In 2003, UMTV brought you the story of The Reverend Leo T. Fong.
The exhilarating and death-defying action of movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Fists of Fury" are Hollywood's version of the martial arts. But movie portrayals are sometimes very different than reality. The original purpose of kung fu training, in fact, was in achieving tranquility through spiritual enlightenment. Grandmaster Leo Fong, a United Methodist pastor and a former student of film action hero Bruce Lee, has studied the ancient Chinese practice for 60 years. He's developed a series of exercises that strengthen the body and the spirit.
He doesn't fit the stereotypical image of "a man of the cloth," yet this United Methodist minister is a force to be reckoned with.
Nat Sound: Kung fu movie with Fong fighting
Leo Fong studied with Bruce Lee, his work seen in dozens of movies. Fong says learning about martial arts is very similar to learning about faith.
Leo Fong, United Methodist pastor: "What it's taught me today is to always look inward because true martial arts is a spiritual journey."
Fong's journey began in the 1930s when his family immigrated to rural Arkansas. Being Chinese made him a target of bullies.
Fong: "The first day of school, a group of kids were surrounding me and they were singing a song, you know, 'Ching, Chong, Chinaman,' and all that business."
Rather than be a victim, he chose to fight. That led to a lifelong interest in martial arts and spreading the gospel of a healthy lifestyle.
Nat Sound, Fong teaching class: "OK, we're going over the chair."
Fong: "I always say to people, the more time you put into exercise, the less hours we spend at the doctor's office."
The 74-year-old mixes elements of tai chi, yoga and kung fu into a workout that challenges the body without breaking it.
Diana Nava, martial arts student: "A lot of times, when you take a regular, fast-type pace class, you end up hurting yourself even more. What Leo's class does is it not only works on just the muscles, but on your energy."
Nat Sound, Fong teaching class: "Everything nice, loose and easy …"
Ultimately, for Fong, the goal is to calm the mind and from that quiet place, he says, comes God.
Fong: "Faith enables us to see everything as possibilities."
Finding the Fu in You – Tag:
Fong says everyone can incorporate the "Three Rs of self-defense" into their daily lives:
Don't react; wait and listen to what others are trying to tell you.
Don't reject – meaning don't judge people.
And don't resist; go with the flow.
2006 Black Belt Hall of Fame Kung Fu Artist of the Year
In 2006, Leo Fong was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Kung Fu Artist of the Year. Fong tells us his health and fitness have only gotten better in the more than ten years since this story was posted. At 86, Fong teaches seven classes a week that focus on slow motion weight training with deep breathing called CHI FUNG (energy and breath). Fong still attends martial arts meets where his punches still pack a lot of power for a Black Belt in his golden years.
The Rev. Leo Fong passed away, February 2022.
Originally posted February 5, 2003