December 7, 2022

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Caring for Life

How Donnie Yen Became One of the Greatest Martial Artists of All Time

9 min read

Actor and martial artist Donnie Yen used his youth in Boston, splitting his time concerning periods at his mother’s martial arts school, the boxing gymnasium, and lifting weights at the Chinatown Boys Club.

“I was training to be in motion videos in advance of I even knew it was a possibility,” Yen tells Men’s Journal. Even the bitter New England chill couldn’t avoid him from having his training in. “I would be out on the road wearing boots and my winter coat, kicking signs and lamp posts. I would do a jump kick, then drop down to a whole split, on ice,  just to test how effectively my body was in a position to regulate the movement. It wasn’t just about all the form of actions I could do, it was also about what form of situations I could do them less than.”

That desire to be just one of the future fantastic motion stars has because develop into actualized. Yen commenced his vocation in Hong Kong and turned just one of the most in-demand sales opportunities. The turning position that gained him international stardom and familiarity came when he portrayed the famous Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, very best acknowledged as Bruce Lee’s trainer, onscreen. Most not long ago, his job as the blind battle monk Chirrut in Rogue One: A Star Wars Tale introduced him more into the intercontinental highlight.

Now, with Ip Man 4 currently being his last kung fu movie, Yen reflects on the streets that introduced him below.

Men’s Journal: What was your training like when you have been escalating up in Boston?

Donnie Yen: My mom was a martial arts grasp and she made use of to run a wushu school, so I commenced my training with her. But there was a quick fascination for what the body could flip into, as effectively as with the actual physical aspect of martial arts. I was innately a curious human being and I found myself hungry for understanding on how to get stronger. There wasn’t the accessibility to details that there is now, so it was all about where by you went and what textbooks you could get your hands on.

Outdoors of your mother’s school, where by else have been you likely?

I bear in mind getting the subway out to Roxbury, which was about an hour or more, to get out to a boxing gymnasium. There weren’t professional boxing fitness centers like there are now. They have been actually all for genuine fighters and trainers having completely ready to contend. But I found my way into just one and commenced to get to know the fighters who permit me into the group. I was a peculiar sight there—this skinny Asian kid—but they would keep the bag for me and train me things. I used months there. Searching back, it was form of a crazy encounter.

I obtained into bodybuilding as effectively mainly because of the Rocky videos and Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was my to start with publicity to looking at a physique like that as a primary character—and it was superhuman. I preferred to set on muscle mass mainly because I was a small slim. I found out there was a Nautilus device at the Chinatown Boys Club, so I would go there right after all of my marital arts and boxing. I would just invest hrs training in there and lifting weights.

There are some very crazy movies of the routines you did. Wherever have been these routines coming from?

That was when I was attempting to get into motion-star form. I was attempting to be a “complete deal,” who not only seemed the part but also experienced this martial arts understanding. I took these routines from books—from whatsoever Arnold and Sly Stallone have been executing. I also integrated some outdated-school Shaolin training and also a small inspiration from what Bruce Lee did.

Wherever did the willpower to do all of that come from?

I was just relentless in my pursuit to be as excellent as I could be. I would set crazy ambitions for myself. For illustration, I would challenge myself to do 10,000 aspect kicks on the hanging bag, and set it in my notebook. So I would be expending just hrs executing aspect kicks, and at the end of the day I would publish down, nevertheless numerous hundred kicks it was. By the time I reached 10,000 kicks these aspect kicks have been so strong. There have been a number of periods when I ripped major baggage off the wall—maybe about 10 periods. I would go into boxing fitness centers and finally I would kick their major bag off the ceiling.

How did you take that foundation and adapt it to operating in motion cinema?

I made use of that passion for finding out into each and every career. Initially, I would intensely examine the style that my character is supposed to be effectively-versed in. Then I’d carry in industry experts and consultants to aid me carry the very best variation of it onscreen. On best of that, I was constantly hunting for new kinds and approaches I could carry into videos on my have.

Do you bear in mind an illustration of that?

I bear in mind when combined martial arts competitions and cage fights have been to start with coming on the scene—before and throughout the early stages of the UFC. I was in Hong Kong and I would run all-around everywhere attempting to uncover means to check out the fights. I would chase down tapes. I was mainly interested in watching the Gracies, and what they have been executing with jiu jitsu. Once I saw it, I knew I experienced to set it in my videos. I was just one of the to start with individuals to carry it into the cinema in Asia.

How did you come to feel when the Ip Man job came to you?

I was portraying an ancient practitioner—not to mention a revered determine, further than currently being the trainer of Bruce Lee—so I labored with Wing Chun industry experts for about three months. I used hrs breaking down moves and thoughts. It’s not possible for everyone to comprehend all the things there is to know about Wing Chun, and to be at [his] degree. I would have experienced to examine for decades with no other tasks. [All I could] do was check out to comprehend what I could of the philosophies and create on the foundation I have built over the many years of various martial arts kinds. I do not think this job could actually be accomplished by an individual without the need of that [current] understanding of martial arts.

Past the training, how did you get ready?

I experienced a obligation to portray this human being at the very best of my ability, even though there have been some fictional things of the tale. Past the continual training I was executing, I used a lot of time meditating on him and what he attained. I would uncover music that I felt represented him. I set a lot of examine time into having to know the person further than the legend.

How did you come to feel when it was so effectively received?

I experienced no notion the movie would do as effectively as it did. I bear in mind when it came out, it changed my vocation a lot, but it also hit big in mainland China. That experienced an exciting influence mainly because the Wing Chun style experienced commenced to develop into popular all over the planet mainly because of Bruce Lee, but unusually wasn’t as popular in the various provinces of China. Within just the state, martial arts are extremely regional, and the movie was a way for the style to transcend that.

I have heard that hundreds of individuals have commenced to observe Wing Chun mainly because of the movie, and which is surreal to me. I have experienced numerous Wing Chun practitioners strategy me to tell me the impact it is experienced on their classes. I was just attempting to do the person justice, and we found ourselves revitalizing the level of popularity of the approach in a way, which is a fantastic honor.

Was there a minute throughout the series which is in particular unforgettable?

Going up in opposition to Mike Tyson in the 3rd film was extremely interesting for me. I’m a big supporter of him as a fighter, but owning him in the movie also proved an exciting challenge for me, mainly because I experienced to keep my have in opposition to him. Not just as myself, physicality, but as the Ip Man character in the way that he fights. That was a extremely abnormal challenge.

How was making ready for this last Ip Man movie various from preceding kinds?

I experienced of program presently proven the training regime and observe major into the to start with movie. This last film was more about the person and his mentality. The franchise has a legacy now, and I preferred to do suitable by the admirers as significantly as closure. This planning was a lot less about currently being explosive and intense, mainly because Wing Chun is a more graceful martial art. It’s a extremely various style than what we generally see in motion videos nowadays. I loved the planning, being aware of this was likely to be the last just one. I permit all the things else circulation absent and just took the encounter in.

What was the most tough element of portraying Ip Man?

There’s fantastic problem in transitioning concerning the sorts of roles I enjoy. Going from an all-out brawler who just would like to inflict harm to a peaceful martial arts grandmaster can be a lot. One day I’m on the set of XXX with Vin Diesel, wearing my leather-based jacket, executing my just one-two-three combos and jump spin back kicks, and the future I’m in my classic robe participating in Ip Man. I have to invest time training, but also get my head into the suitable area for [the job]. It can take some time.

How do you maintain your baseline health?

I am constantly getting care of my body, by training and procedures of recovery. These times I concentrate on stretching to continue to keep myself as versatile as doable, mainly because which is of upmost value with the form of motion I’m executing. As you get older, you are in danger of losing overall flexibility and having damage. I do not do major weights at all any more, it just is not important for me to remain strong in the way I need. I concentrate on bodyweight training—lots of pushups—in addition to the battle training I’m constantly executing.

You are participating in a standard in the forthcoming Mulan. How did you come to feel about the actual physical aspect of that job?

All people in the film went by months of training to get ready for their roles. My character is excellent with his sword and a grasp of tai chi. I was honored the director and developing team seemed to have regard for my vocation and what I have accomplished so significantly. When I came to the set, the stunt and martial arts coordinators have been good with me adding my have take on the choreography they set jointly.

What was it like filming that Mulan tai chi scene?

I only did two normally takes. I felt excellent about the to start with just one and they did as effectively, but we decided to do an additional just one. The actions for each have been various, and I do not think I could recreate them mainly because that art is so significantly about currently being in the minute. I do not do tai chi a lot, but I do definitely get pleasure from it. There’s an additional degree of connectivity there—being in tune with your body in an elevated perception. My mom is a tai chi grandmaster, so there was a great whole circle element to that scene, too.

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