In the action-movie industry Brahim Achabbakhe is making a real name for himself as a credible and reliable performer. Having worked with the likes of Yuen Woo-Ping, Tony Jaa’s mentor, Panna Rittikrai, Jean-Claude Van-Damme, Gary Daniels, Keanu Reeves and more, he brings an extraordinary passion, talent and creativity to the table with some incredible, truly jaw-dropping manoeuvres!
We checked-in with him for an intriguing view into the world of extreme “tricking” martial-arts, stunts, movies and the evolution of this dynamic, stylish, no-holds barred performer!
Hi Brahim, thanks for taking time-out to speak with us!
No problem Raj, really my pleasure!
Let’s start off with the basics, when were you born and where, and a little family background.
I was born on 17th May 1984 so I’m 28 now and I was born in a small city next to Paris, called Beaumont in France.
My parents are originally from Morocco. They emigrated from Morocco to France when they were in their early twenties.
So, tell us how you got started training in the martial arts, how old were you?
Brahim I started training in the martial arts, at 14 years old and it was completely by accident! I didn’t learn martial-arts to be able to hit somebody, I just saw a Jackie Chan movie called First Strike, was on cable TV. I watched it and I was like, ‘Wow! That’s what I want to do!’ I was completely amazed at the way Jackie Chan moved along with his blend of acting, comedy and fighting, with no stunt doubles! I wanted to give it a try, so that’s what pushed me to start in the martial-arts!
Then what happened next?
Well, there weren’t that many training facilities around me so I just had to make do with what I had. I had a friend at my school who was doing aikido the Japanese martial art. So I started with that first.
Aikido as your first style? Interesting…
Yes! Aikido involves a lot of locking which is very good for self defence. After that, I had the desire to add some kind of striking so I took up karate as well. So I did four years of both combined, I have a black belt in karate which I consider my basic style.
So you’ve got a solid foundation. I guess when it comes to doing what you do, acrobatics and tricking, there are no gradings as such as exist in traditional martial arts, are here?
True, there isn’t really. You know, the way I started tricking was by accident as well! I was practising karate and my friend asked me if I wanted to go and see a martial-arts tricking tournament, and I thought, well, why not? So I went there and I saw these American competitors do all these flips and falls and I was really amazed! At that time I had to travel for an hour every weekend to Paris just to learn tricking…I just continued tricking and have done for the last twelve years.
Sounds intense! Who was your teacher?
Yes! Well, I was training with a group called Cascade, and I met quite a lot of guys there, that’s where I met Kazu if you know him?
Yes, that’s how I met him; he was a trainer at Cascade, so basically he was one of my first trainers.
Did he inspire you to start doing film work from then?
No not really. We knew each other for quite a long time from Paris anyway so we were quite friendly even from there. Now some of us are doing all this kind of movie work.
Do train in weapons?
In truth, not really! I like weapons, but I don’t think that I’m good enough to be mastering them. Actually in a movie last year, called Dragon Wolf I used a stick in one of the fight scenes. For me I really like hand to hand combat, that’s where I’m really comfortable!
Interesting. So what about your influences, aside from Jackie Chan, would you say your tricking crew?
You know what, I really like Jean-Claude Van-Damme! In my opinion if Van-Damme didn’t make it in movies there would be no MMA. In the movies he introduced all these kinds of helicopter kicks, 360 degree jumping kicks, and leg holding. Van-Damme started all that. I think we owe a lot to him, he opened the door for many foreign guys who wouldn’t otherwise have taken this path. He was quite an inspiration for me!
So he was quite an innovator in that sense and paving the way ahead for westerners.
Exactly, an innovator!
That’s really interesting. Now, a little bit about your movie work in particular. I know you’ve worked with quite a few well-known names in the industry. Can you tell us who?
I worked with Van-Damme on the Eagle Pass. I also doubled him for in a fight scene sequence. I also worked with Kimbo Slice, Ron Kerman, Christian Clark, Michael Bankum, stunt doubled for Kevin Bacon on the movie Elephant White. Recently I was with Yuen
Woo Ping as well.
You mean on The Man of Tai Chi?
We’ll get to that in a moment. Tell us if you may, what was it like working with one of your heroes Van-Damme?
It was actually very lucky for me to get in on that movie! At the time when I went to cast for it back in 2008 I was an unknown compared to the other guys that went to the casting, but one of my good friends called me to go. I went and I showed them my demo reel. A few days later after we had perhaps five castings in a row, we met Jean Claude and he gave us a rough idea of the movie. It was tough, over two hundred cas
ted for it! In the end only me and Ron Smoorenburg got to have a fight scene with Jean-Claude. When you fight with him he demonstrates perfect control. He can kick you right next to your face very fast and it’s perfectly controlled and powerful! He treated us well on the set, he really takes good care of his stunt guys. From my experience I can say he’s genuinely a very good person and I really don’t understand how people can judge him so bad about some of the stuff he did in the past. Still I think that Jean Claude Van Damme is one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with.
We’ve seen the documentary. JCVD: Behind Closed Doors. It really shows him as surprisingly candid, funny, unpretentious, the real man that we don’t normally see!
I saw it yes!
He looks after many dogs from foreign countries where he films. For these dogs left abandoned on the street he gets them treated for illness, vaccinated and takes them to his dog sanctuary in Belgium! How noble is that?
Indeed he’s a very nice guy, very cool. I’m very happy for him and it’s good he’s coming back into the movies!
So, coming back to Man of Tai Chi, what did you have to do there?
Actually Mike Leeder in Hong Kong contacted me at first and asked me for some kicking pictures. Then a few weeks later he told me I was having a part as a taekwondo fighter in Man of Tai Chi! The movie concept is like Fearless (with Jet Li) so basically we have every kind of martial-arts in the movie. We have taekwondo which I do, MMA, boxing, Mongolian wrestling, Shaolin kung-fu, all kinds!
If you ask me if it was demanding. At first I got invited to China to go training with Master Yuen Woo Ping and actually, in my opinion you have to train control in your techniques, to have a good rhythm and tempo! You need to study Hong Kong movies before you go to China to work that’s very important. You need to be very sharp, clean and very extended in your kicks for example. They are very demanding about precision in your movements.
I see! Working with Yuen Woo Ping, did he give you any advice or guidance?
Well, Master Woo Ping, doesn’t speak much English so I spoke via his assistant Didi! Working with them I learned so much about choreography, about how he designs the shot, how the filming is done and so forth, it’s amazing! They are very good at what they are doing. Chinese and Hong Kong stuntmen, are the best in the world! Anyway, this was one of my finest tests, I was really wanting this! When I was young I always told myself I want to work with Master Woo Ping, and I told him that when we met! So when this all happened, I was very happy, it was truly a big honour for me!
So who would you say your top three action directors are right now?
I would say Master Woo Ping, Donnie Yen is very good and I also like Corey Yuen.
Great Brahim, so you’ve worked intensively in Thailand…have you been in touch with people like Panna Rittikrai the master and choreographer behind Tony Jaa’s movies?
Yes, I know Panna, I met him many times and actually did a Korean taekwondo movie called The Kick, I also I worked with his team on Scorpion King 3 and Elephant White. I joined the stunt team for a couple of months. Panna’s stunt team work under the banner of Baa Ram Ewe.
Brahim, exciting stuff! Now, with Tom Yum Goong 2 (aka The Protector 2) coming-up, can you give us your views on Tony Jaa?
Sure. Well, we both like the quality of Hong Kong action. I think Tony Jaa is very good! What Tony Jaa did was take all the craziness from the 80’s and the 90’s movies and portrayed it in Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong which were both mega hits. I really feel that Tony Jaa’s Muay Thai is very powerful, strong and effective.
What was it like interacting with him?
He is a very humble person, very hard working. He deserves what he’s got today because he was a stunt man and stunt double and worked his way up.
He certainly comes across like that! Can you tell us, what was the most difficult stunt scene or sequence you’ve ever done?
Actually I jumped from the 20th floor of a building with just a safety rope. I jumped into the air and grabbed a rope and swung all over the building. That was the most scary one. I also did amovie called Secret Sharer where I did a free fall from the top floor to the lower floor and that was twelve metres with no mats, nothing! The director wanted one shot of the two stunt guys falling down not on mattresses but only on wood so it was quite painful. I specialise in glass breaks, vehicle falls, (in Scorpion King you can see I’m falling down a chariot and horse going at 50kph!) However I can adapt, I’m pretty much an all-round stunt man.
Now to your favourite martial arts movies if we may?
Sure! I like Drunken Master 1 & 2, The Young Master, Wheels on Meals, Dragons Forever and Armour of God starring Jackie Chan, Flashpoint with Donnie Yen, Fist of Legend with Jet Li, also Bloodsport and Lionheart (aka A.W.O.L) with Van-Damme!
Of course, Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever also starred Benny the Jet. We actually had an interview with him recently. We were very happy and honoured to have an interview with Sensei Benny! (That will be coming-up on Kung-fu Kingdom soon.) What do you think about his skills since he’s a real life fighter as well as stunt-actor?
I really think that his skills as implemented into the movies are fantastic, amazing! Many people always say that if you’re a real fighter you cannot do movies, which is not true actually it just depends on oneself. Look how Benny moves, you can see that Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan took exactly the best of him and put it into Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever. For me, Wheels on Meals Jackie Chan’s fight scene is among the best fighting I’ve ever seen, it’s so fast and controlled, can’t fault it!
Now we’re going to delve a little bit more into what you do, as it’s not what everyone does, they punch and kick or do stunts, but you do a lot of very acrobatic wu-shu style moves. Tell us what is your favourite move?
Yes! Well, my favourite move is called the Butterfly Twist Kick, it’s pretty much from wu-shu and I add a round kick into it, that’s my favourite! I like all kinds of kicks like 720 degree and 900 degree…
720 degree rotations can be hard on the knees and ankles so I do them from a height.
Do you need to use a padded gym floor for that or can you do it on a hard wood floor?
I can do it on a hard floor no problem.
What kind of work-outs do you do to keep in top shape?
Basically I train every day, except on Sunday. I train a different part of my body. For weights, using an average amount of weight, for instance on Monday I do chest, Tuesday I do bicep and shoulder, Wednesday I do back, so that’s the main weight training programme. Then there are my work-outs for fighting, flipping and everything else. It depends on my mood and what I want to do. I try to mix a bit of kick boxing training in and work out with some of my friends that I train with includes boxing and fight choreography. I train about two hours a day.
Do you do any particular stretching training to enhance your flexibility?
Yes! I stretch for 30 minutes a day after my gym workouts. I stretch mostly my hamstrings and my lower body to kick high and perform leg holding. Actually I do a lot of leg training and I do that almost every day six days a week.
Sounds both rigorous and vigorous! So now we come across people like Tim Mann and Anis Cheurfa. Are these guys still doing this awesome extreme tricking in the movies now?
Actually Tim Mann is one of my best friends and he’s in the movie called Kill ‘em All where I also have a part and by the way I think the action looks brilliant! He’s a fight choreographer and I believe he has the best chance to become one of the next big action stars. He is very talented, his tricks some of the best I ever saw in my life! He was a mentor when I came to Thailand and he helped me a lot, like a big brother! As far as a martial artist who also does tricking goes Tim Mann is really up there and the guy means business!
We’ve also seen Anis Cheurfa in action and like you has some mind-boggling, gravity-defyingly insane moves! Do you know him?
Anis Cheurfa is a childhood friend of mine actually!
Yes, we started tricking together!
What latest projects do you have in the pipline?
Actually I started to do stunt coordinating and I stunt coordinated one American movie called The Railway Man with Nicole Kidman who was shooting in Thailand. There are some Hollywood opportunities coming-up and something quite special…I will talk about it when I can! I am also filming my own short 25 min film with Kazu Neda directing, whilst I’m action director. It also features Ron Smoorenburg. We have a fight scene together. When it’s done we will put it online. So that’s the latest – putting my own projects together!
A lot to look forward to I’m sure! What kind of food do you eat Brahim, tell me about your nutrition?
Well, eat anything except pork, I don’t have any diet really! I eat Thai food, foreign food, Arab food I eat any kind really!
That’s interesting because most of the martial artists we’ve spoken to all said that they prefer some types of food because it helps them with energy or to recover from a workout and things like that.
Basically my genetics are quite good, I burn a lot of fat I don’t keep fat in my body. I can eat any kind of food, I don’t eat junk food though. I eat rice, chicken, beef, salads etc. I like also yoghurts and all kind of drinks, I must say I do like a lot of watermelon it’s very nice and refreshing banana shakes and strawberries too. They’re good to help recover after a workout. but I never drink alcohol and I don’t smoke. I try to stay healthy but as for food I like to eat a bit of everything!
What’s been your proudest achievement so far as a stuntman, since you started doing all this and, as a person?
I think my biggest achievement is to be able to live from what I am doing to be able to be independent and not to have to do another job, because this is what I’ve been doing, the last five years, stunts, acting roles, stunt doubling, that’s all I’ve been doing! A lot of people tell me that you’re a stuntman you don’t make any money, but I tell you, being a stuntman you make quite good money even if you work in Asia. I don’t need to do anything else. Sometimes I work three or four days a month, but I eat very good, I am able to buy my own clothes and live my own life. I am really free no need to have another job on the side. I’ve proven to my parents to be able to have my own job and not be struggling all the time to have money to survive and all that…
As a person, to live to twenty eight and never get drunk!
Wo! That’s really something! What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a stuntman?
Hard work! You can’t just come here, lift your leg and you’re going to get a job, no, you have to go after the job. Nobody is going to be waiting for you, you have to go and you have to make noise by yourself.
Get out there and get noticed you mean?
That’s very important! You have to get noticed and the most important thing is your reputation. You have to be the kind of person people can trust when they hire you. That’s my advice. I also believe that you have to believe in yourself! I came to Thailand, with nothing but 200 euros in my pocket. With persistence I built a name for myself, now I have everything I need. So you have to believe in yourself, even in the hard times you have to see it like a test, how much do you want it?
What message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world who follow your work?
I would like to say to my fans and readers of Kung-fu Kingdom, thank you for all the support, for believing in me, for sharing what I do with others, and for watching these action movies. Without the viewers we wouldn’t have the opportunity to work and do what we love to do! Thank you for interviewing me and I look forward to tell you about my bigger, bolder future movie parts whilst developing and sharing the best I can possibly do, onscreen!
Awesome! Finally your favourite piece of warrior-wisdom or a favourite quotation?
No pain, no gain!
Thanks Brahim! We’ll look out for you and wish you all the best on your current and upcoming projects!
Thank you very much Raj!
A great pleasure to read this interview and learn about Brahim Achabbakhe’s experiences, which are by no means mere coincidence! With self-belief, we find encouragement through taking solid action in the direction of our (true) dreams and soon enough they become quite real! What’s been written here will provide inspiration for many in the field! I learned a lot, thanks so much!