"If I lose, I know the way I train, I went out there and gave it my best"
Kickboxing champion Cung Le inherited his will to win from his mother, Anne Le. Her iron-will made her run through gunfire to immigrate to America.
One night in April, 1975, three days before the communists over-ran Saigon, Anne received permission to board an aircraft to America. She waited ten hours for permission and the suspense left her drained. But getting to the aircraft was worse. Clutching two-year-old Cung, she ran 900 yards through the darkness to the waiting craft. Rifles in the distance sounded like firecrackers. How close were they? Anne couldn’t tell, but she could see their muzzles flashing. As she ran that humid, windy night, it seemed that all rifles pointed at her and little Cung. Bullets whined.
After they arrived in America, times were difficult. When diminutive, skinny Cung was picked on by bullies and called “Gook” or “Nip” in elementary school, it helped to remember that the real ordeal was past. He had gone through gunfire with his mother. By comparison, schoolyard bullies were insignificant.
As the years passed, Cung grew from a skinny kid to an athlete. In San Jose High Academy, he was an All-American wrestler. He continued wrestling through college. At age 19 he began taking lessons in taekwondo and Vietnamese kung fu at the Hung Vuong School.
Over the years the skinny kid who was once beaten up by bullies won three bronze medals at the Wushu World Championship tournaments (Baltimore, Maryland 1995; Rome, Italy 1997; and Hong Kong 1999). He was the team captain in both Rome and Hong Kong. His titles:
- 1999 China vs. United States Light Heavyweight Sanshou Champion
- 1999 ISKA Light Heavyweight Champion
- 1998 ISKA Light Cruiserweight Champion
- 1998 USA Draka Champion
- 1998 Team USA Shidokan Champion
Cung Le’s record is 36-2, with 26 knockouts
In January 2001, Black Belt magazine called Cung Le “San Shou Kung Fu’s Top Fighter.” In their June, 2000 issue, Martial Arts Illustrated called him one of the best fighters of all time.
As any champion will attest, the price of success in the martial arts is hard work. Jivoni Jordan, Cung Le’s personal trainer of three years, intensifies the training six weeks before a fight. “My training sessions are harder than a lot of my matches,” says Cung Le. “But there are matches where both fighters have a strong desire to win, and it becomes all-out war. In those matches, the mind takes the body to another level.” After a long pause, Le adds, “I’ve had a few of those. It’s good to know that your training comes close to that level of intensity and pain.”
Does he dread the intense workouts? “Always. The workouts I dread the most are those that I begin when I’m still sore from my previous workout. But my body adapts to the intensity. Taking my body to the extreme helps me to know myself better.”
“If I lose, I know the way I train, I went out there and gave it my best,” says Le. “If I lose, it’ll just push me a notch higher in training. It is not embarrassing to lose a match if you represent yourself well. Then if you lose, you lose like a champion. If you win, you win like a champion. Being a complete person includes always carrying the attitude of a champion.”
Cung Le’s toughest fight was against Arne Soldwedel at the 1998 World Karate Association shidokan tournament. Soldwedel was Le’s third opponent of the day. After slipping a punch, he knocked out Soldwedel with an overhand right to the chin. Le’s second most difficult match was against the Mongolian King of China. The match was held in Hawaii. “My desire to win was so powerful that I defeated him in the third round. I used every technique I had.”
Le’s favorite techniques are the scissors kick (one leg behind the opponent, the other in front, for a take-down), spinning back kick, side kick, double leg combination kicks, and leg catches (catching the kick and sweeping out the supporting leg). Being a taekwondo black belt, Le is drawn to kicks. “Taekwondo has awesome kicks, though there are a lot of missing elements in taekwondo,” says Le. “But I don’t compare the arts, because they come from the same roots. I just take the best from each art.”
Although Le devotes himself to kickboxing, it is not everything to him. “My mother taught me that family comes first,” he says. “It is engraved on my heart. Part of being a complete person, to me, means that family comes first.” His proudest moment was standing in the delivery room when his son was born. He remembers the hush that fell over the room at that moment eight months ago. Having a son changed his life forever. “I never had a father who was there for me, so I want to be there for him.” (Cung Le’s parents divorced; his father lives in Vietnam.) Le looks forward to running the hills with his son, and holding the striking pad for him.
As one of the leading kick-boxers of today, Le respects the martial artists of the past. “I look up to them. I would never consider myself better. I’m thankful for what they have done for the martial arts. We should all be thankful to Bruce Lee, who brought martial arts into the main stream.” Le’s favorite martial arts movie of all time is “Enter the Dragon,” and his favorite scene from the movie is the fight between Bruce Lee and Bob Wall.
Chuck Norris is another of Le’s favorite early fighters. In January, 2001, Le was part of the “Legends” episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger.” One evening after shooting, Norris invited a large group out to dinner. Le sat across from Norris two chairs down at a long table. As people talked and ate, Le noticed Norris quietly close his eyes for a few seconds. He looked as if he were oblivious of the bustling crowd, the waiters rushing past, and the clinking of silverware and glasses. Then he opened his eyes. Only after he was sure that everyone had been served did he begin eating.
This is one of Le’s favorite memories of Chuck Norris. “Chuck’s presence is very powerful,” says Le. “I feel such good energy from him. His spirit shines. Martial artist such as Chuck Norris inspire Le to strive to be a complete person. Le hope that one day he will inspire others as the Martial Arts legends inspired him.