Following the recent ‘challenge’ match between Taijiquan Master Wei Lei (魏雷) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) practitioner Xu Xiaodong (徐晓冬) – held recently on the 27th, April (2017), in Chengdu, (Sichuan province) a debate around China has be sparked, considering the manner in which Master Wei Lei was knocked down after just 10 seconds, and beaten into submission after 20 seconds. Due to these circumstances, Shaoxing News has decided to seek the advice of a renowned and respected Taijiquan practitioner – namely Master Liu Jinping (刘建平) - who is the Chairman of the Wenzhou Taijiquan Sports Association, situated in Zhejiang province, Mainland China. We interviewed him yesterday (1.5.2017) after first reading his blog posts online discussing this matter, and asked him what he thought this all meant for the practice of Taijiquan in modern China.
This is the martial arts background to Master Liu Jianping - born in 1952 - who has been studying martial arts all his life, since he was a young child. Today, he is famous in Wenzhou for his Taijiquan knowledge and skill, and is one of just seven nationally recognised martial arts experts. In 1968, at the age of 16 years old, he became a student of Mr Xu Jinsheng (徐金生), with whom he studied Chen (陈) Style Taijiquan. Later, Master Liu Jianping became a ‘behind closed door‘ (入室 – Ru Shi) disciple of the Great Master Feng Zhiqiang (冯志强). Through expert training and good guidance, Master Liu Jianping also became proficient in ‘Eight Diagram Palm’ (八卦掌 – Ba Gua Zhang), and ‘Iron Sand Palm’ (铁砂掌 – Tie Sha Zhang), training as an inner disciple of the Great Master of Bagua - Wang Zhuanglei (王壮飞) [1910-1997].
Reporter: What are your impressions of the recent events in Chengdu involving the fight between Taijiquan and MMA?
Liu Jianping: This was not a fight between two styles or systems of martial arts, simply because no such competition is possible. A martial style or system is comprised of hundreds or thousands of students and teachers, each with its own unique history and philosophical approach to self-defence and living within a civilised community. When individuals choose to ‘test’ their martial skills against one another, then it must be logically acknowledged that such a contest is between the individuals concerned, and the curse of events dictated by the personal histories of those participants. No one is perfect, and everybody trains everyday to improve this or that weakness. What might be deficient today, might not be deficient tomorrow, due to improved understanding through further training. Conversely, someone who possesses excellent physical skills, might well suffer a set-back through injury and/or illness. The situation is fluid and pliable, which means that individuals might win or lose a fight for any number of reasons. Victory does not necessarily suggest a better moral character or dominant martial technique, and defeat does not always imply a deficiency. Although traditional Chinese martial arts can be used in a positive sporting context, it is also true that these teachings serve as a vehicle for moral and spiritual development. Therefore, traditional Chinese martial arts are MORE than sport, and should be treated with the appropriate respect. Master Wei Lei’s defeat is a personal matter entirely for himself, but the manner in which Xu Xiaodong has behaved (filming and sharing the footage in public), has meant a private moment has become public knowledge. My advice is to keep the mind calm, and not get swept along with the ‘hype’ and ‘hysteria’ that these kinds of media events are designed to generate and promote.
Reporter: Do you think that Xu Xiaodong, regardless of his behaviour, has demonstrated a serious weakness in Taijiquan as a martial art? If so, could this be a problem with Master Wei Lei’s style ‘Lei Gong’ (雷公)?
Liu Jianping: Not at all. Circumstances change all the time, and never remain the same. A brutish approach might work for a short-time, but eventually it will be bettered by a more controlled and internal counter-measure. If Master Wei Lei had possessed all the required Taijiquan fighting skills, matters would have transpired very differently, either during the fight, or perhaps with the surrounding circumstances being handled in a more mature and wise fashion, and no fight taking place. It is my understanding that Master Wei Lei has developed a derivative branch of Yang (楊) Style termed ‘Lei Gong’ and that this is designed to help people with longterm illnesses to heal. This is a proper and good use of Taijiquan that is inaccordance with the principles of traditional Chinese medicine – how could this be defeated? I have not heard of this style – but there are many ‘folk’ styles throughout China - too numerous to mention. Some are profound whilst others are technically limited but functional. In unsettled times, sometimes standards drop and experts die-away, causing chaos and misunderstanding, although in this situation, the problem appears to lie in personal ambition and ego glorification. In reality, Master Wei Lei’s losing to Xu Xiaodong has nothing to do with Taijiquan, and that is the approach I would take.
Reporter: Some people have suggested that modern combat sports are more effective than Taijiquan technique for self-defence, what is your opinion?
Liu Jianping: This assumption is incorrect. Master Wei Lei does not represent Taijiquan, and more to the point, Xu Xiaodong does not possess the authority to represent modern combat sport, how could he? This kind of limited sparring that involved a padded floor and a referee is a contrived situation that bears no resemblance to the battlefield conditions from which Taijiquan, or the modern situations where Taijiquan might have to be used in self-defence within society (due to the criminal behaviour of others). The techniques of modern combat sports are designed for securing victory through a limited contest setting, whereby the winner is given money, medals or similar, and whose ego is therefore boosted as a result. This has nothing to do with Chinese culture – either ancient or modern. Taijiquan is the ‘science’ of combat which is complex and difficult to learn. On the other hand, when people look at Taijiquan practice, they will be limited in their understanding to the level of knowledge and experience they possess. Obviously, Xu Xiaodong is motivated by selfish ideals, and possesses very little real insight. What must be remembered is that Master Yang Luchan (杨露禅) was a disciple of Master Chen Zhangxing (陈长兴), and when he went to Beijing as a fully fledged martial artist – he became known as ‘Yang the Invincible’ (杨无敌 – Yang Wu Di) – as no one (regardless of style) could beat his Taijiquan technique. As Taijiquan is so popular today, many use its technique to keep fit and healthy without learning the combative element – which I believe is the situation with Master Wei Lei.
Reporter: It is my understanding that Xu Xiaodong has threatened Master Wang Zhanjun (王战军) as one of the three principle Taijiquan practitioners he would like to fight, to prove their arts useless – what are your views on this?
Liu Jianping: My view is that the proper attitude for a Chinese martial arts practitioner is one of tolerance and respect, and that in this regard, Xu Xiaodong viewpoints are deficient and misled. Another factor is patience with those whose minds are confused and prone to errors in opinions and behaviours. It is better to remain ‘still’ and ‘quiet’ in the face of such provocation.
Reporter: Wenzhou is renowned as a centre of Chen Style Taijiquan practice – how do you think this incident will impact the martial arts community?
Liu Jianping: In truth, I cannot say, but I suspect nothing much will happen. It is only in the popular imagination that this case has taken on a life of its own, but in reality it is just a product of stupidity and poor judgement. With all due respect, Master Wei Lei is not a major representative of Taijiquan in China, and so his lose is personal only, but if someone of the stature of Wang Zhanjun (or his brother Wang Zhanhai - 王战海) were to be defeated (which is unlikely), that would be a different matter altogether. Why? I have met both these excellent martial artists in Wenzhou (Wang Zhanjun was the 2008 winner of the Wulin Grand Championship for Chen Style Taijiquan practice). This is simply a matter of quality of lineage and transmission.
Reporter: What are your views on the 20 second video Xu Xiaodong uploaded onto Youku?
Liu Jianping: The video is very short and not of good quality. The film angle (and stability) is so poor that it is difficult to discern anything with clarity. Certainly, nothing of significance transpired. I could not see what technique Master Wei Lei was performing, or how much of an effort he was making. In this regard, I cannot add much more insight.
Reporter: What can you say about the development of Taijiquan n Wenzhou?
Liu Jianping: There are six established Taijiquan schools: Yang (杨) Style, Chen (陈) Style, Wu (吴) Style, Wu (武) Style, Sun (孙) style, and He (和) Style - although within Wenzhou, people tend to favour the Yang Style. Local history traces the presence of folk martial arts as far back as the Ming Dynasty, (and before) with Yang Style Taijiquan coming into the area as the first Taijiquan tradition – where many successful schools were developed. Although Wenzhou is known for Chen Style Taijiquan today, in fact, many people in the area practice Yang Style. Both styles exist side by side, because of course, they are historically linked. Certainly, there is no contradiction or antagonism between the two styles – as only a sense of openness and co-operation exists. Of course, as the path of history does not always run smoothly, there have been times when martial arts practice has died-out, or perhaps gone underground, but today, following decades of peace in China, the Wenzhou martial arts community is thriving! In 2014, the Wenzhou Taijiquan Sports Association was founded. This pulled together all the martial arts schools in the area to assist the government implement its nation-wide policy of improving health and fitness throughout the country. This is not a new policy, but it has taken many decades to spread effectively throughout the thousands of villages, towns and cities of China. The emphasis is upon volunteering to teach Taijiquan ‘free of charge’ in public spaces such as parks, squares and other open areas, and to encourage all citizens to practice daily so as to ensure their good health. Teaching for free is part of developing a virtuous character within martial arts training. In these modern times, there are two ways to teach Taijiquan – one is to introduce a group of different people to the art and help them build a regular practice – whilst the second method is for a master to watch all those who train, as a means to carefully choose formal ‘disciples’. Those selected are then taken ‘behind closed doors’ for advanced training.
Reporter: Are there any problems with the development of Taijiquan practice?
Liu Jianping: Not at all. Taijiquan for public use is easy to learn and easy to teach – so the standards at this point are not too demanding. Anyone can learn, and after a few months, teach others. This is the modern approach which is useful for mass propagation, but is different from the traditional model which has very high standards and is difficult to penetrate. Only those with a virtuous attitude can proceed in the traditional manner. Both models exist side by side in modern China.
Reporter: Is Taijiquan practice really good for health?
Liu Jianping: Yes. Taijiquan philosophy is premised upon the interaction of yin and yang, and the five phases of qi transformation – in other words – the same foundation as traditional Chinese medicine. This is why the ancient sages practised Taijiquan as a means to build robust health and pro-long life expectancy. It is this historical association with Daoism – which perceives Taijiquan practice as a form of medicine – that has led to the modern emphasis upon practice for health. This is not a bad thing – as even Taijiquan practice for self-defence is still premised upon the preservation of good health.
Reporter: What is your advice for the modern Taijiquan practitioner?
Liu Jianping: 1) Find a good teacher. 2) Persevere. 3) Still and quiet the mind. 4) Fully circulate the ‘air’, or ‘oxygen’ (空气 – Kong Qi), or ‘empty energy’ throughout all the energy channels of the body – thus opening these channels and strengthening the qi energy circulation, inner organs and other physical structures.