A fighting style touting inner peace sparks a cultural war in China

Tradition and modernity are always at war, at least figuratively. In China, however, the battle between mixed martial arts and wushu—or kung fu—is now literal and political, pitting old-school grandmasters against a new style of scrapper. And the Chinese government doesn’t approve.

Xu Xiaodong, a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, riled traditionalists last year by defeating tai chi master Wei Lei, who claims mystical powers, in a brisk showdown that lasted just a few seconds. MMA is a...

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