Its fair to say that the Keysi Fighting Method getting into Batman Begins is one of the biggest things that happened to martial arts since Royce Gracie won the UFC. All of a sudden this martial arts style that few people had heard about became the talk of Hollywood.
Andy Norman was the co founder of the Keysi Fighting Method, between him and its founder Justo Dieguez they took over the world of martial arts. Almost overnight the KFM system became a household name alongside krav maga and this all perked my interest. From this initial spark I went on to train in Keysi and both travelled to and organised seminars. From the first seminar I organised numerous people went on to train in keysi and even getting their black belts in the art. However the Keysi Fighting Method didnt work out, as the founders had different paths they wanted to take.
From this came 2 new arts, Justo went back to his roots and created “Keysi by Justo” and Andy Norman went on to create Defence Lab- The Science of Defence.
Both are valid systems of self defence but Andy Norman has impressed me the most by creating a brand from scratch that has seen ‘Labs’ spring up all over the world. However without that initial Batman film then Keysi and Defence Lab would certainly not have risen so fast within the martial arts world, so I often think about just how and who exactly got the big break for Andy Norman and Justo? Who really made this possible? and who did the Director of the Batman film really want working with him? To find out these answers I asked Andy Norman and like the gent he is I got some great answers.
Here is my interview with Andy Norman
Keysi Fighting Method & Hollywood
By Andy Holland
SO Mr Andy Norman, I have a question that’s been lurking around in my mind. I still hear lots of different stories as to how the whole KFM and Hollywood thing kicked off, can you put the record straight for us.
Batman Begins … how did it all happen?
ANDY NORMAN: I was over in Huddersfield one day teaching and training with Bob Sykes, as I had been doing for quite some time. Bob as well as being Editor in Chief at Martial Arts Illustrated, also, as most know, is a more than accomplished martial artist and fighter, and was out there in the HEYDAY of the fight circuit.
One fine day in walks this guy called Buster Reeves. Bob introduced us, and said to Buster “hey Buster you might want to check this out, Andy’s got some well cool stuff going on, and it might be something you’d be interested in”.. street fighting & mass attack
Now Buster, a very unique character in his own right, was already well on his way to becoming an accomplished world class stunt performer at that time and Buster was already a very dedicated and talented martial artist in his own right too.
Buster really enjoyed the training that day, we got on really well, and had a blast looking at all kinds of different things; and I said: “Well, see you next time if you are around and not working away”. Buster said: “Definitely”. We trained several times after that particular day and became good friends. During one of our training sessions I said to Buster: “Well remember me if you ever need any mad street fighting kind of stuff on a film”… and Buster said: “Yeah I will matey…” But being fully aware of the realities of life, and why would, or should anybody really follow that up for real, I never thought on it anymore…Till, one fine day whilst teaching a seminar in Germany, Buster called me and asked if I fancied auditioning for a show called “The intimidation Game”. Now, on first hearing that title, my mind thought it was some kind of crazy Japanese style program where people did weird stuff!!… But I thought “What the hell… might be fun!” “Sure – I said – sound interesting, thanks Buster”.
Buster said he would be in touch and let me know. I said, “Ok, give me a call when I get back home to the UK”.
2 weeks passed and I had heard nothing from Buster. On the way home from my academy late one Monday night, I thought to myself, I must ring Buster.
Now it was a Monday night, it was 11pm and I had my wife in the car with me too. I said to Cris, “I must ring Buster”, she said “Andy, its Monday night and its 11pm, call him tomorrow”… now this is the weird bit that I will never forget. I said to Cris: “No, I need to ring him now!” I just had a weird sensation in my stomach. Cris said, “Well you do what you want, I’m going in”. I sat in the car and rang Buster. “Hey Matey”, I said… “How you doing, just following up on your call a few weeks back”. Buster said, “Hey Andy, well I’ll see you in the morning won´t I?”… To which I replied: “I have no idea what you’re talking about”.” I’ll see you at Shepperton studios in London tomorrow.” He said. I was still in the dark: “Buster, I none the wiser; really don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said….
“Hasn’t Dave rang you about the audition?”…”No!” or I missed his call, was my reply. “You have an audition at Shepperton studios in the morning!” Buster said. Now remember this phone call is taking place at 11pm on a Monday evening up in Yorkshire, and Buster was telling me that I had an audition at Shepperton studios in about 11 hours’ time down in London…
Ok, so now I’m obviously a little dazed. I have an audition in London in 11 hours, wow… so I telephoned Paul Strauther, who is now one of the two top ranked guys in the world within Defence Lab to see if he can make the trip down to London with me.
Thankfully he said yep… so off Paul and I went to London. Now here’s the BOMB… once inside the studios I actually find out that the “Intimidation Game” was a cover name for BATMAN BEGINS…
Holly smoke, Batman … sorry couldn’t resist that one…
I was there to audition for a part in Batman Begins. I was told that I would be auditioning for a part as one of the Ninjas, ok, I thought, but I wasn’t really sure what was expected of me; but hey I’m at Shepperton studios auditioning for a part in the new Batman Begins, how cool’s that I thought.
ANDY HOLLAND: so just you and Paul Strauther went to the audition?
Yep, so there I was in room with a load of guys, a real wide selection of top martial artists. Some are running up walls and doing some crazy stuff, really cool, well out of my league as far as acrobatic stuff is concerned, whilst others are clearly Wushu guys with some really cool moves too… The room is then broken down into groups and we are taught a routine with a sword. By now I’m thinking, oh dear, what am I doing here… this is not really my deal; acrobatic ninja stuff… totally cool, but just not me.
A while in to the sword routine, I stop, and say to myself: “Awwh what the hell!” I then proceed to ask if I can show what I do instead of this sword routine. There was a silence, and I obviously thought: “Yep, blown that one!” But after a bit of a pause, which seemed like a life time to me, I heard a voice say: “Ok, go on then!” This was my cue, I thought to myself well it’s now or never. I called Paul Strauther over and we got ready to blast off. We were asked if we could show a wide cross section of work, this was like music to my ears, a chance to go off on one a bit and show all kinds of whacky work. We finished up showing some work from JKD, Kali, Silat and of course KFM as it was back then. It was to be the variety that caused them to stop and think.
Now we had a conversation about Batman and his fighting style for the film itself. I was told how they had had a Thai boxer in doing a bit or work with Christian Bale, but Chris Nolan was still not totally happy with the direction of the fighting style.
He clearly knew he wanted a more dark and realistic feel to the fighting style for Batman, as he has clearly stated in many articles and TV interviews since.
So I showed and talked more about the street side of the training that was more my thing…. And after then doing a more in-depth presentation to Paul Jennings, the then stunt co-ordinator, and the rest of his team, which they filmed, Paul Strauther and myself were asked if we would like to stay for lunch with everybody, and then teach a mini seminar to all the stunt guys in the afternoon, to which of course, I said YES.
ANDY HOLLAND: what happened next?
Well clearly it was a great day, everybody seemed well happy with what I had done and shown, and I would be contacted shortly. Paul needed to discuss more with Chris Nolan and get everything cleared.
I got a call a week later; Sunday morning to be precise, telling me that I had been given the role of fight consultant; I couldn’t believe it… I had landed my first real job as a Hollywood fight consultant. It felt, as you can imagine, amazing.
ANDY HOLLAND: But Justo did work on Batman begins too, right?
Yes that’s right….
After receiving conformation that I had been awarded the job as fight consultant for Batman, I rang the office back and I asked if they would also employ my friend, Justo…. The first reply, as you can imagine was NO… “Why do we need two people to do one man’s jobs, was the answer”…. After a little bit of sweet talking I actually managed to get Justo employed too, but only because I bust my nuts, and risked it all by asking the office a question that probably nobody had, or has ever asked before, or since.
ANDY HOLLAND: Obviously the break-down of KFM was a sad event, what’s your true feelings on that one Andy?
Andy Norman: Yes it was very sad indeed, but I don’t want to get into anything personal on a public blog, it’s really not the way. Cleary after any relation breaks downs there is animosity; and there’s always two sides to every coin as well….But I prefer to remember the good times.
Over the years Justo and I had a great time. I liked Justo because he was one of the very few people who was investigating the exact area of the “Fighting” that intrigued me too. Hence we got on really well.
He had some life experience “out there”… as they say, as had I…. and he had a different slant on the classic JKD approach, which also interested me, because I too was trying to look beyond, to investigate, and challenge the boundaries, it’s in my character, it’s who I am…. Non-conformist and anarchic; always have been, and always will be.
Have I continued on with the same direction that I have spent the last twenty five years of my life studying and training, of course… why wouldn’t I??
Did I learn things from Justo, yes of course, as I have from many others whilst on my journey through life… I just love learning; have I developed and evolved a vast array of work myself too…. Absolutely… I never stop, I simply love training, pressuring and questioning everything… you can’t stop. Look at BJJ in the 90’s and the abilities of today’s practitioners… things evolve and move on, it’s the cycle of life.
I sacrificed my life to work for the greater good of KFM back then, giving up my life in the UK, the old KFM HQ in Yorkshire, where the whole KFM Instructor movement kicked off, sold my beautiful house, moved my family and children; new life, new language, new schools… etc. etc. … so I know what dedication is!!!!!!!
I took us in to Hollywood, and I opened up most of the countries that we then eventually went on to run instructor programs for. Even though Justo and I no longer see eye to eye, and have gone our own ways, I’m sure KEYSI by Justo will be great, just not for me.
ANDY HOLLAND: you have been in the Hollywood circles for a decade now Andy, what was the last film you worked on?
Due to the fact that I had to re-build my entire life again, I took a year out last year, so the last Film I did was Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise. They flew me out especially to act as a consultant for Rob Alonzo, the Fight arranger. Paul Jennings presented me to Tom Cruise, and the rest, well, let’s just say it was awesome.
ANDY HOLLAND: This was just before you guys split right, did you both go to work on Jack Reacher though?
No, they specifically asked for me, so I went alone, and it was a blast. Plus lots of personal time with Paul Jennings. They say you can count your true friends on the fingers of one hand. Well Paul Jennings is one of those five, a very great friend, and a friendship that we have built over the last ten years.
ANDY HOLLAND: have you got any new films coming up?
Yes, I will be on one in the New Year with Paul Jennings again. It’s a big action movie, but thats all I can say for now. I’m looking forward to it though; always good fun, hard work no question, and the days can be very, very long, but I still feel fortunate to get the opportunity. One thing is for sure though, Hollywood doesn’t tolerate inability or low work ethic…. You need to be good, and good on demand, or you simply don’t survive in that world.
ANDY HOLLAND: what motivates you Andy because you’re like a flipping terminator when it comes to building and creating great things?
That’s a simple one ….
These two little fellas and my wife, Cristina.
I want to provide the best life possible for my family whilst making a life out of what I love doing best.
ANDY HOLLAND: I know by your website you have something quite special coming up very soon, you have some kind of video from Liam Neeson, care to elaborate on that for us?
Well, above is a picture of Liam Neeson, his son, Danny and family friends all training DL down in the south of France this past summer 2014.
REGARDING THE VIDEO…. You’ll have to wait and see; but he does maybe talk about defence Lab and the DNA fight science…. Not sure though!!!!!
Paul Strauther, Me, Danny Neeson and Grek all training together in New York spring 2014
So Thanks Bob Sykes for introducing me to Buster, Thanks Buster for thinking of me in the first place, thanks to Dave Foreman, fight arranger on Batman Begins, and of course thanks to my now great friend, Paul Jennings for seeing something in me, and moreover employing me and giving me that magic break in to the world of Hollywood films
Remember: Be a nice guy, be honest and work hard…. It goes a long way
Thanks Andy Norman for a great interview- Read my review on Andy Normans Defence lab here