even published a blog post about it being “medication in motion”, but it must be stated it is primarily geared towards older people looking to help with flexibility through low-impact movements.

The Harvard article goes on to state this “gentle form of exercise” can have a range of benefits. This is great – no one is going to debate practising tai chi as a form of light exercise – but it’s when the martial arts side of it tries to bring itself into the modern world where we find ourselves in a boat load of trouble.

China’s mass censorship, which includes the banning of YouTube among multiple other popular platforms such as Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, serves an internal purpose in controlling its citizens. However, the Chinese origins of tai chi create a perfect vacuum for cultural isolation. Ma is shown in a previously released video apparently beating Peter Irving, a legitimate mixed martial artist with a 13-8 professional fight record, in what is a clearly staged and choreographed fight.

Xu Xiaodong says ‘truth revealed’ after tai chi master’s 30-second KO

Irving, who has sought to clarify that the video is nothing more than a vanity project for an “old kung fu guy”, actually felt sad for Ma after the tai chi master tried to market the footage as a real fight. Ma’s issue lies here in the heart of Chinese culture, that he clearly has no idea how the Westernised internet framework goes about its business. You just can’t post something on YouTube claiming something extraordinary happened and not expect the masses to get to the bottom of your astonishingly silly claim.

But in China, where Ma is revered and backed by the government, editing, fabricating, orchestrating and cultivating a perfectly crafted narrative is easy. Ma can make all the claims he wants, fearing little reprieve, which in turn has clearly given him a god-like complex.

But even someone like Ma can’t even begin to compete with the massive, monstrous influence of YouTube, one of the most powerful things to happen in the modern world. And if you step into a fight with a guy who can actually handle himself, and the cameras are rolling, no amount of magical showmanship can save you from getting beat up for all the world to see.

All it took for YouTube to work its magic was someone at the fight to hit record on their phone, upload it, and the rest is history. While China does a fairly good job of stopping information from coming into the country, once it gets out, it is an entirely different story.

Outside, in the wild west of the Western world, where videos and information spread like wildfires, serving both positive and negative ends, the game is entirely different. Once it starts, it only stops when it burns itself out and the masses turn to their next victim.

Ma may not know it behind the Great Firewall of China, but he has become the latest traditional martial arts laughing stock in what is a fast-growing archive of embarrassingly similar fight footage. The old, traditional world where tai chi has its origins and remains intact has found itself a new foe, one that can’t be defeated – the internet.

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Tai chi master’s KO showcases vacuum in China