One-on-One with Evander Holyfield Part III: Kung Fu and Boxing

Zhenyu LiContributor IIIJuly 27, 2011

Hollyfield and Shaolin master
Hollyfield and Shaolin master

"God give you the opportunity. You can't choose your beginning, but you can choose the end on how you want to end." — Evander Holyfield

In the previous two episode of this "One-on-One with Evander Holyfield" series: Holyfield and Bruce Lee and China Impression, Holyfield talked with me about his seemingly endless reservoir of inspiration behind, how he was influenced by the world-renowned Chinese Kung Fu master Bruce Lee, his unique perspective on China, his untold stories in between and his colorful bond with this exotic oriental nation.

Putting the last stroke on Holyfield's "China Journey" in this episode, the ring legend revealed what he benefited from the legendary Chinese Shaolin training program, his take on the connection between Kung Fu and boxing, and his uncovered training regimen.

Zhenyu Li: So you came down here for the purpose of scouting some fighters. What've you gotten so far?

Holyfield: I got the opportunity to meet the head monk (of Shaolin Temple). He taught me about what he teaches young people. You know, he got 60 million followers. And I'd like to say, wow, what people have in common. I think the same way!

I learned that, for the winner, winning a competition is more than just ego. It's about how you've been taught. You learned it. You didn't forget it and you passed it on. You keep passing it on and this is how this country (China, with a 5000-year history) keeps getting better and better and better, because you got to education the people. Then, I complimented his program.

And you know, being taught is different from being trained. At this school (Shaolin Temple), they train people. What they do in training is that you speak and you make sure that they do it. So this is training.

Evander Holyfield was being interviewed by the author in Beijing. (Photo by Zhenyu Li)
Evander Holyfield was being interviewed by the author in Beijing. (Photo by Zhenyu Li)

I am a fighter, so I know what it means to be trained. They tell you what to do and make sure you do it. And they know you can do it.

When you teach a person, you don't know whether he can apply (it or not). You just give him the knowledge and he go home and say I know it, then you'll wonder why is that person doesn't prosper in life, 'cause that person didn't apply what he knew.

He can take it in, but he is lazy, he is not accustomed to applying it. You know, people got different attitudes and all that. But in their program, they go to a physical thing that makes you be able to apply, regardless.

So this is the way I was taught and (what I could) apply to boxing. When you hit somebody, you don't expect him to hit back. What would you do when he hit back? It is that you don't change your mind; you don't change your fight pattern; let things go your way.

When you do get disappointment, what are you going to do? In this same program, they teach these kids to be able to concentrate, in a time of difficulty. What they were teaching these kids was to be able to concentrate when things were hard, and be willing to stand up and counter.

This is dizzy. I was VERY impressed.

So I kinda felt that this program will change a LOT of lives. (A person there told me that) All my life as a kid, we were taught that Kung Fu is the best thing you can do. All the kids, they started young and they all want to do Kung Fu.

The reason is that Kung Fu is structured; it's technically-sound; you have to be good to go through a lot of different tests.

Chinese martial arts is structured and technically-sound.
Chinese martial arts is structured and technically-sound.Cancan Chu/Getty Images

I see, to be a street fighter, you just go out and do what you do. But for Kung Fu guys, you have to get the techniques, and you have to be judged in your forms, or for all this. I was like, wow, these people have done a great work!

Zhenyu Li: You've been such a great achiever in boxing and in the addition learned something from the Chinese Shaolin training program. From a professional's prospective, what do you see in the traditional art of Chinese Kung Fu and the connection between the Mixed Martial Art and boxing?

Holyfield: For Kung Fu, every time when somebody is going to hit you, you can make him look bad, like ha, they don't teach you to offend somebody, but teach you how to defend for yourself. Like, "I don't want to hurt you, go and care about your own business."

Boxing is not self-defense. You have to be aggressive. You have to attack all the time. So in that sense, it allows you to have a different attitude, like somebody who is a bully, a bully is the one who attacks people, haha, you know.

So unless you want both of them to be successful, if you always defend yourself all the time and not to attack, finally you'll find yourself get knocked out. If you just being passive, your opponent will push you back and you'll end up loosing your ground.

You got this big old country, if you are too passive, then somebody will move to your country, and then push you out of the country. So, you know, you cannot be too passive. You gotta have both and to stand strong.

Zhenyu Li: MMA is becoming huge in America and some top-tier pro boxers have expressed their interest in the "new hit." What's your opinion about it? Have you ever thought the same way?

MMA is becoming huge in America.
MMA is becoming huge in America.Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Holyfield: I've never fought with a Kung Fu guy. My whole experience is in boxing. For Kung Fu, you have to be a lot more dedicated, flexible and all that. (It requires) a LOT of discipline and patience. It takes time to do it.

As a young kid, I just wanted to do something; I didn't want to take pains and time to grasp a complicated technique, you know, because at the time I didn't understand what that was for.

All I wanted to do is to be better at somebody else. So when you get into martial art, you have to be able to concentrate and do all of those great things, but when I was a kid, I didn't understand all these.

I just wanted to make it work on somebody; I wanted to do it on somebody; I wanted to do the things that really work.

I learned that Kung Fu is not meant to take advantage of somebody, but to protect oneself.

Zhenyu Li: One of the advantages that some Chinese boxers have is that they were once Kung Fu practitioners, which is good for their balance, dexterity and so forth.

Shiming Zou is a good example. He is a two-time world champion and a hot favorite for an Olympic gold. Have you ever heard of him?

Holyfield: He's a lightweight.

Zhenyu Li: Yeah, light flyweight.

Holyfield: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and I was once trying to have him. But you know, there are about four or five people out of America trying to get him. Hehehe, oh, my. Who wouldn't want to have him?

Shiming Zou captures China's first boxing gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. (Photo by Zhenyu Li)
Shiming Zou captures China's first boxing gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. (Photo by Zhenyu Li)

Realistically, you know, I'd LOVE to have him. Because people (here in China with a number of over 1.3 billion) would love me, and it makes even bigger for him. He will have his career too. The fact is that he will be with Holyfield.

People would think, if I am great, whom I am with is supposed to be great too. With him, he has already done this by himself. So people would think he could be the Number Great, great with great.

So there will be a bigger promotion and all this, which would be good for him. It won't depend on who his manager is and how they want to do it.

I have a game plan to take advantage of... you know, people like me. Then I could help promote somebody's product here. You know, this country will be the number one power in the future. You know, America is going down like this. It's gonna be China to be the high power.

Zhenyu Li: Thanks for your nice word, Evander. Actually, I've been curious about the fact that you look fabulous for your age, both inside and outside the ring. Are there any hidden secrets in your training regimen? What's your typical day like, when you are in training?

Holyfield: You know, that depends. When I am at home, I train like five days a week. You are not supposed to get out of shape. But it's not the shape you build up that leads you to winning a fight. When I prepare for a fight, I train six days a week; twice a day.

When I was younger, I used to train a lot harder. I always want to do more than my opponent. I could remind myself that, you know what, I do some that he doesn't do. That should be the driving force.

Holyfield: Train Hard, Work Hard
Holyfield: Train Hard, Work HardKen Levine/Getty Images

But when I got older, I found that, you know what, your body couldn't do that, 'cause your body easily got tired. Now instead of running everyday, I run every other day.

When your body gets too tired, you have to pull back, because when you are older, your body takes a little more time to recover, so you can't do the things that will burn yourself out. It'll wear your body out, like this.

So when I was young, I was able to recover my body in ten minutes, like, I am ready to go again. But when you get older, when your body gets tired, it takes time to recuperate, and you don't have much time to recuperate when you are in a fight.

You know, I learned a LOT of things when I reached the age of 30. How amazing when you reach your age of 30. When you want to do something physically, your body will say OK do it, but you'll pay afterwards. So I have to learn to make adjustment.

I once thought, I was lazy, 'cause I used to work three times a day and all this. I actually work three times a day (said it with pride), you know, doing aerobic and all that. I should LOVE working hard. But when you get older, things just don't go your way anymore.

So that's what I found that I was doing. At the last phase of my career, I was just... you know, my body is trying to make me lazy (smiled bitterly).

Zhenyu Li: I heard that you were planning to claim the world heavyweight title for the fifth time, right?

Holyfield: One more time, one more time. I need to finish it.

The 47-year-old Evander Holyfield claimed a world heavyweight title for the fifth time on April 10, 2010.
The 47-year-old Evander Holyfield claimed a world heavyweight title for the fifth time on April 10, 2010.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Life is about how you finish. Regardless of how much money you earned in your life time, if you die broke, you are a broke man.

It's how you end that defines you, not how you came up. God give you the opportunity. You can't choose your beginning, but you can choose the end on how you want to end.

Zhenyu Li: Perfect. I truly wish you success. Thank you very much for your time, Evander.

Holyfield: Thank you. Any time.


(This is a reprint from, a worldwide leader in boxing.)