UFC fighter Cung Le returns to his Chinese martial arts roots

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Young Cung Le at 22

He made me do four thousand kicks a day; he’s a hard coach, but that’s what it takes.

On Saturday November 10, UFC’s first-ever event in China will feature famed Asian MMA fighter and quadruple world champion Cung Le aka “The Technician” vs. light heavyweight veteran Rich “Ace. Franklin, who returns to the middleweight division, begins his attempt to reclaim the division title he once held.

The high-profile UFC event will be held at Cotai Arena in Macau, China, where first fighter Cung Le will challenge his opponent despite Le having broken his foot. So why is this charismatic Asian fighting champion and beloved movie star who has nothing to prove to the MMA world, still determined to fight the UFC regardless of his injury?

To answer this question, just look at the challenges in life and the obstacles this Vietnamese-born American hero faced in the pursuit of his dream. Who better to unveil this story than Cung Le’s Shaolin mentor and longtime U.S. national team coach Sanshou, Shawn Liu Xianyang, Shaolin Grandmaster and Founder and Director of the Shaolin Institute in the United States?

In 1994, a 22-year-old Vietnamese American, a Kung Fu martial artist, Tae Kwan Do and Greco-Roman wrestling fighter repeatedly phoned Grandmaster Shawn Liu Xianyang, wanting to know everything about the art of Sanshou sports fighting. . . Desiring a full contact martial arts fighting style where his speed, agility, power and strength could be used to their advantage, Le was drawn to “Sanshou”, where Chinese rules allow kicking, punches, interceptions, throws and “outs”.

The more Cung Le learned, the more his belief in mastering the art of Sanshou sports fighting prompted him to travel from his home in California to the Liu Training Center (before it became the Shaolin Institute Cultural Arts Campus) in Mobile, in Alabama, where Shawn Liu taught Shaolin culture and martial arts. Often referred to as “Sanshou’s Godfather in America” ​​by media around the world, Master Liu Xianyang was the primary authority on Sanshou / Sanda in the United States, uniquely qualifying him to teach and develop the fighting style of this talented athlete. and determined.

Shawn Liu Xianyang, known as “Shifu” (Father Teacher) to his students, personally sponsored Cung Le, as he did for hundreds of students over the years, who had talent and desire. , but not the means to support themselves. Master Liu Xianyang rented an apartment to Le and two other training fighters, feeding them and funding their training and competition expenses while mentoring them in Shaolin culture with an emphasis on integrity, self-discipline. and the ultimate conditioning of mind and body. .

In a July 1997 interview published in Kung Fu magazine, Cung Le credited Liu Xianyang by saying that “much of his Sanshou training was done with (coach Shawn) Liu, coach of the U.S. Sanshou team for the world event “. Cung Le further said, without hesitation, “Shawn (Liu Xianyang) has been like a father to me, and I owe him a lot. He made me do four thousand kicks a day; he’s a hard coach, but that’s what it takes.

While Cung Le certainly had “what it took”, his path to world champion status was anything but easy. In 1995, during a joint training / practice session at the University of Southern Alabama with visiting Chinese Special Army fighters, Le gave a devastating scissor kick to the head of a high level army fighter, severely smashing his skull. Having no medical insurance, the army fighter had to return to China for treatment, a trip he arguably would not have survived. Master Liu paid the medical expenses for the fighter to stay in the United States and receive life-saving medical treatment. But Cung’s powerful fighting style would result in three cracked heads by the end of the year, prompting an agreement between Le and Master Liu Xianyang to limit the opponent’s body-kicking technique.

The failed his first World Championship gold medal opportunity in Baltimore, where he weighed 76kg fighting in an 80kg weight class against taller and more experienced fighters. He was robbed of a second world championship medal at a competition in Italy, when an opponent claimed Le kicked illegally in the groin. After reviewing the film and after the Italian doctor’s examination produced strong evidence that the kick was a right kick to the opponent’s thigh, not the groin, the Championship committee refused. correct the call. Master Liu Xianyang appealed the committee’s decision on behalf of his protégé as well as Sanshou’s combat sport, to ensure that the high standards of fairness set by the Olympic Federation are maintained.

Then, in 1999, Cung Le suffered a devastating third loss at the Wushu World Sanshou Championship in Hong Kong. After eating a contaminated apple, he contracted a life-threatening case of dysentery 10 days before the start of the competition. Weak and severely dehydrated, Le demonstrated what true champions are made of, fighting and defeating each opponent one by one until the final fight where, fatally ill and utterly exhausted, Le was defeated by a powerful Russian fighter.

Perseverance is a measure of a true champion, and that is exactly what Le embodied through these difficult trials. In 1999, as a member of the U.S. Combat Team led by trainer Shawn Liu Xianyang, Cung Le faced the Chinese Combat Team in Hawaii. There he defeated the previously undefeated Mongolian king with an absolute victory.

In 1998 and 1999, he competed in one of the world’s most brutal MMA tournaments, the Martial Arts Fighting Triathlon in Chicago. After losing in 1998, Le returned to the event in 1999 with the support and encouragement of coach Liu and won the Triathlon by TKO, once again demonstrating the resilience of a true champion.

Athletes of Cung Le’s caliber are rare. He is a credit to the Shaolin Institute and his dedicated mentor and trainer, Shawn Liu Xianyang and many others who have helped him. So when he takes on Rich Franklin at the UFC on November 10 with a broken foot, don’t neglect him, because it’s just another challenge on the course that has produced a most notable MMA champion and a man. of which the Asian community can be proud.


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