By now, even the most casual martial arts aficionado should be familiar with the movies of Li Lian Jie, who you almost certainly know better as Jet Li. Li is one of China‘s most legendary martial arts superstars whose acrobatic, violent style and countless hit movies have built a legacy that started well before his moves first graced the silver screen. As Biography tells us, he won his first martial arts championship when he was 11, dominated his sport for years, and even toured the world as part of the best Wushu practitioners Beijing had to offer until he retired at the ripe old age of 17 and started a new career in the boring, old movie business. That didn’t go too badly, either: As Li’s IMDb page informs us, the man made his first movie way back in 1982, and his casting as the Emperor in the live-action version of Disney’s Mulan marks his 50th acting credit.
For a martial arts movie career as stellar as Li’s you have to be able to kick hard, kick fast, and sustain the quality of your kicking for a long, long time. Where did he get all those skills, anyway? Li didn’t just pop into existence as a fully formed, super-talented martial artist. His considerable prowess is the result of countless hours of practice and rigorous training. But who exactly taught him all those fancy moves? Who trained Jet Li?
Jet Li was trained by legendary Wushu master Li Junfeng
According to the Straits Times, the vast majority of young Jet Li’s martial arts career was watched over by Li Jungfeng, an esteemed Gongfu (Kung Fu) master, famed Wushu coach and Qigong practitioner. Over the course of his career, Li (Jungfeng) had a hand in training around 10,000 students, (Jet) Li among them. (Jet) Li trained under Li (Jungfeng) and his co-coach Wu Bin during the future martial arts superstar’s ten-year tenure on the Beijing Wushu Team. Here’s what the coach has to say about his hard-working star student: “Jet Li was a perfect pupil, not just in terms of power and flexibility, but also, most importantly, learning capability. He had great coordination and his movements were very graceful.”
Li Jungfeng is actually something of a martial arts movie star himself, as he starred in the 1982 kick-flick Wu Lin Zhi and three other films. He has also choreographed action scenes and starred in Learning Wushu, a TV show that was almost certainly not about fly fishing. Apart from Jet Li, his most famous student is arguably Ge Chunyan — a Bagua style master, a five-time national champion and the man who trained superstar actress Zhang Ziyi for her role in The Grandmaster. Funnily enough, the master considers Ge his finest pupil instead of Jet Li. That’s right: Li Jungfeng is so good that he actually trained someone even better than Jet Li.
Jet Li's other trainer was the even more legendary Wushu master Wu Bin
Remember Wu Bin, the “other coach” mentioned earlier? Just in case you thought Jet Li was trained with just one Wushu megastar, it turns out Wu is arguably an even tougher old guy than Li Junfeng. As Kung Fu Magazine tells us, the man they call “Coach Wu” is not just any old trainer. The ninth-degree grand master is considered the “father of modern Wushu,” and he was instrumental in shaping the sport over the decades. It was Coach Wu who started training the eight-year-old Jet Li in 1971, and it was Coach Wu who founded the fabled Beijing Wushu Team, which first put Li to spotlight.
Wu believes that age eight is the only proper time to begin one’s Wushu training, though he personally started at age 19 and has been known to accept students as old as 22 if he sees potential. He is considered an extremely strict, yet highly effective coach, and the list of renowned athletes and Wushu masters he has trained is as long as your arm. Unsurprisingly, he has also held positions in many Wushu-related committees and boards over the years. As Kung Fu Kingdom reports, he shows no signs of slowing down, either: As of 2018, Master Wu (yes, of course “Coach Wu” is “Master Wu” as well) has written 18 Wushu-themed books, and his accolades include Presidency of the Beijing Wushu Institute, directorial position of the Beijing Wushu Team, and top positions in “the Chinese Wushu Association, Asian Wushu Federation, International Wushu Federation, and the World Fighting Martial Arts Federation.” He’s a fan of martial arts movies as well, though amusingly, Jet Li’s old coach says that he enjoys Bruce Lee’s and Jackie Chan’s movies the most. Ouch.
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