By Chris Davis  |  2 February 2019   

Action movie stuntmen and women are elite athletes. The dangers they endure, especially on a martial arts movie set, rival and surpass the risks of any extreme athlete across any sport. Yet, these people love their life and are comparatively safer than most athletes!

So what does it take for these incredible professionals in this day and age? Let's take a look.

Contact Sports of Martial Arts

As a professional stuntman, your body is your profession. Since you take hits and falls for a living, you need a background in taking hits and falls. There is no better way to get this background than through contact sports or martial arts.

Stunt experts say that martial arts provide the most gruesome training regimen for any stuntman, even those not planning on performing in martial arts movies. The worst and most surprising fall an athlete can receive is the fall that happens when he thought he was fully protected.

Unlike football, where athletes prepare for blindside hits, martial arts makes you take hits and falls when you least expect - during full awareness.

"Most injuries occur on set when people get lazy," says Kevin Scott, one of Hollywood's top stunt coordinators for multi-million dollar blockbusters. “Everything is so coordinated, but someone misses a mark or a dab of water on the floor causes a slip. Martial arts prepares our people to be prepared for absolutely anything."

Top Physical Condition

Stuntmen must be in top physical condition at all times - there is no offseason. Sports like football and baseball are seasonal, but martial artists tend to train year-round. For this reason, stunt coordinators like to book martial artists. Movies that book months and years in advance need people who retain their physical prowess.

Martial artists have the ability to "ad lib" physical movements in a way that other athletes may have trouble coordinating. As Scott says, "In sports where a ball is the focus, the body actually loses a bit of its flexibility and mindfulness.

Stunt Person Jessie Graff | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Source: blackbeltmag.com

The focus is on the ball. The reason I love martial artists is that they are constantly adjusting to new opponents. They have to come up with new movements every single time they fight."

Timing and Balance

Some of the best martial arts scenes in top movies were ad-libbed by stunt teams. These are stunt teams that were so synchronized; they could play off of each other's timing. Jackie Chan requires his personal stunt team for every movie for exactly this exact reason.

Martial artists must consistently reassess their timing and balance based upon the opponent in front of them. Whether attacking, defending or just standing, every movement from a master martial artist coincides with the environment around him. 

This fluidity makes good action movie scenes. You never know if the explosion will occur in precisely the same way if you are shooting multiple takes.
If you are looking to break into Hollywood without breaking your body, the best preparation lies in a background in the martial arts. You learn to protect your body from undue injury and gain the respect of your peers already on the job. In a town where who you know is everything, this is likely the most crucial part of getting your foot in the door!

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About the author

Chris may not be the most talented martial artist, but he prides himself on wanting to learn everything. He is currently traveling the globe (Eastern Europe, South America, Africa) taking lessons from any school that will have him. Chris is currently focusing on his ground game/BJJ work.

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