By Jordan Newmark | 2 March 2019
When director Patty Jenkins needed a stunt double to embody the preeminent Amazonian warrior, she found the ideal candidate who like the character had trained her entire life in martial arts and weaponry for such an opportunity - Caitlin Dechelle.
“I started at six years old,” said Dechelle. “I was born in Miami, Florida. My grandpa suggested martial arts for self-defense and that’s how it all kind of started. We found a martial arts school in Miami and I guess I fell in love with it. My first instructor’s son competed and he kind of just opened my eyes to the next thing.
There’s this circuit and we compete and he did sword and he was sponsored by Paul Mitchell. It was kind of one thing after the next and I thought it was cool and I wanted to do that. I kind of followed in his footsteps.
I started competing and I was picked-up by team Paul Mitchell when I was 11. I was probably the only competitor in our sport to ever be dual sponsored - Garden of Life - that really doesn’t exist in our world like in other sports, that was a cool moment. I competed to the age of about 24 and I retired. It was a very long career.”
It Began With Martial Arts Dedication and Persistence
For well-over a decade, Dechelle ruled the North American Sports Karate Association (NASKA) landscape by winning an insane 90 - yes, NINETY - world titles before becoming the indemand Hollywood stunt woman she is today.
The owner of blackbelts in three separate disciplines - Chinese Kenpo, Japanese Goju Ryu, and Taekwondo - first rose to prominence collecting glittery hardware in the Forms and Weapons Divisions.
And Decehlle’s attacking instrument of choice - sword. “A lot of my competitors, mostly all of them, did the bo staff, which a lot of people say looks like rhythmic gymnastics,” remembered Dechelle. “It kind of has that feel with all the throwing and the tossing. I never liked that. I can do that.
I was taught to do all the weapons as a kid. Actually, my first weapon was double-fan as a kid. As a little girl, everybody loved that (laughs). But when I grew up, it was like let’s find something a little more serious and practical - and sword was always the choice. There weren’t a lot of females doing it. That’s what I kind of took off doing and never really looked back.”
She Was Built for Wonder Woman
On stage with her sword in hand, Dechelle was an action star, was Wonder Woman, for years prior to her current gig. Jumping, spinning, kicking, and striking with both grace and power in an effort to perform a choreographed routine of flawless technique with entertaining flourish.
Watch any number of her spirited performances on YouTube, what translates even to an inexperienced viewer is Dechelle’s athleticism and precision.
“We’re not just yelling to yell- we’re yelling to breathe,” explains Dechelle.
“I’ve done it for so long, it comes natural. I can generate that yell or that scream without really even screaming. It’s just in me now. I’ve been doing it so long now that it’s just apart of me and my strength and my being. I love it.
I did an event a few weeks ago in Prague and the guy interviewed me on stage and he was like, ‘It’s so weird, you’re not like a dancer or you’re not running around doing ballet up here- you’re running around with a sword screaming your head off.’ It’s different, it’s fun, it’s empowering.
Breaking Barriers In A Male Dominated World
It’s such a male dominated sport in a sense and I have more titles on our circuit than most guys. It’s cool to be able to say I did that, I embody that, and to show other women it’s possible. I have some students who are like I can’t beat the boys, I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough. I’m like you can be, you are- I did it. Especially now that I have students, it’s cool for them to be able to look up to what I did and inspire and encourage.”
It simply makes sense, Dechelle took two decades worth of drilling martial arts routines to look and feel awesome for an audience and turned that into a thriving career as a stunt woman in Los Angeles.
The obvious highlight on Dechelle’s filmography is as Gal Gadot’s lead stunt double in Wonder Woman, but Dechelle is practically everywhere doubling numerous actors on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as Gigi Hadid’s double in Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood
music video, as Ronda Rousey’s double in Furious 7, and in a highly praised bar fight on The Good Place doubling fan favorite character Janet.
“All my training over all my years, I’m used to the long hours, I’m used to getting beat up, I’m used to the mental side of it as well,” tells Dechelle. “Us having to be on set for 16-18 hours. Today, I have a stunt where I’m getting hand pulled into a wall. You have to be there physically, but you also have to be there mentally. You have to be ready for the long daunting hours and the long hours of rehearsal and workouts along with it. There’s a lot to being a stunt woman.
I feel like martial arts has taught me that along the way and has prepared me. I’m definitely grateful for that.”
The Future is Bright
What’s next for Dechelle is really “sky’s the limit” territory as she continues gaining experience as a stunt woman, angles for acting roles like she achieved on Teen Wolf as recurring villain The Geneticist, and probably trying her hand at stunt choreography. Taking on the next bigger and tougher challenge is exactly what Dechelle is ready for each and every time as she’s put the hours of practice in to make it perfect.
"There’s always a sense, can I do it,” asserts Dechelle. “But that’s where the training comes in, that’s where the prep comes in, that’s where the long hours of rehearsal, and being in the gym and being strong enough and being ready.
It’s just a matter of how I was always taught with tournaments and having to compete on stage and have to in that moment be ready to do a routine and hit it perfectly and then to do it again.
I just take that into the stunt world.
I’ve got to hit it the first time or I’ve got to hit it the first twenty times because that’s part of being a stunt woman, that’s what I’ve got to do, that’s what’s being asked of me. If there’s a big stunt or I’m going up to do a routine, I’m nervous, but that’s a nervousness of wanting to be the best that you can be.”
To follow her journey, check out Dechelle’s website www.caitlindechelle.com and @caitlindechelle on both Instagram and Twitter. Also, Dechelle delivers an excellent rendition of the character Hammer Girl from The Raid 2 in this original short film on YouTube - ( Watch Below )
Image source of main image: Garden of Life