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Are traditional martial arts losing their luster?

By Zhang Zhouxiang | | Updated: 2017-11-15 20:08

A thin, bony guy walked into a building, each storey heavily guarded. On the first floor alone there were five martial arts masters, ranging from Olympic boxing champion Zou Shiming to world-famous action movie star Tony Jaa. On the other floors there were all kinds of good fighters, such as action movie star Donnie Yen and Asashoryu Akinori, a sumo wrestler who won the highest title in Japan.

The bony guy beat them all. One by one. KO.

That happens in Gong Shou Dao, or Art of Attack and Defense, a 22-minute movie marking the film debut of its star, Jack Ma. Yes, that Jack Ma, who is among the richest people in China, and founder of Alibaba, which boasted a sales volume of 168.2 billion yuan ($24.5 billion) as its e-shopping platform in the just-concluded Nov 11 online shopping festival.

Ma is also a traditional martial arts fan who once said he had at least eight masters of tai chi boxing. Jet Li, one of the action stars who participated in the movie, said that by shooting the movie they mean to "boost the culture of traditional martial arts".

In terms of attracting eyeballs, the movie is doubtlessly a success. Within three days, it was broadcast over 118 million times exclusively on domestic video website On domestic social network micro blog, the topic Gong Shou Dao has been read 180 million times during the same period.

However, the movie might have already failed in its purpose of "boosting the culture of traditional martial arts". It is discussed on social networks as an entertainment incident that has nothing to do with martial arts. On micro blogs, most popular comment about Gong Shou Dao, reposted thousands of times, is: "It is so good to be rich! You can find professionals to play with you as you design!"

Of the few comments that mention martial arts, the one with the most "likes" is "The best martial art is to get rich – Then you can beat all masters."

Such a result should not be unexpected. Traditional martial arts have lost their appeal today because people doubt they are practical. This is especially so after video clips of several so-called tai chi "masters" were put online, showing there is a high possibility that they faked fight scenes, and doubts spread to more people. Many think tai chi is no longer practical in real fighting so the "masters" cheated in the scenes.

In order to cast away doubts, the correct way is to hold more official martial arts contests that invite traditional martial arts practitioners to compete with their skills. When a tai chi master beats modern martial athletes on the competition stage, the doubts over traditional martial arts will naturally be broken. Only with openness and inclusiveness could traditional martial arts regain appeal to modern young people and continue prospering in modern society.

On Wednesday, a new tai chi boxing competition, named after the movie, was broadcast online. There were many audience comments, such as "the players are too unprofessional", while some comments continued making jokes about the movie.

Maybe traditional martial arts fans should have a look at the comments. There are many other ways of reviving traditional martial arts and its practitioners have yet to find the best one, but to shoot such a movie is not a good option.

The author is a writer with China Daily.


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