We’re proud to present an interview with Dutch martial artist Ron Smoorenburg.
He has worked with some of the best martial artists and on screen fighters in the world from Jackie Chan to Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen and many more!
He is a 4th dan fighter himself with well over a decade of action-movie and stunt-acting experience.
In this surprisingly lucid and revealing interview, Ron gives us an exclusive, behind the scenes view of his life in stunts – a graphic look at the reality and cost of being a stunt player, training, his latest projects and a peak into the man that is…Ron Smoorenburg!
Hi Ron, it’s wonderful to greet you!
Hi! Great to meet you too!
So, let’s start by asking, where do you come from and what are your physical stats?
I come from a place called Nieuwegein in the Netherlands. It’s a small town near Utrecht, the biggest city. This place hasn’t got much going on but there are a lot of sports facilities, a lot of fields for training outdoors, which is a good thing! I’m 188 cm tall and currently I’m 100 kilos.
How old were you when you started training in martial arts and what sparked your interest?
I was seven. I did judo first and later, karate, after seeing The Karate Kid. Of course, action wise it’s not that special but the story impressed me and some Jackie Chan movies. The Young Master with Jackie and Hwang In-Shik impressed me a lot. There was quite a lot of kicking and leg holding there at the end of that movie.
Then, Jean-Claude Van-Damme and Bloodsport came out and I was crazy about that movie! I played that movie so much that the sound wore out on my old VHS tape, haha! Jean-Claude Van-Damme was big for me, I respect him a lot. I worked on Full Love with him, it was just a small fight scene, but for me it was an honour to do that, because it was actually a dream of mine to work with Van-Damme one day! That was a few years back when he was in Bangkok. I live in Bangkok now.
You started out with judo and then what did you do?
Then I did karate when I was eleven, it was not 100% full contact but I did some tournaments with that. My teacher was very open-minded and we did some demos. They held the next European tournament for karate in Holland where you could show these forms. So actually it was a good thing, I appeared on TV, did some demos and videos and so on.
So basically your background has been judo and karate, did you practice any other styles?
Yes, when I was seventeen there was something in the newspaper about free fighting. It had just started. It’s like the MMA of today. I’m from Holland and we have a lot of good fighters there, so they started an experiment with wrestling, karate and kickboxing to mix it up. There was a sport called Baruchai and that’s what they started with. It’s like the first kind of free fight developments in Holland and I started to join in with those people. They were quite advanced people, like black belts in judo, black belts in karate, quite good fighters and they were all fighting each other and developing the system. Yes then they became RINGS Holland, that’s still there now, RINGS Holland with Chris Dolman. This is from the early days. It was full contact. But at that time I had my black belt in karate and the teachers thought I was showing-off a bit with the kicks and stuff. I was really punished in the first lesson and my teacher thought I would never come back because he almost knocked me out! Anyhow I stuck with it and also got my black belt in it around sixteen years old.
You mentioned something about break-dancing before, even for a tall person like yourself? Tell us about that.
Yes actually, Donnie Yen was the first one who used that for a TV series, he saw those moves and he said, ‘OK I want to do something with that in The Puma TV series!’ He let me do things like spin on the hands upside down, some windmills, some flares to kick a table for instance. That is in my showreel too. So, it was quite experimental. That’s the good thing about Donnie Yen. He’s willing to try new things and experiment.
Who else have you worked with in the martial arts/kung-fu movie industry?
Aside from Van-Damme and Donnie Yen, there’s Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, there are those, then some more connected with Hollywood-ish movies, a bit like what Gary Daniels did.
Yes we’re a huge fan of Gary!
He’s a very nice guy. Sometimes we meet and have a coffee in Bangkok. Sometimes he’s coming here to make movies, he recently finished a few projects here. I think he’s now 50 maybe, but he still looks great for his age. He’s a great guy and he’s really down to earth.
So tell us, what was it like working with Jackie Chan?
Yes, I was in the end fight of “Who Am I?” Now Jackie Chan is very professional, he knows exactly what he wants. He’s very demanding, it’s very hard actually. The stuntmen are scared of him. There was a stuntman there who said, ‘Ron if you’re scared of him, don’t worry I worked with him for fifty years and I’m still nervous!’ So I was training in the toilets while they were eating! I did those demo fights and I did the highest kick although I did this when I was young, working with Jackie you know, the level’s so high. I had to adapt very quickly. That’s why you see Jackie kind of angry with me in “Jackie Chan My Stunts”. Well, that’s not 100% how it went, it’s a little biased and exaggerated. But that’s fine, it was my first movie and I’m very thankful to Jackie. I was still able to do a lot of things there. But working with Jackie is like winning the lottery!
For “Who Am I?” it looked like a pretty intense, prolonged fight scene.
Yes! Including the other fighters in the scene, the whole thing took three and a half weeks to shoot.
What kind of injuries were there?
Jackie Chan once fell on an iron bar and I kicked his hip once. He actually asked me to, he said, ‘you have to kick me!’ (I didn’t want to hit him) he said, ‘more power!’ so finally, I did it and then he was annoyed for a little while!
He said he was scared of me, because you can see in My Stunts, when I approach him, he says, ‘stay in your place!’ I know exactly how to place a kick because I always practice leg holding so I never would hit him in the face. But I came with some convincing power forward and he said he got scared and confused by it. He didn’t want that. So that’s why he was frustrated. I really came at him but without touching a hair.
So, it looked very aggressive and threatening to him, because he wasn’t used to that type of combination coming toward him?
Right and I was quite tall and I always put quite a lot of power into what I do and some speed in the kicks and maybe he thought I didn’t have the control, but it worked out at the end. He was very happy, he said I was the best of twenty guys doing auditions for this part. He said if I gain more experience I could really make it in the martial arts industry. But he said I need to do more then I could be really good, so I was a rookie! I never did a movie before. It was quite a risk for him to take me.
These are fascinating insights into the world of movie stunts. While we’re here, what advice would you give to stuntmen, or anyone who has a physically intense role to play?
You’ve got to be careful, when doing stunts, never be too tired when you do the crazy stuff. When you do flips or special kicks never be too tired…you’ve just got to be careful. You know, I broke my ankles. It sounds like when you break a chicken bone! The last time I tried to do a helicopter kick with two rotations, the spin was fast and my foot landed on the mat softly and I kept rotating then …BREAK! I had surgery on them and I didn’t do anything for a year and then the first kick I did afterward caused problems. I’m lucky though I can still do a lot of fighting.
So what was it like working with Donnie, can you recall some of your experiences?
It’s hard work! When he’s looking for you, you’ve got to be there and be reliable. He’s amazing, a real personality, he’s demanding but in a good way. I can absolutely understand why he won so many awards in Hong Kong. He learned a lot from Woo-Ping, (he’s called him his master) yet he also wanted to do his own thing. Donnie Yen’s so fast and he knows exactly what he wants. There are three cameras and he says, ‘OK this is the wide shot, that the medium and that the close’. That’s how he talks. We did a big fight scene in about one and half hours with a lot of angles!
A lot of people say, besides Bruce Lee, that he has among the fastest kicks in the industry. What do you think?
Yes, we did some training and he’s a really fast kicker! He can do four kicks in one jump, he can do a lot of jump kicks. Of course he can do all those kicks like a good Taekwondo athlete. Nice drop kicks and back kicks. He’s good at that! But, he’s also really fast with his hands. He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever worked with!
Lightening fast, maybe we should call him Lightening Yen! You also worked with Tony Jaa on Tom Yum Goong (aka The Protector) what would you like to share with us?
At first they made a joke about it, because initially I said, ‘I want to fight Tony Jaa in the movie!’ They said ‘No way he’ll hurt you!’ I said, ‘No way he’s not going to hurt me, he’s smaller than me I can take a hit!’. But yes, in truth, his kicks are crazy! He really did hurt me, but it was worth it! In the end fight scene where he takes on lots of fighters dressed in black, I appear as one of them and he kicks me in the face, as a result I lost some teeth! Yet I was happy, because I was so honoured to work with him! I’ve earned my “stunt tattoo”, my stunt souvenir by working with Jaa, haha!
Apart from kicking you that way, did he do anything else to you?
He hit me in the stomach a few times, even if you held your breath you could still feel it. It’s like he’s kicking through your whole body. He has a lot of power, he’s a powerful guy!
His personality doesn’t seem aggressive at all, but as a fighter, yeah…he’s really tough. It’s a real contrast, but even after that, even if he kicked your teeth out, he does this Thai or Indian kind of greeting, where he presses his palms together by way of saying sorry. I’ve never seen a guy like Tony Jaa. Even between the shots, he did a lot of chops, handstands and splits. I’d compare him somewhat to Bruce Lee!
Can you tell us anything about any latest projects you’re working on now?
Yes, sure! I’m working on one called Last Fighter and it’s my own film. It’s quite a ‘big’ movie where the main theme of the movie is all about the biggest enemy. It’s not just about the enemy in the ring you have to beat, it’s all the people around you, society and whatever influences you in preparing for those fights. So, I believe it has a message that teaches and touches people.
If there’s one movie you can compare it with it’s Warrior. But that’s still very different to what I’m developing. I have access to some amazing fighters because I have built very good contacts with people I can trust. The movie business is a mine field, if you touch the wrong people and you step on one of those mines it’s probably game over! The business is nice but also corrupt and political. I 100% don’t get involved in politics and don’t manipulate things. If you take it too seriously you will stop. You have to be kind of positive all the time!
Have you worked with any martial-arts femmes, like Michelle Yeoh or Cynthia Rothrock?
I’ve been in touch with Cynthia before. Michelle Yeoh some years back when I went to Cannes and they were thinking of putting me in the movie The Touch, didn’t happen though. But, yes I met people like Sharon Stone and a lot of Hong Kong actresses like Amanda Lee and Bey Logan’s favourite, Maggie Q!
Tell us something about your Indian (Bollywood) projects. What’s going on there?
Yes! There’s a recent movie called Oosarvelli in which I feature. It’s an Indian movie and I was one of the bad guys there. Who am I? is quite well known in India. They recognised me and then they hooked me up with a director and that was quite a big movie, I had quite a big fight in that one! So far I’ve done a bunch of Indian movies, 12 – 15 of them. But a lot of stuff also in Thailand. One has just been released and there’s also Dhada, I’m on one of the covers!
Are you playing a bad guy in all of these Bollywood movies?
Yes, I’m a bad guy in them all!
Onto training if we may, can you tell us what kind of workouts you do these days, does it include weight training?
Well, I did weight training more before and I became a bit bigger. But, it was standing in the way of my speed. In everything I do, I love to use my body like break dancers do. Those guys are so strong, there’s natural power, there’s so much body control, I prefer to be like that.
Any special training tips that you can give?
Yes. Some people ask me for stretching and kicking advice. For kicking you have three elements. There’s flexibility, leg holding and speed, you have to do kicks. For example, kick as fast you can. A front kick and fifteen round kicks as fast as you can. Now if one of those elements is missing the kick looks sloppy or will be too slow. But those combined in one training session, it gives you really good kicks. As for stretching, I actually taught about fifty people the splits including children. All those people were pretty stiff but they made progress. With some people it takes longer but they can still be taught well. If you stay in the splits or even upside down against a wall for half an hour then the body gets used to it and you slowly stretch out. It’s not like a shock state. It’s rather like being an elastic band and that works so much faster!
So that’s like using gravity to make it natural instead of forcing it?
Right! Lie down with your backside against the wall your back on the floor and your legs up and spread them as you try to meditate or relax, the longer the better!
How long will it take to do the splits?
It really depends on the person but with effort, three to six months.
Any advice on nutrition, what kind of food do you eat?
In the day I eat a lot of protein stuff. Before, I was on a protein diet and my face became skinny. I got bigger but leaner and started to look sick like a monster! You need a bit of fat to burn.
I also like to drink herbal tea, my bad habit is coffee when I work in the night, as it keeps my metabolism going. Sometimes I snack on nuts in between and yoghurt. I myself eat a lot of meat. I’m more like a tiger I think! In Thailand sometimes you have these recipes with only the pork fat, the white stuff and that’s so fatty you can’t swallow it!
A lot of Thai people are Buddhist, so, are they vegetarian?
Some, but I think in India more. There was even vegetarian water on the plane! I enquired, ‘are there animals in the water or what?’ The air hostess said no, but it’s better because then we sell more! No joke! Vegetarian water…! I think the brand name is Ava or something.
OMG! Why, that’s ridiculous! Ron, can you tell us what are your all-time top five Kung-fu or martial arts movies?
Sure! Number one, Bloodsport, a little bit strange maybe but I’m of that generation! Number two Drunken Master 2, Number three The Young Master then Rocky IV because of the challenge with Dolph Lundgren, the story just gave me inspiration. Number five, Secret Rivals 2, great movie with Hwang Jang Lee!
Do you have a special message for readers of Kung-fu Kingdom and your fans out there?
Please follow your dream, there’s no limit! Don’t disappear into mere safety…make your life an adventure…! If you do what you’re good at, be it art, music, or whatever, then you stand out. Then you will have enough resources to keep doing it, but you really have to believe in it.
If you dream of playing in action movies make a demo fight with your friends for fun. Just work on that and make a show reel. Because I know people who started with demo reels on YouTube and they ended up in the movies!
What’s the best piece of warrior wisdom you could share with us?
The real hero is not a hero when he wins just one time. A real hero is a hero who falls and stands up. He gets hit and stands-up again and again after every hit. That’s the real hero, the real fighter. If you really stick with it you can’t be beaten no matter what, it’s a ‘Rocky’ kind of feeling, you just keep going!
Definitely sounds like making some KFK (Kung-fu Karma)!
Indeed! You’ve got to live your own life and if you can share a vision or a dream with someone, then you’re happier and you have freedom it’s the best thing you can give your relationship. If you give that, your wife will wake up happy every day and be happier as a result.
That’s a very good tip, it could help prevent divorce!
The more freedom you give to your girl the more she will always come back to you at moments you don’t expect it telling you she loves you because she can really be herself!
We’ve covered a lot of areas Ron, from stunts to movies, lifestyle and your own reflections on life! We really appreciate your kind participation in this interview. It has been a pleasure and certainly an eye-opener!
Hopefully Raj, some readers may be inspired enough to shoot for their dreams!
Hope so too. Please keep us updated on your latest activities! Thanks again!
Pleasure is mine, I’ll be glad to. Thank you!