Jet Li has been a whirlwind of kung fu action for decades, so by now, even the most casual movie fan is probably aware that the man knows his way around a high kick. But how good is he, really? Is he just a glorified acrobat or, like, a ballet dancer who has learned to fake cool martial arts moves? Is he one of those action stars who are actually terrible fighters?
No, he isn’t. As Biography tells us, Jet Li is as real as they come. The youngest child of a poor family, he got into wushu (the Chinese term for Kung Fu) at the age of eight. He was so good that his family sent him to a special sports school, and he answered the call by winning his first championship at the tender age of 11. This got him in the Beijing Wushu Team, which toured over 45 countries, including the U.S. Young Li even got to demonstrate his skills in front of President Richard Nixon himself. After that, Li’s martial arts prowess only grew. He held the title of All-Around National Wushu Champion for five years straight, only to retire from the sport when he was only 17. After that, he got into movies, and… well, as anyone can see, he retained his skills.
Interestingly, Jet Li himself says that he didn’t really set out to be a martial artist when he was young. According to his website, he was randomly assigned to wushu class when he was at school, and didn’t even really know what it was at the point. It was a stroke of luck — he might just as well have been been ordered to swim, play soccer or get into gymnastics instead.
What martial arts does Jet Li practice today?
Unfortunately, the legendary martial arts star isn’t training quite as hard these days as he used to. As South China Morning Post reports, Li revealed in 2018 that his many injuries and a nearly decade-long struggle with hyperthyroidism have stripped him of much of his agility and skill. His medication makes him somewhat overweight, and his resting heart rate is at a fairly high 130-140 beats per minute (the average rate is 60-100 beats).
The list of injuries Li has sustained over his career is terrifying. He had a laundry list of injuries (including a broken leg) as early as 1982, and the years have added to the pile: Li has cracked a vertebrae, broken ribs, fractured his left ankle badly, and received multiple internal injuries. In 2013, his doctors straight up told him that if he keeps making action films, he’ll end up in a wheelchair. However, while he might not be beating up hordes of onscreen enemies any more, his fighting spirit is certainly still alive. As the man himself puts it: “I’m in pain but I’m not in a wheelchair yet.”
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