How to go from mat rat to Pinoy action star, according to a fight stunt coordinator

sonny sison stunts

Want to be the next Pinoy action star? Then here are some tips from a seasoned fight stunt coordinator.

There are few lucrative opportunities out there for martial artists. You either put your body on the line fighting professionally for big (but few) paydays, or you take the slow and steady route, earning as a martial arts instructor. However, you actually have another (less explored) option: Get into fight stunts.

That’s right, as a martial artists, you’re already well-equipped to get into the fight stunt business, from doing the stunts yourself to choreographing them for TV and movies. Think about it: You already watch plenty of action films, you train in martial arts, and your body is durable enough to survive stunts that most celebrities might not be down for. And if you have what it takes to be the next Jackie Chan or Jet Li, when why not go all the way?

If you want to get into the business, then take some advice from Fil-Am professional stunt director, Sonny Sison. He’s done work on big projects like Power Rangers, Olympus Has Fallen, Godzilla, Act of Valor, Hangover 3, and Hawaii Five-O, just to name a few.

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We joined one of Sison’s Action&Stunts workshops at Ultimate Fitness in Metrowalk, where he shared tricks of the trade from his years of experience in the fight stunt industry. Here are some key points that could take you from mat rat to becoming the Philippines’ next action star.

Unlearn what you know as a fighter

As a fighter, you want your punches to land; as a stunt coordinator, you want your punches to fall short (since you don’t want to hurt your stunt partner). With that, you have to adjust your notion of an effective distance between you and your partner. Plus, as a fighter, you don’t want to telegraph your punches; but as a stunt coordinator, you have to. Telegraphing with a groan or a facial expression signals your stunt partner that, “Yes, I’m about to kick you.” This ensures that nobody gets hurt (too much) and your fight scenes go smoothly.

It pays to be OA

Overacting makes fight scenes look more legit. Even if you didn’t get hit by the uppercut, sell it with your reaction like it was the hardest uppercut you’ve ever been hit with. And even if your roundhouse kick won’t actually land, put everything you’ve got into it. After all, on screen, a strike is only as good as its perceived impact.

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Learn flips, and Arnis

If you have a judo or gymnastics background, then that’s a huge advantage, since you’d know how to roll, flip, and throw yourself while minimizing impact or injury. It would also help to learn arnis. Knife and baton fighting (and weapon disarming) are common in action films and Arnis training will help you with that. Also, since Arnis techniques are typically done with long sticks in hand, its movements tend to be very wide and very visual–great for on-screen fighting.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

If you want to make a career out of stunt work or stunt directing, then you better be prepared to put in lots of work over the course of several years. Sison himself spent years in the industry, paying his dues and fine-tuning his craft. Attend workshops, apprentice for a seasoned stunt director, or join a stunt team (like Erwin Tagle’s Tag Team Stunts). What’s important is that you keep practicing and learning.

Be creative and have fun

During our workshop, we were tasked to choreograph and execute our own 10-second fight scenes, and we were reminded to have fun with it. And we did. All those years watching badly dubbed Kung Fu movies and playing with Ninja Turtle action figures finally paid off. And at the end of the day, its your creativity that can really make a fight scene memorable.

Gab Pangalangan

Gab Pangalangan is a former collegiate national Judo champ and the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of DojoDrifter.com. You can find his other works in the Philippines' leading magazines and websites.
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