In his days as a national and international Judo and Sambo champion, Gokor Chivichyan was known as “The Armenian Assassin”, and rightfully so. Beginning his training in single digit years in Soviet Armenia, Gokor would go on to blast through his opponents at every level across the European continent.
Today, Gokor sits down with KFK to share his stories of growing up and competing in early MMA competitions, and shares some behind-the-scenes insights about his work as a Hollywood stuntman, along with offering the kind of sage wisdom that can only come from his long years of fighting and combat experience.
Hi Gokor, that you so much for taking some time out to speak with us! Hope you’re doing well?
Hi Brad, I’m doing great, thanks. Glad to be speaking with Kung Fu Kingdom today!
Fantastic! Well, let’s start out with some basics, like when and where you were born?
I was born in Armenia in 1963, back when it was part of the Soviet Union.
I see. And what’s your height and weight?
I’m 5′ 10” (1.77 m) tall and weigh 205lb (93kg).
Alright, so tell us about your beginnings in martial arts. How old were you when you started and what different disciplines have you studied?
I started when I was five years-old. I and a lot of kids in Armenia used to wrestle around with adults back then – not so much today! – and one wrestler who was a world champion saw me and brought me to his freestyle wrestling school. I competed in wrestling for a few years and then I saw some Sambo guys training. I thought, “I can kick these guys’ asses”, but they ended up kicking my ass! So, I started training in Sambo with them and after a few months, competed and won some Soviet Union National Championships, then later, two World Championships in Sambo. I first started competing in Judo in 1973, training with Gene LeBell when I was 17.
Awesome! So, who would you credit as having most influenced or inspired you in martial arts?
Definitely Gene LeBell! I came to America already a world champion and training with him helped me become the best I could possibly be. He’s always been there to help me with everything.
Yes, “Judo” Gene’s the genuine article! Looking at your solid competitive career, who would you classify at the toughest opponent you ever faced?
Rodrigo Antunes was pretty tough, he’s a killer. He’s a Jiu-jitsu world champion and an awesome fighter.
Absolutely! Going off of that, you’ve also done a lot of work as a stuntman, with one of your first roles being in “Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite“. What interesting stories can you share about working on the film?
I mostly helped train some of the stunt fighters and assist with the fight choreography and I was also one of the fighters in the film. The leading man, Daniel Bernhardt, has come to train in my dojo several times since. The first time he came in, I didn’t even recognize him until he mentioned we were both in “Bloodsport II”, it had been about twenty years ago by then.
Nice blast from the past! You also appeared in the movie “Sci-Fighter” where you have a fight scene with Don “The Dragon” Wilson. What interesting stories can you share about making the film alongside such a legend of kickboxing as Don?
Don’s a great guy. He called me up and asked me to be in the film, and I said “Sure”, but the one thing I didn’t understand was why I was wearing my Judo gi on a beach, where the fight took place. Everybody there kept asking me the same thing, and Don explained that the movie takes place inside of a video game. It was difficult fighting on the sand, but for some reason the sand went in his mouth and not mine!
Lucky you! You also did some stunt work on the pilot for the unaired “Wonder Woman” TV series. What can you share with us about working on that show?
Actually, a lot of that was filmed in my dojo. I wish the show had taken off because they were planning on doing more of the series in my dojo, which is about 13,000 square feet. It was a lot of fun doing the pilot, though, and the girl who played ‘Wonder Woman’, Adrianne Palicki, was really sweet.
Must’ve been a great experience! Moving ahead now, you’re well known for training legendary MMA fighter, Ronda Rousey. What can you tell us about training Ronda and having one of your students become an icon of MMA?
Her mother is a very good friend of mine, and has helped me train the U.S. Judo team. Ronda first started training with me when she was a kid, and as everyone has seen, she’s a very skilled grappler. I felt bad for her after she lost to Holly Holm, but striking is her weak point, so she’s needed to work on improving that aspect of her fight game.
She’s certainly had the Eye of the Tiger for a good long run. On the topic of MMA, who in your opinion are some of the best MMA fighters competing today?
Ben Henderson is really good, he’s still beating guys a lot younger than him. I think a lot of people don’t understand just how much professional fighters put into their training. They train 8-hours a day, non-stop, all year round, and people watch them fight and just say “You just get into the cage and fight, that’s easy money”, but really, it’s the hardest money you could ever work for.
So true. Speaking of training, what can you share with our readers about Gokor Chivichyan’s daily or weekly training routine? Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility, do you also do weight training?
I don’t do too much with weights. My biggest thing as far as training is just rolling on the mat. A lot of times, I’ll just line of twenty guys in my dojo to roll with, and they’re usually younger than me and coming from all different levels of experience. I really like that, because I’m passing on my knowledge to all of them.
Most definitely. On that note, what sort of diet do you follow? What are some foods that really help keep your energy levels high? Do you take supplements?
It depends a lot on what you have in your blood. If you’re training for a fight, you want to keep the carbs to a minimum. My son competes, and he’s sort of become my dietitian today. I’ve never taken supplements, even in my fighting days. I see a lot of the younger fighters today taking all kinds of stuff now so maybe they know something I didn’t. (Laughs)
Would be good to know if they really work. What’s the most serious injury you’ve ever experienced and how did you work around it?
I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced any serious injury even though I’ve been training since I was five. Probably the worst injury I’ve ever experienced was when I herniated my back a few years ago, and you can’t really do anything on back injuries except rest and let your body heal. Once in a while, I’ll get a little back strain now and then, but nothing too painful.
Appreciate the insight. Well, moving into fun and leisure now, what are some of your hobbies outside of martial arts?
I really just love spending time with my family, I love my family more than anything in this world. I also love electronics. If I see a new watch or computer on the market, I grab it right away, and I tease Gene about it! (Both laugh)
Wonderful! So what’s an example of Gokor’s personal favourite martial arts film?
I like a lot of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s movies, especially “Bloodsport”. That’s one of my favourites of his.
“Bloodsport” is a cult classic, no doubt! If you could be a superhero or have a particular superpower, what would it be?
I’d want to be Superman, I’d love to be able to fly!
Popular choice! What kind of music do you like?
I like old slow music and classical music. I listen to a lot of classical when I drive, and I think a lot more people should. Everybody seems to want to listen to music that’s makes them want to kill each other with their car!
Favourite movies (non-martial arts)
I love sci-fi movies. They seem to predict the future of technology a lot of times. I remember as a kid hearing that TV’s in the future would be able to hang on your wall like a painting, and I thought that was crazy at the time, because TV’s back then were like furniture, but of course, now people hang TV’s on their walls just like pictures. So probably, a lot of the technology we see in sci-fi movies today will be real in the next twenty or thirty years.
Well said, and we can do almost anything on our smartphones these days! So, what are some things in life that you really:
Like? I like people who treat other with respect and offer them help and encouragement.
Dislike? The opposite, I don’t like people who are mean to others and really try to put them down and people who commit violence on other people.
Totally agreed. So, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
I’m proudest of my two sons. They’re both grown now and they’ve both competed and won many competitions. My oldest son also teaches at my dojo. I’m also very proud of all of my students who have gone on to compete, as well.
You absolutely should be, great legacy. So, what are you really keen to accomplish in the next five years?
I just want to keep training more fighters in my dojo and doing what I’ve been doing. I feel very blessed to have done what I’ve done so far, so I just want to keep at it.
Great to be living the life you want! What piece of warrior wisdom would you like to leave for Kung Fu Kingdom readers, and your students, fans and followers around the world right now?
Every person on the planet, if they find the right sport, will become a champion if they train hard and dedicate themselves to it.
Superb note to end on. Well, as we prepare to sign off, where’s the best place for readers to find out more about you?
The best place is my website: Gokor.com
Fantastic. Thank you so much for the pleasure of this interview, Gokor. It’s been an honour.
You’re welcome, it’s a pleasure to be here on Kung Fu Kingdom!