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Tai Chi Dragon lands controversial flying KO

Han "Tai Chi Dragon" Feilong sends opponent to the shadow realm with a flying kick.

This article is part of a large effort by MixedMartialArts.com to understand what methods and techniques work best for self-defense. Check out more Best Of stories on:
Martial Arts on The Street
Dojo Storms
Chinese Martial Arts


Director Akira Kurosawa is universally regarded as one of the most important filmmakers in cinema history, and his Rashomon (1950) is rightly hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. The Academy Honorary Award-winning crime film centers on multiple, contradictory descriptions of the murder of a samurai; underlying themes include the exposition of a particular truth in the face of contradictory information, and the exploration of multiple realities.

This video, titled "Tai Chi vs. Kickboxing", is a Rashomon tale - different viewers will see radically different stories, after viewing the identical video. It is of a professional kickboxing bout between Han "Tai Chi Dragon" Feilong and a kickboxer oddly identified as an Iranian named Gonzales.

Some, who in all likelihood do not practice Tai Chi, will see a fraud, with a fraudulent title, and fraudulent fight conclusion. By contrast, Tai Chi adherents will recognize important aspects of their art being brutally effective, which contradicts the widely-held view of Tai Chi as being little more that a curious form of exercise for the elderly, a sort of yoga lite.

The fight-ending technique will be firmly identified by some as Kyokushin Karate's Mawashi Kaiten Geri (Rolling Thunder), while others will see a Capoeira technique, and another group will cite Sanda as the origin. And many will say the ending is fake.

Watch the video. What do you think?

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What Happened

Starting at the end, the KO is real. Human beings do not have the ability to consciously roll their eyes into their own head, as you can clearly see in the replay. If you immediately believed it to be a fraud, you need to understand the fight game better; KOs can and do occur from what appears to be a glancing blow to the head.

Is Han Feilong calling himself a Tai Chi adherent a marketing gimmick? Yi Long famously calls himself a Shaolin Monk, because it's good for business. He was never a monk at the Shaolin Temple or anywhere, and the Shaolin aspects of his game, if any, are self-taught. By contrast, Han Feilong has a Tai Chi instructor, the famous Wang Zhanju, anx his Tai Chi shows many years of practice, as you can see. So no, it's not a gimmick.

Does Han Feilong use Tai Chi techniques in a fight? To be sure, not every move he does is from Tai Chi. The same of course happens in MMA. Not every move Khabib Nurmagomedov or Fedor Emelianenko, the GOATS of their respective divisions, did was Combat Sambo, but that doesn't mean Sambo is not an amazing martial art. Han Feilong does use specific Tai Chi techniques.

You can see general Tai Chi principles at work, like yielding against force, and you can see specific Tai Chi techniques being used:
2:12, 3:11 Kick with Heel
2:15 Needle Sea Bottom
2:34 Pat a High Horse
2:46 Seal Tightly
2:55 Turn and Strike the Tiger

In the opening of this highlight, you can see him using perhaps the clearest and most dramatic demonstration - a Tai Chi foot drag.

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The Lesson

None of this is evidence that Tai Chi if done in its characteristic slow motion will impart self-defense ability. Martial arts must be pressure tested to be effective. And that is why Sanda is so vital. 

The art draws almost exclusively from techniques found in Chinese Martial Arts. And it is a tremendous, practical martial art, perhaps the most underappreciated on the globe. If you have a strong foundation in Tai Chi, and express it through Sanda practice, you will have acquired real self-defense ability.

Mixed martial arts was born in part from a desire to prove that one martial art, jiu-jitsu, was better than all others. It has since evolved, and now the question is not what martial art is best (or worst), but rather, what is there in any given martial art that is useful? And the answer is that even in a seemingly benign martial art like Tai Chi, there are practical techniques.

Many see Rashomon as a search for the truth. However, Kurosawa, who co-wrote, directed, and edited the film, was asked by the actors what the truth was, and he replied that his movie was not a simple whodunit, but rather an exploration of multiple realities. That attitude can carry over to the evolution of martial arts. 

Deciding that some martial arts are misguided, while others are right and good, can obscure truths. Sometimes it can be invaluable to ask not whether a martial art is right and wrong, but rather, how it is right. Even how Tai Chi is right. 

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