David Yeung: “I strove to continually improve on all fronts and sending the message to people that you can transform your body if you’re really determined to. Don’t say “I can’t” or “maybe”, or “I’ll try”, you either say “yes” or “no”, don’t talk about it, just do it.”
David is a martial artist, peak performance athlete as well being the son of the legendary Bolo Yeung; the formidable Chinese ‘Hulk’ who played ‘Bolo’ in “Enter The Dragon” and ‘Chong Li’ in “Bloodsport”!
In his younger days, David featured in “Painted Faces” (1999), the story of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and their other Peking Opera brothers. He has dedicated practically all his life to a range of fighting arts such as Karate, Wushu, Taekwondo, Kali, boxing and fitness disciplines which eventually lead him to win the Mr California crown in 1998. As well as working with elite-level sportspeople in NFL pro football and basketball phenomenon Magic Johnson, he’s also been well-established as a training partner to some of the world’s finest athletes and bodybuilders.
Now he’s developing his talent to present his skills in new and innovative ways and take it, along with his powerful presence, to the big screen…it’s only a matter of time.
Kind, generous and humble yet intensely focussed and straightforward in demeanour, David took some time out to talk to us about many subjects; from his early formative training under the inspiring influence of his father, to going around movie sets and meeting some of the action industry’s big players. We also tap his vast knowledge and wisdom of physical training; an activity he enjoys up to 3 times per day and up to 7 days per week! If anyone possesses the necessary gravitas on such subjects as mindset, motivation, physical development and nutrition, it’s David. We hope you’ll pick up some insights and tips that you can use to strengthen your own resolve, mind and body to achieve the constructive goals you’ve set yourself. Now let’s welcome David Yeung!
Hi David, great to connect with you!
Hi Raj, great to be here, thank you.
So let’s take it from the top: when were you born and from where do you originate?
I was born on the 3rd of July 1974 (turned 40 last year) in Hong Kong.
What are your vital stats, height and weight?
I am 5′ 8″ (1.72m) tall and weigh 160lbs. (72kg).
How did you first get into the martial arts, how old were you?
I got into the martial arts when I was 3 or 4 years old. My dad taught me some basic traditional martial arts including tai chi. Actually, he was the one who set up my training schedules back then, I guess it was inevitable that he would encourage me and he did! At the age of 7, my dad took me to various schools including karate, taekwondo, kickboxing, wing chun, gymnastics and yoga , so that’s when I got more formally into it and trained until 14. I also studied a Southern wushu style and I have a first degree black belt in karate.
Similar to your father, Bolo, you’ve also got an extensive bodybuilding background right?
Yes. In addition, I did bodybuilding for 14 years, from 14 to 28. For my 10 year bodybuilding career, I was more focussed on that type of training, with extra muscle mass, it wasn’t possible to be as dedicated to martial arts. I also took up boxing after retiring from bodybuilding.
My childhood was mostly about training, I didn’t spend much time with friends and so on, my dad thought I should be dedicated to athletic pursuits so I always had a busy schedule, my dad prepared me from a young age!
Your father was of course a champion bodybuilder and powerlifter, what was it like for you growing up, having the ‘Chinese Hercules’ as your dad?
Yes, he indeed was a champion bodybuilder and powerlifter and he really inspired me to want to be like him -I mean look at him in the 70’s he was huge and could fight, I want to bring that kind of impressionability back. I wanted to prove that I can do something significant, special, and unique so wanted to take all the opportunities offered me. My dad pushed me and I owe a lot to him for that. I have a younger brother and younger sister, but they don’t train in martial arts, they have different interests. Since I’m the eldest brother, a lot of responsibility lay on me, as in traditional Chinese culture the father always expects his elder son to achieve -that impetus to do my best was always there. My dad is retired and in his seventies now so he’s slowing down. He travels doing guest appearances and events in Hong Kong. He’s dropped a lot of weight, but he’s still very strong for his age, he’s got very good conditioning and he’s healthy, that’s the most important thing.
Check out this video of David’s strength (and static holding) doing pull ups with ONE finger!
What kind of things did your dad say or do that made the strongest impression on you regarding the importance and emphasis on, discipline, self control and training?
I think his actions spoke louder than words and, as his son, I wanted to do my best and make him proud too. Now, I want to put all my abilities on the table as I feel I’ve got a lot to offer. The bottom line is, you don’t the results of these efforts at the start, you see it later, after 20-30 years of work, investing in yourself.
Who else in the martial arts has most inspired you until now?
One is wing chun Master Wong Shun Leung, who was a student under Ip Man and started training about two years before Bruce Lee. So when Bruce Lee came along, Master Wong helped out with training him.
If we can take a brief look back, your father Bolo most famously starred alongside Bruce Lee in “Enter The Dragon”. What experiences or memories did he share with you whilst working with such a martial arts icon?
He’s always talked about Bruce since I was a child, how he he was the first pioneer to incorporate everything and his thinking was not just about himself. Yes, he hung out with Bruce and drank coffee with him. The message I always took from this was Bruce’s level of dedication right until the end -that reminds me how to be successful, by staying focussed. Bruce Lee inspires me to stay strong in times of challenge or trial, because not every day is a sunny day.
Bolo also worked as a villain in several Jean-Claude Van Damme movies such as the quintessential aggressive heavyweight Korean fighter ‘Chong Li’ in “Bloodsport”, and “Double Impact”, what stories can you relate from those exciting times working with JCVD and in the 80’s and 90’s action movies in general?
Yes, I remember those well. I was around 12 years old at the time of “Bloodsport”, I saw how they filmed those movies as I was there on set. I first met JCVD when they did the kumite scene, my dad took me to the studio so I saw the training for it. It was such a good experience and after shooting finished Jean-Claude invited my family to dinner with him. That’s how I got to know him a little more. Most of the time he was talking about movies, he’s a very active and energetic person. I was new to bodybuilding around that time and I remember watching him work out, (he had an Olympic bar and dumbbells in his room) whilst talking with my father. His physique impressed me which only served to encourage me further to get in great condition. So the training example is what I took from him, Jean-Claude Van Damme is such a nice guy!
Your first notable appearance on film was in the movie “Painted Faces”, which told the story of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and several others during their Peking Opera days. How did you originally become involved in this film?
I was 11-12 years old at the time, it was my first movie and my father took me to the audition at Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong. I had gotten used to travelling with my dad (he took me everywhere!) in those days and had become familiar with the filmmaking process, so it wasn’t overly difficult or anything. I wasn’t the main character (I played no. 8) but I did feature in lots of the childhood scenes, jumping alongside the other kids! It took a year to finish and this involved 6 months’ training and 5-6 months’ shooting. I wasn’t expecting it to take so long to make (and sometimes I actually skipped school for it!) but It was interesting, so I learned a lot about acting and training. It turned out to be a good movie going on to win Best Directed movie and other awards in Hong Kong. I met a lot of great people, many of whom I’m still in touch with and got to understand more about the movie-making business. I didn’t meet Jackie Chan at that time, but I did meet Sammo Hung, who I called ‘Uncle Hung’. Actually, I grew up with Sammo’s sons Timmy and Jimmy, we went to school, played and hung-out together. They’re in the entertainment industry too.
You’re also well-known in the world of bodybuilding. How did you first become involved in bodybuilding. at what age did you start weight training?
I won a lot of local shows and I was a top national competitor and did really well but due to a lower back and knee injury (from intensive heavy lifting) didn’t turn pro. I worked with some of the industry’s elite, including Flex Wheeler with whom I was a training partner for 7 years. We’re like brothers now, though at the beginning, our communication was a little difficult since I didn’t speak a huge amount of English. When he saw how dedicated I was and the kind of results I was achieving in competition, he decided to train with me.
You were Mr California in 1998?
Yes, that’s right, I won Mr California in 1998, that got me a lot of publicity, it was a really big show and helped to get me well known. I also competed in the USA in 2001 and 2003; the best result was in 2001 where I took 6th place. I strove to continually improve on all fronts and sending the message to people that you can transform your body if you’re really determined to. Don’t say “I can’t” or “maybe”, or “I’ll try”, you either say “yes” or “no”, don’t talk about it, just do it. Now that’s what really makes sense!
What kind of weights were you pushing back then?
Well, at 23 years old at a bodyweight of 187 lbs (84kg) I could do 405lb (184kg) squats for 20 reps, (full range, butt to heels) my legs are very strong. I’ve done 1200lb (544kg) leg presses. Once I did a 800-900 lbs (362-408kg) non-stop leg press drop-set of 91-92 reps, I have 4-5 witnesses to that, it was hard to walk for a few days after that!
I met so many in the bodybuilding world I feel lucky that I’ve been around a lot of good people, whether Shawn Ray, Ronnie Coleman, met Arnold Schwarzenegger too and so on. I have no pretences about anyone being more important than anyone else because I know who I am.
You’re also said to be making inroads in the world of moviemaking. Describe some of your experiences so far. What sorts of movies or roles are you currently pursuing?
I am starring in a movie with Sonny Chiba called “Kizuna”, (or “The Bond”, in English) co-produced by Gaku Space (who recently played Gouki in Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist) who also acts in it and directed by Ryuji Yamakita from Japan. (My dad knew Sonny well in the mid 70’s and did a movie, “The Soul of Chiba” with him then in Thailand.)
A stimulating motivational training video – ‘Don’t be afraid to fail’
Who do you most admire in the martial arts movies?
Bruce Lee, my dad, and for differing reasons, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, (his fighting is so fast), Gordon Liu, a true martial artist and Lau Kar-leung; one of the best martial artists and a great choreographer, who had learned a lot of Southern style martial arts. His dad’s master was under trained under Wong Fei Hung, in Southern wushu martial arts. Tony Jaa who is very fluid and stunt-oriented with great flexibility, I’d like to see him in something new, (a tall order maybe!) but certainly he’s got something special. I’d also say Donnie Yen now a veteran, who started out with Yuen Woo-ping in the early days. I think several others inspired me in different ways to train and mould my physique in a particular way people like Stallone and Steven Seagal.
What are some of your top kung-fu and other movies?
“Drunken Master”, “Shaolin Temple”, “Fist of Fury”, “Way of The Dragon”, “Enter The Dragon”, “Snake in The Eagle’s Shadow”, “Project A”, “Bloodsport”, “Sha Po La”, (“Kill Zone”), “Game of Death” and “Kung Fu Hustle”. (Actually, Bruce Leung who played one of the baddies fighting Steven Chow at the end of the movie, had fought my dad before -he’s a great martial artist, a real street fighter too!)
Which martial/arts or action actors would you most like to work with in the future?
I’d like to work with Tony Jaa, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson. I’d like to do something new, something different.
What kind of training do you do?
I do a lot of strength conditioning and cardio on the treadmill twice a day. The intensity of my extension work ie, holding static position on the gymnastic rings for example for 10 or 15 seconds is harder than just lifting as that makes my muscles tense. This type of training maintains my condition and shadow boxing punching and kicking also helps me a lot.
I am a fitness trainer and coach: I like helping people get results whether for losing weight or training them for bodybuilding or fitness goals. I’ve been training amateur, upcoming fighters and professional fighters increase endurance, speed and conditioning; I train a lot of guys for competitions, I’ve also trained my sister in Bikini Championships and she turned professional. In addition I trained quite a few celebrities, people I used to know in the UCLA football team, NFL pro football player, Sean Jones from the Green Bay Packers and basketball player Magic Johnson in weight training once or twice a week. Magic is a very humble, kind, friendly, approachable guy and he always had a good intuitive understanding of what I was teaching him despite his travel schedule always being stacked! He’s a one of a kind successful basketball player with a great people image who willingly signs autographs for anyone who asks.
So, all these training activities help me fulfil my own main goals of filming and training in the areas of movie production and directing.
Can you tell us more about your high intensity workouts?
OK, let’s take the more difficult moves, for example on the double rings or single bar I can do one or two finger pull ups, I don’t use all my ten fingers; I extend my body out to the maximum keeping it straight and hold for 15 seconds, it’s difficult and requires good balance. I was first inspired to this type of training after seeing Bruce Lee do his trademark two finger push ups. I resolved to start training my fingers 6 hours a day. It took me 3-4 months to do straight (not bent) finger push ups though at first there was numbness, then I practiced hooking onto the bar with just my thumbs. I started doing it 7 days a week, never stopping actually, people who do climbing should be good at this. I almost injured both my thumbs, tearing some of the muscles which took a few weeks to heal. I am a strong believer that the more you do, the more you get used to it, the body adapts to the stress and you grow stronger.
Do you also do martial arts training? Is it mostly martial arts and weight training?
Yes, but in past 6 months I haven’t done so as intensively as I’ve been working as a trainer and have some opportunities to work on films, for example learning the script for indie films like “The Bond”. I do also like to do Kali stick training and I like to experiment with it, like increasing speed with the sticks; I like to be creative and do something different.
I’m involved in some movie projects with fight scenes that will go into film festivals later this/next year, and I want to work on more bigger projects.
What are your preferred muscle building exercises for maximum gains?
First, I want to send the message that weight training is totally different from strength training. The more intense stuff that I do is not dependent on external weights but rather uses your own body weight.
I used to be doing 140 lbs (280l bs) incline press, 4-5 reps and I couldn’t do more than 10 pull ups.
Today however, I know that my strength does not come from weights, true strength is within myself. It’s a totally different level. Weight training is fine but body weight exercises are much more real.
Back in your weight lifting prime, what kind of lifts could you achieve in the core moves such as squat, bench press etc?
I used to do bench press, that wasn’t my strongest but in leg workouts I could compete well considering my relatively light body weight. My legs are my favourite, I love training legs!
Even though I’m pretty light in bodyweight, my strength is good. For squats I could do 405lbs, (184kg) and for the incline bench press: 140lbs (63.5kg) for 4-5 reps.
See some of David’s lightning quick stick skills:
How about flexibility training?
I do a lot of stretching, my flexibility is generally quite good. When I was training flexibility hard I could do the splits between chairs. I can do high kicks and 360 degree spinning kicks and things like that, my jumping ability isn’t too bad. However, in the past I had torn my left calf so these days I’m pretty careful.
What’s your favourite exercise and what specific or special training techniques do you like/really find works for you?/Brings out the best in you?
I like to do a lot of bar training which enables me to feel the strength of my fingers and test my endurance – I like to grab a pull up bar and do lots of various exercises on it. Holding extensions, leg lifts for my core, I like that a lot. The longest I can hold with two fingers of each hand is 1 minute 45 seconds, holding without moving. With these type of exercises, I sense the additional mental strength you gain is much more. Maybe I’ll attend the Barstars expo in Las Vegas sometime!
What was your most serious injury and how did you work around it?
I did a jumping flip and someone hit me from behind in mid-air, and my knee hit the ground. I couldn’t walk for almost a week. I also had a back injury from a squat workout which took 6-8 months to heal, I was forced to train very light and do various movements around the injury.
What do you like to do to recover from a particularly strenuous period of physical activity? What do you recommend for those leading an especially physical and demanding lifestyle?
Best is resting, just stay off the exercises! It’s tough, but also too much resting depletes your strength. I try not to get injured so I can be more consistent. Stretch out completely before you start working out!
In your view, what’s the key to energy and strength?
I think the secret is the mindset and how much you want a particular thing. If you can envision what you want and get excited and be determined, you’ll have it soon.l! Every morning, I wake up at 5-6 am, and I tell myself I feel great and start working out and I know everything else will come. Mentally you tell yourself about what you’re aiming for, set your goal, have your time and schedule and you’ll accomplish everything you set for yourself. I set my goal and its time frame, then I tell myself the results are going to be there and that it’s going to happen. It’s psychological training, whether for bodybuilding competition or fight competition, once you have your goals and time frame, you’re set! You have to be very patient too, it might take time. As soon as you determine you’re not going to give up, you will reach your goal, you will succeed!
What kind of diet do you follow -is it especially high protein, how many calories do you normally consume?
Basically it’s very simple and very clean; it consists of things like boiled eggs, grilled chicken, not too much salt, and intake of more carbs for fuel before workouts. It’s a very basic type of daily diet. Again, most important is your mindset, sometimes people over think about too many things all at once. They become doubtful and their body’s results correspond to that and show accordingly. You need to try different foods and test out what works best for you. Try and stick to the things that work. If I eat out, I still am conscious of what I eat, eg. grilled chicken or salmon and salad, rice and vegetables. Actually, I don’t really eat that much, probably around 2000 calories a day. I think overall the most important things are resting, not having too much stress, being positive getting up early and going to the gym to train.
Which foods do you find work best for you?
If there is any food that I’ve been craving for and not eaten that for a while, then I’ll eat that -my body responds really fast then. For example I eat chicken every day, and if I eat it for several weeks and I’m missing and craving steak, I wait for a while until I do a more energy demanding workout. Then, my body becomes very sensitive craving that type of food and then when I eat the steak, the body responds right away. Another example, if I haven’t eaten ice cream or sugar for several months, I keep resisting the craving then, when I’m about to have a high intensity workout, I’ll increase my sugar intake with perhaps a lot of cereal adding lots of sugar and low fat milk and sleep really well -this increases your insulin levels then the next day you have much more energy. Too many people are concerned about that but my body fat percentage actually ends up lower even though my body weight is still the same. You also need to increase your fibre intake. Any fruit has sugar of course, bananas, blueberries strawberries, are good. Watermelon and pineapple are good too but too much may cause water retention. Vegetables like broccoli and asparagus are also good for keeping your weight down.
What kind of foods do you recommend consuming help to gain muscle mass?
Eating high protein foods, heavy weight training with regular increases in the weight you lift and doing this consistently will lead to gains without a doubt. In the beginning, I ate whatever I could to gain size, things like, chicken, steak, rice, potatoes, later I refined it by cutting out foods that weren’t so helpful or necessary.
Do you take supplements, what do you recommend?
Back in the day, I used to take a lot of creatine, protein shakes, multivitamins, potassium, calcium, BCAA and DHEA. I don’t drink juices much as they make my body hold water, but juices are healthy for sure as there are lots of nutrients in them. I have a smoothie blended in with lemongrass once in awhile in the mornings. Now I experiment and just watch how my body responds to whichever supplement.
What’s your take on being a vegetarian bodybuilder, for example?
In general, I think, meat eaters tend to be stronger, however dedication and mindset are stronger than anything else, food alone isn’t necessarily the biggest factor. It really depends on the person. I know Olympic weightlifters, that didn’t take supplements and didn’t even eat much meat, eggs was a special once or twice a week affair, but how did they get so strong? You also need to factor in genetics and how a person trains. When preparations for the Olympics are taking place , you’ll have some people training 10-12 hours per day and they don’t use many supplements, but they still become world champions! You definitely need more protein to add size and mass though, if you don’t, how will you grow?
What’s one geeky thing that people don’t really know about you?
All I do is training and working, I don’t have any special hobbies. Even on a day off, I feel uncomfortable if I’m not actually doing something. I work out three times a day, I’m very energetic – I give up a lot of things to be able to do what I love doing the most, which is training and preparing.
If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to possess?
When I was a kid, I liked the cartoon He-Man a lot -I looked at his physique and I wanted to train to be like that! I’m not so much into spectacular super powers the fantasy stuff, like flying and such… The kind of special power I’d like to have is the power to influence to help get my message out to people, to stimulate them to think and understand. Teaching something that gets passed on to the next generation, and leaving a legacy is very important.
What do you like doing to relax, any hobbies?
I like to rest and listen to a lot of very soft, relaxing music (by Yanni for example) especially before I go to sleep – I hear one or two of these songs and I just become very calm and I’m off right away! I like walking on the beach, (I used to live in Venice Beach), sometimes I like to read things on the internet, like the news and pick up stuff on YouTube. I like learning new things by watching.
When I’m working out, I listen to trance or dance music. To me, music is like a medication: some music, like heavy metal, is too strong and can make you light headed. I know some bodybuilders that listen to slow jam then they don’t tax their nervous systems enabling them to get a full pump faster. It depends on how they control their mind, sometimes they change the music according to what they’re doing. For example, if it’s a heavy weight set I’ll switch to something very strong and powerful with a lot of drums. Music sends signals to your brain and can keep you motivated. I know lots of bodybuilders that switch the music they listen to, to correspond to the exercises they’re doing.
Any favourite non-martial art movies?
As for the non-martial arts films I’d say, “Rocky”, “Gladiator”, “The Professional”, “Man on Fire” and, “Hard Boiled” and “The Hit” with Al Pacino and Robert Dinero. I like period movies, and used to watch a lot of British movies that were shown in Hong Kong back in the days when I was growing up.
What in life do you really
I really appreciate life and the fact that I’m living!
I don’t have any hates, for anyone or anything, I don’t blame. I’ve learned and understood from my own experience that what comes around goes around. So there’s no time to hate there’s a lot to do in life, I think we should all look forward to make good things happen!
What would you say you are most grateful/proud about so far?
I’m proud of being myself, of being alive: actually I am extremely grateful for everything. I’m proud of having been dedicated to training for 28 years I really appreciate coming here to the States. I learned more about life (and especially about training) whilst here. In HK I hired people to train me, but I didn’t learn as much as I did here; in the US, people are kind, patient, and take time to explain as much as they can and share with me. For instance, my professional bodybuilding friends taught me a lot and that helped me do what I wanted to do. Now, I’m also very patient and dedicated. I’m grateful for being taught more martial arts skills which in the last 6 years have included boxing, and weapons.
I feel if I had come to the US sooner I would have learned more, but it’s never too late to learn. Everyday I tell myself I should learn at least one thing, no matter what the subject. Among my students are pharmacists, lawyers, bankers etc, and they talk, we share and communicate and I learn new things. So that’s one of my daily aims, to learn something new everyday…Knowledge is power!
What are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years? – What do you hope to have accomplished in the next five years or so with your career in bodybuilding, fitness training, and moviemaking?
A year ago, I set the goal to make something real. I’m forging ahead to do films. My goal is to be in feature films, so I’m going in this direction step by step: last year I started slowly, and since then more people have asked me to be involved in movie projects. They know I’m dedicated and I believe I can contribute something unique with my ideas. I’d like to show some skills, show something special.
Could you describe a day in the life of David Yeung for us?
I keep myself very busy! For the past 8-9 years, I’ve been getting up around 5am. I have a schedule and I have students to train. Every morning I drink some coffee, not to help me wake up (as I believe that’s all a mental thing) but simply because I like the taste of it! From 8-10 am, I go to the gym, do some cardio and have a workout. Then I meet my students and train. Around noon until evening, I’m busy training, reading etc, I’m often out and won’t get home until 11pm.
What special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world right now?
I’d like to say thanks to you Raj and the Kung-Fu Kingdom team for inviting me to a great interview. I like the ying-yang tai chi logo on your website, it reminds me of the concept “what comes around goes around”.
I’d like to say, no matter what, don’t ever give up, don’t be afraid to fail. I failed so many times, but one person would always help bring me back to reality, and for me that was my father. In training, just because you don’t see your results today won’t mean you won’t see them tomorrow, just be patient with what you’re doing. Image and picture in your mind something you want, you’ve got to check what you’re picturing in your mind, set it up and be determined: how hard will you work? How hungry are you? For me once I’ve decided a thing, I have no return, if you don’t do the thing you endeavour to, someone else could do it. Find out the right people to work with, and then work with them. Engaging in positive thinking also helps you to improve your chances of success!
Which warrior-wisdom quotes have shaped you up to this point and helped mould you into who you are today?
I really like these from Bruce Lee as they are really useful for me:
“Willing is not enough, you have to apply.”
“Don’t pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
“Knowing is not enough, we must do”.
“There is no set amount of time it will take. Be patient.”
I believe it’s very important to prove your commitment to yourself, talk is cheap, so don’t just talk, rather show your results more.
If people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?
Thank you David for your kind participation in this interview. We wish you all the very best in your upcoming projects, please let us know how they pan out. Keep in touch, we’re looking forward – excited to see more of your work and hopefully movies too!
Thank you! Yes I will and I really appreciate it.