If he is weakened today – he has suffered from hyperthyroid since 2010 -, Jet Li, who will play the role of the emperor next spring in Mulan, is undoubtedly the teacher from whom we have the most to learn. Intense mental focus, strength of mind, superhuman speed, grace, devotion to the martial art: no one has yet come close to him.
The Jet Li method
The man leans towards the boy. He shakes his hand, messes his hair and says: “Young man, your kung fu is really impressive!” How would you like to be my bodyguard when you grow up? But the answer, through the voice of the interpreter, is not the one expected. “No,” said the boy. I do not want to protect a single person, I want to defend the billion of my Chinese compatriots ”. We are in 1974, on the lawn of the White House, in Washington. The man is Richard Nixon, President of the United States. The boy is Li Lianjie, an 11-year-old wushu prodigy who would later be called Jet Li. This incident was picked up by reporters around the world. The American media denounced the boy’s indoctrination, the Chinese praised his patriotic spirit. Looking back forty-five years, this anecdote finally tells us a lot about the man he has become.
Jet Li is a patriot: this inclination will accompany him throughout his life and his work, even after he left China. Just like the feeling of having to protect and defend those in need, a character trait that took on its full meaning when he created the One foundation after the tsunami that hit Asia in 2004. This gravity, this ineptitude to see life lightly have always been present in him and probably explain why Jet Li did not take the same comedic path as another martial arts legend, Jackie Chan. If the successes have lessened Li’s austere side, there is nonetheless a deep tendency to seriously: he is not here to be unemployed.
This approach has allowed him to establish himself as the natural heir to Bruce Lee in the eyes of the world. The fact that he was cast by Sylvester Stallone for the blockbuster The Expendables: Special Unit, released in 2010, confirmed his rank as a Hollywood star with big arms, a status acquired without any concessions. Li has nevertheless always remained true to his roots. he has embodied many traditional Chinese heroes and has always sought to give a spiritual dimension to his work – echoing his Buddhist convictions and the philosophy of Bruce Lee – rather than simply kicking pairs of buttocks. Little is known about his youth: the death of his father when he was only two years old, the poverty that affects his family, his mother who sold bus tickets to support her five children … Enough to make life hard to any kid. At 8, Li was selected to train in the national sport, wushu. He follows an exhausting diet: standing at 6 o’clock, he goes on 8 hours of training outside, in the coldest biting winter of Beijing. No excuse is accepted. At 9, Li broke his ankle, but didn’t say anything to his master, the terrible Wu Bin. It wasn’t until two days later, with a surprise visit from another coach, that the injury was discovered. Li developed a relationship to pain that only the most emboldened athletes can understand. During a competition, at the age of 12, he cuts his head with a sword, but nevertheless finishes his sequence. Three days later, he won a national championship by defeating an opponent twice his age. He will have shed blood, sweat but not a tear.
Between 1974 and 1979, Li won fifteen gold medals in the Chinese Games (a sort of world wushu championship) and forged a reputation as an undisputed master. He then sees himself given the nickname of “Jet”, a reference to his incredible speed, confirming that speed is greater than size. Adult, he measures 1.70 meters for 66kg of muscles, but his movements have always been characterized by a speed and a grace forbidden to ordinary mortals. Not to mention aerial gestures normally reserved for the animal kingdom. Martial arts experts themselves marvel at his ability to hold poses before exploding in a final burst of brutality that suffers no challenge. Today, between computer graphics and cables, any actor can “do” kung fu. Jet Li, however, is one of the few to be better without artifice. His biggest fans have criticized him for using special effects in Romeo must die, released in 2000, pushing him to return to fundamentals in his subsequent films.
After a frustrating childhood, Li emerges from the shadows when the culturally more open China finally allows cameras to enter a Shaolin temple to film a Jet Li in great shape. At the time of its release (1976), only the most determined Western amateurs could purchase its first film, Shaolin temple. It was the start of his career, but the road to success was long and painful. Jet Li’s setbacks are legion and legendary: In his first six films, Li twice broke his leg as well as his ankle, wrist and nose, plus serious back and neck injuries. And as if that wasn’t enough, his contract with production company Golden Harvest brought him nothing but misery when he was already a recognized star. Finally, the nefarious influence of the crime syndicates did not make his life easy, especially when his agent Jim Choi was assassinated in Kowloon in 1992 because he allegedly refused to let Li play in a film funded by the Triad.
Jet Li said that The Master of Arms (2006) would be his last real martial arts film. At 43, he accepted without regret that those years of faithfully portraying his art on the big screen were now behind him, and that it was time to play more dramatic roles, like that of the emperor in Mulan, which will be released in Spring 2020. His three decades at the top of the bill in kung fu films, however, demonstrate a self-discipline worthy of the greatest Shaolin monks – and an exceptional ability to control the pain inflicted on those freezing mornings there is. so long. And to be true to his ambitions: he has never been anyone’s bodyguard.
The wisdom of the Wushu warrior
Certainly, Jet Li knew how to move. But for a martial arts master, the mind is the most powerful weapon.
Self-defense secret # 1: keep it simple
” Too many people care about their fighting style, Li says, who himself fell into this trap. Growing up, I tried to create my own style. Afterwards, I tried not to have any. If you think about style first, you have a long way to go. Be natural. If I’m thirsty, I have a drink and I see. It’s the same in martial arts. “
Self-Defense Secret # 2: Observe Nature
In order to develop the inner strength necessary to ward off attacks, Li watched animal documentaries. ” Tigers are particularly frightening before they catch their prey, he analyzes. This is how we take power. People are afraid of you, you can tell. And it only comes from your inner energy. “
Self-defense secret n ° 3: pass the second
Against a taller and more powerful opponent, a man must use his strengths – speed versus size. ” You have to exercise your speed, alternating the slow and the fast, explains Li. I knew I couldn’t lift someone too tall, so as I accelerated to the max, I won thanks to the surprise effect. “
5 life lessons from Jet Li:
Humility is your best friend
“I’m not a hero, I just spent a lot of time learning martial arts. I try to show what I can do, but a lot of people can too. I have nothing exceptional. “
Balance before strength
“It saddens me that I was able to show that martial arts can hurt. I did not have the opportunity to show that the important thing is not the fight. You have to know the balance between yin and yang. It allows us to grow. “
It is alone, in a quiet room, that you will find the key to happiness
“You have to study who you are. Who are you 100%? If you come to know who you are on the inside, then you learn to stop being afraid. “
What others say about you is just background noise
“If you don’t let others disturb you, the noise they make is harmless. If you favor their judgment over yours, you have a problem. “
Death gives life
“I am ready to die. When we realize that no one knows when it will happen, then we take advantage of the present moment. If you die tomorrow, it doesn’t matter: you will have already enjoyed every moment. “
Best Jet Li movies
Jet Li has appeared in over 40 kung fu movies. Here is our selection.
- The Shaolin Temple (1976): Li and the other wushu masters were recruited because the original cast were fired after a year of filming. The Japanese deplored the lack of genuine action.
- Once upon a time in China (1991): In this famous trilogy, Li plays Wong Fei-Hung, a traditional hero and master of the Chinese hung-gar martial art (a style of Wushu). Most remembered is the final scene in a vast warehouse where Li faces off against his opponents balancing on large ladders.
- Fist of legend (1994): Remake of The fist of Fury by Bruce Lee, the anti-Japanese feeling is however attenuated without taking anything away from the action. Jet Li fights blindfolded and makes devastating use of his belt.
- Hero (2002): After refusing the lead role of Tiger and dragon, Jet Li makes up for it with another blockbuster, a flashback wuxia (traditional sword fight) film.
- The fencing master (2006): Martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia realizes that the future depends on fair play and not brutality… after having beaten up many British, Spanish, Belgian and Japanese!
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