The Rev. Leo Fong says exercise, nutrition, and a good attitude are the keys to longevity. Fong embodies spiritual and physical fitness and says that at age 91, he's in the best shape of his life.
(Locator: near Los Angeles, CA)
Leo Fong has learned a few things about life - the spiritual side…
… the physical side.
He has starred in martial arts movies as a tenth degree black belt. He's preached from the pulpit as a United Methodist minister.
Yeah, Leo Fong knows life inside - and out… he's filled books with his understanding of the body, and spirit.
The Rev. Leo Fong: "What God has given me, and all of us, is the ability to be what we want to be. It's a matter of making a decision, that's all. And, willing to pay the price."
As a retired United Methodist pastor in California, this is his ministry, now - helping other seniors stay fit. He charges nothing for his exercise classes like this one at Reseda United Methodist Church near Los Angeles. Leo leads seven a week.
When she first came to one of his classes, Linda was impressed that Leo could be in such great shape at 74 years old. That was 11 years ago.
Linda Christianson: "I want to be just like him when I grow up."
Delores Simmons: "He is amazing. I understand some of the injuries he's had and how he's healed himself with his methods of exercising, and I want to be as limber as he is, and when I fall I want to be able to get back up and keep moving."
He doesn't preach to them. But Leo's chi - a Chinese word for energy - fills the room.
Kay Brotman: "He's taught us to be strong , not just exercise but deep breathing and meditation and all of those things have improved the quality of life."
(Class instruction: "…letting negative energy go.")
(Leo cleans trophy) For all the martial arts trophies collecting dust in his Canoga Park home, there is only one that Leo seems to much care about. It lauds his induction into the Black Belt Hall of Fame.
Fong: "…and they gave it to me because of my involvement with teaching old folks."
But, he isn't just working out with old folks.
(Sparring partner punching Leo's gloves)
Leo Fong does not act his age.
Fong: "Sometimes people remind me of that but what am I gonna do just wait for the grim reaper to come?" (laughs)
(Sparring routine with young men)
Klein Buen: "(How old are ya?) 34. (Alright, and how old is he?) 85? (What's that tell ya?) That I have a long way to go." (laughs)
Jeff Jeds: "Leo is the real man, more than just a storyline, more than just a movie. "
Delores Simmons: "He's an inspiration."
Jeff Jeds: "I can only wish I am like him when I get this age. So, what we have here Leo is two guys who together who are what, 20 years younger than you? Well, both of 'em combined I'm older than they are."
He learned that very early on. Emigrating from China to rural Arkansas when he was five, Leo was confronted with life lessons about surviving - physically and emotionally. He had to fight.
Fong: "I had to! I would not have gotten into this business had it not been for kids pickin' on me and calling me those names."
Meanwhile, in Sunday school, he heard about David and Goliath. It resonated.
Fong: "And my religious experience started from that day on.
A young "Leo" Fong decided he could rely on himself - and God. He would make his way through life with faith and strength.
"Pastor" Fong was never confused by the paradox others might have seen in a clergyman who became a celebrity fighter.
Fong: "I didn't think that was that unique, I'm not goin around chopping people's head off, I just do that as a way of staying in shape and keeping my own moral and spiritual structure intact. All the things I did were just activities outside myself. My identity was still that I was a son of God, and that I make choices as I go along down the road. I never stop climbing."
There are a lot of life stories in this room, a lot of hardships and health issues that have been, and are being, dealt with. And, eighty years after he first began to learn that negative motivation can lead to positive results, Leo Fong is still helping people to realize that - and act on it.
Fong: "Practice three P's: Purpose, ya gotta know where you wanna go. And then have the passion to get there, and then never give up, perseverance. No matter how old ya get. Yea. And I got a room full of people, I sold em on this bill of goods.
Fong: "People make excuses, there are no excuses!"
The Rev. Leo Fong passed away in February 2022.
This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
This video was first posted on June 24, 2014