I have been a Martial Artist since the age of 11, including well over 30 years training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu most of them under the legendary Machado Brothers and proudly hold a 6th Degree Black Belt.

My training in BJJ began in the late 80’s, with a legend of the Gracie family, Master Rickson Gracie. I Richard Norton & Rickson Gracieremember well my first introduction to Rickson after contacting Rorion Gracie and enquiring about private lessons.  How I came about even knowing about the existence of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, was after my dear and close friend, Master Chuck Norris, made a trip to Brazil on vacation and, after asking the locals about Brazil’s Martial Arts, was directed to a BJJ academy where he found himself in front of Master Helio, Rickson, Rorion and Royce Gracie.

Anyway, after an eye-opening training session, Chuck came back from his trip with a video tucked under his arm of Vale-Tudo (no rules) fights that Rickson had in Brazil and, as we trained together every morning at his house, Chuck was eager to share the video with me.  So that was the start of my introduction and interest in BJJ.

So here I am, standing in front of Rickson in a garage gym at his brother Rorion’s house in the Redondo beach area of Los Angeles.  Remember, this is way before the UFC came into existence.  The first thing Rickson says to me is, “Do you want to put the gloves on?”  This was prompted by Rickson knowing I had an extensive background in ‘stand up’ arts and figured I was probably wanting to test my skills against the Gracie’s art.  I very politely and, in hind-sight, wisely said no, that I was just very interested in finding out more about the Jiu Jitsu as practiced in Brazil.

My first lesson with Rickson starts with me having to mount Royce, (who later became the UFC’s first MMA champion), and try to stay there, followed by Royce mounting me and me having to get him off.  Both were impossible tasks due to my total lack of knowledge in the grappling arts except for some rudimentary Judo training when I was an 11 year old. Now of course, in this introductory lesson, there was no striking involved, but I remember so clearly leaving Rorion’s garage and thinking how much I felt like a little baby on the ground with these guys, but also so excited at the thought of how much my martial arts would improve by adding these skills to my martial arts tool box. So my BJJ journey began.

I guess I did around 8 months of private lessons with Rickson in that garage at Rorion’s house, before heading back to Australia for a visit, as at that time, I was living in Los Angeles. It was back in Melbourne that I met and did some training with Carlos Gracie Jnr and the great Renzo Gracie who happened to be doing some seminars in Melbourne. So Renzo asks me who I was training with in Los Angeles. When I told him, he then suggested I also meet his cousins, the Machado Bros, who had recently come to set up shop in the U.S.  After the initial introduction, I knew this is where I wanted to be, so I began training with Rigan, Carlos, Roger and John Machado, again in a garage matted area in Redondo Beach.  Jean Jacques was yet to travel to the U.S.

As Chuck and I had been training together every morning since 1979, I, of course, told Chuck about these amazing Bros and remember suggesting him I bring them to his Tarzana residence for a private training session with us. So the relationship began in earnest. Chuck, Bob Wall and myself then helped set the brothers up in their first academy in Encino and help with immigration, etc. and away they went. I do want to mention, that to me, the one person that should be credited with helping introduce Gracie Jiu Jitsu to the U.S as we know it is Chuck Norris. I say this because very soon after Chuck’s trip to Brazil, he had the foresight to recognize the incredible talent of the Gracie’s and invited a large contingent of Brazilians to come and teach at his annual UFAF martial arts seminar in Las Vegas. Among those who made the trip from Brazil were Rorion and Rickson Gracie, Pedro Sauer and Carlos Machado. The rest is history.

Eventually, after establishing their Encino academy, the Machado’s opened up in Redondo Beach, leaving Jean Jacques in charge of Encino. As I was already living in the Valley, I continued training every day in earnest with Jean Jacques, whilst still making training trips to the Redondo based academy.

This is a very brief history of the very long journey in BJJ that has led to the formation of Richard Norton BJJ and the Team Norton Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu Association.


An exclusive interview with Richard Norton by Mike Fury

(movie & celebrity pics below article)

Richard Norton is an undisputed legend of action cinema who remains one of the highest rated Martial Artists in his field. He even holds a unique accolade as one of the most highly regarded Westerners to work on the dynamic films of Hong Kong stars, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. Born and raised in Croydon, Australia, the young Richard pursued a passion in Martial Arts that would shape his life and career. He subsequently began working security at clubs before starting a long-spanning career as a bodyguard to some of the best musical artists in the world including The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Linda Ronstadt.

After becoming good friends with Chuck Norris, Richard appeared in his first acting role in The Octagon in 1980 and would go on to appear in countless Martial Arts and action films throughout Hong Kong, America and Australia. Through action cinema he even found an outlet for his Martial  Arts  and  equally  built  a  strong  reputation  delivering  innovative  and  exciting  fight  scenes working as  an action choreographer. Today he remains as busy as  ever and while gaining a huge following  teaching  seminars all over  the  world, he has  also  just completed  work on  The  Amazing Spider-Man and will soon start filming Mad Max: Fury Road.  Richard was kind enough to talk me through a lifetime in the Martial Arts and where his incredible journey will take him next.

Richard, for those who aren’t familiar with your background, could you describe how you first came to be interested in Martial Arts?

I started Martial Arts when I was 11 years old in the art of Judo. This was in 1961, and the reason my first art was Judo is that back then in Australia, there really weren’t any other Martial Arts in the country. I don’t think I’d even heard about Karate yet. Anyway, when I was growing up there was a kid who happened to move into a house across the road from me and he’d disappear two nights a week. I asked him where he was going and it turned out he was going to a Judo class, which immediately got my attention. I ended up going along with him one night and was absolutely intrigued by it. The only downside was that I was pretty small and skinny as an 11 year old so I ended up being cannon fodder for some of the older, bigger students! Having said that my memories of my judo instructor was that he was very good and very caring. The thing I most remember about my introduction to Judo is the ads featured in comics that said you could “defeat five attackers with the flick of a finger”.

I found out later that was pretty far from the truth, at least for me. [Laughs] For me as a beginner, Judo very much involved using a lot of strength and power, neither of which I had. Anyway, whilst I was learning Judo I met another guy who went to the same High School as me and discovered he was learning Karate from a book, which was actually Mas Oyama’s famous book, ‘What is Karate’. This friend of mine was training in his garage and copying the techniques from the book. This really intrigued me further. The seed had been sown. A bit later we found out there was a Karate school opening about 3 miles from where we lived so three of us went down there. They were teaching traditional Goju Kai Karate and Tino Ceberano was the instructor. Tino was a Hawaiian Filipino who’d only just moved to Australia some months earlier. I remember he did a short demonstration with a few of his students he’d been training only for the past few months and I was so impressed, I knew immediately this was the Art I wanted to do, so I joined the school. This was the start of a life-changing journey I am still on today. People have often asked me why I started doing Martial Arts and I can honestly say that in hindsight, it’s what I believe I was meant to do with my life. I mean I didn’t grow up in a rough neighbourhood and although my friends and I were always very physical and loved playing sports and doing things like Boxing and Wrestling, I never felt that being able to fight was the sole reason I was drawn to the mystique of this Eastern art.

Were you in any way inspired by any Martial Arts in the media?

No, as I don’t think I’d seen any Martial Arts on TV at that stage. You have to remember that this totally predates Bruce Lee and everyone else! Maybe they had some Martial Arts-orientated films in Hong Kong but I don’t remember having any exposure to them at that time on ‘Aussie’ television. I mean forget YouTube or the internet, we didn’t even have video players back then, so the only knowledge you’d pick up would have to come from your instructor. There wasn’t really any outside influence. Of course today, with the Internet, you can go and research just about any Martial Arts style that exists, but we didn’t have that luxury back then.

Were there any particular instructors who really inspired you in your training?

Yes, there were and it’s a very important to repeat that the actual physical interaction with your real life instructor back then was the only way you gained training and knowledge. I often say in my seminars that today you have no excuses for not being able to find just about anything you want to know about Martial Arts and training! It’s just a matter of being pro-active and having some tech skills and away you go. Despite all the great stuff you can pick up online though, I believe training consistently under one instructor did have an incredibly important upside, which I feel, is a bit lacking today. You see by devoting yourself and training and spending so much time with one skilled Instructor, you were in many ways open to learning so many life skills over a period of time due to this close association. I’m not sure an online ‘digital’ Sensei can have quite the same influence on a young Martial Artist’s development. But getting back to your question, there were many instructors who did inspire me a great deal. Of course Hanshi Tino Ceberano, my first Karate instructor was so very important in shaping my initial  understanding of  the Martial Arts. I often say that when you  start out, you don’t know whether your Instructor is good or not because you don’t know anything yet! It’s only after you’ve wasted a lot of time and money (or both) that you come to realise their worth. I’ve been involved in Martial Arts now for around 50 years and I’m still so thankful I had Tino as an Instructor because he gave me such a good foundation in developing my skills and understanding. I consider him to be almost like my Dad in the Martial Arts world. Sal Ebanez, another Sensei and training partner of Tino’s was another major influence for me in those early years.

Another important influence to me was my now partner and friend, Bob Jones. Bob was another student of Tino’s and it was some years later that we would go on to establish Zen Do Kai Karate schools in Australia. Bob was working as a Bodyguard and Bouncer and therefore had a whole different reality aspect for his martial Arts training which very much influenced me and the Zen Do Kai system we created. Becoming good friends with Bob gave me an insight into the ‘real world’ aspect of the Martial Arts and comparing the Dojo to the street. Someone else who inspired me a lot in my early years was Masayuki Takasaka. Takaska came to Australia in the early 70’s and was head Instructor of a style called Kei Shin Kan. I remember the first time I saw him perform a karate demonstration he literally just blew me away. Taka was a 5th Degree at that time and I remember thinking that I would never accept a 5th Degree rank until I could at least partially represent Kata in the excellent way he did. At that time I was mostly influenced by the Japanese side of the Martial Arts and it took me a while to open up to what the American teachings had to offer. Later, through magazines like Black Belt I was able to read about guys like Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis and these people really inspired me, but in a more distant context. Later, I became good friends with Chuck and his inspiration and close friendship continues to this day!

In the Early 70’s you started working security and working the Doors of some major clubs. Tell me about that…

Well, Bob was definitely the catalyst for this. When Bob and I eventually left training with Tino, Bob wanted to start his own style. Eventually we did this together and opened up the first Zen Do Kai schools in 1970. At that time most of the early students who came along were bouncers and security personnel who’d already worked with Bob for many years. So to cater for this we had to find ways to modify the traditional techniques we taught in order to make the training more practically suitable for the type of work these guys did as security personnel. I guess ours was a very early example of the schools we see so much of today which would combine and draw from different practical fighting systems to suit the environment of today’s urban battlefield. So we’d include techniques from Boxing, Judo, Wrestling and pretty much anything else if we felt it worked in that environment. To us, our style name means ‘the best of everything’ in progression.

I’ve always thought Martial Arts was a product of the present environment and from a practical point of view we are of course no longer on horseback fighting on a feudal battlefield. This was and still is, for me, made for an urban environment so the style and techniques had to change to suit. Please understand that I am not wanting to detract from the value of teaching traditional techniques because I still have an absolute passion for the traditional arts, but I think that if you are saying your style can teach someone how to defend themselves in the streets of today, then you need to take a very honest look at your system and separate the theory from the practical. But it was absolutely Bob’s involvement that got me working on doors. Later in 1970 we were taken on to work security at a very big music festival, which was almost like Australia’s equivalent of America’s famous Woodstock Pop festival. It was called ‘The Sunbury Pop Festival’. Soon after, a very well-known music promoter called Paul Dainty phoned us and said he was bringing The Rolling Stones to Australia and asked if we’d like to be their personal bodyguards. That pretty much started my work as a Personal Bodyguard, a career that lasted for around 20 years.

Do you have some very memorable experiences from all those years working security?

Absolutely, but I do tend to avoid talking about the nasty or violent experiences because I  believe drawing attention to violence can perpetuate more violence. Also, it was relatively minor occurrences in all the years I was doing it! The best memories I take from all those touring years are all the great friendships I made and the wonderful people I had the chance to meet. In fact I’m writing a book about these experiences at the moment which I’ll talk more about a little later.

After many years working as a bodyguard, your first introduction to acting came in 1980 in Chuck Norris’ film, The Octagon. Was this the first time you’d ever considered pursuing a career in film?

Yes, it was. In fact my first taste of film work came in 1976 when I worked on an Australian film called Last of the Knuckle Men. I was hired as the Stunt Double for one of the lead actors. That opportunity came from running my schools with Bob. That was my first experience in film but it never really sparked yearning in me to keep doing it. Then in 1978 Bob Jones visited America and asked Chuck Norris to come  to  Australia and perform  demonstrations at the first   Australian   Kickboxing competitions. So Chuck came over and through my demonstrations on the same card and after some training together we became instant friends. He even said if I ever went out to California to give him a call and we’d do some training. For someone who’d hardly left the country, except on tours, this was a very exiting invitation. In 1979 I went out to California to work full-time with rocker Linda Ronstadt and of course Chuck was the first person I called when I arrived. We ended up training every morning in his Los Angeles home and it was around this time that he was in the early pre-production stages of his movie, ‘The Octagon’. You see back in Australia when Chuck was there I’d also been doing multiple attack demos using Sai against Katana and demonstrating Bo forms and other techniques, so Chuck was already aware that I could handle various Okinawan weapons. This resulted in Chuck asking me to play the lead Ninja villain character, ‘Kyo’, in the movie. For the purposes of the movie, ‘Kyo’ was supposed to be Japanese, hence the reason I had to wear a crimson mask! So that’s how it came about. Chuck also wanted me to help choreograph many of the fights in the film, which we ended up doing a lot of in his back garden. As a bonus I also got the chance to play a small role called Long Legs, where you could see it was actually me! I was also one of four guys who ended up doing most of the Ninja work, so I like to say that my claim to fame in that film is that I died eight times! [Laughs] I even remember saying to my mum when the movie came out that if you see anyone go ‘splat’ on the ground, it’s probably your darling son. Hah! Through working on that movie I got the chance to meet great Martial Artists like Tadashi Yamashita and Simon and Phillip Rhee, who are amazing Tae Kwon Do practitioners. So it was then that I thought, ‘Wow’, this was a great melting pot of talent and a great environment in which to meet excellent Martial Artists and get paid for it! I was still doing bodyguard work at the time and did continue that for a while still, but found movies were another great experience and a way to be like a big kid in a Martial Arts sandpit! The acting side really became apparent when I had to say my first line, which was “Sit down”. I remember thinking, ‘Well how hard can this be?’ but after I arrived on set and the cast, crew, director, and everyone else was there, I suddenly realised there were about 10 different ways I could say the bloody line! After that I decided to take acting lessons and would try to pay more attention to the craft of acting in the future! [Laughs]

One of your first major roles was in Force Five. How did you come to be involved in that film?

I  got  that role  through Pat  Johnson,  who  was Chuck Norris’ partner for many years. He was a very influential Martial Artist and an excellent instructor in Chuck’s style of ‘Tang Soo Do’, later to be renamed, ‘Chun Kuk Do’. Pat was aware of my abilities so he asked me to go along for an audition   with  Fred  Weintraub and Robert Clouse, the producer and director of ‘Enter the Dragon’. I remember walking into a massive room full of American Karate legends like Keith Vitali,  Bill  Wallace and  literally  countless legends of the Martial Arts world. They were all auditioning for roles! I just thought, “oh, man, what  hope  do  I have?”, because no  one knew who I was and I had an ‘Aussie’ accent which, back then, was unacceptable because not many people  could understand  it!  But  anyway,  we went through the audition process and eventually they narrowed it down to the last 10 to play the five lead roles. Incredibly I was still there so it was then I remember I stopped and realised that I must have the necessary skills to make it into the last 10! So then my next step was thinking how I could set myself apart. Back then I was into a lot of visualisation and trying to  visualise  future  goals  and  this  helped  me work on how I might influence them to think… “there’s something about him”. My favourite lesson from that experience was rather than saying “why me?” I started to say “why not me?” I have trained just as hard as anyone else and I had the skills and Martial Arts knowledge. That started my new journey in the film world and importantly a new confidence that I could make it in this industry.

Could you describe the atmosphere on the set?

I was surrounded by names like Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Joe Lewis and Master Bong Soo Han; real legends in the Martial Arts world, so I was like a kid in a candy store! I didn’t really have reservations about  my  abilities  because  even though there  was  that lingering thought  of  whether  I’d  be up to appearing alongside these legendary guys, there’s a saying I learned long ago and it says “fear is the friend of extraordinary people”. It basically means you can either run away from what you’re fearful of and hide, or man up and say you’ll give it the absolute best you can and dig deep into the bottom of the well and bring out the very best that you are capable of.  You go away and train harder and make it your mission to learn more about what it is you’re being asked to do in order to be up to scratch and you do this to combat that fear.  My good friend and former 7 time World Champion, Peter Cunningham, says “a good fighter isn’t made on his victories, he’s made on his losses” and it’s really that idea of how you handle that pressure and that loss or how do you get up from being knocked down that makes the Champion. I think fear is a good thing and it can propel you onto greater things if you have the guts to confront it. Working with all these Martial Arts stars on set was just amazing and the best experience I could’ve hoped for. When the film came out it was a theatrical release and I remember being in Boston and seeing a billboard with my name on it! It was an unbelievable feeling for a skinny kid from the suburbs of Melbourne.

Later you worked with Robert Clouse again on Gymkata. Could you tell me about this film?

Originally the film was called The Terrible Game and the lead was supposed to be Christopher Atkins, best known for his role with Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon. It was going to be a bigger movie at first with a big time Hollywood director named Sidney Fury and producer Fred Weintraub. Fred wanted me to train Christopher for the role. Eventually it all fell apart and it wasn’t until sometime later that he decided to start the project up, albeit in a totally different way. He wanted to cast an American style Jackie Chan which is why he picked former Olympic gymnast, Kurt Thomas. This time I was asked not only to train Kurt but also to be the fight choreographer and play the lead villain, Zamir. So there were many reasons I was brought onboard but I guess it was mainly due to having worked with Fred before and also my involvement in the original concept which became Gymkata. We shot the film in what was Yugoslavia at the time and it was released in 1985.

How was it compared to a film like Force: Five?

The biggest difference would have been the expertise of the practitioners. On Gymkata we used mostly local Yugoslav stunt guys who were still very good but not as experienced as the American stunties on Force: Five. We were  of  course  able  to  take  some  talented  guys  over there to play roles, people like John Barrett and Conan Lee. But it wasn’t really on the same level as the talent and skill onboard a film like Force: Five. The shooting process on Gymkata was also a little rough and ready, plus we were in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language so that also made it a little different. Also, they were so keen to make a film based around an American Jackie Chan, but that’s easier said than done. Anyone who’s ever worked with Jackie Chan will know he and his team can do pretty much anything that’s asked of them, on any surface and on any terrain. You see Kurt Thomas was a traditional gymnast and not a trained stunt person and only really used to performing moves in a gymnasium, hence why there were moves that looked like they came straight out of one, which to me made the film look kind of campy!

Martial Arts screen fighting is a whole different world so to get someone in for a month of fight training and expect them to be the American Jackie Chan was realistically never going to happen.

Speaking of Jackie Chan, it wasn’t long before you went out to Hong Kong and shot some of your most famous work to date. How did you first have the chance to work out there?

Once again the name Pat Johnson comes up. Pat had recently worked on The Big Brawl with Jackie Chan in Texas. Being familiar with my work and abilities, Pat recommended me to Jackie as someone he should consider working with for some of his Hong Kong productions. When I was first called, I was in Osaka, Japan, on tour with Linda Ronstadt as her bodyguard. I don’t even know how they found me but I just got this call from one of Jackie’s people saying “Jackie wants you in his film, what’s your price?” [Laughs] I asked when they wanted me and I was told I’d need to fly out in two days. So I explained I was working and committed to finishing this tour and so that fizzled out. Sometime later they called again and this was for Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars in 1985. I was able to make it for this project and keen to do it so I flew out to Hong Kong thinking it would be like working on an American movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong! [Laughs] This would be a huge eye-opener for me! In Jackie’s movies back then, the emphasis was always on the action because he knew that’s what his audience wanted. He figured out his audiences weren’t as fussed about the story or dialogue aspects, so most of the emphasis was placed on the fights. My fight scene with Jackie was supposed to be much longer but he’d injured his soldier on another film so instead I had my main fight scene with Sammo Hung. That was my baptism by fire for Hong Kong movies! It was all filmed in the famous Golden Harvest Studios lot and involved shooting fight scenes in a studio that was always a temperature of between 115-120°F with no air conditioning.  We were also filming 18-hour days; seven days a week and this sequence took three and a half weeks to film. I lost 17 or 18 pounds during that period and that was purely because of the hours we were working and the physical intensity of the action sequences. All the fighting was virtually full contact because that’s just the way they did it back then! So even though they sometimes used wires and other tricks, what you saw is pretty much what happened in the way of kicks and punches sinking in, including body hits and even facial hits. This was of course all new to me. Compared to the American films I was used to and even the timing was different. Plus, I was a foreigner or a “gweilo” as you’d be called there and I was often the only one who spoke English on-set, apart from Jackie and Sammo. In the beginning I was treated like a bit like an outsider, but once we started the fights, Sammo and Jackie saw I  had very good timing and was more than willing to take the bumps and that impressed them. For them, timing is even more important than the actual fighting and your timing has to be good enough to match their choreography and action style. So I took the hits and didn’t complain and they ended up really liking me. Sammo would often take me into the editing room at night to look through the fight scenes, which also helped them determine how long the fight would go on for because there wasn’t a defined structure as such. It would go on for as long as they wanted and they’d spend as much time on it as they needed. Jackie also took me around Hong Kong to go sightseeing and shopping and stuff, so once the other stunt crew saw that I’d earned their respect, they thought I was OK. This made the experience a little easier from this point onwards, not in the physical sense because that was always gruelling, but in the feeling that I was more like one of them instead of a stranger. Luckily I was always in good physical shape, ready to take whatever they threw at me and it paid off with future work in Hong Kong so it was a really good experience!

Did the fight scene with Sammo change throughout the three and a half weeks or were you constantly drilling the same moves?

Pretty much the same moves as they would come up with them. Here’s the difference. You see the way it works in American action films is that they have a set sequence, or what’s called a ‘master’, and you tend to drill it and drill it until you know the whole fight and then you shoot. In Hong Kong you’d do all the rehearsals on camera, meaning you’d learn a new move right then and there without having time to rehearse it and then they’d film it 30 or 40 times until they got the take they wanted. That’s why it took so long! They didn’t want to be locked down into any master and they wanted the freedom to take the fight in any direction or for any duration they decided on. Two things I’ll always remember which Benny Urquidez laughs about as well is hearing, “One more!” shouted at the end of every take. The other was “more power!” which usually meant hitting the stunt guys even harder! They’d sometimes under crank the camera, which results in the fight moves being sped up a bit but ultimately the aim was paying a lot of attention to the timing and demonstrating the power of the moves. This is just how they did it and it usually took ages, but boy were the end results spectacular.

You made a number of other films in Hong Kong, like The Magic Crystal, Millionaire’s Express And City Hunter. Looking back on this work do you have a favourite?

Not really, I’d say they were all good experiences. City Hunter was a lot of fun because it was a bit different in that the script was based on a Japanese character and was geared to a much younger audience for Jackie fans. We shot all the exteriors in Tokyo, filming on a cruise ship and around the harbour and then we went back to Hong Kong to shoot the interiors. It was a very long shoot and had a bigger budget than the previous films I’d made in Hong Kong. At the time you often only appreciate the whole film afterwards because initially you are only there for your scenes and you focus on what you’re doing and that’s it. So I basically had no idea of any of the other scenes in the movie. When I went to the American Film Market and saw the finished film for the first time, I was cracking up because it was so quirky and funny! I think it was a big decision by Jackie to go lighter with the comedy style and of course the film was also directed by Wong Jing who was like the Spielberg of Hong Kong action at that time and known for his comedy. The Magic Crystal was really enjoyable from a different point of view. It was one of Andy Lau’s first movies and was great because I had the chance to work with Cynthia Rothrock for the first time and also because I got to shoot a fight scene using the Sai, which was the first weapon I studied in the Martial Arts. That was really cool for me to be able to put some of my own style in a Hong Kong fight scene.

Were there any lessons relating to the action and choreography you were able to carry over from Hong Kong to your American films?

Absolutely, though it’s tough because the styles are so very different. But yes, I definitely learned a lot from my Hong Kong work. Of course unless you have a lot of control over a production, like being the Producer for example, you don’t really have the luxury or freedom to implement those lessons due to the difference in shooting styles. One of the biggest things I took away from Hong Kong was when I completed the first couple of days of shooting Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars. I remember I was so frustrated and exhausted with the hours, the heat, and the tiredness of the Sammo fight that I got back to my room and said out loud that if I could get through this I could get through anything! I mean after that, shooting 12-hour days in an American movie was literally like a walk in the park! Often on western film sets I’d hear people complaining if we worked one hour overtime or the fights got a little rough and I’d laugh and say, “Man, you guys don’t even know!” [Laughs] I’d also add that even though I thought the Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars shoot was tough for me, Jackie and the Hong Kong guys were doing this level of hardship year round, movie after movie and often shooting two movies at once! I felt like a big baby! So this gave me massive respect for the physical and mental toughness of those guys. Of course it wasn’t until later that American movies started learning lessons about the importance of camera work in action films and started taking notes from Hong Kong. I think Rumble in the Bronx in 1995 was one of the biggest inspirations where American movies started interpreting this style of action and explored how the camera angles and cuts can be used to enhance the action. I’d been lucky enough to see this first hand with my early movies in Hong Kong!

Overall, do you prefer your fight scenes to be more slapstick and played for laughs, in the Jackie Chan style, or more rough and realistic?

I’d say I prefer a more gutsy approach because that’s what real fights are like and that is more my style of fighting. Having said that movies are often made for a whole different reason, for a huge variety of audiences and sometimes need to become like fantasy where you can suspend belief and just simply be entertained.  To be honest I enjoy both because I do love the comedy element like the enjoyment of watching the old physical comedians such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. The physical skill they had is astounding and still so much fun to watch, even today. On the other side of the coin I personally enjoy a more realistic looking fight and something that would give me the opportunity to incorporate my Martial Arts into a gritty, realistic setting. If possible I like the opportunity to add a sprinkling of spirituality in there too. The thing to remember is that regardless of what I as an individual think, the job of a movie is to appeal to the greater audience, give the masses what they want and to ‘simply’ entertain. If there is no audience then there is no commercial viability for the movie and you probably won’t get to make another movie anytime soon.

Would you like to inject more of the spiritual aspects of the Martial Arts into your work?

It’s something I’ve longed to do in movies but to be honest you can only really do it if you produce your own work. You’d have to be the moneyman and have more creative influence because for actors like me, we’re just workers hired in to do a role and basically do as we’re told. It would be nice to be someone like Chuck Norris where you could explain what you wanted to do and have a studio or investor support you because they see you’ve got the economic draw. I should say I do sometimes get the chance to give a bit of input in my movies but it doesn’t tend to be massive, or that often.

Would you ever consider writing your own stories and screenplays?

Yes, but I am also realistic enough to know I am not a scriptwriter. It takes an incredible amount of talent and passion to write a good screenplay. I think I have good ideas, but I would need to leave it to a good writer to put that idea on the page.

Earlier you mentioned working with Cynthia Rothrock. You worked together in Hong Kong (in both  Millionaire’s  Express  and The Magic  Crystal)  and  later  made several  American movies together. How did the two of you meet?

I first came to hear of Cynthia in Hong Kong as she was working out there starting a career around the same time I was. I remember being told about this petite American girl who was doing really well in Hong Kong action films and by coincidence, Sammo Hung later teamed us up as Bandits in Millionaire’s Express. We also worked together on The Magic Crystal as I mentioned earlier and we just became really good friends. Based on that, back in America I had the chance to work with Fred Weintraub again and the idea came up to put Cynthia and I together again and that’s how we ended up doing up the China O’ Brien and Rage and Honor movies. I think we just had really good chemistry and got along so well. Essentially, we were able to have a lot of fun with what we were doing and that came across onscreen. I liked the comparison from one English magazine that described us as the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of Martial Arts movies! [Laughs] That’s it really; we were able to do what was asked of us and had chemistry along the way. There’s an old saying in our business that says, “the camera either likes you or it doesn’t”. You can’t really manufacture that chemistry and because we’re such good friends it just seemed to come naturally. Also I think audiences like the familiarity because they feel they get to know you over time, so seeing Cynthia and me appearing together in different roles really captured an audience.

Recently a short film appeared on YouTube called Downward Facing Dog, starring yourself and Cynthia. Could you tell me about that?

This is a promo or ‘teaser’ we made to try and get investors interested in making a feature and it’s a story I’m very keen to get made. It’s a great script about a hit man and is supposed to take place in Lithuania. I worked there for four years and the writer and director have also been there in the past, working on projects that I’d been involved in. We’re still in the very early stages and trying to get investors interested. Sometimes it helps to put something visual down so people can see what we’re talking about and right now we’re just trying to build the interest through sites like YouTube and Facebook and show that there’s still a lot of interest in Cynthia and I doing something together. Lance Henriksen, who’s a good of friend of mine, is also very interested in playing one of the leads so we’ve got many strong elements in place to hopefully make it a really successful little movie. My character is quite dark and interesting with lots of shades to his personality. From an acting point of view I’m really interested in playing these more complex character roles rather than the cliché characters I’ve played so much of in past movies. I’d love to have that character arc which is really interesting to play and Downward Facing Dog is one of those roles. Again, I’ve played a lot of generic bad guy roles which were fun for those older movies, but now I’m keen to try something different if given the chance.

Would you say the evolving action genre has brought new challenges?

Yes, absolutely, but it’s been dictated by the movie audiences. Back in the older action movies, you could include around six pretty good fight scenes and you’d know you could sell the movie. It didn’t really matter if you had an actual story. Today it’s completely different and now, you should and in fact need to be able to take the fight scenes out of any action movie and still have a really strong film based on the story and characters. The fights should really be incidental to the film being good. Audiences have seen just about every fight scene you could think of so it can’t just be about that anymore. You also have to scrutinise why these people are fighting: Why do we care? Who do we really want to win? This is obviously driven by the story and script so these aspects can’t be neglected now.

You’ve worked with many talented filmmakers and action stars throughout your career. Who, in particular, has made a big impression on you?

In Hong Kong it would have to be Sammo and Jackie. I’ve often said that Sammo is one of the most creative Action Directors I’ve ever worked with, because that guy can put together a fight scene with just about anything! He’s a filmmaker who really intrigues me and has so much going on within his films. As an actor he’s fantastic as well and when you see him in films like SPL (aka Killzone) you get to see his acting skills and realise how brilliant he can be. It seems like the days of Hong Kong overacting are gone, with the big expressions and reactions. It seems much more naturalistic now and Sammo does that so very well. I remember when we were in Melbourne, Australia, filming Mr Nice Guy and Sammo gave me some advice when we were in a restaurant one day. We were sitting having a drink and he told me he’d seen a lot of my movies, which of course almost made me fall off my chair!  Then he comments on my acting by saying that I tend to play my characters as “too normal” [Laughs]. I said, “what do you mean, too normal”?  He responded by explaining that in his opinion I tended to underplay characters and follow the idea of “less is more”.  He went on to talk about examples like Mel Gibson doing crazy things with his character in Lethal Weapon doing the three stooges skit or Gary Oldman when he gets shot in the movie, ‘The Professional’, and he explained that people tend to remember performances like that.  He was basically saying that actors like Mel and Gary made bold and interesting character choices, because people don’t usually remember “normal”. I went away and thought about that. It completely changed my view of  Sammo as  not just an Action Director and filmmaker,  but someone who was genuinely skilled in what made characters work from a dramatic point of view.  I think it was also because I was so happy that he liked me enough to bother to spend some one-on-one quality time with me. I think Jackie’s an obvious one that’s had an impression on me because everyone knows Jackie to be a great Martial Artist, director and actor. Both those guys completely changed my career path in movies. In America, Chuck Norris was of course a huge influence. He got me started in film and apart from being a Martial Arts champion and the absolute best in his field, you couldn’t hope to meet a nicer person. Chuck is someone who, for me, has never changed from being the nicest guy you could meet. He has always had time for people, his friends and his fans. I’ll always appreciate the way he introduced me to people I would’ve never met any other way. Plus, he’s great at what he does! Even Walker, Texas Ranger was a bit of a test because some people didn’t think it would last more than a year but it lasted eight years and only stopped because he wanted to stop! That’s the kind of success most people would dream to have in their lifetimes.

You’ve had some memorable onscreen battles throughout your career. Looking back, do you have any favourites?

Wow, there’s been so many. I really liked the fight scenes in The Magic Crystal with Cynthia. I like them from a complexity and choreography point of view, aside from the memories of fighting Cynthia and being  cracked  in  the  head  with  a  wooden  sword  and  having  eight  stitches  on  my  eye  without anaesthetic so the eye wouldn’t swell up! [laughs]  Another film where I’m really proud of the fights is in Under the Gun, which I also produced. We made the film in Melbourne and it featured a number of close Martial Arts friends of mine like Sam Greco, a K-1 World Kickboxing Champion and Ron Vreeken, who is a fight choreographer and stuntman and also an old friend of mine, so we got him in there too. Tino Ceberano, my first Karate instructor also featured in the film and to have him in there and have us do a fight scene together was an absolute thrill for me! Another fight scene I really like was my sword fight against Toshirô Obata in The Sword of Bushido. It’s memorable for me because I had such respect for Obata Sensei because of his Aikido and sword work. He is a true master. We did most of that fight with live sword blades because we quickly ran out of bamboo stunt swords through the rigorous rehearsals! So we ended up using real Katana, which were actually his own swords and very, very sharp. That was pretty exhilarating! He even said he wouldn’t have done that with any other actor but he respected me as a Martial Artist and was confident we could do it. I also like the opening scene where I perform Tameshigiri (test cutting for the sword) on the beach. That was thrilling and scared the shit out of me! I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to do it due to being really tired because I’d been in a boat shooting scenes in the glaring sun for hours before shooting and that exhausted me. When I came to doing it I wasn’t as confident as I should’ve been. Suddenly I was aware of Sensei Obata shouting, “You must cut! you must cut!” [Laughs] because to a Martial Artist and especially him as my sword teacher, there’s no other way: failure is unthinkable, you just do it.  So that was an important scene for me for many reasons. I’ve done so many fight scenes throughout my career but these stand out as some of the most memorable.

You’ve mentioned wanting to devote more to your acting roles. Could you talk more about your thoughts on this?

I really want a role that’s going to scare me, something that makes me question whether or not I can really do it. To give an example, Under a Red Moon is a film I did in 2008 and it has no action in it! I play a Judge who is married and has a child who dies of a heroin overdose. So this is really about parents dealing with a child who has an addiction. It was purely drama with no comedy because it’s a very serious topic and of course no action so this scared the hell out of me! Hey, I had to act with no fight scenes to bail me out. Like I said earlier, that’s what it takes and what I like now. It takes that fear to dig deep and get more out of yourself than you ever thought possible. The film’s got a limited release and hopefully will be more widely available soon. That was a great experience for me because it was so different. If I do another cliché action role as I have done so many times before, I almost don’t have to prepare because I can sleep walk my way right through it. But that’s not fun for me, not good for me, not good for the film and it’s not good for the audience. I have a saying about having ‘daring to participate’. It takes guts to step into the arena and allow yourself to be ‘uncomfortable’. So that’s the kind of challenge I want to have. It’s kind of like an adrenalin rush when confronted with a daunting task that expects more of you than mediocrity. I don’t know how many more years I’ll have the opportunity and good fortune to keep doing this, so when possible I want and need that challenge!

You’ve also worked extensively in stunts and fight choreography. Is this something you found you easily adapted to?

Yes, because early on in my career I realised the skills necessary for screen combat and choreography and worked hard at the craft of making action work for camera.  Some Martial Artists get their chance to be in a movie fight scene and find it difficult because they think they can take their usual moves that they practice in the Dojo and make them work on camera, but it isn’t as easy as that.  I knew from as early as working on The Octagon with Chuck Norris that it was a whole different way of working and needed particular skills and understanding.  It was all about the movement and the camera, never mind how it looks to the naked eye. It has to work on camera or it doesn’t work. Everything’s done a little bigger and more telegraphed, plus it tends to cover a larger area of the screen. Then of course there is the aspect of understanding the movements as it pertains to the story and character. A friend in the business calls what we do as ‘Non Verbal Dialogue’. A fight can no longer just be a fight for the sake of it. It has to make sense to the story and be part of the Drama. Why and how does the character know how to move like he does. Is the way he fights justified by story. I mean imagine Robert De Niro in ‘Raging Bull’ suddenly doing a spinning heel kick. I do a lot of seminars now on how to help Martial Arts make their techniques work for the screen and it’s often a bit of an eye-opener for the budding Martial Artist looking for a career as a movie stunt person. I did one recently in Dallas, Texas, and their jaws dropped when they realised how much there is to learn and the many things you have to be aware of on-set, in terms of remembering choreography, distance, timing, safety.  It really is a whole different world for a lot of Martial Artists so I try to help them understand it better. I also try to make budding actors know that they must take every opportunity to learn different arts and vary their skills so as to be ready for whatever a director may want in the way of an action style for the movie. I worked on The Condemned a few years back and the director, Scott Wiper, said to me he didn’t want to see any flashy Jackie Chan or Jet Li fight moves or anything that didn’t have a practical purpose. That was  interesting for me because it allowed me to incorporate a mix of street-style MMA and some Karate but give it a real street feel with a rough realistic style to the fights. Working with Steve Austin and Vinnie Jones was a hoot and we were able to create some good action with them on board. It suited me because I’ve never been one for doing pretty kicks and holding my leg in the air for 10 seconds or performing these extreme flips! I didn’t do it back then and I don’t think my body could handle it now so I leave that for the younger guys! [Laughs]

You’re still very active in your film work and teach seminars regularly. Could you talk a bit about how you train today and keep yourself in shape?

I still train pretty much every day and do a lot of Kickboxing training with my long-time coaches, Peter“Sugar Foot” Cunningham and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. They’ve been coaches of for mine for the past 30 years. I love the “hands on” and real aspects of Kickboxing. The other style I train a lot in is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,  which I’ve been doing now for 22 years. I’m  a 4th degree Black Belt  under Jean Jacques Machado and I’m his highest-graded student. I love BJJ because it’s like a physical chess game and it’s very practical… if you tap out it’s because either something’s going to pop or you’re going to sleep! I still train regularly with weights as a supplement to the Martial Arts training as I believe strong muscles deliver strong techniques. Also, I still find time to train with various weapons like the Bo and Sai and other traditional weapons, just to stay sharp with those techniques.  When it comes to seminars I teach a variety of skills, depending on the school and their particular wants. I have drills for traditional schools needing speed and power, MMA drills and techniques and Reality Based skill sets for the street gleaned from my 20 years as a doorman and personal Bodyguard.  I’ve also just about finished a new MMA curriculum for clubs wanting to incorporate UFC style techniques into their training. I’m doing that with a wonderful Martial Artist friend, Jeremy Ta’kody. Again it’s for stand-up schools that want to introduce MMA into their programmes. Hey, let’s face it, MMA is here to stay and is an absolute part of the modern Martial Arts environment. Of course I also teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu seminars whenever I get the chance.

Are your screen-fighting seminars very popular too?

Yes, and here’s why. When I was starting out in Martial Arts, people wanted to train to be the best Martial Artists they could be. Nowadays you find that so many that get involved in the arts want to train purely to become actors!  It seems that lately, far more students are interested in the choreography side and movies than the Martial Arts! [Laughs] I guess that’s just a sign of the times!

I’m sure it’s also down to you and who you are…

Oh I guess that is a part of it. I think a lot of the time seminars are about the experience of spending a few hours with someone you know or respect. I know that’s the reason I attend seminars. I mean to be in the presence of a legend like Benny “The Jet” Urquidez is definitely worth the price of admittance. If they know you and are familiar with your work  it’s  about  having  the  chance to chat with you and get to you know you a bit, so the   actual   teaching is almost   incidental. Benny   “The  Jet”  Urquidez is one of my biggest role models in the Martial Arts because he really  walks the talk! When he did a seminar in Australia once I was telling a friend of mine he should go, but not to see how much training you can really get from three hours but just for being in the presence of someone like that.  There’s something extremely  positive to be gained.  It’s  like going to see The Rolling Stones in concert, you don’t really know if there’s going to be another one.  It’s worth going just to be part of the event.  I realise that a certain amount of the interest I get through seminars is down to my movies, which I find quite strange, then again if that allows me to spread the word of what I do and what I’m about then it’s a good thing!  Hey, maybe they will even discover that I am good at what I do! [Laughs]. I’m always happy to teach seminars all over the world on anything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to Mixed Martial Arts and screen fighting. When you’re charging people money for seminars, people naturally have an expectation of excellence which can be a little scary but then I like that because it keeps me in the gym and keeps me updating my knowledge. Everything good that’s happened in my life has been through Martial Arts so I have such a high level of respect for it and try to show it in the best possible way. Martial Arts has always been my number one passion and acting was just a means to an end and a way to make it economically possible to spend more time in training.

Last year you appeared at The Martial Arts Movie Con in Berlin with a number of other stars like Cynthia Rothrock, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Keith Vitali. Are you still overwhelmed by the great fan response you receive?

Yes, it’s a real thrill for me. Some of these films were made 15-20 years ago but there are people who grew up in that era and still love those movies today. When you hear about how you influenced or inspired people, even in the smallest possible way, that’s really exciting and I’m so grateful to know people appreciate that work. The Martial Arts Movie Con was a lot fun and I love events like that. It’s also a nice opportunity to catch up with old friends that I have worked with over the past thirty years.

Tell me about the book you’re writing…

The book is called “In The Moment with Hindsight” and it’s roughly three quarters finished! I had a lot of people say I should write a book about my years on the road working as a bodyguard because I spent a lot of time with some really fascinating people! I worked with David Bowie for six years, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor for 14 years, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac and John Belushi for a number of years too. But when people asked me to write a book, I knew they’d really want me to dish out the dirt. Morally and ethically I could never be one of those people who work closely with the stars and then write a big ‘kiss and tell’ book because I was in such a trusted and confidential position. I mean I had adjoining rooms with most of them and knew everything that went on. I decided that the book I write should be something that shares a positive view and some of the great experiences I had and shared with these incredible artists. I wanted the title to be “In The Moment with Hindsight” because there were many things these people said to me which really inspired me back then and I was immediately aware of the wisdom but, equally, there are things they said which I might suddenly remember just today and still have a profound effect on me. I’m talking about people who were, and in many cases still are, totally at the top of their game, names like Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Watching them and seeing how they worked, behaved and furthered their art was very educational for me, then and now.  So I am trying to remind people that we need to really listen and be aware of the many lessons presented by those the Universe has put in front us right now, instead of realising the lesson many years later in our lives, often when it’s too late. It’s sometimes just a matter of needing to just empty our cup to taste somebody else’s tea.

It’s easy to get caught up in our own stuff but I think there are so many things we can learn from others, be it good or bad. Last year James Taylor was in Australia and called my wife and me and asked if we’d like to come out to Sydney to spend time with  his wife and family and the legendary Carole King. It was a fantastic few days and we ended up going to restaurants and catching up on old times. I thought about how cool it was that all these years later, since I started working with him in the 1970s, we’re still good friends. I love to think that friendship we had on the road also meant so much to him and I wasn’t just a non-descript bodyguard. H e even remarked to Carole King that I was partly responsible for changing his life and his outlook on the world.  Back then he had a lifestyle not too dissimilar to a lot of the other Rock Stars, but I know for a fact that James has had an incredibly healthy lifestyle for the past 25 years or so. Now, to have him say I had such an influence on him due to the teachings of the Martial Arts is something I really appreciate and take great pride from. Even when we’d go on tour, sometimes we’d pull over in the tour bus in the middle of the countryside and I’d take everyone through Martial Arts exercises and these experiences are, to me, far more memorable than any of the violent stories you might come across in that line of work.

When do you plan to complete the book?

Two years ago! [Laughs] It’s such a big project and I really want to make sure it covers everything. There are around 13 chapters and now it’s really a case of me going through it and fine-tuning. A friend of  mine  is  helping  me  write  it  because  I’m  not  a  writer  as  such  but  one  comparison  that’s  been presented to me is Geoff Thompson. Someone once said to me if Geoff had 13 chapters, he’d write 13 books! My problem is I’m very particular and want each chapter to really mean something but also in the context of an entire story. I’m aiming for it to be out within the next six months or so. It’s a very exciting project for me!

In terms of film projects, you’ve just worked on The Amazing Spider-Man. Can you tell me more about this?

Unfortunately, I can’t say much right now because I’m not allowed to.  However I can say it was mostly stunt work.  I doubt you’ll even recognise me.  I play a SWAT guy but it’s a small part. I was on-set for four weeks and the experience was just phenomenal.  It’s a $220 million budget movie!  Vic Armstrong was the second unit director and it was great working with him. Andy Armstrong, his brother, was the stunt coordinator and an old friend. Andy’s the one who brought me onboard so for all those reasons and more it was a lot of fun!

Your next big project is Mad Max: Fury Road. Could you tell me about this?

We were meant to be filming right now but they postponed it for a January 2012 start. I’m really looking forward to this because I’m playing a number of roles, including the main henchman to the bad guy played by Hugh Keays-Byrne who was in the original Mad Max over 30 years ago.  I’m so thrilled for the opportunity to be part of such an iconic Aussie franchise and have such a good role.  A few months ago we  did rehearsals  with  cars  and  trucks  in  the Australian  Outback.  Too much  fun for one person! [Laughs] Brit Tom Hardy will play the lead as the Max character and he says he can’t wait to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu everyday on-set so that should be a hoot!  This is definitely the most exciting thing I’ve got coming up and as I say we’ll be shooting from January 2012.

Richard will soon feature in the new Mad Max: Fury Road

Are there are other projects coming up that you’d like to talk about?

There are other things in the pipeline but I’ve long learned not to say anything before its certain! One potential project I can mention will star John Wayne Parr, an Australian Muay Thai Kickboxer with eight World Titles. Guy Norris, who was stunt coordinator on all the Mad Max movies, will be producing and I’ll be one of the leads and choreographing the fights. This is a film that could happen within the next couple of months and would be nice because it’s a fight-focused film and would give me a chance to update my choreography and put some really interesting stuff in there! All in all it’s very exciting and there’s some cool stuff coming up! Hey, let the good times roll. It ain’t over till it’s over, my friend!

Thanks to Richard Norton for participating in the interview

For more information on Richard Norton and to contact him regarding training seminars go the contact page of

This interview appears © copyright

Hover mouse over photos for details