|Wushu, translated literally, means martial (“wu”) arts (“shu”).
When it was first developed, its primary purpose was (and will always be)
for survival. Hunting animals, procuring food, fighting against aggressive
wildlife, surviving harsh weather conditions, and so forth prompted the
birth of this mode of behavior. Alone, wu is just fighting, military-based
attack. Combined with “shu,” it transcends one level and becomes an
intricate, purposeful skill.
Nowadays, one associates the word “kung-fu” with punches, kicks, martial
arts champions, and fighting. But the original meaning of “kung-fu” was
never intended to describe martial arts in any way. Kung-fu originally
referred to the time and energy spent in learning something. A successful
chef expends lots of “kung-fu” to cook the tastiest dishes. A doctor
undergoes considerable “kung-fu” to be able to take care of sick people. A
martial artist uses lots of “kung-fu” in practicing his physical forms so he
may display them to audiences one day. The term “kung-fu” was first
introduced to Western audiences by
Bruce Lee when he stepped into the
spotlight and used it to describe his martial arts. From there, a
misconception arose and people began using “kung-fu” to refer to
martial arts, punches, kicks, and the whole related system. So it’s really a
misnomer, a word whose meaning expanded to encompass other objects.
The goal of becoming a world-class wushu athlete is perhaps the most
difficult one to attain. Even becoming a stunt person in film or TV is much
easier. One can begin stunt training after the age of 18 and still do quite
well in that field after say, three years of training.
Jet was trained in old style wushu. In Jet’s day, they had to learn all of
the Eighteen-Arms, internal styles, external styles, everything. The
Eighteen-Arms consists of: sabre, spear, sword, halberd, axe, battle axe,
hook, fork, whip, mace, hammer, talon, trident-halberd, cudgel, long-handled
spear, short cudgel, stick, and meteor hammer. Everybody had to compete in
broadsword, spear, straight sword, cudgel, and empty-hand forms
In the 1970's and early 1980's, competitive wushu really existed only in
China, and so forms were judged by one set of rules -- one set of standards.
When the authorities wanted to bring wushu to other countries so they
formulated a set of international rules for international competitions.
These rules are a little bit easier than the Chinese rules -- or should one
say, simplified. Now people mainly compete in three categories: Changquan,
Nanquan, and Taijiquan. The system today is not as complex as it used to be.
Nowadays, if you want to go to the Olympics, you learn the compulsory forms,
and that's it.
Jet has trained in wushu for 28 years. Along the way, he has met thousands
of martial artists and witnessed scores of martial arts styles, and has
picked up much from them. Jet Li does not claim that he is the most
dangerous man in the world when it comes to self defense. He stresses that
his knowledge and experience in this area of martial arts are limited, as
his focus and training have been on other aspects of wushu practice. The
training process again must be tailored to the body type of each individual.
There is no all-encompassing technique that will enable everyone to fulfill
his or her self-defense needs. Also one has to be very cautious when using
martial arts in real life. Today, if you kill or maim someone with an
astounding wushu move learned from some ten-year intensive training program,
it may not do you any good. The police will arrest you for murder, society
will frown upon you, and the whole deed would have been much more quickly
performed through pulling a trigger on a pistol with a silencer. Situations
always vary. It is hard to say under what circumstances it is right or wrong
to use martial arts against someone else. Of course, generally speaking,
avoiding conflict and reporting to lawful authorities are always the best
means of dealing with a dangerous situation. Jet also believes that it is
important to differentiate between movies and reality. The hero in movies
may be able to knock the gun off his opponent and save the day, but in real
life - probably that is not the case.
Jet Li says about wushu teaching, ”I think I can be called a very
professional martial artist, and I believe that my martial arts are okay.
However, I don't think I could become a very professional martial arts
teacher. Maybe this is a better way of phrasing it: the time that I spend
teaching a certain group of students might be better spent promoting wushu
to a larger group of people. There are many good teachers out there who can
teach the basics, but people must first become interested in seeking them
out. Very few people are in a position to create interest in thousands of
people to learn wushu. Right now, I am able to do that. I feel that my role
in publicizing wushu is more important than teaching."