The Li family is originally from Lanzhou in the Gansu province of China. Legend has it that prior to Li Sou's development of Wu Xing Chuan, he had learned various palm techniques that had been passed on to him by another member of the Li family. These techniques were called the Divine Immortal Palms, and consisted of Iron Bone Shattering Palm, Vibrating Palm, Cotton Palm, Burning Palm, Spiralling Palm, and Internal Iron Palm, which were taught to the Li family by a Taoist immortal and other traveling hermits from the Wudang and O Mei Mountains. Caves where Tibetan and Chinese Taoist monks lived as hermits also served as a training ground to teach a lot of the closely guarded martial material. The Li family arts were passed down through the generations, mostly staying completely within the Li family.
Shaolin first became famous because the Tang Dynasty (618–907) saw fit to favor the monastery with its patronage as thanks for the role its monks played in the Battle of Hulao. The sudden renown of the Shaolin martial arts attracted pilgrims who came specifically to study its fighting methods. However, the more people who sought training at the temple, the smaller the proportion of them that had the time or the inclination to truly dedicate themselves. Some regarded the Shaolin imprimatur as a kind of talisman that rendered years of training unnecessary. Others only wanted to fight well and cared little for esoterica like qìgōng, erasing over centuries the difference between the Shaolin martial arts and those crude methods on which it was supposed to improve.
Another was Jueyuan, who in the 13th century started from first principles with the 18 Luohan Hands, the original 18 techniques of the Shaolin martial arts. Like those before him, Jueyuan used the original 18 Luohan Hands as a foundation, expanding its 18 techniques into 72. Still, he felt the need to seek knowledge from outside the confines of the temple. In Gansu Province in the west of China, in the city of Lanzhou, he met Li Sou, a master of "Red Fist" Hóngquán (紅拳). Li Sou accompanied Jueyuan back to Henan, to Luoyang to introduce Jueyuan to Bai Yufeng, master of an internal method.
They returned to Shaolin with Bai Yufeng and expanded Jueyuan's 72 techniques to approximately 170. Moreover, using their combined knowledge, they restored internal aspects to Shaolin boxing. They organized these techniques into Five Animals: the Tiger, the Crane, the Leopard, the Snake, and the Dragon.
The warrior who was considered most terrible to face in battle was a dark-skinned man called Li Kwai, the "Black Whirlwind." His trademark weapons were the Double Axes. His hair in disarray, and he would strip before combat to increase his fierce visage. By the end of a battle, Li Kwai would be covered in blood and dirt. His first order of business having dispatched his foes was to cleanse himself with a relaxing bath.