Talking with Leo Fong

I respect anyone who lives to the age of 75 and maintains an active lifestyle. But Leo Fong goes well beyond that. Leo teaches his own unique fighting system through classes and seminars. In addition he works out every day in an intensive conditioning program he developed, he also writes a newsletter about health, nutrition, fitness, martial arts and social issues.

Leo T. Fong was born on November 23rd, 1928. He is one of the most respected martial artists in the community today. Leo was born in Canton, China. When he was five years old, his family emigrated to the United States. At the age of 15, Leo began training as an amateur boxer and was also called to be an ordained Methodist Minister. In 1958, Leo was introduced to Kung Fu, studying Choy Li Fut and Sil Lim. In the early sixties, Leo met Bruce Lee and became his student, eventually inspiring many of the innovative techniques of JKD.

In the 1970's, Leo Fong went to Hong Kong and started a career in martial arts films. When he returned to the USA he started producing, directing and continued acting in films. Mr. Fong is a retired minister, a film producer, and a martial arts teacher. He has created his own style of martial art known as Wei Kuen Do, which is not just a fighting art, but a style to bring inner peace to the body.


Realfighting: You're 75-years of age and still quite active, more active in fact than most people half your age. How do you maintain your energy and activity level?

Leo T. Fong: I maintain my energy level with regular workouts. Also my deep interest in martial arts has a lot to do with energy. I am constantly trying to remain on the growing edge by reading, analysis, observation and experimenting.

RF: Most people don't realize you're a practicing minister, did you decide to become a minister in your youth or later on?

Leo Fong: My call to ministry took place when I was 16 years old. My spiritual journey is an integral part of my martial arts journey. It is an important part of my daily life.

RF: Your family emigrated from Hong Kong to the United States when you were five years old, were you raised in a traditional Chinese family or were you raised more like a typical American boy?

Leo Fong: My family emigrated from Canton, China. I was raised in a traditional Chinese family. However living in Arkansas in the 30's, 40's and 50's was very difficult. As the White people were constantly making fun of our heritage; thus, my interest in boxing and other forms of fighting.

RF: What's your typical physical workout nowadays, do you still do aerobic conditioning or is your conditioning mixed in with your fighting program?

Leo Fong: My fitness program is also my martial arts program. I developed a program I call CHI FUNG which means energy and breath. It consists of Eastern Tai Chi and Qigong principles and concepts and Western weight training physiology. I use a lot of circular motions with small dumbbells. I have strung all the exercises into a form which affects every major muscle the body. It takes about one and a half to two hours to complete. Included in this program are punching exercises which sharpen my hitting skills.

RF: Tell us about your weekly training schedule including teaching, workouts, conditioning etc?

Leo Fong: I get up in the morning about 5:00 AM and have a bowl of hot cereal that consists of flaxseed meal, oat bran and multi-grain oatmeal, with soy milk. I read the newspaper and then I teach a Senior Exercise Class. In the afternoon I work out another one to two hours with my students. I usually teach one-on-one. I also try to walk three miles a day. During these walks, I meditate a lot on the various techniques. Sometimes I stop and do some movements to see if it has the flow.

RF: Do you adhere to this schedule every day or do you rest on the weekends?

Leo Fong: Yes, I workout everyday, 7 days a week. I have so many exercises that I can vary the program each day.

RF: Tell us more about your general diet, what do you eat, what type of foods do you avoid?

Leo Fong: I avoid sugar, fats and salt. My favorite foods are Japanese dishes, especially seafood. I begin the day with a bowl of fiber cereal composed of multi-grain oat meal, flaxseed meal and oat bran. I drink a lot of green tea and eat a lot of soy products.

RF: You're an ex-boxer, do you still box and if so, what is your program like?

Leo Fong: I am an ex-intercollegiate and golden glove boxer. No, I do not box any more since I have developed the present system. I believe gloves take away sensitivity, which I rely on with open hands. I keep my hand and eye coordination sharp by working out with my private students. I use focus gloves and training sticks.

RF: You told me you have a new fighting program, could you please elaborate on it?

Leo Fong: My fighting program is Western boxing based. I have taken the basic boxing punches and expanded on it to include trapping, low kicks, grappling and hitting pressure points. What I work on most is the mental, emotional and spiritual aspect that makes the physical components effective. I feel that broken rhythm and off-timing is the key to setting up an opponent for the kill. The fine art of feinting can interrupt the opponent's timing and leave him vulnerable to an attack or counterattack.

The art of feinting is not practiced very much in traditional martial arts. Boxers have it but they develop it naturally. These are all inner components. This is my art; it's an old man's art because it does make you more sensitive to your opponent's energy and strength. By being soft and relaxed, you can sense where your opponent is coming from.

RF: Have you worked with the compact UFC open-palm type gloves?

Leo Fong: I do not use any kind of gloves. The effectiveness of my fighting approach is based on sensitivity. I utilize open hand along with the fist.

RF: What types of kicks are included in your program, e.g., are they all low-kicks?

Leo Fong: My kicks are confined below the waist. I combine kicks with hands. Kicks are my secondary weapon. My primary weapons are the hands.

RF: Do you use elbows, knees and head butts, if so, how have you incorporated them?

Leo Fong: Yes, I use elbows, but butting will depend on the situation. Since I try to keep my opponent in a safe zone (18 inches) I have no need to get too close. I try to score a knockout before my opponent reaches the grappling range.

RF: How do you handle a grappler? What are the grappling techniques you employ personally?

Leo Fong: If I had to grapple I use reverse techniques. However, I condition my mind and body to shift and attack the moment an opponent touches me. I do not let anyone complete a hold on me. My entire approach is based on total awareness and body language. The moment the opponent makes an initial move, I attack or shift.

RF: What do you mean by reverse techniques?

Leo Fong: When I say reverse techniques I am saying turning the opponent's counter into a counter. For instants, if a person puts a choke on me, I immediately turn in and roll out and have him in an arm-lock and a pressure point knockout. Of course you do not want to let your opponent complete his technique, your response must be at the beginning of the technique.

RF: You studied judo at one time; do you still use any judo concepts today? What were the pros and cons of judo in your opinion?

Leo Fong: Yes, I studied judo. Judo is good if that is what you are deeply interested in. Nothing can discourage an attack quicker than slam him on the sidewalk. I think you can take any art and make it work against any attack. That depends on your choice. I respect the judo man but judo is not my cup of tea, striking is.

RF: What about dealing with weapons? What's your general approach?

Leo Fong: My approach with weapon is this: I respect the danger of guns and knives. It is best to keep a realistic view of the danger of these weapons. If some one were to threaten me with a gun or a knife, I will just be patient and see if he can advance close enough for me to parry and hit and disarm.

RF: you studied arnis with Angel Cabales and Remy Presas, did your arnis skills influence Bruce?

Leo Fong: No, my arnis skills did not influence Bruce Lee.

RF: You mentioned that you teach older adult's self-defense, do you structure that program differently than the program for your younger students?

Leo Fong: There is no difference. My approach to self defense is to practice the art of detachment and disengagement. In other words my first priority to keep detached from my opponent. I keep an 18" safe zone between me and my opponent. I use a lot of lateral movements. I do not block, but I do help the opponent to deflect his blows or kicks by blending with him and turn in the direction he is attacking.

I never allow myself to go strength against strength. This is why I call it an old man's art. You move your own body, not the opponent's. I just assume everybody is bigger and stronger than me, so I don't try to match strength. I try to be like a pistol. I shoot punches from my safe zone. I spend a lot of time developing the left jab, the left hook and uppercut, left and right.

RF: I liked your reference to classical wing chun not being practical, how have you taken the classical art and adapted it for the modern world?

Leo Fong: I have taken the traditional art (like) wing chun and modified it to the Western boxing mind set. Instead of doing wing chun or any other Asian art, I trap box, I kick box, just box at every range. Because the key to having a winning edge is the ability to adapt to your opponent. Boxers are good at that, they are spontaneous, there is nothing pre-arranged.

RF: Tell us about your years in kung fu, I imagine the hand techniques weren't much of a match for your boxing skills?

Leo Fong: Kung fu training for me demonstrated that Boxing is the ultimate practical approach. It is a proven art by what you see in amateur and professional fighting. All you need to know is what the other arts offer and you can develop the boxing range to all of them. That is what I did.

RF: Did Bruce [Lee] get his inspiration for integrating boxing from you?

Leo Fong: I don't know if I inspired Bruce Lee in regards to boxing but I did show him the speed and effectiveness of different angles of striking. This is much more dimensional that wing chun kung fu.

RF: Have you done the same with JKD? Taking various aspects of what you learned from it and adapted it as well?

Leo Fong: Yes. Even JKD must be modified and adapted to an unrehearsed situation. When you are being attacked on the street, you cannot expect your attacker to cooperate with you. He will be like a desperate crazy man who will take everything you throw at him. When you hit, it better be for keeps.

RF: What were your contributions to the origins of JKD?

Leo Fong: I think my background in boxing. Bruce and I talked frequently on the effectiveness of Western boxing.

RF: I first came to know you through your books years ago, could you tell us the titles and if you still consider the information useful today?

Leo Fong: I think my books on the theory of fighting is still valuable. Each book focus on some aspects of fighting that is practical in a real situation. Most all of them deal with the concepts and theories which is the foundation of any approach.

RF: Many people don't realize you were featured in many films, which were your favorite ones? Any interesting "back stories"? Could you list the films you were in?

Leo Fong: My favorite film is KILLPOINT. It made 7,000,000 dollars in the USA box-office. I made 22 feature films.

RF: you were also the director on several movies; did you enjoy that aspect of filmmaking? Which films did you direct?

Leo Fong: I directed eight films. I enjoyed that aspect of filmmaking because it challenged my creativity.

RF: throughout your career you've probably had several [fight] encounters, any memorable ones?

Leo Fong: Yes, my favorite one was when I was a teenager in Widener, Arkansas. Three teenagers surrounded me to pick a fight with me for no reason other than that I was Chinese. One of the guys was standing to my right, another to my left and the other one was sitting on the steps. The guy on my left did all the talking. The guy on the steps didn't say a word. I hit him first and I hit the guy on my right the second he rushed in, knocking them both out. Then I turned to the guy on my left, the talker, and said to him, "Now it's just you and me." He freaked out and I walked away. I learned early that confidence is the key to winning. This is why I believe in the hitting art because if I had grappled with any one of them the other two would have jumped on me.

RF: You told me you've been doing seminars recently, where have you been and what are some of your future plans for the seminar circuit?

Leo Fong: I usually do two George Dillman seminars at Deer Lake, PA a year. I do an annual seminar in Martinsburgh, West Virginia. I do one once a year in Nyack, NY, and I will be going to Scotland in August to do one over there. I'm scheduled to do one in New Zealand. The instructor and head of the Karate association over there is a 7th degree black belt and he is training with me privately there.

You can see his site:

Leo Fong's film list:
1974 - Murder in the Orient
1975 - Bamboo Trap
1975 - Tiger's Revenge
1976 - Last Reunion {Ninja Nightmare}
1976 - Blind Rage
1978 - Last Reunion
1982 - Kill Point
1984 - Low Blow
1987 - No Witnesses
1988 - Paper Dragon
1990 - 24 Hours to Midnight
1991 - Show Down
1993 - Weapon of Choice
1994 - Cage 2: Arena of Death
1995 - Rumble in LA
1997 - Guardian Black Belts
1998 - The Komeback Kid
2004 - Transformed

Article by WR Mann Back to top