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

Actor and martial artist Donnie Yen invested his youth in Boston, splitting his time among sessions at his mother’s martial arts faculty, the boxing health and fitness center, and lifting weights at the Chinatown Boys Club.

“I was education to be in action films just before I even realized it was a risk,” Yen tells Men’s Journal. Even the bitter New England chill could not reduce him from getting his education in. “I would be out on the avenue wearing boots and my wintertime coat, kicking indications and lamp posts. I would do a bounce kick, then fall down to a complete break up, on ice, just to test how well my body was capable to handle the movement. It was not just about all the form of actions I could do, it was also about what form of conditions I could do them beneath.”

That want to be a person of the subsequent great action stars has because turn out to be actualized. Yen started off his occupation in Hong Kong and became a person of the most in-need qualified prospects. The turning position that acquired him international stardom and familiarity arrived when he portrayed the legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Person, ideal known as Bruce Lee’s instructor, onscreen. Most lately, his function as the blind battle monk Chirrut in Rogue Just one: A Star Wars Story introduced him additional into the global spotlight.

Now, with Ip Person 4 being his ultimate kung fu motion picture, Yen reflects on the roads that introduced him in this article.

Men’s Journal: What was your education like when you had been rising up in Boston?

Donnie Yen: My mom was a martial arts grasp and she employed to operate a wushu faculty, so I started off my education with her. But there was a quick fascination for what the body could change into, as well as with the actual physical part of martial arts. I was innately a curious person and I found myself hungry for knowledge on how to get stronger. There was not the access to info that there is now, so it was all about where you went and what guides you could get your fingers on.

Exterior of your mother’s faculty, where else had been you going?

I recall using the subway out to Roxbury, which was about an hour or much more, to get out to a boxing health and fitness center. There weren’t industrial boxing fitness centers like there are now. They had been seriously all for legitimate fighters and trainers getting completely ready to contend. But I found my way into a person and started off 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 instruct me issues. I invested months there. Seeking back again, it was form of a insane practical experience.

I bought into bodybuilding as well mainly because of the Rocky films and Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was my first exposure to observing a physique like that as a major character—and it was superhuman. I wished to place on muscle mass mainly because I was a minimal thin. I found out there was a Nautilus equipment at the Chinatown Boys Club, so I would go there soon after all of my marital arts and boxing. I would just commit hours education in there and lifting weights.

There are some really insane movies of the exercises you did. Wherever had been individuals routines coming from?

That was when I was striving to get into action-star shape. I was striving to be a “complete deal,” who not only appeared the part but also had this martial arts knowledge. I took individuals routines from books—from what ever Arnold and Sly Stallone had been undertaking. I also included some aged-faculty Shaolin education and also a minimal inspiration from what Bruce Lee did.

Wherever did the discipline to do all of that arrive from?

I was just relentless in my pursuit to be as great as I could be. I would established insane plans for myself. For illustration, I would challenge myself to do ten,000 side kicks on the hanging bag, and place it in my notebook. So I would be shelling out just hours undertaking side kicks, and at the close of the day I would generate down, even so lots of hundred kicks it was. By the time I attained ten,000 kicks individuals side kicks had been so potent. There had been a number of periods when I ripped major bags off the wall—maybe about ten periods. I would go into boxing fitness centers and finally I would kick their major bag off the ceiling.

How did you consider that basis and adapt it to doing work in action cinema?

I employed that passion for finding out into just about every task. First, I would intensely research the style that my character is intended to be well-versed in. Then I’d carry in authorities and consultants to support me carry the ideal version of it onscreen. On prime of that, I was often on the lookout for new types and methods I could carry into films on my own.

Do you recall an illustration of that?

I recall when blended martial arts competitions and cage fights had been first coming on the scene—before and for the duration of the early phases of the UFC. I was in Hong Kong and I would operate all-around all over the place striving to uncover means to look at the fights. I would chase down tapes. I was primarily interested in viewing the Gracies, and what they had been undertaking with jiu jitsu. The moment I observed it, I realized I had to place it in my films. I was a person of the first individuals to carry it into the cinema in Asia.

How did you sense when the Ip Person function arrived to you?

I was portraying an historic practitioner—not to mention a revered determine, over and above being the instructor of Bruce Lee—so I worked with Wing Chun authorities for about three months. I invested hours breaking down moves and ideas. It is unachievable for anybody to understand every little thing there is to know about Wing Chun, and to be at [his] degree. I would have had to research for a long time with no other duties. [All I could] do was consider to understand what I could of the philosophies and make on the basis I’ve built around the several years of several martial arts types. I don’t assume this function could seriously be carried out by a person without that [existing] knowledge of martial arts.

Outside of the education, how did you put together?

I had a responsibility to portray this person at the ideal of my skill, even nevertheless there had been some fictional aspects of the tale. Outside of the continual education I was undertaking, I invested a lot of time meditating on him and what he achieved. I would uncover songs that I felt represented him. I place a lot of research time into getting to know the person over and above the legend.

How did you sense when it was so well acquired?

I had no idea the motion picture would do as well as it did. I recall when it arrived out, it changed my occupation a lot, but it also hit huge in mainland China. That had an exciting influence mainly because the Wing Chun style had started off to turn out to be well-liked all around the entire world mainly because of Bruce Lee, but strangely was not as well-liked in the several provinces of China. Within the state, martial arts are quite regional, and the motion picture was a way for the style to transcend that.

I’ve read that hundreds of individuals have started off to observe Wing Chun mainly because of the motion picture, and which is surreal to me. I’ve had lots of Wing Chun practitioners tactic me to notify me the have an impact on it is had on their classes. I was just striving to do the person justice, and we found ourselves revitalizing the reputation of the technique in a way, which is a great honor.

Was there a moment for the duration of the sequence which is specially unforgettable?

Going up in opposition to Mike Tyson in the 3rd movie was quite remarkable for me. I’m a massive enthusiast of him as a fighter, but possessing him in the motion picture also proved an exciting challenge for me, mainly because I had to keep my own in opposition to him. Not just as myself, physicality, but as the Ip Person character in the way that he fights. That was a quite unusual challenge.

How was making ready for this last Ip Person motion picture distinctive from former ones?

I had of training course now founded the education regimen and observe main into the first motion picture. This last movie was much more about the person and his mentality. The franchise has a legacy now, and I wished to do right by the followers as considerably as closure. This planning was considerably less about being explosive and aggressive, mainly because Wing Chun is a much more swish martial artwork. It is a quite distinctive style than what we generally see in action films currently. I appreciated the planning, knowing this was going to be the last a person. I permit every little thing else circulation absent and just took the practical experience in.

What was the most difficult aspect of portraying Ip Person?

There is great difficulty in transitioning among the forms of roles I enjoy. Going from an all-out brawler who just would like to inflict problems to a tranquil martial arts grandmaster can be a lot. Just one day I’m on the established of XXX with Vin Diesel, wearing my leather jacket, undertaking my a person-two-three mixtures and bounce spin back again kicks, and the subsequent I’m in my classic robe participating in Ip Person. I have to commit time education, but also get my thoughts into the right space for [the function]. It can consider some time.

How do you maintain your baseline health?

I am often using treatment of my body, by way of education and methods of restoration. These days I emphasis on stretching to keep myself as adaptable as achievable, mainly because which is of upmost significance with the form of action I’m undertaking. As you get more mature, you’re in risk of dropping versatility and getting harm. I don’t do major weights at all any more, it just is not necessary for me to continue to be potent in the way I want. I emphasis on bodyweight training—lots of pushups—in addition to the fight education I’m often undertaking.

You are participating in a normal in the impending Mulan. How did you sense about the actual physical part of that function?

Anyone in the movie went by way of months of education to put together for their roles. My character is great with his sword and a grasp of tai chi. I was honored the director and making workers appeared to have respect for my occupation and what I’ve carried out so considerably. When I arrived to the established, the stunt and martial arts coordinators had been wonderful with me introducing my own consider on the choreography they place with each other.

What was it like filming that Mulan tai chi scene?

I only did two normally takes. I felt great about the first a person and they did as well, but we made the decision to do another a person. The actions for each had been distinctive, and I don’t assume I could recreate them mainly because that artwork is so significantly about being in the moment. I don’t do tai chi a lot, but I do genuinely take pleasure in it. There is another degree of connectivity there—being in tune with your body in an elevated sense. My mom is a tai chi grandmaster, so there was a good complete circle aspect to that scene, also.

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