China, a country enshrined in martial arts tradition and solidified by Chinese communist ideology has seen a rise in the challenge of both tradition and identity. Could it be that the debate between traditional and evolutionary martial artists be the debate that will see a crack in the Chinese Communist Façade?

China and Modern Martial Arts

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in China has been something of an isolated occurrence, opposing mainstream traditional Chinese martial arts which form part of Chinese Communist identity. The assault on Chinese martial arts, or rather the assault on the idea of Chinese martial arts, is led by Xu Xiaodong, an enthusiastic and somewhat capable Chinese mixed martial artist. Xu Xiaodong, together with other mixed martial artists have shocked Kung Fu practitioners, challenging not only practitioners of Kung Fu, but also the efficacy of their art. The rise in MMA has led to a convergence of traditional and modern martial arts, shaking Chinese martial arts to the core.

The West and Eastern Martial Arts

The Second World War granted the West significant exposure to Eastern Martial Arts, however, the evolutionary leap was initiated by Royce Gracie and his unconventional approach in UFC-1. China, with its media and later digital Iron Curtain, kept its martial arts sacred, and thus remained in the Dark Ages whilst the rest of the world evolved. Across the globe, numerous martial artists chose to follow the martial arts evolution, whilst traditionalist reverted to zealotry to defend traditional martial arts.

Evolutionary Martial Artists

Most martial artists who have experienced success, have done so by adapting to their environment. Driven by their sense of scientific materialism and verifiable evidence, these martial artists became commonly known as mixed martial artists or ‘evolutionary martial artists’. (An evolutionary martial artist does not necessarily practice Mixed Martial Arts as a style but is a practitioner that seek beyond their style, for solutions which their style does not offer.)

Such an evolutionary martial artist is Ramsey Dewey, an American, living and coaching martial arts in Shanghai China. On his Youtube Channel, Dewey briefly discusses the fights between MMA and Kung Fu-practitioners and rightfully point at the lack of experience some of the Kung Fu masters are showing. Dewey distinguishes between martial artists that are fighters and those that are non-fighters, adding that most ‘Kung Fu-fighters’ are either old or dead.

Fantasy vs Reality

Are we distinguishing between fantasy or reality martial arts, or rather fantasy and reality martial artists? Bruce Lee stated, “if you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stand there, you must go beyond.” For many practising traditional martial arts impose limits upon themselves and their art. In other words, it is not the art that imposes restrictions upon the practitioner; it is the artist that limits the art.

Push and Pull

I was fortunate enough to receive my black belt in both karate and kickboxing by one of the kickboxing’s greats, Marwan Abu Khadra. (Some consider Abu Khadra as the Muhammed Ali of Kickboxing.) On granting my black belt, Abu Khadra said that from here on forth I should respectably challenge his teachings, for he does not only pull me, but I am also pushing him. Similar to Lee, Abu Khadra understood the principle of being an evolutionary martial artist.

Time to Evolve

The great palaeontologist Stephan Jay Gould said that evolution proceeds, not slowly and steadily, but with long periods of little or no change punctuated by intervals of sudden, rapid and significant shift. Thus, if evolution is defined as adapting to one’s environment, then some martial artists will only be known as artists.

(Kilian Academy is a martial arts academy in Owen Sound, Canada.)


  1. Campbell, C. (2018, November 08). This Chinese MMA Fighter is Taking on Kung Fu Grandmasters. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from
  2. Dewey, R. (2019, June 14). Kungfu vs MMA: Instant KO. Why does this keep happening in China? Retrieved June 25, 2019, from
  3. Philips, C (2017, January 10). Bruce Lee says “There Are No Limits” – From the Desk of Carl Phillips. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from