When she was just five years old, her father introduced her to the martial art of kung fu, which she continued to practice throughout her entire life. In fact, even the village she lives in is known as a “kung fu village”, solely due to the fact that most of the residents practice it as well. She even met her late husband through kung fu, having been students of the sport together as kids. As if it still needed saying by now: Zhang’s life has revolved around kung fu.
The particular type of kung fu she practices is called Xiao Hong Quan, which is one of the most popular forms of Shaolin boxing. Her village is home to a school that teaches it, and it’s been around for at least 500 years.
She was even appointed as the chief referee at a martial arts competition that took place in her village in early June 2021. There, she showed off her skills, including her speciality, which involves hand-to-hand combat and the use of a blunt wooden baton called a cudgel.
Despite her strength, as spritely as it is, she’s still ageing, and she hopes to pass on the martial art to newer generations, so as to keep the tradition alive, even well beyond her lifetime. That’s why she’s been giving kung fu classes in the courtyard of her home, free of charge to anyone who’s interested in picking up the sport. “I am old, so this task can only be handed down to the next generation.”
The Shaolin senior: Meet ‘kung fu granny’
Zhang Hexian, 98, from Zhangkeng in southeast China, is being recognized for her demonstration that “kung fu spirit never gets old.”
“I would practice boxing every day and do movements like chopping, pushing and thrusting. Although I am old, I still have the strength,” she told the broadcaster, gesticulating the movements with grace and precision as she spoke.
One of the core tenets of all martial arts is that learning how to fight is meant for self-defence, not for attacking people. Zhang said she likes to tell her family: “Learning kung fu is for defending, not for bullying others. We should help others.” The most famous incident of Zhang using her kung fu was when she encountered a man beating his wife and Zhang subdued him.
Image courtesy Mashable / VCG / China Daily