China's Kung Fu Masters

SEPTEMBER 19, 2016

For 50 years, kung fu master Li Liangui has been contorting his body into eye-watering positions while practising 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 travelled 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 practising it. This is a really, really great regret, it's really a loss," Li told Reuters.

"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 recognised 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 defence 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 lacked the commitment of previous generations.

"There are many, many young people who have potential with kung fu," he told Reuters.

"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."

Kung Fu master Xing Xi (R) looks at his fellow Kung Fu master Zhang Weifeng practicing at their Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, June 29, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi practices at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, June 29, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi uses his mobile phone during a break at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, June 29, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi demonstrates his skills for the camera at a Buddhist temple in Beijing, China, June 29, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi practices at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, June 29, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi practices at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, June 29, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi teaches his students at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, July 3, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi wears a glove before he starts training in mixed martial arts at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, July 3, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi practices with skipping rope as he trains in mixed martial arts at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, July 3, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi practices as he trains in mixed martial arts at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, July 3, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi teaches his students at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, July 3, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi bows to his students after a class at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, July 3, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi takes a break from training at his Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, July 3, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Xing Xi (R) shares a moment with his fellow Kung Fu master Zhang Weifeng at their Kung Fu academy "Kung Fu Zen" in Beijing, China, July 3, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui leaves his apartment as he heads to a park for his Kung Fu practice in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui walks on a street as he heads to a park to practice Kung Fu in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui practices Suogugong Kung Fu at a park in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui touches his beard as he demonstrates Suogugong Kung Fu skills for the camera at his apartment in Beijing, China, July 2, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui practices 'Suogugong' Kung Fu and his wife Liang Xiaoyan (R) practices Qigong at a park in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui (R) takes a break from his training Kung Fu with his friends at a park in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui plays badminton in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui (L) practices Shuaijiao (wrestling-styled Kung Fu) at a park in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui demonstrates Suogugong Kung Fu skills for the camera at a park in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui practices Suogugong Kung Fu at a park in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui practices Suogugong Kung Fu at a park in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

A girl asks Kung Fu master Li Liangui if his beard is real as he eats out with his wife and friend at a restaurant in Beijing, China, July 2, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui's wife Liang Xiaoyan prepares ink for practicing calligraphy for her husband at their apartment in Beijing, China, July 2, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui moves his head through a space formed by his two hands as he demonstrates his Suogugong Kung Fu at his house in Beijing, China, May 5, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kung Fu master Li Liangui (L) and his wife Liang Xiaoyan drink tea at their apartment in Beijing, China, June 30, 2016. Reuters Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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