BEIJING – For 50 years, kung fu master Li Liangui has been contorting his body into eye-watering positions while practicing one of the more unusual and less popular Chinese martial art forms.
The 70-year-old is an expert in “suogugong,” or body shrinking kung fu, where practitioners dislocate their bones to help them achieve unlikely positions and feats.
The svelte Li, who has a long, wispy white beard, has traveled the world promoting the brand of kung fu, performing for members of the royal family in the United Arab Emirates and appearing on television at home.
But his promotional efforts have not proved as successful as he would have liked.
“As soon as I’m gone, this thing will be gone completely. There won’t be anyone else practicing it. This is a really, really great regret, it’s really a loss,” Li said.
“We’ve carried it on, we’ve promoted it abroad, but while the flowers have blossomed within the wall, the fragrance is only smelt outside,” he said, using an expression to mean it is only appreciated abroad.
There are hundreds of differing fight styles that are classed as kung fu, which soared in popularity globally following a series of films featuring U.S.-born and Hong Kong-raised actor Bruce Lee, who died in 1973.
Another form, “wushu,” is recognized by the International Olympic Committee but failed last year in its bid to be included in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Li, though, felt suogugong was best despite his concerns about participation numbers, which are unknown.
“Suogugong includes almost everything, it’s the most comprehensive form of classic Chinese martial art that boosts health,” he said.
“It includes throwing, hitting, kicking and grappling. It’s very complete. If it could be passed on (to future generations), that would be the best, but where can you pass it on to?”
For Li, kung fu is a way of life. For many others it is a form of self defense or a way to keep fit.
Xing Xi, a Shaolin kung fu master who spent 10 years studying before opening his own martial arts academy on the outskirts of Beijing, felt young people lack the commitment of previous generations.
“There are many, many young people who have potential with kung fu,” he said. “But what we need more are those who can settle in, so it goes from a hobby to being so deeply into it that kung fu becomes a part of our body and part of our life.”