I have something to admit as a practitioner of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, I love watching mixed martial arts (MMA) fights. Ever since the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) first appeared in the mid-1990’s I have enjoyed watching them from time-to-time. Although I have never put in the effort to train and compete in MMA (mostly because I prefer stand up fighting, and never dedicated myself enough to developing a “ground game”), I truly enjoy how well trained these fighters can be, especially in the UFC.
That being said, I also truly love Traditional Chinese Martial Arts (TCMA) which I have been enamored with since I was a teenager. I especially enjoy training in the arts of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang whom I have mostly learned from Tim Cartmell in Fountain Valley, CA. Tim has often provided a vast resource of knowledge in the martial arts, especially the Chinese Internal Martial Arts (CIMA) that have truly allowed me to grow in my ability to apply these arts in a combative arena. I have also trained in Jeet Kune Do, boxing, Sanda/Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiujitsu; all of which have helped me develop into some-what of a competent martial artist.
With that in mind, something really bothers me about the TCMA community as it stands now. They have completely refused to accept that MMA is an effective sporting platform in which to test their skills with as little rules as possible for a sanctioned sport within our current society-accepted morals. This troubles me some. In some sense, I do understand that from a self-defense/combative stand-point, fighting on the ground is dangerous, and can be deadly; however, it is completely necessary to learn for fighting in MMA bouts. I know that there is a stigma amongst the Chinese who train in their martial arts that ground fighting is what dogs do, and you don’t want to be a dog (I have had Chinese friends tell me personally that they think MMA fighters are beasts/animals and not even human).
Then there is Chinese Wrestling (Shuai Jiao), which is exclusively done on the feet, with a rule set that if something other than your feet touch the ground, you lose! This is fine, and Shuai Jiao is a fantastic martial art that can add a lot of value to other TCMA, and there is historical evidence that a great deal of masters throughout several Chinese styles would train in Shuai Jiao in addition to their art. Even if we look at several of the forms of different styles, they tactically only make sense in the context of Shuai Jiao.
I train primarily in Cheng School, Sun Style Baguazhang (I have also dabbled in Gao Yisheng Style as well) which is largely about throwing and takedowns, although there is striking, kicking, and grappling involved as well. This style of Baguazhang (of which there are many) was founded by Sun, Lu Tang in the early 1900’s where he was a student of Cheng, Ting Hua who was a Shuai Jiao expert before studying with Baguazhang creator Dong, Haichuan. Dong was noted for teaching his students based on their knowledge of whatever martial art they had been an expert in previously. This is why Baguazhang that comes from the Cheng, Tinghua line has a great deal of focus (or at least it should) on throwing and takedowns.
What does this have to do with my wonderment of why TCMA practitioners dislike MMA? Well, when I examine TCMA history from time-to-time, I find that such and such master fought lei tai matches and won. Knowing somewhat about these lei tai matches especially for Xingyiquan fighters, they often fought in these bouts which can be very likened to MMA bouts today sans the ground element. By some accounts these fights were quite brutal, sometimes involving the signing of death waivers, and resulting in serious and permanent injury. So why is that TCMA practitioners are so disturbed, generally speaking, by MMA? Is it cultural? Perhaps, but I think it has to do more with the modernization of TCMA for health back in the early to mid-1900’s, the disdain for anything considered “ancient and barbaric” by the Chinese Communists, as well as the introduction of the modern wushu performance art.
You might be asking yourself by now about San Da (aka San Shou) which is a good combat sport practiced throughout the world, one I have competed in at a minor, tournament level (I’m 1-2, LOL). San Da was originally developed in the 1950’s by the Chinese Red Army borrowing from its eclectic group of indigenous martial arts, boxing, and probably some Tae Kwon Do (which I am told is all the rage all over China). They use boxing gloves, and can kick, punch, and clinch where they are allowed to throw or takedown but stop just at the ground. They also score by knocking their opponent out of the ring, which comes from the lei tai traditions previously mentioned. All in all, it is a promising sport to aid in the development of future MMA fighters to a certain degree. The ground game, however, is an aspect still lacking in modern combative sports coming from China.
This is not to say that the Chinese have completely ignored ground fighting altogether, in fact many arts – Xingyiquan (Ground Dragon Canon) being one of them – have developed techniques of what to do when a fighter is knocked down. This makes sense when one thinks about how things might have been during a battle in ancient times, best to figure out how to get up as quickly as possible before you are killed. However, these methods are far from the sophistication of modern jujitsu or submission grappling.
The TCMA are also known for what is considered Qin Na (Chin na) which literally means Seize Control. It is primarily standing submission grappling, and sometimes used as submission wrestling where the lock/choke is applied and then the opponent is thrown to the ground. However, when I was training Xingyiquan with Tim one day and he showed me a figure-four lock from Pao Quan (the fourth element) I had asked him about Qin Na, stating that I always had trouble applying it unless I hit the person prior. He told me that he knew about three hundred techniques (and yes I’m remembering that number right) but said that maybe about six are actually considered relatively high percentage moves.
What does this have to do with TCMA’s disgust with MMA? A lot because it doesn’t make sense to me in light of the fact that martial artists of the 1800s enjoyed fighting, in fact they cared more about fighting and less about the styles they used. It fascinates me as well that modern TCMA practitioners often demonstrate an arrogant attitude in which they feel TCMA is somehow special when compared to other martial arts. There is also this attitude that MMA is not real fighting, and real fighting is only done on the streets. While I agree to this to some extent, I also see TCMA’s ignorance of MMA fighter’s training and abilities. If I’m going to be honest, and despite my absolute love for TCMA (and its true practical potential), I would rather have an MMA fighter (who trains and fights regularly) on my side in a fight than the guy who goes once or twice a week to class, never spars, only practices forms, and doesn’t hit bags/pads/mitts. MMA may not be “real fighting” but you won’t get any more real than that, unless you go pick a fight yourself.