As part of our Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist coverage, today we come to our interview with Mike Moh who plays the most famous character in the fighting game genre, the silent, humble and smoulderingly introspective Ryu! He’s worked with the likes of Jackie Chan, Matt Mullins and many others and has gained wide exposure starring in TV series such a “Kamen Rider” and “Supah Ninjas”.
He’s also a 4th dan Taekwondo instructor and is committed to teaching adults and kids and making a difference, he’s a lively and sincerely likable guy which makes learning from him a lot of fun. We were intrigued to learn about the drive, dedication and training to make his part in SFAF possible. We also get the full ‘Ryu workout’! Get ready to see this legendary arcade character come to life and get tuned into SFAF which is released today!
Hi Mike! When were you born and where?
Hi Raj! I was born on the 19th of August 1983 in Atlanta, USA.
What is your height and weight?
I’m 5’ 9” (1.76m) tall and weigh 168lbs (76kg).
How did you first get into the martial arts? How old were you?
Well even as a youngster I was into video games, Power Rangers and huge into the Ninja Turtles, I had so many of those figures and would re-enact battles with them!
At about 12 years old I started my first class in a Taekwondo studio close by -I convinced my mom to let me take classes and from that moment of being in the dojang I was hooked. Every hour it was open, I would be there. My mom would drop me off after school and pick me up at end of the night. I was there training all the time, getting my black belt pretty quickly, in under 2 years, that’s quite unusual to have by that age. I also played baseball and soccer, I was OK at those, but when I started with taekwondo, I got really passionate about it and stuck with it.
What was the first main style you trained in and what other styles have you trained in?
I haven’t really formally trained in anything else. Taekwondo is my base and fortunately, through knowing many in the industry, I’ve been able to mix with others and pick up new skills and generally do as Bruce Lee said, “adapt what is useful and reject what is useless”, for my own practice.
Which figures in the martial arts have most inspired and influenced you until now?
That’s a tough question! It’s the people I look up to, my dad, he sparked a lot of interested in me. He got his black belt in the Korean army back in the day and he was an instructor of other soldiers, so that was a good bond with my dad and connection with my Korean culture, so helped me find that passion.
Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. When I first saw “Rumble in The Bronx”, a light bulb went off in my head -that was what I wanted to do; be funny, be an entertainer while showing the ninja moves and martial arts ability. That’s why Jackie Chan has been so successful, he wasn’t just doing straight action, he was doing comedy, being an entertainer, that really drew me to him.
Then there’s Master Dave Niska, (now 6th dan) my first and only real instructor, I trained with him for about 3 years. My wife’s mom was also one of my instructors, and she helped me out in the path of entertainment, helping me believe I could do movies. Also, Mike Chat, (renowned for his XMA –Xtreme Martial Arts) was really influential in bringing me out to Hollywood and getting me my first role with Jackie Chan. Another guy called Taekwon Lee, (yes, that’s really his name!) the son of one of the great Korean Taekwondo masters: Grand Master HU Lee, who was the founder of the ATA (American Taekwondo Association of North America). The ATA is possibly the largest martial arts organisation in the world as they have the most schools and members under the same umbrella of training systems, he gave me a lot of good advice also helped me get onto the right path.
How did you first become involved in doing martial arts on film?
It was in 2006, I was teaching full time as the head instructor in Minnesota while I was still in college. I was teaching 6 days a week for 5 to 6 hours a day under the ATA (American Taekwondo Association). We were also part of the world demonstration team and travelled around doing demonstrations, that’s how I met Mike Chat. Some contacts he knew in Hong Kong were asking him if he knew any Asian/American action guys and I was mentioned. I sent off a movie reel by 11pm that same day and within two weeks, I was on my way to Hong Kong along (with another selected guy called Brendan). Young, super green, and off to fight with the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, (JCST) it was pretty surreal!
Your first role was in Jackie Chan’s “Rob-B-Hood” (2006), what do you remember about that?
That was a whirlwind, lots of things stood out for me there! The second day we got there, Mike Chat had me and Brendan in front of Jackie’s HQ on the rubberised playground floor, practicing our stunt falls to get ready. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, then we were brought to set to meet all the stunt guys. Jackie is really humble and really hard working in between takes he’s sweeping the floor, you don’t see that happen in America. He cares about the productions and all the people involved, even during lunch break he’d be sitting on the floor sharing his chicken with us! He actually spoke to me pretty well in Korean reminiscing over his many trips there and what he likes about Korean women so it was a good bonding experience.
You’ve also appeared on the show “Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight”, can you relate some of your experiences?
I got married shortly after the adventure with Jackie Chan and moved to LA. I didn’t have much money so stayed with her family, then 3 months later, I landed the role on “Kamen Rider”.
It was good for me because it was nationally broadcast so, going from basically nothing, (aside from the project with Jackie) to becoming a recurring guest star on a TV show was pretty awesome. It gave me a lot of confidence and taught me a lot about the business; you learn a lot being thrown straight in at the deep end!
Kamen Rider was mostly an acting, but they wanted actors who could also do the fight scenes. I did a big fight scene with one of the leads of the show, Matt Mullins as well as a few other scenes. I was in about 18-19 out of the 40 episode series so it was cool getting more acting experience under my belt. I also got a chance to work with Mark Dacascos as he had a role on the show and that was really fun since being a fan of his from the days of “Only The Strong” (his capoeira movie) and growing up seeing him in “Double Dragon” and “Drive” etc, Mark is so physically fit, tough, in great shape and able-bodied, he’s still doing huge back tucks and tricks and I got to thinking ‘I’d love to be able to still do all those things when I get to his age!’
You’ve also appeared on the action-comedy superhero series “Supah Ninjas”, can you tell us about that experience?
Yes! My first foray into a strictly stuntman role. It was a low budget show on Nickelodeon which had some really great fights. My aim was to be an actor not a stuntman per se; I think there are so many talented people out there that it’s hard to be both the best stuntman and best actor as they’re almost two separate paths. One doesn’t necessarily help the other. So I decided to focus on acting while keeping my martial arts skills as sharp as possible. I was approached by the stunt coordinator as I was a good match for the lead actor, and asked if I would be interested in working on the full run of the show, as a stunt double and in various other roles too. I thought it would be a great experience as a stuntman, and the crew were all great. Out of all the things I’ve done, it was the most physically and mentally challenging; I learned the most about myself. After the show, I kicked it up a notch in order to stay ready on all fronts! Being a stuntman takes its toll on the body as you’re taking all the hits on all the big fights, experiencing non-stop soreness, time pressure, doing rehearsals, and prepping for the next week’s fights in the same week. Four months in Pittsburgh over summer was tough!
Now onto Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, how did you become involved to play the role of Ryu?
I got a message from Joey via Facebook. Fans were being asked who would be a good suggestion to play Ryu and one of the fans had posted a photo of me, I think that was a catalyst. Then I met with Joey and producer Jacqueline Quella in LA over coffee and I had a weight training session with Joey. He said I’d definitely need to bulk up and he gave me some pointers explaining what I’d need to eat and the types of workouts I’d be doing. I started training even though I hadn’t secured the role. Then he said I’d need to tape a couple of scenes he was asking me to perform and send them through. I recall sending it to Joey and being so nervous about whether I did it well enough or not –it was a big deal for me to be potentially playing Ryu -a character which I grew up playing on the video game! Anyway, I did the whole video again in the middle of the night with my wife and sent it through again, two weeks later I heard I got the role -I freaked out!
Describe the experience of portraying such a beloved and iconic character in the world of martial arts and video gaming as Ryu. Had you been a “Street Fighter” fan previously?
I’ve been a long time fan for sure, (hard to keep up with all the versions sometimes though) and for example, I remember buying Street Fighter on the Nintendo when it first came out and played it a lot!
What can fans expect from SFAF, how will it be different from the previous two big screen adaptations?
I saw the original one again recently after filming on SFAF was done and it gave me a renewed appreciation in that I can see where it’s got appeal, because it was funny, ridiculous and entertaining in its own way while at the same time, trying hard to be Street Fighter. I don’t consider the “The Legend of Chun Li” to be a Street Fighter film at all. That’s an original script that was retrofitted with some of the characters as best they could. The Street Fighter we’ve shot is Street Fighter to the core. Love it or hate it, I don’t think anyone can say it’s not Street Fighter, the essence of the games is all there. Even those who aren’t Street Fighter fans will find something about the series to enjoy, so if you like action and video games, my gut feeling is it’ll go down well.
What kind of physical preparation was involved to pack on the extra muscle for the role of Ryu?
Basically, I would be in the gym 6 days a week keeping my workouts to an hour each. If you try to do too much, there is the risk of overtraining to the point where muscles don’t grow. I had to be really disciplined. I would do the minimum needed to get my joints warmed up to avoid injury. It was lots of high weight and low rep training, with little rest in between sets. The aim was to widen my frame and to shock my body into growth by lifting heavy weight from the ground, so I’d do powerlifting exercises like deadlifts, squats and shoulder presses which I never did before. Those are the exercises that put the most stress on your body.
In between the workouts I would eat as many meals as possible taking in at least 3,000-4,000 calories per day. For a few months, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, to drink down some of those gross mass-gainer shakes. I couldn’t afford to go a full eight hour sleep without taking in calories; I must have gone through seven to eight of those huge containers! So, the eating part, for a body type like mine was pretty hard for me!
Were you asked to do any complex or difficult physical moves, if so what?
There wasn’t anything in particular that I wasn’t ready for. I was training my tricks to make sure I could do the Tatsumakis, flips, front and back somersaults, though my body was heavier. The biggest challenge was knowing I was doing my own fights and stunts with no back up in terms of a stunt double. That same pressure was there for all the main actors. Just pushing through some nagging injuries that I had sustained was tough but knowing there was no other option helped me focus as we wouldn’t be getting another shot at this.
In SFAF, much of the deeper aspects of training are covered like never before, can you give us your views on this esoteric side?
I think it’s really interesting (like the video Joey and Chris did on the science of Hado). It seems impossible to ground something like “Street Fighter” in the real world, but SFAF has done a good job of making that mystical power (a power based on how you use it) as real as possible. To do the Hadoukens, Shoryokens and Tatsumakis you’ll notice how much character development goes into it. This series also goes a fair bit into the yin/yang, light/dark philosophy. I think the human body has a huge amount of potential that, to this day has not yet been unlocked. Who knows what humans will be able to do a hundred years from now, just look at how we’ve evolved.
What was it like working with:
Co-star Christian Howard who plays Ken?
There are so many stories, we hit it off real quick and have a lot in common and a similar sense of humour. Ken Masters is the outgoing playboy type, and Ryu the quiet introvert but when the cameras are not rolling, the roles kinda flip! Then, I’m the boisterous crazy guy while Chris is more contained and bashful. We must have stuck out like sore thumbs in Bulgaria; we must have appeared to others like a zoo!
Akira Koieyama playing Master Gouken?
He’s a kindred spirit, wise and experienced, a big kid at heart that really likes joking around. I recall when Akira showed up for training in rainbow shorts! He’s so positive, and easy to be around.
Director Joey Ansah?
He’s like a brother to me. I appreciate all the struggles he’s been through to get to this stage, all the stories of rejection, the trials, the pains…I’m impressed at how he’s been able to bear the responsibility and handle all the pressure. Even in Bulgaria, he was directing, preparing as Akuma, choreographing fights and managing the fight team. His brain was always going. He had the vision, he could see things that I wasn’t able to. He instilled the belief in me that I was going to be Ryu whereas initially, I wasn’t so confident. Joey made me believe and lit that fire under me, he got me passionate about it all.
What was your favourite fight scene in the movie?
Well, there is a big fight with Ken where we lay it all on the line, we got the last shot (there would have been no second chance for it) just before the sun went down so it was a pretty emotionally charged!
After the first season of SFAF series releases what happens next moving forwards, your thoughts?
We have aspirations and dreams, ideally have a major studio back us. Hopefully if we get more funding we’ll be able to do more and better without the budget restrictions -Joey and Chris did an amazing job, going up against some movies with ten times the budget! I hope the same core team can get together again and hopefully we’ve done a good enough job that the film is recognised. Hopefully I get to be part of it again, there is so much potential for the series!
Moving forward now, which other martial artists/actors would you most like to work with?
I’d love to work with Donnie Yen (before he retires), Scott Adkins and Gareth Evans and his team. If I get to work with Joey and Chris again, that would be awesome too!
Can you tell us your top 10 martial arts movies?
- Rumble in The Bronx
- The Matrix
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- Best of The Best
- The Karate Kid (original)
- Flash Point
- Undisputed 2
- Drunken Master 2
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (original)
What is a typical workout for you, is it mostly martial arts/flexibility training, and do you combine that with weights? Can you give us the’ Ryu workout’?
After years and years of training yes, it’s what I’m strongest at. A lot of my workouts also cover MMA moves because that’s what I believe action movies are gravitating towards. So you’ll have the awesome taekwondo kicks, yet incorporate MMA that looks realistic. Donnie Yen was way ahead of his time with “Flash Point” showing some of that MMA. I’ve actually been focussing on weights too, so building my physique while maintaining my martial arts skills side by side. The older you get, the harder it is to maintain the acrobatic stuff -it’s a lot of hard work. So these days, it’s about smarter training, training the right way, safely.
For Ryu, the workout was one day dedicated purely to deadlifts and squats, another to chest and triceps and another to back and biceps. To build deltoids (shoulders) and pack as much muscle there as possible, there would also be a day dedicated to shoulders, along with the sweet spots, abs, calves and forearms. For wide shoulders, I do wide grip lat pull downs, and lots of weighted pull ups! To build a physique like Joey, Chris or Scott Adkins it takes years of work, it doesn’t just happen in a few months!
What advice would you give to other aspiring martial artists who are keen to show what they can do in movies?
I’d really encourage martial artists that it’s not about the flashy stuff, though having that is good. You need to have the proper techniques. You’ve got to be able to perform your techniques with the proper body position and make it strong otherwise nothing else you do will be believable. Even with something as ordinary as a sidekick, it’s all about the basics. Be so good at those that no one can criticise you. After that, you keep building up your skills and become more advanced. Without proper foundations consisting of basic stances, kicks and punches you won’t be able to throw the advanced moves and if you do, it’ll probably be with bad technique and that’s where you’re likely to get injured.
What are some of your favourite moves that you love performing?
My favourite is the 720 degree hook kick. I like hook kicks in general or any variation of it.
What’s the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?
In a scene of an indie-drama movie I did called “Where the Road Meets The Sun”. I had been thinking of walking away from this dangerous move but I did it anyhow: one of the actors picked me up by the neck, lifting me up as high as he could before smashing me through a car windshield. It wasn’t even stock stunt glass, but the real thing! Fortunately, I just sustained a few cuts although I ripped-up my expensive jacket!
What was your most serious injury, how did you work around it?
On “Supah Ninjas”, I had a pretty innocent gash on inside my knee, but when you pair that with wearing Spandex and being sweaty, well it turned into a badly infected wound and was annoying as I had to really care for it during the run of the show -it was pretty messy for my leg! On SFAF the day before shooting I woke up with a severely sprained ankle. Luckily it got progressively better each day, I had enough adrenalin to help me deal with the pain. I did use Tiger Balm, ice, wraps and Ibuprofen as there was a lot of running bare foot in the forest which was quite tough – I guess we should ask Dhalsim for the official “Street Fighter “medicine! Overall, I’ve been lucky not to have had many serious injuries and not overdoing it, so there’s some luck there.
What do you like to do to recover from a particularly strenuous period of physical activity? What do you recommend for those leading an especially physical and demanding lifestyle?
Enjoying my family. I have my own two kids, and they keep me humble and grounded so I focus on doing my best for them. I care about what I do as a father first and foremost, which in turn helps me in my career as well and keeps my life in good perspective. I’m also really passionate about teaching martial arts to kids and look forward to doing that full time.
Will you teach your own kids martial arts early on then?
I won’t force them into it but my hope is that they gravitate to it naturally and that they’ll enjoy it enough at least up until 1st dan level! (laughs) I would support them to be able to excel in something they want to excel in.
What kind of diet do you follow?
In preparation for SFAF, it was about eating a lot, now I don’t have the time to eat so much! When you’re going to the gym working out 6 days a week, you realise how much work it takes to transform your body. I still workout hard to keep up my strength and primed and ready for whatever opportunities come up. So I eat high protein, limited carbohydrates and even though I have a big sweet tooth, I’ve been doing well to keep away from the candies! I have a crazy green shake, 3 to 4 times a week with kale and spinach, which looks disgusting but actually tastes pretty good!
Which foods keep you energised and at your best?
I love fruits, I always have bananas and oranges around. My pre-workout supplements include a mix of B vitamins and caffeine formulated to kick your body into high gear.
What’s one geeky thing that people don’t really know about you?
In high school, I was in the choir, I like singing really annoying pop songs. I’m also a big fan of musical theatre, so they go hand in hand!
If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to possess?
From a power standpoint, Superman, and for the lifestyle, Ironman! 😉
What do you like doing to relax, any hobbies?
Now that I’ve got kids, I can’t play as much video games as I used to, but when possible I like to fire up the XBOX. I like to play the guitar once in a while, and edit movies of I’ve taken of the family.
Favourite music – Jason Mraz, now, it’s more Disney soundtracks, because of my kids! (laughs)
What in life do you really:
Like? The ability to do what you want, live developed in countries, pursue a dream experience with a lot fantastic things on the way.
Dislike? Negative people, bigots and racists, that makes me sad. I think there’s no place for that in this day and age.
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
Other than being a husband and father it would have to be being Ryu in SFAF! (laughs)
What are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?
If I could choose, I’d have a really successful martial arts studio and the ability to pick and choose 1-2 acting/action projects per year.
What advice would you give to a beginner who is considering taking-up a martial art?
Find a school that is close to home and has a solid instructor teaching there. It must have a proper teacher that’s qualified and positive, someone who can motivate you not just in the arts but also outside the studio, I think that’s a great asset. I felt I found the right art for me so never really needed to look for others, but I can and I’m also looking forward to get into jujitsu and take arts like Shotokan, Kyokushin and other hard style karate systems further.
One that’s local to them, with a good instructor, any martial arts you can learn from a positive qualified teacher. TKD was perfect for me, want to get into Jujitsu.
What special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world?
I’d like to say thanks so very much for reading this interview and if anything I’ve said motivates you a step toward your goal, I’d say just go do it. Thanks for allowing people like us doing SFAF, a chance to showcase our passion and our skills!
Which warrior-wisdom quotes have shaped you up to this point, have moulded you into who you are today?
My thought when I wake up in the morning , is can I end the day being a more advanced human being than I was when I woke up. Carpe diem ! Seize the day! Take every day and use it to invest in yourself to make yourself a better person.
If people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?
They can find me on:
Thank you Mike for generously sharing such a wealth of insight with us, it’s been awesome hearing about all this from you directly. We wish you and the SFAF team phenomenal success with the movie which drops today!
Thanks, you’re totally welcome and I had a really great time speaking with you Raj!