More on Jeff Speakman

Interview by Guy Edward Larke

For those of us who can think back a few decades, 1990 had one singular amazing action movie, The Perfect Weapon. It showcased a new actor, Jeff Speakman, and a frightening fast and efficient martial art called Kenpo. It sent me and thousands of others flocking to the nearest Kenpo school to learn the blinding, balletic open-handed American art.

One of the best parts of being a writer is being able to connect with those who you followed over the years. Upon connecting with Master Speakman, I am pleased to say unlike his movie personas, he is far from the angry anti-hero. He is extremely friendly and very open.
To read more of the interview with Jeff Speakman, pick up a copy of the September 2011 issue of TKD Times.

TKD Times: How did you make the jump into acting? What was the series of circumstances that lead to your first movie?

Speakman: I got solid acting lessons before I did The Perfect Weapons. I wanted to prove I could “act.” From the time I arrived in L.A. I was trying to decide if I should pursue acting or not. By coincidence, Van Damme’s first movie came out at the same time. I went to the movie theatre to see what that guy could do and compare it to what I could do to help make my decision. I thought afterwards if they went nuts over that, could you imagine what they would think of Kenpo? That committed me to study acting. I got bit parts here and there and one of the guys in my workshop had written Kick boxer. He personally knew Mark DeSalle, the producer and director. As he was a martial arts fan he eventually came to the West L.A. School to see me do my thing. He convinced DeSalle to come the dojo eventually. That cinched a 3 picture deal with DeSalle. He then in turn sold the deal to Paramount. The writer had base the story around me and my fight sequences. Even the story of the tiger and the dragon was among the things I contributed to the story. That’s how it got made.

TKD Times: With the Kenpo used in the Perfect Weapon, one of the things that stuck out was the way you used your hands, even the sides and backs of your hands. For those who don’t do Kenpo, where does that come from and how does that play intro one strike flowing into the next one?

Speakman: That’s a great question.  It’s really one of the phenomena of the art of Kenpo. It’s one of the things that people are attracted to. When you see it you really are amazed by it. When you get into it and peel back the layers of the onion. Again as I was saying, it’s very logic and scientific based. Then you get it. Then there’s just the law of repetition. But in reality it’s a multifold of principles such as the economy of motion. Which is we waste no motion. None at all. Whether it’s circles or violating point of origin. The second is breath control. Because when you can control your breath at just the right time you start the releasing the tension of the energy stored in your body. Therefore whether hands, feet, knees or elbows they are going to move faster just as a function of the physics of you being relaxed. So you start layering on these levels of the physics of how to move fast and how to hit hard and… it takes time.  But once you get… you know the sarcastic joke in Kenpo is “the worst place to fight a Kenpo guy is in a phone booth.”   That’s where we thrive.

TKD Times: So Kenpo is very close quarters?

Speakman:  But you know, most martial arts demand that you jump back you know and create distance. In Kenpo it’s quite the opposite. We like to get in tight and jam the other guy’s game and really cause that confusion. Now, the desired thing is, even when people experience it, it’s such an illusion you just can’t figure out how is it that these guys move so fast and yet they hit you so hard. Because it’s not about how many times I hit you, it’s about how hard I hit you. You know I was there every single time I moved. That’s part of the illusion. So its economy of motion, its breath control, it’s the physics of how you move, and then understanding the weaponry. You form your hands into different weapons to meet a specific target. So that we refer to as being a fitted strike or a fitted target. Where you form your hands to hit the front of the neck or the side of the neck or even the solar plexus or down into the groin or any other specific target. You know Kenpo isn’t just some mish mash or winging it. It’s a highly surgical kind of application. It takes some time and it certainly takes some dedication but my perspective is that once you’re there, you’re a force to be reckoned with.  It’s tough to get out of the way of a guy’s hands when they’re moving like that. 

TKD Times: That’s fantastic. Now we talked before how martial arts change a person, did your film career help or hinder your abilities?

Speakman: Because I was able to maintain the integrity of our art, when I was doing all of my movies, including The Perfect Weapon. You know the big studios like Paramount seldom give anyone the authority or approval over anything to anybody other than their producers. So it was really an extraordinary event when they gave me the right to have final editing and sound checks over my moves. That’s never been done before. But they had enough trust after they came to the dojo and saw what I could do to relinquish that authority and let me control the action. Because I was able to maintain the integrity of the art I never faltered from that I can honestly saw it helped that. Because there’s never a time I’m not doing Kenpo. I’m always doing Kenpo in the films.

TKD Times: Are there any kinds of weapons employed in Kenpo?

Speakman: Well there are two that we use.  Those are knives and the sticks… we call them the Kenpo sticks but they look like very much like variations of the Filipino sticks. You might remember in the Perfect Weapon I did some Kenpo stick fighting. You’re probably not surprised, but it’s interesting that many people came up to me at the end of the movie and asked, “Oh, who taught you Escrima?” That’s not Escrima; it’s Kenpo. After telling people that people looked at me strangely.

TKD Times: So what are the basic differences between Filipino stick fighting and Kenpo stick fighting?

Speakman: I’ll answer that but keep in mind I’m not an expert on Filipino stick fighting. From what little I know and from what I picked up in my studies, we have quite an elaborate system of checking while using one stick or two sticks that aren’t applied that much in the Filipino arts. I can see now, Indonesian arts are connected to the Hawaiian arts. Stick and even just martial arts keep popping up all over the place. On my website I wrote an article that was called “Kenpo Comes Home” which was an article about my trip to China in 2009. It was in that article that I now that have the years of martial arts experience to look back on and see a much broader scope and a much broader range. In that article and in what I’ve uncovered about Kenpo. Back then everybody knew each other. They were like brothers. Lama Lima, Lua, Kenpo called considered themselves the same. There wasn’t this animosity out there like there is now. No “It’s us against them.” They all respected each other. It’s also a bizarre concept in these days. 

TKD Times: In addition to Kenpo and Goju-Ryu Karate what else are you working with in terms of cross training?

Speakman: I’m in my third year of Jiu Jitsu study now with a guy in Las Angeles, California. Because of the Kenpo 5.0.  As dysfunctional as the Kenpo world is, we’re nothing compared to the Jiu Jitsu world. It just seems to be throughout the martial arts. Personally I don’t get it. Because we could be all so much better off if we would help each other.

TKD Times: So you are trying to connect with other systems then? How so?

Speakman: We are trying to create a much friendlier atmosphere. Here I am in Las Vegas, my World Training Centre. I have schools in several countries now. We are trying to create a much more open atmosphere where everybody can train together and maybe we can create solutions. This is how I envisioned the Kenpo 5.0 system when I talked to the other Kenpo guys. I said “Look, maybe we can come together over content. Let’s make it about the person. Let’s get together over how to advance the art. Let’s make the art better. Do it for altruistic reasons. Not for the importance of who’s wearing a 10th degree black belt these days.

TKD Times: Can Kenpo benefit Korean stylists without making them “empty their cups” so to speak?

Speakman: It can. First acknowledge that it can. There’s some bizarre thing about the idea of change. The idea of it throws some people off. If you want to breathe, if you want to evolve, you have to change. It’s that simple. Instead of being afraid of it, embrace it. See how you can become a better person. See how you can help others in your community or in your life. Because here’s the truth, we’re only here for “x” number of heartbeats, then it’s over. Now there are some interesting theories about what happens after and some interesting ones about what happened before you got here. But the point is you’re here now. Then it’s over. So my question to the Kenpo world and to your readers in the Taekwondo world is “How are you spending your life’s energies so it’s for the benefit of all? Not for yourself. For the good of everybody.” Can you encourage people towards that kind of thinking? Maybe, maybe we can get somewhere. My point is I expend my energy on friendship. I’m open. You guys want show up. Let’s talk, let’s train, and not argue. Let’s exchange ideas and be friends. What a better world this would be if we’d stop fighting each other.

TKD Times: What projects are you involved with now?

Speakman: I spent a lot of time and a lot of money creating a 10 DVD series covering all the material from white belt to 1st degree black and shot them the way I shot my fight scenes. There are cameras from above, etc. I take every kata, every maneuver and I do it slow, then with voiceovers. I explain every principle and every concept so they can go to to get the complete series or get everything written down in accumulated journals. So this is how my school in Bolivia can be doing the same thing as in Las Vegas, Nevada. It took such a long time to shoot these DVDs in so much detail that you can be anywhere in the world and still do a pretty good job at studying if you can’t hook up with an instructor some place. I have several schools in Australia and New Zealand. I go there every year.  There’s always a way to get hooked up. Okay, you can’t come to Las Vegas, maybe you can get to another country.

TKD Times: Do students have to test at your centre?  Could they test via internet or DVD?

Speakman: They don’t have to visit my centre. They can do some of what you’re suggesting only so far up the chain though. Then you’re going to have to physically get in front of somebody who’s one of my black belts. I have certified instructors in Australia and New Zealand. I got guys in Russia, Holland, France, Germany, and Italy. So those guys are the people that pick up the students from other countries. They develop the system from there.

TKD Times: What do you see in the future for the martial arts?

Speakman: Well my statement is the future of martial arts is right here. It’s what we’re doing. I think we’re it because our system has evolved so we can defend against this MMA onslaught if you will. That’s part of the 5.0. Yet we didn’t throw everything out. You know we’re still an old school martial arts group. We still wear uniforms; we still bow to each other on and off the mat. We have a high level of respect and admiration for one another. Anyone who joins feels like they’re a member of my family. That’s what I want them to feel. That’s what it’s all about. So what I would love is for the rest of the Kenpo community to be stuck in the past and open their minds, open their heads because if we don’t Kenpo will start to drift into the abyss of the impractical martial arts. Now we have a ground system. That’s something we never dealt with before.
AUG. 22. 2011. TaeKwonDoTimes.