BORN and raised in Hong Kong, veteran mixed martial artist Kenny Yeung was always destined to gravitate to the world of fighting.
From a young age, Yeung developed his sporting habits from his father, who took him running every weekend. He later started boxing when he was 15 because of his love for action comics, animations and Bruce Lee flicks.
At university he would often skip classes to train. He soon realised studying human resource management was not what he really wanted and he began to pursue life as a personal trainer. After 13 years overseas, he returned to Hong Kong in 2013.
Having 26 fights up his sleeve and having gone through various BJJ competitions, he is no stranger to combat sports, but his main focus was not always on MMA.
“Competing in Muay Thai before transferring into MMA was a great plus. Having the experience in a full contact martial art, I was not afraid of getting hit in the head,” he says.
Hong Kong fans know Yeung from his days with the now defunct Legend FC, but only a handful of people know of his previous muay thai record of 11 wins and six losses.
Yeung has carried the Hong Kong flag and fought in many other organisations and countries from AFC in Australia, Rebel FC in Singapore and most recently back in Hong Kong for IMPI and the E-1 World Championship.
His most recent outing with X-Fight saw him win a world title against Russian fighter Bakhodir Jon with a deep rear-naked choke in the third round. Yeung sat down with Ernest Tang of Fight Life HK to talk about training, inspiration and what’s next for this 34-year-old fighter.
What has been your biggest obstacle on your MMA journey?
My biggest obstacle was making the technical transition from muay thai to MMA. To me, muay thai is a fighting art and MMA is a technical brawling art. I had to make a lot of adjustments and modifications to my muay thai to fit it into MMA. Of course, there were lots of mistakes and errors in between and the price paid was getting punched, kicked, taken down, pounded and submitted. I developed my own style of fighting MMA after a long period of time.
With such a busy teaching schedule, how often do you train? Do you enjoy training?
I train six days a week, sometimes twice a day for strength and conditioning and technique. I enjoy my training, but sometimes it’s disappointing when you don’t understand a technique or when you are unable to execute it. I’ve even been insulted by a trainer, but all these obstacles are worth it when you become determined to overcome them. In MMA, you have to train a lot of skills – striking, takedowns and also ground fighting. I would cut out certain hours of work just to make sure I had enough time to train throughout my day. I believe to achieve what you want, you must give and take.
How do you set goals?
All my goals are small ones. I believe everything should be done one step at a time. For example, I would set short-term goals such as learning specific De la Riva guard pass variations, getting used to setting up single leg takedowns or being in an angle for a specific strike.
Do you read a lot about martial arts? What has been your source of inspiration?
I have probably read about 10 books on martial arts. The book which inspired me the most was probably “The Book of Five Rings” by swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. He says when you have learnt a technique deep enough, you will have to forget it. It should become your second nature. I remember this particularly well because there was one sparring session where me and my partner had very little exchanges because we were both thinking too much. At some point I told myself, “fuck it, just let it go” and all of a sudden I was flowing with moves, punches and kicks. I will never forget that moment.
How do you motivate your students?
I work at a commercial gym. It’s not easy to look for a client with a true dedicated training attitude, so I always set myself as a role model for them, to demonstrate what it means to be dedicated and consistent. Depending on the character of the student, I try to use different ways to motivate them. I use a range of metaphors, catch phrases, visual demonstrations or just simply train with them to show them the right attitude for training. Each person responds to different ways.
What qualities do you look for in a student?
Attitude is everything as it dictates all of their learning behaviours.
What does it mean for you to be a fighter?
For me, being a fighter is like what Rocky said: “It ain’t about how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit, how much you can take and keep moving forward.” It is a process of overcoming your fear to combat with someone who has spent about eight weeks of training aiming to beat you up.
You’re now 34, have you thought much about what’s next?
I haven’t thought about retiring yet, but if one day I feel my body cannot handle a training camp for a fight anymore, I will think about retiring and just focus on training and teaching.”
What are you views on competition?
For me, competition is about spending a certain period of time to train at your maximum effort to fight a person at full contact on a specific day and time. It is extremely mentally and physically demanding, it requires a lot of time, dedication, sacrifice and mental focus. It is not something a regular person can handle.
Is there someone in particular who has inspired you?
My first Thai trainer, Jeab Sityodtong, back in Australia inspired me the most. He was a great role model. A lot of Thai trainers usually tell you to do countless repetitions without a lot of pointers, but he taught me a lot of detail in both technical and philosophical aspects. He also taught me extreme practical skills such as how to read an opponent, how to set things up and how to take total control of your opponent.
If there was one move you had to learn, what would it be?
If there was only one move I could learn, it would be a simple jab cross.
What is the most important aspect of martial arts?
A person’s mindset plays an important role in martial arts. You must control your different emotions and put them together at the right time. Calmness, concentration and aggression are also equally important.
Looking back at where you were when you started this journey, where did you think it was going to lead you?
At the beginning, I was only doing martial arts out of interest and self-defence, but slowly along the way, I discovered that martial arts had a lot more to do with just self-defence, but also personal development. I will stick with martial arts as long as my mind and body are still working.”
Is there anything you regret? What would you have done differently?
The one and sole regret I have is that I did not start martial arts as early as about seven or eight years old.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I would like to be remembered by my next generation that I loved and dedicated myself to martial arts. To have been a calm and tough person, able to take on any difficulties in life.
Portrait photography by Emil Tse: Emil Photography.