Wing Chun (Ding Hao) vs MMA (Xu Xiao Dong), in China

After his fight with the “Tai Chi master” Wei Lei, which rocked the contemporary martial arts scene in China, Xu Xiao Dong, the MMA fighter on a mission to expose “fake masters” is back on the scene this time showing his skills against a Wing Chun fighter.

China doesn’t have the sort of government regime which tolerates people who rock the boat, so I’m pleased to see that Xu is no longer under detention, as I feared we may never have seen him again after what happened last time.

Here’s the fight:


It’s a pretty ugly fight. Here are my takeaways:

  • Ding Hao clearly lacks realistic sparring experience, as he falls apart pretty quickly. His grappling was non-existent.
  • Xu Xiao Dong is pretty much a ‘stand and bang’ type fighter. Or maybe he felt so unthreatened by Ding that he didn’t feel the need to do much of anything else.
  • The ref makes some daring saves!
  • Why are they wearing such different clothing? Ding has shoes on! Only Xu is wearing gloves. Xu is grabbing Ding’s clothing to throw and control him. It’s a mess.
  • Why are they fighting on what looks like a red carpet used for movie premieres or award shows?
  • If you watch Ding throughout the fight you can see him try to adapt as he realises what he is doing isn’t working. He starts off looking very much like classical Wing Chun and ends up looking more like Jeet Kune Do. It’s like watching the evolution of Bruce Lee in microcosm!

Here’s some background about Xu Xiao Dong and his fights and detention by police in China:


Fight against Wei Lei:





Using movement for self defence, not blocks

I really liked the above clip by Rob Poynton of Cutting Edge Systema. It’s about the idea of using movement, rather than a fixed, rooted stance or hand blocks, to defend yourself.

To break down the message:

  • Your first reaction should be to move.
  • Use the legs for defence (stepping) and not the arms to block.
  • With your arms free you can use them for other things – like takedowns or strikes.

It’s simple, common sense advice when it comes to martial arts. The XingYi I learned was based around exactly the same concepts, incidentally. If you look at a lot of MMA fighters you see the same set of principles in action. If you think about it, you generally don’t see them doing a lot of blocking with their hands. Instead, they are moving and slipping punches. Obviously, there are exceptions – for example, the last MMA fight I watched was Yoel Romero vs Luke Rockhold, at UFC 221 in which Romero did a series of bizarre-looking arm blocks throughout the fight, yet came out on top.


To be fair though, it wasn’t getting him anywhere – he was getting him picked apart by Rockhold until Romero finally broke through and delivered a knockout blow, possibly by virtue of being one of the toughest human beings alive at the moment.

I think Rob’s right in saying that the traditional arts are slow to teach this concept of movement, though. Generally, you hear things said like “if you don’t spar you’ll never be able to use it”, which is true, of course, but how about actually breaking down and analysing what you learn in sparring, and bringing it back into training to refine it? I think that’s what Rob is showing here.

The point about a fear-based response vs a confidence-based response is also very interesting.

Of course, the counter-argument is ‘where are all the great Systema fighters, then?’ But it’s pretty clear that Systema isn’t really designed primarily for being used in a cage. It seems like a pretty useful life skill though, full of concepts you can more easily transfer to your day to day existence.

4 ways Conor McGregor can improve your Kung Fu


Another article of mine has appeared on – this one was fun to write as I’m a big fan of The Notorious’ fighting style:

4 Ways Conor McGregor can improve your Kung Fu.


If you liked this article you might also like:

Review: Notorious – The life and fights of Conor McGregor (Jack Slack)

Warrior scholar: A Jack Slack primer

Ido Portal and the possibilities of Neijia

Kung Fu in MMA


Bruce Lee Long Beach Karate Tournament 1967

New footage of Bruce Lee sparring his students Ted Wong and Taky Kimura at the Long Beach Karate Championship in 1967 has recently emerged, and it’s a joy to watch.

The clip was billed on Facebook and even in the national press like the Daily Mail and Mirror as footage of Bruce Lee’s only “real fight caught on camera”, but that’s just nonsense, obviously, as it’s just a sparring session. True, it’s not a choreographed demonstration, but it’s also a long way from being a “fight”. The sparring partner is also frequently, incorrectly, named as Bruce’s other famous student, Dan Inosanto.

I actually trained Jeet Kune Do for a good couple of years, so I can see what Bruce is doing in the clip as it’s pretty much what we trained every class: a strong lead forward fighting stance with the back heel up, the front fist pointing at the opponent, the use of hand trapping, the footwork, the lead leg attacks, but most of all the idea of intercepting the opponent’s attack using superior timing. This is the “Jeet” part of Jeet Kune Do, which translates as the “Way of the intercepting fist”. (Interestingly, I found later on that the Chinese martial art of Xingyiquan is also very big on this idea).

Bruce really was ahead of the game here. His quality of his movement has the same sort of fluidity that you see in modern high level fighters like Connor McGregor, and his timing is excellent. As Connor McGregor says often “Precision beats power, timing beats speed”.

What’s also interesting is the gear they are wearing. When I was training Jeet Kune Do we wore almost identical gear for sparring. I still have it all somewhere in my loft! The lineage of Jeet Kune Do I trained in came down from Tommy Caruthers, who was based in Glasgow, UK, and was influenced by all of Bruce’s students (including Jesse Glover), but at the time I was training it, Ted Wong was a probably the biggest influence.

If you want to get a better idea of what’s going on in the clip then there are videos out there that break down the technique he shows, like this one:

And this one:

Being able to see such good quality clips of Bruce Lee sparring from 1967 is a treat. He was one of the great innovators in martial arts and rightly deserves his place amongst the greats of the art. What would he be doing now if he hadn’t died such an untimely death? We can only wonder.



Aikido vs MMA – real sparring

This is a follow up post to yesterdays post about Tai Chi vs MMA. As I said in the last post, I thought the Tai Chi guy took way too much damage if the point of it was to discover if Tai Chi worked in an MMA environment. Obviously, it was more of a challenge match involving a clash of egos, so it didn’t go down like that, but there are better and friendlier ways to test your traditional martial arts in a more challenging environment.

That’s why I really like this clip of a 13-year Aikido guy trying his stuff on an MMA fighter in a ring. Nobody gets hurt and the Aikido guy has the chance to let the scales fall from his eyes without suffering brain trauma in the process.

It’s a great video and well worth watching. Well done to both of them – and let’s see more of this please!


Full contact Tai Chi. A painful lesson in reality.

A video clip has been doing the rounds on the Internet recently about a “Tai Chi master” called Lei Gong who accepted the challenge of a Chinese MMA fighter/coach called Xu Xiaodong to an actual fight. Here’s what happened:

As you can see the Tai Chi master had his bell rung very quickly and very convincingly. The whole video lasts 47 seconds. It’s clear from the first few seconds of the actual fight that Lei Gong is way out of his depth and shouldn’t be in there with Xu. He had no idea how to deal with an opponent who was actually attacking him, not just dancing around making strange shapes in the air, like his student presumably do for him.

(The stoppage by the ref was a bit late for me, and Lei Gong ended up taking more punishment than he should have. The effects of head trauma are all too real, but it seems that this is the price he had to pay to be woken from his dream of magic fighting ability).

Generally, I think that this fight was a good thing for Tai Chi as a whole. Let me explain.

The challenge arose after Lei Gong appeared on a Chinese Television programme called “Experiencing Real Kung Fu” claiming to have sparring and fighting ability with Tai Chi. He spared one of the hosts of the show in the programme. See below at 9.30:

Xu’s beef with the show was that people claiming these sorts of abilities better be able to back it up.

The sad truth is that most things in China are fake, including their TV shows! I’ve seen so many of these types of shows now where Tai Chi masters go up against Muay Thai or Karate people, or wrestlers. They’re all fake. Does that mean Tai Chi is fake too? I don’t think so, but I think it exposes the complete lack of realism that is prevalent in the Tai Chi culture. It’s not rocket science: if you want to be able to actually fight with any art, then you have to practice actually fighting with it.

Xu seems to have a particular problem with the big dogs of Chen village who charge a lot of money for people to become disciples to learn their special skills. I can see where he’s coming from – if you look at what you learn in a typical seminar from a big name in the Chen style, then none of this is going to prepare you for an encounter like the one Lei Gong was in.

Xu’s argument, which I think is logically valid, is that if you’re going to charge all that money for something you better be able to prove it works. He’s now challenged the son of Wang Xi’an, one of the “4 tigers of Chen village”, but Wang’s son will only send his student, who has also been trained in SanDa (Chinese kickboxing with throws as well) to fight Xu. Xu, understandably says this will not do, because he wants to test Chen style Tai Chi. This will probably rumble on a bit and lead nowhere.

I was chatting with a friend about the whole thing and he said something like “I think that all martial arts, once they actually spar end up looking like some version of MMA”.

I think he’s probably right. I’ve written before about the delusion of grace under pressure and how so many people’s idea of what Tai Chi should look like in a fight is so way off.

MMA is what martial arts look like when stripped down to pure functionality. When all the cultural trappings have been removed. Chinese Martial Arts does contain its own bad-ass martial artists, but still, those arts contain things that are not purely about fighting. And for a good reason – they perform a useful social function. MMA also performs a useful social function, but more in the same way that Western boxing does, not in the way that Chinese Martial Art does.

Perhaps we’re all missing something. There are special skills you can only get from Tai Chi, and I think people have a right to teach these things without having to fight MMA to prove it works. I also don’t believe that all the people who are paying lots of money to become indoor disciples of Chen style masters think they are being given a kind of ‘master-key’ to martial arts that will mean they will be able to fight 21-year old athletes without ever having to spar first. It’s more like they are buying into a tradition. Once they buy in they’ll (hopefully) get the skills the tradition is famous for*, and be able to set themselves up as teachers. The problem comes when they get delusional and start to see themselves as bad-ass fighters when they don’t have a right to. This situation is made worse by the acceptance of fakeness, or cheating, in Chinese culture and TV shows.

It’s a messy situation, but it is what it is. Welcome to the world of Tai Chi. What matters is you and your training. Use your own reasoning to asses what you’re doing and what skills it is actually giving you, and don’t start to claim you can do things you can’t, otherwise you might suffer a painful wake-up call, like Lei Gong did.

*Of course, whether somebody who is not Chinese and not even from Chen village would ever really be taught the real skills of the family is open for debate anyway.


Fight Mom


One MMA fighter I haven’t paid much attention to is Michelle Waterson, “the Karate Hottie”, who fights “Thug” Rose Namajunas in UFC211 tonight. The winner of which will presumably challenge the formidable Joanna Jędrzejczyk, who I have written about before, for the Women’s Strawweight title.

In her last outing with the UFC Michelle made short work of the UFC’s golden girl, Page VanZant, winning by rear naked choke in the first round:

What’s interesting about Michelle is that she comes from a traditional Karate background, although to look at her fight these days she looks more like a Muay Thai/Jiujitsu fighter, but in the Page fight she made frequent use of the sidekick, a staple from Karate.

In the following video she talks about the problems of adapting traditional Karate kicking techniques to the MMA world. It’s interesting on a technical level and very refreshing in its honesty about what happens when ideas meet reality:

In the brash, trash-talking, world of MMA Waterson, with her traditional ideas of martial arts respect and humility, seems like a breath of fresh air. She’s down-to-earth, possessing a natural charm.

Her journey from Karate fighter, to MMA fighter, to world Champion with Invicita then moving to the UFC, having a daughter and her supportive husband, who gave up his boxing career for her are all documented in the brilliant film Fight Mom, which you can watch in full here:

Win or lose tonight, Michelle has had a hell of a ride to get to where she is today, and I look forward to every chance I get to see what she can do in the UFC.


Review: Notorious – The life and fights of Conor McGregor (Jack Slack)


I’ve been a fan of Jack Slack’s fight breakdowns on for years now. He’s got a keen insight into the fight game and a knack of knowing exactly why, on a technical level, one fighter just beat another. I’d go as far to say that he’s totally changed my appreciation of the depth of the technicalities of Mixed Martial Arts, and even inspired me to write a few breakdowns of my own.

So, I was really looking forward to this, his first proper foray into the book world, in which Jack (that’s his nom de plume) applies his writing sharps to tackle the MMA phenomena that is Conor McGregor. But here’s the thing – in short articles, his keen observational style shines, especially when backed up with video or GIFs of the situations he’s describing. In book format he’s limited to a few scrappy cartoon style drawings to illustrate his points. The result is a bit like listening to a boxing match on the radio – you just end up thinking this would be so much better if I could see what was going on.

The book is essentially Jack describing every single Conor fight in detail – right from his humble beginnings in Cage Warriors to to his title fights in the UFC. The endless blow by blow accounts of every match become something of a battle to get through themselves, and I found myself skipping paragraphs just to get to the more interesting and high profile fights later in the book.

It’s also noticeable that Conor the man is entirely missing from this book. There are no new interviews with him, no interviews with his friends or coaches. With no access to the star of the book all we have is a few quotes from other people’s interviews and UFC press conferences. We don’t really get any insight into the mind of McGregor. I’d love to know exactly how a kid with a background in pure boxing picked up all those Taekwon Do and Capoeria kicks. Where did he get them from? What was his inspiration? And how, exactly did he get so good at them? What are his training secrets?

What we have here instead is a straightforward analysis of every fight Conor has ever had. Perhaps I’m being too harsh because there are plenty of fun moments to be had in these pages, especially later on when he gets into MMA politics, but Jack is more of an analyst than a Booker prize-winning writer. In a longer format, and without video clips to illustrate his points, he slips too easily into cliche  – repeatedly calling blood “claret” – or churning out questionable analogies, like “with arteries closing faster than those of a Glaswegian chain smoker”.

If you want to find to exactly how the conflicting styles of Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor’s produced two of the most entertaining MMA fights in history then read on, for glimpses of what inspired the creative genius behind the techniques, we’re still waiting.

Rating: 3/5 glowing Tai Chi Notebook orbs


New Year thoughts: Empty and solid, the Tai Chi classics and UFC207

Happy New Year!


Just browsing through the Internet on a lazy New Year day’s morning I noticed once again how my feeds tend to bring together the old and the new in one continuous stream of “Internet”, showing me videos and writing that are almost 100 years apart, yet seem to be talking the same language.

For example, we’ve just had UFC 207 in which (warning, SPOILERS) Ronda Rousey made her come back for a not-so-glorious 48 seconds, and was hit with 27 punches from Amanda Nunes (that connected) without landing a single blow back and was saved by the referee from further damage. She looked totally outclassed in the striking department. This was further highlighted by the previous championship bout between Cody Garbrant and Dominic Cruz, which was like an exhibition match, showing incredible timing, footwork and striking ability over 5 truly glorious rounds. The belt went to Cody via decision in the end, but Cruz fought like a warrior and his footwork was as outstanding as ever even if it occasionally left him open.

The two matches couldn’t have been more different; one a display of how bad footwork and poor defence meeting strong striking results in total domination, the other a display of perfect timing and offence mixed with defensive footwork on both sides resulting in a game of inches.

I don’t know how long these links will last but here are the full fights:

Screen Shot 2017-01-01 at 10.45.23.png

Ronda vs Nunes


MMA: UFC 207-Garbrandt vs Cruz

Cody vs Dominic


And here’s the ‘old’ I talked about at the start: this morning I received a notification that there’s a new Brennan translation out. Here it is:


Brennan translations are free translations of old Tai Chi manuals. This is one from a Yang Cheng-Fu student published in the 1940s. I’ve skim read a few parts now of this new one, and I really like it, and the translation is done in a way that you can read it without being perplexed at obscure phrases.

For example, here’s a good quote:

“Every movement in Taiji Boxing is always half empty and half full, and is like a round sphere. This is not only the case for large movements, but also for the smallest movement of any part of the body. From beginning to end, movement is continuous, like the ceaseless movement of the universe through the sky. Taiji Boxing uses the abdomen as the axis of the whole body, so that whatever way your are moving – forward and back, side to side, up and down, or reversing direction – the limbs and trunk are all being moved from the abdomen, going along with its movement like the stars following the setting sun. Therefore Taiji Boxing is an exercise that conforms very much to naturalness.”

Ok, stars don’t strictly “follow” the setting sun, but I think it gives a nice poetic metaphor.

In particular, I like chapter 7, in the manual “SEVEN: METHODS OF PRACTICING EMPTINESS & FULLNESS” Personally, I think getting an understanding of empty and full, as a strategy, is key to applying all martial arts in a live situation.

In chapter 7, it says:

“Empty to defend, then fill to attack. This is the key to the art.
If you spot the moment to become full and yet do not issue, the art will be difficult to master.
There is emptiness and fullness within emptiness and fullness.
When your “fullness” is really full and your “emptiness” is really empty, you will attack without missing.”

And right away I’m reminded of the fights this weekend at UFC 207. Dominic Cruz is a master of this principle. He creates a fullness, enticing the opponent to strike him, then as the strikes come, takes that fullness away and gives them only emptiness to hit – usually thin air, but at the same time (and this is the key to making it really successful) hitting them with a ‘full’ strike from somewhere else. To be fair, Cody Garbrant displayed some equally good demonstrations of this concept, but he did it more by bobbing and weaving on the spot, while Cruz displayed his rare talent for doing it while moving in and out, which makes it even more exciting to watch.

In contrast, Ronda had none of this. Her footwork was plodding, her body movement stiff and she continually met the fullness of Amanda Nunes’ punches with the fullness of her own face, with predictable results.

As Wu’s book goes on to say:

“Practitioners of martial arts have to study the principle of emptiness and fullness. It is not only a feature of Taiji Boxing, all other martial arts have it too.”

Indeed – it’s not really a Tai Chi-specific concept I’m talking about there, but it is part of Tai Chi Chun as a martial art. Indeed, the concept of emptiness and fullness forms the title and theme of chapter 6 in the classic military text, Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

Wu goes on to explain the two key phrases:

“Empty to defend, then fill to attack. This is the key to the art.
If you spot the moment to become full and yet do not issue, the art will be difficult to master.”


“These two phrases form the theory of how to apply emptiness and fullness. When it is time for emptiness, defend, and when it is time for fullness, attack. “Empty to defend. Fill to attack.” This is an unchanging rule of attack and defense in martial arts, the highest skill. If the opponent attacks with fierce power (i.e. fullness), I do not resist him directly, instead I avoid his main force to let it dissipate. Once he has missed and switches his fullness to emptiness, I immediately enter while he is empty. To “spot the moment to become full” means that when he empties, I fill. But if I do not attack at that moment, the result will be that I have let opportunity pass me by. To “not issue” in such a moment indicates that you are unable to determine emptiness and fullness, and the techniques will naturally be difficult for you to master.”

It seems to me that a lot of what has been preserved in the Tai Chi classics is a distillation of many popular martial arts sayings, and not phrases created specifically for Tai Chi Chuan. In this case they come from Sun Tzu in the 5th century BC. And, as the fights from UFC207 at the end of 2016 prove, they’re as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.


Joanna Champion: It’s all in the legs

You get hurt, hurt ‘em back. You get killed… walk it off.


There’s a moment in Marvel Avengers: Age of Ultron when Steve Rogers addresses his assembled superheroes before going into battle against impossible odds with: “You get hurt, hurt ’em back. You get killed… walk it off.”

I’m not saying Poland’s Joanna Jędrzejczyk is a Captain America fan, but she must have been listening to the same advice when she fought  Cláudia Gadelha in Friday’s TUF 23 Final at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

As a perfect example of fighting back from a bad start, this fight was unmissible, and far better than any fight I saw in the UFC 200 show the following day. Cláudia, a BJJ black belt, spent the first two rounds on the offensive, with clinch followed by takedown after takedown, totally dominating the fight, but Jonanna always found a way to get back to her feet without ever sustaining any real damage. Eventually Cláudia’s repeated takedown attempts took their toll and her gas tank veered perilously close to empty. By the third round the tide was turning and Joanna had Cláudia on the run. With Cláudia too tired to continue the takedown attempts, Joanna could open up with her strikes and kicks. She unleashed hell.

Joanna is well known for her unpredictable staccato style of striking mixed with devastating flurries, like this:



And the accuracy of her strikes. Like this:


and this:



Her hand speed is often the big talking point, but watching her move, I am always struck by how much her legs are involved in everything she does. Whether it was getting back to her feet again, or resisting the constant stream of takedown attempts from Claudia, her legs and hips are always being used. And when it comes to punching, she never just launches with her body or arms, as her opponents always seem to do. Her legs are never the passive carriers of her upper body – she’s always driving every action from them. Look at the clips above again and see if you can get what I’m talking about.

I’m not suggesting she’s doing Tai Chi movement, but I do think there are parallels to observe between what she’s doing and the way we are taught to use our legs in the ‘internal’ martial arts.

As for her heart and ability to come back from adversity. I don’t think you can teach that. She’s a real life superhero.