Hong Kong’s preteen world wushu champion Jada He is born to fight
Inspired by her parents, who are both former wushu world champions, the Year 7 American School Hong Kong student retained her world age-group title in Brasilia this summer
To be a double world champion by the age of 12 may seem an impossible feat, but Jada He has achieved just that – and has the medals to prove it.
Over the summer, the young exponent of wushu, or Chinese kung fu, was in Brasilia to retain the age-group World Cup title she first won two years ago, and now has her sights set on even greater things.
In recent competition, she performed the taolu, or demonstration-style, forms of open-handed long fist (changquan) and long staff, impressing with her combination of skill, precision and grace.
“The judges are looking for rhythm, control and well-defined movements,” says the Grade 7 student at the American School Hong Kong (Ashk), who also won an Asian junior crown in 2017. “But they also expect you to convey concentration, respect and the spirit inside.”
Jada first became interested in the sport that can become a way of life, when she was barely four. She started by practising a few of the basics and began to take things more seriously when she was six, joining her then-school’s team for twice-a-week training – and completing 300 sit-ups in the very first session.
By then, though, she was also aware of her family tradition.
“I’d watched my parents training in the gym; that’s why I originally decided to give it a try,” Jada says. “They were moving and jumping and doing back-flips, and it seemed pretty cool. What they were doing looked fun and exciting.”
Both of Jada’s parents are former wushu world champions, so there was every reason to be impressed and inspired.
Her father, He Jingde, competed for China before he moved to Los Angeles, to run a martial arts school that attracted a number of Hollywood stars. He then worked for more than three years as choreographer and performer with the Cirque du Soleil show KA in Las Vegas before he became a fight choreographer for action films.
“Growing up in Shandong province, I fell in love with martial arts as a kid and wanted to be like Jet Li,” He Jingde says. “I would wake up at 4.30am every day for training and later, joined the Beijing wushu team. and took part in national and international competitions.”
Jada’s mother, Christine Lo Nga-ching, found success as a member of the Hong Kong national team in the mid-1990s and is now a respected coach. Besides being a World Cup champion, specialising in the straight sword and staff, she appeared in Las Vegas and has been a fast-moving “body double” in numerous films.
“We don’t push [Jada] and don’t want to give too much pressure, but we can see she is very talented and has her parents’ blood,” He says.
By the age of seven, though, Jada was taking the lead. She was keen to practise with friends, wanted to learn more, and was diligent in doing the “homework” set by her coaches. That mainly consisted of a routine of stretching exercises each evening and keeping a written record of everything she had done.
“I don’t really like writing, but I learned that I needed to listen to the teacher and to do my best in every class,” Jada says. “Some days, the training is hard and your muscles feel the strain, but my parents always encouraged me and gave their support.”
Success at local level led to an invitation to join the Hong Kong national team as the youngest member of the Group C category for seven-to 12-year-olds. Its competitions brought a new set of challenges.
“At first, I felt very nervous in front of the judges,” Jada says. “But then I just started to perform and everything was fine. Now, after competing, I feel happy, but also kind of empty because of the release of [emotions].”
Following her big international wins, Jada now trains most days after school at the Hong Kong Sports Institute. The sessions, which sometimes last up to three hours, focus on flexibility, technique and new skills in short weapons and the southern fist (nanquan) style that will be needed as she moves up to the Group B category for 12- to 15-year-olds.
“The training is very challenging, but you feel stronger, more confident, your body feels healthier, and your movements become smoother,” Jada says.
Aware of these all-round benefits, as well as the self-discipline, focus, endurance and sense of respect wushu imparts, Ashk has plans to introduce it as regular extracurricular activity and form a school team.
Also, in recognition of Jada’s achievements, the school has awarded her a merit scholarship, in line with its policy of encouraging excellence in different fields, and not just academic disciplines.
For her, the success is welcome, but the attendant publicity has one obvious drawback.
“Sometimes people recognise me at 7-Eleven and then they want to stop and take pictures,” Jada says. “That can get a bit annoying.”