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    After Embarrassing Loss, Fighter Says Tai Chi Still Relevant

    Mixed martial artist vows to expose ‘masters’ of traditional Chinese combat as frauds.

    A recent bout between a tai chi master and a mixed martial arts expert only took 10 seconds, but the ensuing debate about the value of traditional Chinese martial arts has been raging ever since.

    The tai chi master, Lei Lei, was knocked down almost immediately during the exhibition fight, held on April 27 at a fitness club in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. Xu Xiaodong, the mixed martial artist who defeated Lei Lei, said repeatedly before, during, and after the fight that his mission was to prove that Lei Lei has no skill when it comes to fighting.

    Many people have called the lopsided result a defeat of traditional martial arts like tai chi, postulating that the age-old disciplines may have lost their place in the modern world. Lei Lei told Sixth Tone that while tai chi specifically might be outdated or might not conform to modern fighting techniques, kung fu as a whole, and the culture surrounding it, is real and beneficial to the human body.

    Others besides Xu have expressed skepticism about Lei Lei’s credentials as a self-professed “master.” Liu Suibin, a well-known tai chi master, said Lei Lei was not a professional tai chi practitioner. Netizens, meanwhile, have shown little mercy, insulting him for being “too fat” to practice kung fu and calling him “a fraud.”

    Ever since he was a teenager, Lei Lei had been a fan of bodybuilding. In fact, he worked as a trainer at gyms for more than a decade. However, after suffering bone and muscle pain in his chest, shoulders, and back, he realized at the age of 28 that his body could no longer take the stress of rigorous muscle training. He began to question the sports philosophy of “higher, faster, stronger” and instead shifted his focus to tai chi.

    Lei Lei said he began learning the art of tai chi from a “Master Luo” beginning in 2008. Frustrated with all the skepticism he encountered about the effectiveness of traditional martial arts, he decided to accept Xu’s challenge, which the latter had issued via Chinese microblog platform Weibo, in order to draw more attention to the art of tai chi.

    Since the fight, Xu has had his hands full — or, more accurately, balled into fists — challenging other kung fu masters, including He Xirui, head of the Wudang Xuanzhen Taoist Kungfu School in central Hubei province. Xu maintains that he will continue his crusade to expose frauds in the traditional martial arts.

    For his part, Lei Lei said the defeat has not impacted his business as a teacher of private tai chi classes. “I’m breathing and healing,” he said. “Those who believe I have real kung fu ability will still come to me for training.”

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: Lei Lei, a tai chi master, practices tai chi at a park in Chengdu, Sichuan province, May 1, 2017. Zhong Changqian/Sixth Tone)