'A performance': Chinese MMA fighter criticises Bruce Lee fight footage

Xu Xioadong and Bruce Lee.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

It seems no one is safe from Chinese mixed martial arts fighter Xu Xiaodong's war on "fake kung fu" - not even Bruce Lee.

Since the rise in popularity of MMA, many have speculated how martial arts icon and Hollywood legend Lee would have fared in modern combat situations.

MMA did not exist in the Enter the Dragon star's 1960s and '70s heyday, but UFC president Dana White has called him "the father of mixed martial arts".

Lee himself rejected traditional martial arts, developing Jeet Kune Do as a philosophy of simplifying things and eliminating the "fancy mess that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat".

But the outspoken "Mad Dog" Xu has offered a critique of Lee's mythical sparring footage from Long Beach, California in 1964, which some have pointed to as evidence that Lee could have competed in MMA.

"I say whatever I want and everyone hates me. Everyone wants to fight me so I don't care," Xu said in a video post on social media, according to a translation by YouTube channel Fight Commentary Breakdowns.

"It's a performance, a demonstration, it doesn't show any real combat abilities, everyone use your brain and think about it."

Lee's famous demonstration at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium during the inaugural Long Beach International Karate Championships in 1964 is seen as the start of his rise to superstardom in martial arts, and as the beginning of the sport's ascent into the mainstream.

The dazzling speed and power on display by the then-unknown Hong Kong-American was unlike anything seen in the United States, and the tournament immediately became a staple of the martial arts world.

Lee went on to secure the role of Kato in the Green Hornet series on the back of his showing in Long Beach before rising to stardom in the Hong Kong film industry and later Hollywood, before his tragic death at 32 in 1973.

But in his critique, Xu points to a Chi Sao sparring session between a blindfolded Lee and his former student Taky Kimura - who became Lee's best friend after joining the then-18-year-old's first kung fu club in a small basement in Seattle's Chinatown. Kimura later wrote a book about his experiences with Lee called Regards from the Dragon: Seattle.

"They weren't hitting each other in the head, they were just sparring," Xu said. "Kimura is a student and his friend, he's written a book about Lee. If Bruce Lee were my sensei or my master, I would describe him very well too, I would make him look good. This is not Bruce Lee's actual fight experience, it's just a demonstration."

I say whatever I want and everyone hates me. Everyone wants to fight me so I don't care

-MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong

In the Long Beach footage, Lee also famously gives a one-inch punch demonstration on volunteer Bob Baker, and snatches a coin out of a supposed karate champion's hand before he can close his palm.

Xu points out that it is strange he was unable to find any footage of the champion, despite him apparently being a 10th degree black belt.

He said he didn't think the coin trick was that impressive: "That's not fast, really is it that unimaginable?

"When you look at Bruce Lee sparring footage, look at who he's fighting, what kind of qualification the person has, you have to understand that," Xu added.

Xu brought up his own fight against Wei Lei in 2017, which went viral after he pulverised the "tai chi master" in a matter of seconds, and how Wei had claimed he could break the inside of a watermelon without damaging the rind.

"I'm just talking realism, you can talk bad about me," Xu said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post