Xu Xiaodong: A Modern Martial Arts Hero

MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong has been consistently punished by the Chinese government for exposing fraudulent Tai Chi and Kung Fu masters in singular combat.

Bullshido: martial arts instruction that is fraudulent, inept or otherwise not worth trusting (from a portmanteau of bushido and bullshit)

Perhaps I am an idealist, but I am of the conviction that integrity is an essential, core tenant of being a martial artist. In Muay Thai, we spar to stress test our skills against live, thinking opponents. Same thing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we roll against each other on the mat to gauge how well we can apply our techniques against a resistant human. See, you can claim to have skills in these arts, but actions speak louder than words. How well you spar in the ring will tell us more about what kind of kickboxer you are than words do. How well you can roll on the mats speaks volumes, more so than any boasts or the belt around your waist. Schools that do not stress test their techniques tend to trigger my Bullshido detector. Either you can use your martial art effectively, or you are practicing Bullshido. Unfortunately, despite our access to information, Bullshido is still alarmingly abundant. I believe it to be incumbent upon the martial arts community to call this out and expose it whenever possible. 

Enter Xu Xioadong, a Chinese MMA fighter who has made a reputation beating so-called traditional “masters” in fights, exposing them as frauds and their styles as ineffective. He came to prominence in 2017 when a video of him beating the shit out of Tai Chi master Wei Lei in 20 seconds went viral. With each Bullshido master Xu exposes, he is effectively doing the world a service; yet because of this he has been shunned by the Chinese martial arts community and oppressed by the Chinese government. Xu’s social credit score was dramatically reduced, hindering his ability to travel, own property or even pay rent. The Shenshahi school of Sanda, of which he graduated, and even taught at, asked him to keep their name out of his mouth. A Chinese beverage tycoon offered a prize of one million US dollars to any Tai Chi fighter who could defeat Xu (a prize that remains unclaimed for obvious reasons). So, why is exposing Bullshido such a controversial and revolutionary act in China? 

The fight that made Xu Xiaodong famous: exposing Lei Wei as a fraud and Tai Chi as ineffective

Ostensibly it’s about tradition. But the reality is it’s about the illusion of greatness and a deep-seated cultural insecurity within the Chinese government and the Chinese martial arts community. See, it’s like this: Chinese martial arts, which include Tai Chi and the many different styles of Kung Fu, are considered a valuable cultural export. There has long been an air of mysticism that exists around the masters of these arts, and a false perception that their abilities border on the supernatural. To besmirch these arts or their masters in any way is disrespectful to Chinese tradition, and apparently tantamount to disparaging China itself. Driving this point home, China had nominated Tai Chi to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage one month before Xu Xiaodong beat Wei Lei in short and brutal fashion. By publicly calling out and defeating a well known and respected grand master of Tai Chi, Xu had inadvertently attracted the ire of the Chinese government.

So why does this matter? Look, we can all agree that tradition is very important, as is honoring our cultural heritage. There is nothing wrong with that. But tradition should not come at the cost of the truth, nor should it be used as an excuse to silence those who would show us the truth. The reality is Chinese martial arts were probably very effective at one time many moons ago, but because of a rigorous adherence to “tradition” and a lack of stress testing against outside arts, these styles have failed to evolve. They remained stagnant, while outside their cultural bubble, cross training and MMA have become the norm. I highly doubt Xu’s intentions are disrespectful, I think he just cares about integrity in martial arts. Either way, he is correct to call this out and expose it.  Even the Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin agrees; he has publicly voiced support for Xu, explaining that Xu’s actions are actually beneficial to the traditional art form. 

Xu is forced to wear makeup in order to continue fighting.

The fact of the matter is, contrary to the stance taken by the Chinese government and the Chinese Wushu Association (CWA), this may be the best thing to happen to Chinese martial arts, as now these styles have been exposed, and have an opportunity to improve and grow. Evolution and tradition are not mutually exclusive, they can and should co-exist. Chinese martial arts practitioners can still keep their heritage alive while bettering their practice. Predictably, XU’s actions spawned a trend of Chinese MMA fighters challenging so-called Kung Fu and Tai Chi “masters” in singular combat and usually wrecking them. As a result in 2020, the CWA issued an edict forbidding Chinese martial arts practitioners from calling themselves “masters,” in effort to cut down on practitioners misrepresenting themselves for clout. I suppose this is a step in the right direction, but time will tell. 

Xu Xiaodong is such a fascinating human being in my opinion, and he has paid a very high price for his commitment to integrity and honesty. It’s not my intent to write an in-depth biography or anything, this is simply a blog post about my opinions on things pertaining to martial arts. But here is a quick rundown: the Chinese powers that be have stifled Xu by restricting his ability to earn, his ability to travel, and his ability to take care of his family. The Chinese government even forced him to publicly apologize to one of the Bullshido masters he publicly called out. In order to continue fighting, he has been forced to wear clown paint or Beijing opera makeup. And yet the man persists, following his love and passion for the martial arts. Below are some links to some fascinating and in-depth articles I came across while researching this topic. Reading up on Xu Xiaodong really made me grateful to live outside of China. In my opinion there is no perfect government, but holy shit at least mine won’t try to ruin my life for speaking honestly and truthfully about martial arts.

Until next time, my friends, stay away from Bullshido, train well, and remember to breathe.

One thought on “Xu Xiaodong: A Modern Martial Arts Hero

  1. Martial Arts are a big export of China. Check out their most recent IP Man movie for an interesting piece of Chinese propaganda. There’s a great deal interesting in it, but one of particular note is how they tried to rewrite Bruce Lee’s interactions with the other martial arts leaders in America.

    I’ll check out this Xiaodong guy. Didn’t know about this, but I don’t spend much time looking at martial arts online.


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