Leo T. Fong
Methodist Minister, Martial Artist, Fitness Coach, Filmmaker
Leo Fong was born in Canton, China and immigrated to the United States at the age of five years old with his mother to join his father in Widener, Arkansas where he ran a small grocery store. He is a graduate of Forrest City, Arkansas High School. He received his Bachelors of Arts degree in Physical Education from Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas, a Masters of Theology degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and a Masters of Social Work from University of California in Sacramento, California.
The FOUR BASIC STAGES of development are:
His martial arts journey began at the age of 7 years old on his first day of school. Being the only Asian in school, a group of students surrounded him at recess and began to sing racial slurs at him. When he returned home, his father asked him, “How was school?” Young Fong replied, “Great! Everybody likes me. They even sang to me.” The father asked, “What did they sing?” He replied, “Ching-chong Chinaman.” The father turned red in the face and said to Leo, “They don’t like you. Don’t you know they are making fun of your racial heritage?” Next day at recess, the playground teacher organized a softball game and Leo was designated to play first base. One of the kids hit a single and ended up on first base. He looked at Leo and remarked, “Chink!” Without hesitation Leo punched him in the nose, knocking him to the ground. The playground teacher grabbed Fong by the neck, spanked him and sent him to the office where he had to stand in the hall for two days while the other students taunted him. Unlike his cousins who dropped out of school because of racial intimidation, Leo choose to remain in school and fight. As he encountered other bullies, Leo developed an affinity to fighting which landed him in the principal’s office regularly. During this time, there were no martial arts schools in Arkansas so Leo sought out the American fighting style – Western Boxing. At the age of 12, he bought a boxing book, “The Fundamental of Boxing” by Barney Ross, the former world welterweight champion. Leo read the book from cover to cover and then he hung a pillow in his room as a punching bag and proceeded to follow the instructions in the book. The instructions he practiced from the Barney Ross book helped him refine his punching skills and he was able to defend himself quite effectively. He learned early on from the instructions in the book that the left jab and left hook were very effective punches. Bullies who came to him with racist attitude and aggressive wild swings were destined to be knocked out by jabs and hooks. He learned early that a left jab could set up for a left hook or a right cross and with those three punches Leo Fong prevailed against school ground bullies. He had his first formal boxing match at the age of l5 years old and while he lost a close decision, he learned much from fighting in front of an audience. After graduating from High School, Leo enrolled in Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas to study for the ministry. It was at Hendrix he joined the boxing team and received his first formal boxing lessons from an old professional fighter by the name of Kirby “KO” Donoho. In his first year of competition Leo won 7 of his first 8 fights and he scored 5 first round knockouts – all with his left hook.
In his second year in college, Hendrix College decided to disband its boxing and wrestling programs but the local National Guard Unit in Conway, Arkansas invited Leo to join their team. Leo won 5 fights that year with Company G, and also reached the Finals of the Arkansas State AAU Tournament. Leo scored one of the quickest knockouts of the tournament in his quarterfinal fight. He won the second fight by a decision and lost a close decision in the finals to a boxer he had beaten previously in college competition. After his 1950 AAU Tournament competition, Leo continued to compete in three other events; two college tournaments of which he won both by knockouts and the Southwestern AAU Tournament. At the Southwestern he scored a first round knockout, won on a forfeit and was knocked out in the finals. It was after the knockout that Leo decided to retire from competition. The following summer Leo was hired by the Dallas Board of City Missions of the United Methodist Church to work as an athletic director at Rankin Chapel in West Dallas, Texas. He developed a very strong boxing team at Rankin and some of the members won regional championships in their first year in competition even though none of the boxers had any boxing experiences before Leo’s arrival at the center. After graduation from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, Leo was assigned a church in Sacramento, California. This was 1954. While driving down K Street in Sacramento, Leo noticed a sign on the window of a Dance Studio that read: “Jiu-Jitsu School”. Leo stopped, ran up the stairs and met Bill Luke, the owner who was also a dance instructor. Luke said he had trained under a Judo instructor by the name of Bruce Teagner. Leo trained with Luke for over a year until Luke relocated to Southern California. Then, Leo heard that there was a Judo program at the Sacramento YMCA so he joined the Y and enrolled in the Judo program. The instructor was Bob Bendicts and Leo received a green belt under Bendicts after over a year of Judo training. In 1958, Leo was speaking at the Jones United Methodist Church in San Francisco, California and after his speaking engagement he went to Chinatown to have lunch. By chance he saw an elderly Chinese man standing on the corner of Jackson Street and Grant Street in Chinatown and he asked the old man if there were any Kung Fu schools in the area. The old man replied, “There’s one down there near the park, and one up there near the Baptist Church on Waverly Place.” Leo asked him which one is the best and the old man laughed, “It’s up to you. An old man runs the one near the park. The one up near the church is run by a younger man.” Leo decided to go with the old man near the park because he thought the older man would have more experience. It was there in a cellar basement kwoon that Leo met Choy Lay Fut Grandmaster Low Bun. That first meeting with Grandmaster Low Bun was an interrogation session as the old man wanted to know the reason that Leo wanted to train in Gung Fu. Finally after about 30 minutes of questioning, Low Bun agreed to train Leo in Choy Lay Fut. Leo commuted to San Francisco Chinatown every Friday evening for over three years, until one evening someone suggested he should check out the Sil Lum School. He and a friend went to the Sil Lum School and at the school there was a student standing in front of the mirror doing forms with small dumbbells in his hands. When he finished, he turned around and introduced himself to Leo and his friend Jimmy Ong.
This was James Yimm Lee. He talked for a little while and then invited them to join the club. Although Jimmy Ong did not join, Leo did and this was the beginning of a friendship with Jimmy Lee that eventually led to the meeting of Bruce Lee. In the meantime, Leo had met a Tae Kwan Do instructor at Sacramento State University, who held a 4th Degree Black Belt. He agreed to train Leo and two other friends who worked for the Sacramento Fire Department. After three years of training, the instructor (Chong Yuk Yong) graduated from Sacramento State University and decided to return to Korea. Leo continued to commute from Sacramento to San Francisco every Friday to train with T.Y. Wong at the Sil Lum School until Jimmy and Professor Wong had a falling out over ten dollars. Jimmy told Leo about the incident and said he was quitting the club. Jimmy said that he would be starting a class in his garage in Oakland and that Leo was invited. Leo followed Jimmy and trained in his garage until 1962 when Jimmy told Leo about a young Gung Fu expert named Bruce Lee who would be appearing at Wally Jay’s Annual Luau in Oakland. When Leo found out that Bruce was only in his teens, he was skeptical of his ability. However, at the demonstration, Bruce quickly erased any doubts about his fighting skills, as he demonstrated his speed and explosiveness on several volunteers from the audience. The following Monday after the Luau, Jimmy invited several martial artists to his house to meet Bruce. Leo was present in that small gathering. Thus was the beginning of a ten-year relationship with Jimmy and Bruce until both of their deaths. During the intervening years, Leo, Bruce and Jimmy had many discussions about martial arts and martial artists. Bruce was particularly fascinated by Leo’s boxing skills and his position as a professional minister in the United Methodist Church. On one occasion Bruce asked Leo why he trained in so many system of Gung Fu and Leo responded that he was looking for the ultimate. Bruce smiled and said, “Man, there ain’t no ultimate. The ultimate is in you” (as he pushed his index finger on Leo’s chest). Leo was a little confused at the point so Bruce then elaborated. He said to Leo, “With your boxing skills, learn a little grappling, learn how to kick, learn some trapping and you will have the ultimate.” As Leo thought about what Bruce said, he immediately remembered the words of the Gospel in which Jesus said, “The kingdom is within you.” Little did Bruce realize how much influence those words would have on Leo’s life journey as well as his martial arts journey.
Leo had an incident at the Choy Lay Fut School which spurred him towards martial arts liberation. Leo had traveled from Stockton to San Francisco for his weekly Friday class when one of the Family Associations called Grandmaster Low Bun to mediate a nasty fight (Low Bun was also the enforcer for the local Family Associations or Tongs). When he hurried out, Leo was training with one of the senior students name Willie, who asked Leo if he would like to spar. Leo did not understand what he wanted. Willie explained to Leo that they should free spar. Leo explained that he did not know how to spar in a traditional Gung Fu style but he will just do what he knows best; rely on his boxing. Then, Leo and Willie began to move around the room. Willie was in a hard horse stance, trying to hit Leo with the wide sweeping Choy Lay Fut punches, while Leo just moved laterally and stuck Willie with his left jab, occasionally hooking off the jab. After the session, Leo was not convinced he had dominated Willie and he thought Willie was holding back. When Leo told Bruce what had happened, Bruce said, “Hey, man he wasn’t holding back. He didn’t know what to do. Do you think a ‘dry land swimmer’ can beat a boxer, wrestler or judo man?” Bruce’s observation was an epiphany experience. Leo began to look inward rather than outward and he began to let go of the need to train at five different styles of martial arts to find the ultimate. Bruce encouraged Leo to seek his own truth and he reminded him many times that a good teacher is one who points the finger to the door but does not go in with the student. The student must enter in and discover for himself what is truth.
Leo also had an impact on Bruce and his martial arts style – Jeet Kune Do, as Bruce began adding the boxing punches and approach to fighting. At the class in Jimmy’s garage, Bruce had everyone getting into classic the Bae Jong stance of Wing Chun with the lead hand high and the rear hand low (by the solar plexus). Leo told him that he didn’t like the position and Bruce said “What do you prefer?” So Leo got into the modern American boxing stance with his lead hand low and his rear hand by his cheek. Bruce took one look at him and said “I like it because I can’t trap you lead hand.” And then Bruce just walked away and let Leo train that way. Over the next few years, Bruce completely changed his primary fighting stance and eventually adopted more of a boxing stance as his own.
There are many controversies over the birth of Jeet Kune Do and many of the second and third generation practitioners believed JKD was born in Los Angeles. Leo dispelled the myth that it was born anywhere else except in Oakland. In the middle 60’s, a Kung Fu instructor by the name of Wong Jack Mon immigrated to San Francisco to teach Northern style Kung Fu. He was also employed at the Jackson Café in Chinatown as a waiter and it didn’t take long for the word to get out through the Kung Fu grapevine that Wong Jack Mon was one tough fighter. Even one of Leo’s close Wing Chun friends, Lucky Chan of Sacramento said that Wong Jack Mon had the “vibrating punch.” When he hit you, the Chi will vibrate all the way through your body and leave you helpless, much like a Taser Gun. Leo told Bruce about this and he said it was just a lot of B.S. Eventually, one event led to the next and one of Wong Jack Mon’s friends brought the news to Bruce that Wong Jack Mon wanted to challenge him. The messenger (who instigated the bad blood and was also a Kung Fu practitioner) fueled the flame, going between San Francisco and Oakland with “he said that and etc.” Finally, Bruce ran out of patience and told the messenger to tell Wong Jack Mon to come over to Oakland and settle it once and for all. The match was to be held at a Kwoon on Broadway Street in Oakland that Jimmy and Bruce had rented for training. When the group arrived, Wong Jack Mon had about ten students with him and he immediately wanted to discuss rules. Bruce said, “Hell with rules. Let’s fight.” They squared off but as soon as Bruce advanced, Wong Jack Mon turned and ran around the room. Finally, Bruce caught up with him in a corner of the room, grabbed his throat and was about to finish him off, when Wong Jack Mon yelled out in Chinese that he wanted to give up. Bruce made him say it in front of his ten students. Leo was in Stockton at the time since it took about 2 hours to drive to Oakland so Leo missed the fight. After it was over, Jimmy called Leo and told him that Bruce could not catch the coward. During the fight,Wong Jack Mon scratched Bruce’s neck as he ran around swinging his arms. When Bruce got on the phone, he said to Leo “Man I need more angles. The forward blast is limited against a mobile target.” Leo suggested to Bruce “Go boxing, Bruce – hooks, uppercuts and crosses.” The following week when Leo arrived for his weekly training, Bruce was in Jimmy’s basement practicing a repertoire of punches on a glove hanging from a chain. Bruce was moving around like Muhammad Ali and he began the creation of his art called Jeet Kune Do.
After moving to Los Angeles, Bruce Lee negotiated with Mito Uehara, the owner of O’Hara Publications and Black Belt Magazine to have Leo write “Choy Lay Fut” and “Sil Lum Kung Fu,” and these are the first books ever written in English on these styles. Bruce Lee was also the editor, history researcher and choreographer for the application sections of these books. In fact, Bruce and Leo stayed up late into the night together one evening, as Bruce took each section of the classic Kung Fu forms and broke them down into fighting applications. Leo says that this is an example of Bruce's generosity and that he wanted his Kung Fu brothers to have their moment in the spot light, as Bruce also negotiated for Jimmy Lee’s book on Wing Chun. Bruce then arranged for Leo to be on the cover of the 10th anniversary edition of Black Belt magazine, but at first, Leo declined. When Bruce insisted, Leo asked him “Why do you want me to be on the cover?” and Bruce told him “Because I think it’s cool that you’re a martial arts expert and a minister – it’s like the old monks in China.” Bruce also asked Leo to be a Jeet Kune Do instructor with Jimmy but Leo said no because he wanted to concentrate on his training and his work as a minister. Furthermore, before Bruce passed away, he told all of his students to stop using the name Jeet Kune Do and to find their own truth. He did this because he was becoming very famous and his name and the name Jeet Kune Do were being abused but more importantly because he believed that JKD was his own personal journey. He told all of them not to imitate him and seek their own way of expressing themselves and the cause of their own ignorance.
After the death of Bruce Lee, there was a void in martial arts and cinema. Bruce was such an overpowering personality that his sudden death left the world in disbelief, however, the death of one phenomenon often is the breeding ground for another. In 1974, Leo received a call from a producer in the Philippines who had read his books and seen the 10th Anniversary edition of Black Belt Magazine with Leo on the cover. The producer offered Leo the lead role in two of his upcoming films. At first, Leo declined the offer but he eventually accepted and in December of 1973, he traveled to Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and finally to the Philippines to visit movie studios and get a sense of what filmmaking is all about. In January of 1974, Leo and Ron Marchini, his business partner and friend arrived in the Philippines to begin filming Leo’s first movie, ever, “Murder in the Orient” aka “Manila Gold.” Although the two American Martial Artists got the star treatment in the Philippines, the movie was a disappointment, but Leo decided to remain in the Philippines for another year to pursue further film work. After returning to America, Leo went on to star in over sixteen movies and directed, wrote and/or produced six films including the very successful “Killpoint” co-starring Cameron Mitchell and Richard Roundtree. During his time in the Philippines, Leo traveled back and forth to Hong Kong from Manila to visit various Gung Fu schools. However, Leo selected a Thai Boxing Gym, owned by a Thai boxer by the name of Fong Yeh, for his daily training while in Hong Kong. It was during one of these visits that Chaplin Chang, the Production Manager for “Enter the Dragon,” suggested that Leo get an interview with The Hong Kong Martial Arts Magazine. On the way to the hotel to meet the writer, Chaplin asked Leo what he called his style. Leo could not give him an answer because he had trained in so many different systems. Chaplin suggested to Leo, “Why don’t you call it Wei Kuen Do.” Leo looked at Chaplin and asked, “What is that?” Chaplin replied, “The way of the integrated or assimilated fist.” He went on to explain that “wei” means stomach and all food is processed in the stomach. Leo immediately liked the name Wei Kuen Do because after growing up in the Southern United States, he believes in integration and because the name shows his connection to Bruce without being an imitation of his close friend’s style. Then, in 1976, Leo wrote the book “Wei Kuen Do – the Psycho-Dynamic Art of Free Fighting.”
Leo Fong eventually decided to create his own publishing company called Kononia Publications and has written over 20 books on Martial Arts training and philosophy including the very popular "Hitting Without Getting Hit", "Power Kicking", and "Winning Strategies for Karate and Kung Fu". Long before training videos were popular, Leo produced numerous 9mm training films as well as published and produced numerous bookss and videos by a variety of top martial artist.
While he was living and working in the Philippines, he became a close friend and student of Remy Presas, the founder of Modern Arnis. Then when he moved back to Stockton, he became a student of Angel Cabales, the founder of Serrada Escrima and over the years Leo developed his own style of Philippine Stick Fighting called Modern Escrima. More importantly, he has integrated the footwork of Escrima into Wei Kuen Do and this has evolved the style to an all new level. He also attributes the structure of the curriculum to Angel because he was excellent at organization and this has enabled him to create a simple yet complex formula. Leo has black belts or instructor level status in Choy Lay Fut, Sil Lum, Wing Chun, Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Karate, Arnis, Escrima, Judo, Jujitsu, Wrestling and he’s synthesized the various systems he learned into his own approach which he calls Wei Kuen Do - " The Way of the Integrated Fist ". In 1996, Leo Fong received a 10th Degree Black Belt and the title of “Supreme Grandmaster” from Grandmaster George Dillman, Grandmaster Wally Jay, Grandmaster Remy Presas and Dillman's Karate Institute International. Among his teachers are: Angel Cabales, Bruce Lee, James Y. Lee, Chong Yuk Yong, Remy Presas, Low Bun, and T. Y. Wong.
Leo Fong also became well known for his cutting edge weight training and co-authored the books "Power Training for Karate and Kung Fu" and "Advanced Power Training" with his friend and business partner Ron Marchini. During his years in Sacramento, Leo became a close friend and student of Bill Pearl, a body building and weight lifting champion.
Today Leo Fong is devoting his full-time to developing the concepts of Wei Kuen Do. Now that Leo is almost 80, he has taken all his knowledge of Gung Fu and Chi Gung and combined it with his knowledge of weight training and modern fitness and developed a unique style of training called Chi Fung. This approach was specifically designed for seniors but it’s really great for everyone. Chi Fung looks like Tai Chi or Chi Gung with light weights and fitness calisthenics. He sees a strong connection between the physical skills and spirituality. It is the spiritual dimension that can take the average martial artist to a high level of proficiency. All great masters have it; Bruce Lee is one of the greatest martial artists that ever lived because of his spiritual and philosophical depth. Others such as Judo Founder Jigoro Kano, Karate Founder Gichin Funakoshi, and Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba reached the spiritual level. Ueshiba once said, "When an opponent attacks, I move my mind." Anyone who has seen films of the great master deflecting a series of multi-attacks will realize indeed his mind was at work rather than just his body. Kano was able to throw opponents much bigger and stronger than him because his spiritual depth was so rooted that he was super sensitive to his opponents’ energy.
Wei Kuen Do finds its roots in Bruce Lee's Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, Angel Cabales' Serrada Escrima, Western Boxing, and also Choy Lay Fut, Sil Lum, and Wing Chun Kung fu. Leo has taken from each art the most practical for reality fighting and integrated into his approach. Now, Leo Fong is focusing on all the spiritual elements that can help a martial artist to develop refined skills so in a combat situation a person can hit without getting hit, fight without fighting, transcend size, strength, and stamina. Wei Kuen Do develops the inner skills that will help a person to overcome and transcend some of life's difficulties and adversities. Wei Kuen Do is more than a fighting art; it is a way of life. After over 50 years of practice in various forms of martial arts, Leo has synthesized life experiences into one single approach in combat and in the totality of life.
The ultimate focus in WKD is to strive to reach a spiritual and Zen state whereby you can express all physical and technical skills like a "voice and an echo." Wei Kuen Do is best described as an experience rather than a system or style. The highest form of fighting is when you reach a spiritual or Zen state. All great masters such as Morihei Ueshiba, Jigoro Kano and Gichin Funakoshi, reached a spiritual dimension and Zen state in their martial arts journey. Ueshiba once said in reference to an attacker, "I just move my mind.” The great Master had reached that mental state where he could control a negative situation with his inner being rather than physical skills alone. The highest level of proficiency is to reach a state of "effortless efficiency", fighting without fighting, and going from no form to form and then back to no form.
Leo Fong credits his association with Bruce Lee for much of his insight into the conceptual aspect of the martial arts. He gives total credit to his understanding of Jesus Christ for his tremendous inner growth. "When I discovered the connection between Christ and Wei Kuen Do, it was then that I realized Jesus Christ was the greatest Martial Artist in the history of the arts. Martial arts proficiency must be developed from the inside out, it must have a Spiritual root, or else the physical techniques will only be superficial without depth of power and penetration. The most damaging and destructive techniques are delivered with emotional content, right on the target without effort." After 33 years, Wei Kuen Do is beginning to crystallize as an effective and efficient approach to life as well as combat. As one looks back at the history of WKD, it can trace its roots to Western boxing and to individuals such as Jimmy Lee, Remy Presas, Bruce Lee, Angel Cabales, Low Bun, T.Y. Wong, Chong Yuk Yong and many others who have made a deep impression on Leo Fong. Integration is not about practicing several different styles at once, but it is about process and the ability to build on one core foundation and from that foundation integrate that which is useful and express it as a single unit. That is integration. It is much like a practicing Christian whose life is built on his belief in Jesus Christ and empowered by the force of love, who is able to go to any religious service and not be intimidated or overwhelmed by that particular environment. Leo Fong has deep convictions about total integration in terms of his martial arts ability to transcend life challenges both in the ring, the dojo and in the life arena.
Many martial artists who are skillful in defeating another opponent lack the skill to successfully defeat or overcome what life throws in front of them. It is not enough to merely get into peak physical condition. It is important to be spiritually, emotionally and mentally peaked. “How do you choke-out depression?” “How do you punch-out uncontrolled anger?” “How do you kick-out anxiety?” “How do you deal with death?” “How do you control addiction?” You cannot offer a physical solution to a spiritual problem.
As previously mentioned, the ultimate focus in WKD today is striving to reach the Zen or Spiritual Zone and spontaneity is the key to effortless proficiency. To reach the level where the practitioner can express himself or herself as easily as one does driving a car or eating a meal, takes years of training. WKD strives to teach the practitioner how to become the technique rather than do the technique. To enable a person who is taking his first step toward mastering WKD, Leo Fong has structured each component into a series of techniques and drills. Each section is interdependent of the other. One cannot reach the level of freedom and expression until they have mastered the ten angles of attack. The angles are the alphabet of fighting. Once a student masters the angles of attack he will have the capability to create his own “composition.” The principles that make the angles of attack work are the same guiding principles that can help you as a human being transverse daily life.
Working within those four basic stages are the FIVE “F’s” and the THREE “D’s”:
- Developing the Tools
- Refining the Tools
- Dissolving the Tools
- Expressing the Tools
The THREE D’s is the fuel that propels the process:
- Develop the Body
- Discipline the Emotions
- Disengage the Mind
Leo Fong once said, “WKD is a process, always changing, growing, always striving but never quite arriving. A person must learn to adapt to the changes that will always come.”
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