One of the things I love about being an actor is the ability to try new things and learn skills that are enjoyable—and will also boost my chances of getting a role by adding one more skill to my résumé. I’m considering learning jujitsu this summer. It got me thinking about martial arts and how applicable they are to many types of film roles. Which martial art is most beneficial to a career in acting?
The Student Actor
Dear Student Actor:
If there’s one topic I’m an expert on…this isn’t it. Luckily, I tracked down several sources who traffic in the dual realms of film and martial arts. Read on.
“Most film martial arts lean towards the Chinese systems, like kung fu,” says Tiffany Richards, co-owner of the Scottsdale, Ariz.–based Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts, who has extensive theater and film experience. “Chinese systems are flashier and fun to watch. Many people try to imitate Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun style too. In my opinion, hard styles like karate are easier to master but not as entertaining. And stay away from jujitsu! It’s just a bunch of rolling around on the ground and will not add any entertainment value. However, aikido, from Japan, is fun because of the circular motions and throws.”
“Jujitsu would not be my first style of choice unless specifically required for a role,” says stuntman and martial arts trainer David Sepúlveda.
“If I had to choose one,” says martial arts instructor and film fight choreographer Janell Vela Smith, “I would say Tukong Moosul. Most American action films start with tae kwon do, which has a beautiful kicking technique, and most Asian action films are based in Shaolin kung fu or wushu. So Tukong Moosul is a great option because it’s hard like Krav Maga or karate but contains basics of Shaolin kung fu…. It gives me more options when creating choreography.”
Though a student of Krav Maga, actor-comedian Dan Nainan says wushu was used in his audition for “The Last Airbender,” a gig he landed partially because of his martial arts knowledge.
Sepúlveda, who has more than 25 years in martial arts and 11 in film suggests, “Other than choosing a style…an actor should choose an instructor experienced in applying the martial arts to film.”
Eighteen-year veteran stunt ad fight coordinator Marcus Young has an interesting perspective: “The style you choose will give you a foundation, but there is much more to film fighting. All your answers will not be in your martial arts classes. If you get on a set doing screen fighting, you will need to listen to the stunt/fight coordinator and adapt to what they are saying. What may seem right to what you learned in class may now not relate to film fighting… The best place to learn film fighting is on set."