How Many Black Belts Does Jet Li Really Have?

Jet Li has been a martial arts prodigy for about as long as such honorifics have been possible for him to achieve. After all, Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that he was only nine years old when he scored an award at "the first wushu competition held in China since the Cultural Revolution." This led to a magnificent career in competitive martial arts, which eventually turned into another career as a martial arts movie star. You might have seen some of his 50 or so films.  

With a track record like that, it's easy to believe that Li has more black belts than most of us have regular, keeping-our-pants-up belts. How many does he have, exactly? Let's find out! 

The surprising number of Jet Li's black belts

Would you believe that Jet Li has no black belts at all? It's true! Li is indeed one of those martial arts actors who don't even have a black belt, but unlike many of the members of that particular club, this doesn't mean that his skills are completely fake — he just specialized in a sport that operated a bit differently from your average martial art. 

As Asian Bite tells us, Li's specialty is a committee-constructed version of various wushu combat styles, and the sport as he knows it was only 13-years-old when an eight-year-old Jet Li was randomly chosen to join a group of wushu students. To say that he excelled in this strange, new gymnastics-like sport is an understatement. Encyclopedia Britannica notes that by the time Li was 11, he was the Chinese men's wushu national champion — as in, including adult competitors. He won the title no less than five times before retiring from the sport, which should arguably count as at least half a dozen moral black belts. 

Don't take this to mean that a tween Li was able to beat the best martial artists in China in brutal tournament-style combat, though. Li's brand of wushu has more in common with gymnastics than street fighting, and the emphasis was on "solo execution of martial stances and routines" instead of the knockout quality of one's kicks to the opponent's face. Then again, just because it was more about solo performance than matches didn't mean it was any less arduous: On his own website, Li describes performing complex jumps, kicks, rolls and leaps in front of gasping audiences at the age of 12 ... while sporting an open, profoundly bleeding head wound.