If I asked you to think of a modern movie star who has helped re-ignite the world’s interest in kung fu, Jet Li would undoubtedly be high on the list. What might surprise you is how much of a struggle it has been for the forty-four year old to become the household name that he is today. I know that I had always thought that Jet Li was naturally graceful and powerful from way back when I first saw his amazing talent for melding numerous martial arts in the 1982 remake of Shaolin Temple. However, I discovered that this was far from the case. He was actually worked extremely hard by his mentor, the Wushu master Wu Bin, from the age of 8 at Beijing’s Amateur Martial Arts School.
At one point, there was some doubt that he would ever develop powerful enough kicks and punches to become a champion in kung fu; Jet Li appeared weak. I was amazed to discover that Jet actually suffered from a serious protein deficiency as a child. This was largely due to the fact that his grandmother had been advised to give up eating meat on health grounds and the entire family had also become vegetarians. Once Wu Bin discovered this and introduced protein back into his diet, Jet Li began to develop rapidly.
By the age of 11 he had won his first gold at the Chinese National Wushu Championships and he went on to win it a further 4 times. He joined the professional Wushu team in Beijing. This is where he first gained international exposure and toured the globe, even performing for President Nixon on the White House Lawn. It was now that he was truly being appreciated for his intelligent combination of many styles of martial arts including monkey boxing, chanquan, taichiquan, gun boxing, tongbeiquan. Not only adept in kung fu; Jet Li was also superb with both sword and spear.
Rocky Law filmed a documentary, Dragons Of The Orient, showed the 11-year-old Jet Li on the White House lawn. However, I most enjoyed the more informative side of the film, especially how it revealed some of Jet Li’s innovative training techniques. One that particularly stuck in my mind and I have used ever since, if slightly modified, is one exercise where he hangs numerous footballs from a tree then wheels and spins to strike each as it swings towards him.
You can probably name a number of Jet Li’s films, so I will not bore you by doing the same. However, the most impressive for me has to be ‘Hero’, or ‘Ying xiong’ to give it its Chinese title. Although it had been made in 2002, it wasn’t an International hit for another 2 years. If you haven’t seen it then I recommend you buy a copy – you won’t want to take a rental one back! It is a stunning Chinese martial arts epic and shows exquisite pieces of kung fu; Jet Li being outstanding. The film took a lot of time and hard work to make, especially as the director, Yimou Zhang, was a perfectionist. You will find it hard not to love this classic movie, I promise you.
Yoshi E Kundagawa is a freelance journalist. He covers the mixed martial arts industry. For a free report on kung fu jet li visit his blog.
Yoshi Kundagawa is a freelance journalist covering the martial arts world. Too much time at his computer eating donuts reduced him to couch potato status. He's on a quest to recapture his youth and fitness. You can read his blog at http://www.martialarts3000.com