This moment in history is a moment wherein we’re watching the intersection and blending of cultures at a level and scale that has never been seen before.
In the collaboration between Jet Li, Jacky Hueng and Adidas in creating the WUJI platform, there is an intersection between tradition and innovation, east, and west. Jet Li thinks it represents a new stage in the kind of cultural exchange that he has been invested in since as a child he made his first trip to the US bringing his passion for Wushu to the world beyond China.
Then, at a pivotal moment in his decades long career, Jet noticed that Chinese philosophies and different elements of the Wushu spirit had become popular abroad but seemed to be of little interest to the younger generation, especially the younger Chinese generation.
Jet hopes WUJI will become a unique platform to engage the younger generations with traditional practices and culture and with the values that have guided Jet’s life, but he wants to do so with an eye for contemporary tastes and interests.
That’s where Jacky Heung comes in. Heung is a young martial arts star. Currently, his lifestyle includes daily cross training at the gym with boxing and other activities. Heung made his name in martial arts by innovating in the field and combining parkour with traditional martial arts. He was brought into the project in order to share his love for Wushu with a younger demographic that seems to crave novelty and constant innovation.
Here are some highlights from their interview.
Jet Li: I bought a pair of Adidas shoes in Hong Kong a long time ago. At that time, the price of the shoes was about a year’s worth of salary for an average person in China. It was extremely expensive. I remember thinking that if I ever were to make shoes with Adidas, it wouldn’t be that expensive. So I guess that’s how it started.
I went to Hollywood in 1997 and was dealing with American companies talking about possible collaborations or endorsements. They told me they weren’t looking for a celebrity, they were looking for a legend. They said that the celebrity effect is too short and had too much uncertainty.
For example, if there is any gossip or scandal, then it becomes a waste of an investment on the part of the company. It can’t compare to investing in the collaboration with a football team—if something happened to a player, the team is still there.
So I asked them, are there any legends they would work with? They said,
He had become a legend for many people at that point. That was when I started to understand. I went back to my country and started to work on social work. By the time I went back to the States in 2007, the first group to approach me was Adidas. Adidas no longer thought of me as a celebrity, but perhaps as someone who would be a legend.
They said that going from being an athlete to a movie star, and then establishing a non-profit organization, and then deciding that this non-profit organization should help unite people from around the work to participate in social work—that kind of stuff is what I was lacking before.
Moving beyond celebrity status, to becoming what they called “a legend.” So honestly, that’s how it all came to be.
Jet Li: WUJI brand is intimately connected to the spirit of Wushu. In order to understand WUJI, I want to say a bit about Wushu. Thousands of years of Chinese culture make a lot of cultural traditions complex to understand as they can change a lot through time.
In this 21st century era, Wushu impression is more than party tricks or self-defense techniques. It has become a type of sport. In terms of WUJI, my question was this:
We have a great culture, but what do people like nowadays? What type of message do we need to spread?
Adidas has very clear ways of answering this type of question. They look at different demographics, they differentiate by different age groups, specify a target group based on this market, find a way to let the consumer identify with this culture. So Adidas can easily produce a type of product to express WUJI culture with these demographics in mind, and most of the time Chinese will feel “pleasure” with this type of message and product.
But for me, well, from the 70s, I traveled a lot from east to west and I think this generic east/west idea is not the message that I want to share. So I worked with them to create “WUJI” instead of just “Wushu”, because everyone knows the concept of “Wushu” even if they call it a different name.
In most peoples’ minds, “Kung fu” is “Wushu”, but actually this term “Kung Fu” means “training or experience through time”. So, it is like, people could say，“做饭功夫很好”(zuo fan gong fu hen hao) which means, the cooking skills you’ve worked on (your “cooking Kung Fu”) are really great.
When you spend a lot of time on something with dedication, that is Kung Fu. It is a broad definition. Whereas, in the WUJI definition, “武” (wu) means a tool through which to communicate, “极”(ji) means unlimited. So the idea is to combine your spirit and body as one to become unlimited levels healthier and happier.
Jet Li: Actually this is not a promotion in the classic sense. WUJI is like teaching a bigger story, and it gives others a platform and concept, if it makes sense to you, then you just fulfill this story.
I created a platform for Jacky Heung, but it depends on how he wishes to express it and on his ideas. I’m not only having an apprentice promoting the technique, but I hope in this 21st century, he can help in promoting Wushu and the symbolic philosophy of Kung Fu.
But with the younger generation, you have to let them have the freedom to share, young people always have a great flame, you just need to give them a platform to express the cool stuff that is meaningful for them.
How to become a preference for the younger generation, how to make things close to consumer requirement, this is something that a lot of China brands need to think of.
Jacky Heung: It’s started from 2006, at the very beginning, I didn’t want to learn it, but after watching some videos related to martial arts, I became curious about it. During that time I don’t want to do some projects that I was being asked to do related to love stories, so I stopped my job and started to learn martial arts.
And even until right now I can’t stop it and if I stop training, I feel that I’m weak, every martial arts performer need to always focus and keep up the strength.
Jacky Heung: I mean concentration, focus and flexibility, especially in your mentality. And you need to like it, or else it’s torturing.
Jacky Heung: I was looking for something that can combine with Wushu and it’s close to the sport of parkour. Also I catch up really fast, and I wanted a challenge. I’ve always been athletic, I love basketball, skiing and skating.
Jacky: Parkour originated in France and actually French people admire Chinese Kung Fu. Actually parkour is also a type of Wushu. Parkour puts emphasis on the whole process, but Wushu lacked the enjoyment of process.
Jacky Heung: For me to be part of WUJI, I always wish to express traditional Chinese culture in a modern way. For example, a different type of clothing style with both parkour and Wushu elements. I know a lot of artists, painters, and martial artists. Nowadays, they are using a lot of Chinese elements in their work, this is new and full of positive energy.
You need to have the basic knowledge, this is Jet Li’s spirit, and its included in the soul, but everyone expresses in a different way. Adidas is an international brand, for WUJI Collection, it’s about going back to the Chinese elements and culture.
Jacky Heung: It’s suitable for different ages. Of course, I hope it can be attractive like training and basketball series.
Jacky Heung: No, he just mentioned three steps:
then only you reach a new level. Whoever can master this level, they can create new levels and improve. Everyone is a creator; you don’t need to follow the traditional way.
Just need to remember the foundation, and use Chinese Wushu to express in a different way, keep up in this trend, I think this is WUJI spirit, and also my goal to be part of this project.