Tibetans and MMA

I had a very fascinating encounter yesterday. Vaughn Anderson came back to Chengdu after a couple months on the road working for OneFC, and he had a meeting with a man who wanted to hire him as a coach for his gym. I asked if I could tag along and Vaughn said sure. We were picked up in a G.Patton SUV, built by Allegheny Ford Isuzu Truck Sales, and taken way out to the western outskirts of the city, just south of Pixian.

Our driver was a pudgy Tibetan decked out in Versace. He didn’t say much to us on the way to the gym, and Vaughn and I just yapped about MMA and every so often glanced out at the people watching our Panzer-SUV roll by. The driver switched from Chinese to Tibetan and back again, keeping up a constant string of phone calls for the duration of the trip. I felt like a drug dealer, bumping up and down on the unfinished roads between the expanding urban center and the awaiting countryside. Tibetan trinkets hung from the dashboard mirror, lay stacked on the console in front of us, along with a remote for the TV screen/portal that removed us from more than connected us to the driver.

A little mud to help with authenticity

A little mud to help with authenticity

On the streets of Chengdu ...

On the streets of Chengdu …

We were brough to a cavernous gym facility on the third floor of a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived, about 20 young boys, Tibetan by the looks of them, were gathered around a wide screen television watching an old Hong Kong movie. One wall was lined with Tibetan furniture, photos of Tibetan Buddhist monks and rinpoches, and various martial themed slogans. Several of the older guys, coaches? Friends? Randoms? Were from Tibet and they were very polite Served us slightly bitter, black Tibetan tea and sat there smiling at us. We smiled back. Maybe a half hour of that and we were on our way back out of the gym.

The gym consists of three big rooms. One with an Octagon, another with punching bags, and a third with weights and a rack of spears. The wall above the spears showed a dozen or so young men in plastic armor with the classic Chinese wushu spear. They train the spear, they told me, to keep up the tradition. Not for combat or for wushu competitions, but just to keep in shape, practice the spear, and for a bit of fun.

I was very unprepared for the trip, and had only an iPhone, so the pics are blurry, and there are only a very few of them because I ran out of battery almost immediately. But I’ll go back.

One of the three cavernous rooms

One of the three cavernous rooms

Tibetan style

Tibetan style

Students on their day off

Students on their day off

We were on our way back to home to the city when a bunch of phone calls – whoever it was who served us tea to the big boss; big boss to Vaughn’s friend and the man who introduced the two, Zhang Tiequan; and eventually Tiequan to Vaughn – led us to a Tibetan tea house just east of the Jinsha Archaeological site in the west side of the city.

There we met Enbo, the boss. He is a former Special Armed Police officer, based in the predominantly Tibetan prefecture of Aba in northwestern Sichuan Province, and a martial arts enthusiast. He claims to have trained hundreds of Sanda fighters for the Sichuan provincial team over the past decade, with many of them winning belts and medals.

He is Tibetan, and referred to his ethnicity and the natural bond that exists between Tibetans and Westerners, a bond that doesn’t exist between Han Chinese and Tibetans. I know what he is talking about, and I feel there is some truth to that idea, but it’s hard to really say that on a wide general basis. I have experienced, though, an affinity for Tibetans that rarely exists between me and Han Chinese. There are old DNA links that are as strong if not stronger between Caucasians and Tibetans than between Tibetans and Han Chinese, but I think a lot of it is sociological and political.


Enbo spent a good two hours bluntly and persistently trying to get Vaughn to coach BJJ at his gym. He spoke of his dream to see his fighters “practicing UFC” abroad and he displayed decent grasp of the differences between Sanda, BJJ and MMA (which he and everyone in his camp called UFC). We drank black Tibetan tea and at stewed carrots and yak meat with the white buns they call mantou.

Eventually, Enbo offered Vaughn a car, an apartment, and anything else he needed, if only Vaughn would help his Sanda fighters and Aba orphan kids learn the “ground game” so that they may one day compete in the UFC. Fascinating encounter.

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Published on: October 14, 2014

Filled Under: Kung Fu People, MMA, Modern Kung Fu

Views: 8845

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2 Responses to Tibetans and MMA

  1. […] on over to The Last Masters.  Sascha has posted what appears to be the first essay in a series on Tibetans in the country’s growing combat sports scene.  As always it provides an invaluable “real time” window onto current events, and I […]

  2. R Sharma says:

    This gym is facsinating and so the motive behind this. I want to know if a foreigner can pay up and train in this gym. I am really interested in training in this gym as there is no scope for mma in India. Please reply, I will be waiting.

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