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93-year-old ‘Kung Fu Granny' still practicing after nearly 9 decades

by: Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk Updated:

Shaolin monks show off moves in London's Chinatown on Feb. 23, 2015. The monks practice Shaolin Kung Fu, which is believed to be the oldest institutionalised style of kung fu.
Carl Court/Getty Images

SHANGHAI - Zhang Hexian wakes up every day at 5 a.m. to practice kung fu, like many who either have, or hope to, master the martial art.

What makes Zhang different is that she’s made daily kung fu practice her habit for the last 89 years. Zhang, 93, has been practicing for nearly as long as she can remember.

“I started when I was 4 years old,” Zhang told CNN. “It’s my family tradition that has lasted more than 300 years.”

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The “Kung Fu Granny,” who has recently gained international attention for her skills, said that she was born in 1924, during a time when China was at war with other countries. For her family, kung fu was good self-defense.

Over nearly nine decades, she has mastered each of the 15 different styles that her type of kung fu encompasses. Each of those styles has 36 different moves, and it takes about three years to master an individual style.

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The hardest part came in the beginning, she said.

“Most difficult was learning to squat firmly, because it made my muscles so sore,” Zhang told CNN. “I remember being so sore, I couldn’t even go to the bathroom. And we were a poor family, so after practicing, I’d be starving and we’d have nothing to eat.”

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Nearly 90 years after she first took up the art, Zhang now teaches her skills to her neighbors in Dongyuan Village, near Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, in southeastern China. The Shanghai Daily reported that she also taught the practice to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The newspaper reported that kung fu was also what brought Zhang and her late husband together. Her husband, Feng Yongkai, was a student of her father’s.

They practiced together in the mountains, ultimately falling in love, marrying and starting a family.

Her son, Feng Chuanyin, told the Daily that his mother taught him that kung fu is for health and self-defense only. Attacking others is “absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

She once had to use her skills to save her own life from robbers, however. Zhang was accosted by three men, two of whom she took down before they could react.

The third realized that he stood no chance against his petite target and fled, the Daily reported.

Zhang told CNN that kung fu, along with plenty of sleep and a mostly vegetarian diet, has kept her healthy. She said it’s also important to keep a positive attitude and to help others whenever you can.

She was surprised to learn that photos and videos of her practicing her art had affected people around the world.

“I never thought about being famous,” she told CNN. “If people love kung fu, my family can teach them. We have been teaching people around here -- but I never imagined we'd get the attention of others around the world.”