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How a Kung Fu Legend's HGH Use Reveals a Wider Problem in Professional Sports

News broke this week that Cung Le, a Kung Fu action star and perhaps the most famous Sanshou fighter of all time, tested positive for excessive levels Human Growth Hormone following his August UFC loss to Michael Bisping. If supposedly noble Martial Artists are cheating, what does this say about professional sports in general?

Danny Horgan is a Martial Arts instructor in Boston and the host of the web series 'Wing Chun Blast'. He has been featured in Vice Magazine and TMZ Live. 

News broke this week that Cung Le, a Kung Fu action star and perhaps the most famous Sanshou fighter of all time, tested positive for excessive levels Human Growth Hormone (HGH) following his August UFC loss to Michael Bisping. Le, despite a diverse background that includes a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, has often been lauded as Kung Fu's shining example in today's wildly popular MMA world.

Cung Le's Instagram photo (below) was taken before the contest, prompting the UFC to investigate due to his excessive muscularity at the age of 42.

Cung le

Cung Le's instagram photo prompted the UFC to investigate

Le's positive test marks the first time a significant figure in the Kung Fu world has tested positive for excess levels of what has become sport's most notorious hormone. HGH is naturally produced by the body for a number of reasons, namely cell growth and reproduction, which, for athletes, means recovery after a workout. But many athletes have been caught injecting a synthetic version of the hormone into their body, allowing them to train longer and more frequently. Because of the unfair advantage the synthetic hormone gives them over opponents, it is banned almost universally in all sports.

But that's the obvious information. To really get to the heart of what Le's high HGH test means for Kung Fu, we need to realize three things:

1) MMA is rapidly becoming synonymous with the term "martial arts", much like Karate was in the 1990s.

In 1997, you couldn't drive past a strip mall without seeing a Kenpo school advertising buzz words like "discipline", "honor", and "self defense". This type of marketing was built on the false Hollywood martial arts culture that indicated every skilled martial artist, despite being a lethal killing machine, would only fight when necessary and demonstrate incredible wisdom in everyday life.

MMA has slowly but surely infiltrated this mainstream martial arts market, almost entirely due to brilliant marketing by the UFC.
Countless "Kenpo" schools from the 90s and early 2000s have become "MMA Acadamies", teaching BJJ and Muay Thai to ride the wave of MMA's popularity.

If you told someone you were a martial artist in 1999, you'd likely be asked if you had a black belt.

If you tell someone you're a martial artist now, you'll likely be asked what you think of MMA.

2) Steroid use is rampant in MMA

Right or wrong, many mixed martial artists are taking steroids. This information is common knowledge in MMA circles, and if you aren't convinced of its validity, do a quick search of all the elite fighters who have tested positive over the past few years.

3) As MMA's mainstream popularity is growing, so is the acceptability of mainstream steroid use

These two items are likely not directly related, but the facts remain true: more and more everyday guys and girls are training at MMA gyms, and steroid use is becoming less taboo amongst athletes. The 2008 documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger showed just how average Joes and Jills are using performance enhancers for just about anything you can think of.

Le's Positive Test Should Come as no Surprise.

While Cung Le's positive test does not definitively means he has taken synthetic HGH, it's obvious he's been doing something to promote his HGH levels. Think everyone in Kung Fu is "honorable" enough to not look for edges? Think again.

Martial arts and athleticism are becoming more closely related by the day. The fastest way to improve athleticism, obviously, is through intense training with recovery aided by various substances, both synthetic and organic. And everyone from professional fighters to average gym goers are taking the fast route to fighting ability.

So how do average people defend themselves in an increasingly aggressive world? This is a question non-steroid using Martial Artists must ask themselves.

I have spent the past 14 months traveling North America to train with different Kung Fu schools. The most common reasons people train Wing Chun, Tai Chi, and other Chinese martial arts are self defense and health.

If you want to increase your chances of self defense in today's world, understand that the random attacker you may come across one day could have knowledge in both kickboxing and grappling. Additionally, that same guy or girl could be taking steroids, nootropics, or a number of drugs that could aid them in fast bursts of aggression.

The best way to prepare yourself for this type of encounter is to know what you may be facing. Bring in grapplers and kickboxers to train against. Know what you'll do if you find yourself on the ground or in a tight Muay Thai clinch. And do your own research on steroids, smart drugs, and stimulants. Understand how they interact with the human body and brain, and find ways to defend yourself against guys twice as strong as you with an incredible pain tolerance (I train groin kicks every day).

To increase your chances of health in today's world, train hard, but remain smart. Obviously the fastest way to become a fighting machine is to spar hard three times a week and juice until your eyeballs pop out. But think of the long-term ramifications that type of training could have on your body and brain. Boxer Erik Morales, who has tested positive for banned substances in the past, was rumored to have sparred 300 rounds in preparation for his 2005 victory over Manny Pacquiao. Morales, perhaps not coincidentally, was never the same after that win.

Again, do your research. Education is still the most powerful weapon in martial arts.

Cung Le's positive HGH test is a snapshot of what today's version of martial arts is becoming: an athleticism-fueled blend of kickboxing and grappling, often aided by drugs. Consider no potential attacker to be an inept buffoon who will crumble upon getting cracked in the nose. Prepare for the worst, and you'll increase your chances of safety no matter where you go.

(Image via Google)