Gene LeBell, Cheryl Wheeler-Sanders and Jessie Graff talk about the martial arts connection to the stunt business and offer valuable advice for those looking to make the leap.
As the theme song to the 1978 Burt Reynolds movie Hooper noted, “There ain’t nothing like the life of a Hollywood stuntman.” A lot of martial artists take those words to heart. There’s an army of skilled — and not-so-skilled — practitioners of karate, taekwondo, kung fu and other martial arts trying to break into the motion-picture industry by making use of their ability to kick and punch, but how realistic is this? What do martial artists interested in stunt work need to know? “Learn to wait tables, clean bathrooms and walk the neighbor’s dog,” offered “Judo” Gene LeBell, one of only two people (the other is Jackie Chan) to be inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame. LeBell doesn’t mince words about the difficulties of doing fights and falls in films. He says with all the would-be stunt people out there, breaking into the field can be next to impossible. “When I started in the business, there were about 40 stuntmen in Hollywood,” Gene LeBell said. “Now there’s over 10,000. I highly recommend getting a second job with a future and a retirement.” But he adds that if you possess exceptional athletic ability and a burning desire to work in stunts no matter how difficult the path, you just might pull it off.