Cengiz Dervis is a British martial arts master and former three time world kickboxing champion who is trained in Shen Chi Do (a combination of Kuk Sool Won, Hapkido, and Taekwondo) Muay Thai, Wing Chun, MMA boxing and weapons as well as being a rising action star.
Life wasnt always easy for Cengiz, far from it; he was surrounded by many physical challenges in his youth. However, armed with growing inspiration, persistent labours, along with the perspiration, his courage and indomitable will are starting to pay off to the point where he has, by now, worked on some very exciting action-thriller movies!
Knowing his background and what hes been through can only make you appreciate his multi-dimensional character; in all his roles, which he infuses with a distinctive blend of compelling acting presence, dramatic dialogue and hard-hitting physical talent.
He has featured in Green Street 3: Never Back Down, and some other impressive movies to look out for in which he plays the lead. The following are just a few.
By Any Name (based on the titular best-selling book by Katherine John).
Creative, ambitious, yet down to earth, Cengiz takes some time out to chat with us extensively about his background, training, movies and so much more; we think this man is on the cusp of some special things in the movie world so read on and pick up his secrets while you’re at it – here’s Cengiz!
Hi Cengiz, welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom; I’m sure this is going to be an action-packed interview, so lets take it from the top, where are you from?
Hi Raj and team, thank you, I really appreciate it!
Well, my father is a Turkish Cypriot, my mum is Irish and I was born in Hammersmith Hospital, I lived in Fulham until I was 6 and then moved to North Kensington.
What’s your height and weight?
I’m 510 (1.78 m) and weigh 11.5 st (73 ripped kilos).
Let’s talk about your background a bit. How did you first get into martial arts and how old were you and so on?
I started in martial arts aged six with my uncle, Professor Grandmaster Shen founder of the martial art, Shen Chi Do. He studied Korean martial arts with an amazing teacher named Mok Wei Kim, who was the first Korean Master sent to London to train the Korean Embassy staff and children.
Master Kim taught Kuk Sool Won, hapkido, and taekwondo together, and my uncle managed to successfully convince Master Kim to train him and did so almost daily. Then, over time he basically merged all three styles that was to eventually become Shen Chi Do.
We had a bit of a tough time growing up living in a rough neighbourhood where a large group had issues with us being a little different! Also my dad was disabled suffering polio as a child and unfortunately over time my mum who was a nurse was injured by a patient leaving her with serious spinal/nerve issues.
As a kid I didn’t actually walk properly until I was three due due to motor skill issues, so martial arts training was a little tricky at first and I almost quit on many occasions. But a little voice inside and the guidance of my uncle kept me focused, chipping away making small steps forwards getting stronger whilst learning the techniques and gaining knowledge. Now I can do things with my legs and body and you’d never guess that I ever had any issues!
That’s amazing! Who else would you credit as having influenced you in the martial arts in addition to your uncle?
I’ve also trained with lots of other amazing people. One of my main trainers was a kick/Thai boxer named Tim Izli who I studied with for over a decade. I had started competing in karate first, and then I moved into full contact kickboxing, and had an amazing team of people that helped trained me, Tim Izli, Scott Paulson, and Gary Innes were all my main corner men.
I also admired Benny The Jet Urquidez, as he’s absolutely fearless as a fighter. Though U.K. I should say kickboxing (in comparison to boxing) really felt like a poor mans sport. Once I had a competition in Spain, and couldn’t get any sponsorship even though I was an unbeaten fighter, so I scraped together enough money to get there, slept on the beach and ended up having to get a guy from the crowd to be my corner man!
Wo! Those are the kind of experiences that really serve as grist for the mill testing your determination and your metal!
Yeah, some of the hardest times in life for me have been in the ring when it was a brutal fight. You’re under pressure and you almost feel like giving up, but you just have to push forward, and when you look back, those are the moments that define you.
I’ve had the same kind of experience over the last ten or twelve years in becoming an actor, because it’s a really brutal business. However, there’s no situation that makes me feel like I’m out of my depth or makes me feel like I can’t handle it, because I’ve already been in dark places many times before. Now, I don’t feel fear of the casting directors or the directors or the executive producers, because I’m there to do a job that I can deliver on; if I fit the role then great let’s do it, and if not, I just move on and don’t take it personally.
We really were impressed with your Dim Mak demonstration! I remember seeing Dim Mak in Bloodsport, bringing it to the wider audience, with the brick above being struck whilst the one below gets broken.
Cengiz demonstrates the Dim Mak:
There’s soft palm and hard palm in Dim Mak, and that would be soft palm. Hard palm has two stages. Stage one is where you break things like coconuts, and stage two is where you learn to send the energy into an object.
How long did it take you to master breaking a coconut for example?
In the art of Shen Chi Do, between third and fourth Dan before you go to the master grade, one of the techniques you have to acquire is the Dim Mak. The actual process takes 100 days, but thats on the back of a lifetime of training. It was an interesting one because it took a lot longer than 100 days, I have to say!
It’s more psychological than physical, and the truth behind the preparation is quite gruelling. When I finished the 100 days preparation, which was in October of 2010, I actually couldn’t break a coconut. I had my grading set for March 2011, and it wasn’t until February that I actually broke the first coconut. The training process is about twenty minutes twice a day, and you can’t miss a day or time.
I started on sand before moving to steel shot and pebbles, I also used concrete and wood slabs and the use of almost boiling water and special liniments massaged into the hand before conditioning begin! As a kid, I had seen my uncle demonstrate it, and I thought, Wow! he’s like Superman! So when I finally got to the stage where I was being told by the master, You’re ready to become a master and one of the techniques is Dim Mak, I thought Whoa! Then the reality of it kicked in…OUCH!
I’m getting bruises just thinking about it! So who would you say are your top five fighters?
Number one for me has to be Floyd Mayweather. He really is a master of the craft, and in the ring he is fantastic on every level. On the side of kickboxing or Thai Boxing, Buakaw Banchamek is phenomenal. For MMA, Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva. For K1 (although he unfortunately died of leukaemia) I really loved watching Andy Hug fight. He was amazing, and I still love watching his fights.
Interesting choices there, great! Let’s move on to your career in movies, how did you first become involved in making action and martial arts films?
When I was a kid, I actually used to make my own short films with my friends and did a few fringe theatre plays, but for a long time, it seemed like making movies was really kind of closed off unless you had a lot of money.
So, I’d sort of given up pursuing that and focused on teaching and fighting, and it was through fighting that actors actually started following me, and I got approached by a few people asking me if I could prepare them for roles they had in films, and that basically reignited my fire. Being around them and preparing them for a film and being on set with them made me realise how much I loved acting and filmmaking, and it was around the year 2006 that I decided I wanted to make that a reality.
I started doing a lot of screen acting and drama courses, because I’d noticed that a lot of action actors can do the action but can’t really act or alternatively act well but can’t fight, and I wanted to be an all-round solid performer. The years of investment in the craft has really started to pay off with the roles I’m now landing. Since Jan 2014 I’ve been in five feature films and three award winning short films.
Can you tell us more and the names of some of those?
Yes, one of them is called Life is Too Short, which took place in New York. Then there’s Retribution, which is the first feature film of directors, Danny Albury and David Bispham and then of course, theres By Any Name the film adaption of the best selling book by Katherine John.
What’s been the most well known of all the films you’ve been involved in so far?
Good question! I had a tiny part in Green Street 3, but bizarrely, I think it’s actually a short film I produced and starred in called Drake that has opened so many doors, having gone viral on the internet with over six hundred thousand people watching it.
Drake was based on a graphic novel that I had written, and for me, it’s probably made the biggest impact. It’s going to be made into a feature film that I’m starring in (this year) called The Drake Files. After doing a lot of short films and student films and getting my first agent, I realised that most of the key roles are already cast and the sort of roles that were filtering out were something like three or four days on a feature film as Soldier #1 or Guard #2, or in glorified extras roles.
So I decided the only way I’m going to get people to really take a proper look at me is to make my own films! The journey has been a challenging one but also very empowering and rewarding and it’s so wonderful to fight for what you love.
Know your own worth and sell it, that’s a brilliant thing! You also started your own production company, Fight Me Productions.
Yeah, back in 2012, and it’s been amazing and we’ve now produced three award winning short films and were moving onto making features next. The productions bring so many creative people together Drake, had about thirty people involved and London Hood, has about sixty in cast and crew. Fight Me Productions has given me the opportunity to build so many great relationships in the industry, to make my ideas a reality with a platform to launch them from.
You received awards at some film festivals for Drake, right?
Yes, the director of Drake, Azi Rahman, said that we should submit it to some film festivals, which was funny as before meeting Azi I had about fifteen different directors turn the script down because they didn’t think it was a festival winning film. So we entered Drake into a few festivals, where it got officially nominated in L.A. at the 2013 Action on Film International Film Festival -quite a big event- for two awards. So then I flew out to L.A., and ‘Drake’ ends up winning Best Foreign Film; even now thinking about it, it still blows me away!
What was the budget for Drake?
The budget was £5,000. I called in so many favours and we had an amazing cast who all contributed their talent; everybody loved the script and believed in the project and we had loads of fun making it. Then I found myself in L.A. sitting there thinking we don’t have a chance, but ‘Drake’ and me were well received -they even used the poster for the film as one of their main images for the festival which was funny as people at the festival even started referring to me as Drake!
That’s amazing that you’ve nurtured this creation from grassroots and seeing it through, getting recognition in film festivals and now turning it into a feature film!
Yes, the graphic novel that it began as is very Sin City, and it took two years to do book one, and there are two other books that are already written, so it’ll end up being about a four-year project. It’s something I really believe in, and there’s a lot of truths in Drake because it’s a road I couldve gone down growing up the way I did with the options I had, and at the end of the day, you can either sit back and do nothing, go and work really hard and try to achieve stuff, or alternatively you can take an illegal route.
It’s always been around me, because I grew up in rough neighbourhoods full of guys selling drugs, robbing stuff etc. but thankfully, the martial arts gave me discipline, self-respect and made me sit back and make a serious decision about what path I should take -sometimes, to take what seems the easy, shorter route can be very tempting!
Let’s move onto some of the people you’ve trained for movies, people like Rowan Atkinson, Matthew Macfadyen, Natalie Imbruglia. What is the process of training novices to perform martial arts on-screen?
Well, it depends on things like the time available. I trained Rowan Atkinson for Johnny English, and when I first met him, he told me that he really doesn’t have any hand-eye coordination, and what he really wanted from me was to make him safe. So he was a guy who was not a natural athlete and really does struggle with the basic left and right. I spent 16 weeks with Rowan, and sometimes we’d be training four times a week, for him it was really about taking him from not being able to pick up a stick and rotate it to being very comfortable with the stick and being able to put comedy into it. He is such a funny guy and a pleasure to be around; he had me in tears on many occasions!
I also trained Matthew Macfadyen for The Three Musketeers. I worked with him for 20 weeks, and in that time he had to lose four stone (56 lbs), so I also helped manage his diet. He had to be competent with a serious amount of weapons and be like an assassin, he did a lot of mounted combat for the film as well. We’ve become friends now, and I worked with him later on things like Ripper Street.
He went from a very basic knowledge of combat to being very competent. As for Natalie, I trained her for the first Johnny English. She came along, a tiny, gorgeous thing, as well as being down to earth she was really good to work with and already in good shape. I quickly had her doing combinations on the pads including jumping kicks, and when she went off to do the film, I thought, she could probably go on to have a career in action films if she wanted to.
Brilliant! Well, going back to the books you’ve written, can you tell us about the book Jengito?
Sure well, Jengito is about a teddy bear who gets hit by a bolt of lightning and comes to life. He lives in a house with two sisters, and so the first book, Operation Biscuit, is really about getting to know the character and the two girls, and they go on a mission to steal biscuits while their parents are sleeping.
The second book introduces a googly-eyed dog who was hit by lightning on the same night, and he’s come to life with plans to take over the world. So the idea of Jengito is that he’s a bit of a secret agent, and it’s a fun way of introducing kids to things like time and going on quests. It’s aimed at children aged 3 to 8 years old.
One thing I’ve learned with Jengito and The Drake Files is that sometimes an idea comes to you in its completeness. The idea hits me -like someone downloads it into me at supersonic speed and I know the beginning, the middle and the end- I don’t ignore it and at times I’ve stayed up most of the night getting it from my head to the page!
Sounds like you’re the kind of person who takes action on ideas right away?
Completely. One thing I realised years ago is that we are literally drowning in knowledge today, and there’s the saying that knowledge is power, but what I’ve realised over the last ten or fifteen years is rather that action is power.
You can know things and talk about them till the cows come home, but can you do it? To bring it back to martial arts, I’ve seen people in gyms or fought people in the ring who have all their gear and can flick their kicks in front of the mirror, some of them stronger, faster and fitter than me, but they cannot apply it.
I think we all have some form of philosophy, and it flows through us; it’s important to be aware of it. I feel very connected to the universe, and I’m really aware that if I want something, as long as my conscious and subconscious mind are aligned and I’m clear about what I want, I’ll achieve it.
One of my teachers once told me, an artist paints pictures all his life, but one day the sink becomes blocked and he uses the paintbrush as a plunger. In martial arts, it’s not about hitting people, it’s about conquering yourself, but if you’re ever in a situation where you have to apply it, then it becomes a plunger a very effective, efficient one at that!!!
I’m picturing that now, it’s so true. You also have a short film in the works called Brothers Promise, whats that about?
Brothers Promise is a short film that I scripted, but my brother Senol actually came up with the idea. It’s very action-focused and also has a nice little story with a twist. It’s the first time I’ve worked onscreen with my brother, he’s a fantastic martial artist too and we’ve trained together since we were kids. If it was ever cold or rainy, he’d always be the guy who’d say, nah, we’re going out there and training, a bit of a drill sergeant, my brother!
Great! You also mentioned Green Street Hooligans 3. You were in that alongside Scott Adkins, Joey Ansah, and Christian Howard, what was it like working with them?
It was great! They needed a lot of fighters for the fight scenes in the film, and I was at the audition with about fifty action actors, and it was a two-hour training session with Joey Ansah, and I got a call afterward to play one of the Liverpool fighters. It was a tiny part in the film, but it was good to meet them and work with them. Joey was the fight choreographer, and he and the director, James Nunn, loved what I did. It was winter, freezing cold, and we were shooting in the open air with t-shirts on -it was a great experience. I didn’t get to speak to Scott or Christian, but I’ve kept touch with Joey, and he’s really inspirational. It’s people like him that make me say, anything is possible. I have a sneaky feeling I’m going to be working with those guys again at some point, maybe I’ll get a chance to get beaten up by Scott in a movie!
Or vice versa! Now we’re coming to your upcoming action-thriller By Any Name. Can you tell us a bit about the story for people who aren’t familiar with the book?
Well, the book is amazing. If you haven’t read it, it’s a must read if you like thrillers and action. It’s very Bourne Identity. The film starts with my character, John West, practically naked running through the forest being chased by police, covered in three different blood types and brain matter, and he gets arrested. He can’t remember his name or what’s happened, and there’s a conference happening in London, and they’re concerned that he’s a terrorist. So the army quarantines him in the hospital, but then the guards are killed, and he escapes the hospital taking a doctor (played by Samira Mohamed Ali) captive, and during the film he has to work out who he is and why people are trying to kill him. The police and the army are after him, and he’s like a super-soldier. I won’t reveal anything else right now that might spoil the film, but there’s a really good twist in it!
(Laughs) Yes, you’re obviously in fantastic shape -I’m sure a lot of discipline went into getting prepared for the film.
Yeah, when I read the book, it was really clear that this character is outlined well, and I wanted to deliver that to the author. She was on set every day, and I wanted to deliver her vision of John West.
In training for the film, what kinds of physical things did you have to do, any complex moves?
Not really for me. I have quite a lot of fights in the film, I take on a SWAT team, I take on soldiers, etc. The author of the book, Katherine John, was really clear about his physicality, so for me, it was just about getting myself into a condition that ran true to the book. So I put a lot of work into the look of the character, and I wanted the audience to be able to look at him and see there was something about him without him even saying a word.
When is it due for release?
They’re looking at this summer 2015. Since the book was a best-seller in quite a few countries, it has quite a large audience, especially in India, Asia and Eastern Europe, so the aim will probably be to release it in those territories, and then in the UK and US. There’s already talk about doing a sequel if it does well, and I think that would probably have more money behind it. This is Tanabi Films’ first feature film, and we had a relatively low budget. It was a fun shoot, but also gruelling. It was fourteen to nineteen hour days for three weeks for a film that really should have had double that time. To find me, they went through two hundred and fifty actors, and they had five shortlisted for the part of John West, and they actually auditioned me for a different role, but then, they asked me to re-read for the lead role, and it went from there.
Is this Samira Mohamed Ali’s first British film?
Yes, and actually two days after we finished By Any Name, she flew to India to shoot on another Bollywood movie!
So, what’s next for you after By Any Name?
The next things on my radar are leading roles in ‘The Haunted’ a US production shooting at Pinewood, Wales. Also the features The Drake Files and Galahad that have been picked up by Beresford Pictures. Galahad is kind of under wraps at the moment, but its going to be absolutely massive, it’s kind of Bloodsport meets The Hunger Games.
These movies sound fresh, we cant wait to see them! If we may ask, who in the martial arts movie industry has influenced you the most?
Actually, the person who’s influenced the most in films overall is probably Sylvester Stallone. He’s a guy who’s partially paralysed in his face, speaks with an unusual voice, couldn’t get into an acting school, had to go to Europe, couldn’t get any gigs, and decides to sit down one day and write a film that suits who he is and how he speaks etc. He makes Rocky, probably the greatest human spirit film of all time and he’s done so much more since then, but when I look at Stallone, he could’ve just given up, but he knew and believed in himself – look at everything he’s done, it’s just inspirational. He’s living proof that you can become what you believe in.
As far as the martial arts movie industry, who doesn’t love Bruce Lee? His technical ability, his philosophy, and hes a bit of a Sylvester Stallone himself, but sadly he died far too soon. Jackie Chan, hes an absolute legend. Donnie Yen, Bolo Yeung, Jet Li, you can’t ignore these guys, and when you watch them on-screen you believe them, their technique is just so sound.
What would you consider your top 10 martial arts films?
I love a lot of Van Damme movies, like Bloodsport and Kickboxer, because he did so much for western martial artists. From Bruce Lee, definitely Enter the Dragon and Way of the Dragon. From Jackie Chan, Snake in the Eagles Shadow, and I really like Police Story as well. He, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao were always amazing as a trio. I also really like Steven Seagal’s first movie, Nico (aka Above the Law), I just thought that was such a different angle, and then Marked for Death and Out for Justice I thought were great! I also really like Ip Man with Donnie Yen, and out of Jet Li’s work, Fist of Legend and Once Upon A Time In China were great!
Are there any martial artists or actors you’d like to work with in the future?
There are lots of actors I’d love to work with, guys like Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, John Hurt, Gary Oldman, guys like that. And any of the martial artists wed just mentioned, Tony Jaa would be great, too!
Who would you nominate for the KFK action challenge?
I think for bringing me in on Green Street 3 and what he’s achieved with Street Fighter: Assassins Fist, I’d nominate Joey Ansah. He’s really inspiring and somebody I’d love to work with again.
Lets talk about your training now; so, what is a typical workout for you? Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training, do you combine weight training with that too?
I train 4-5 times weekly and these workouts are usually 1hr – 1.5hrs and a mix of strength, conditioning and martial arts/combat training. I also do a long run about once a week from 10k to half a marathon if I’m wanting to think through some stuff!
What’s your favourite exercise and what specific or special training techniques do you like and find really find work to bring out the best in you?
I like exercises that are fluid and not static or stationary and I love to go through my forms (patterns) and lose myself with connecting my mind, breath and body together.
Are you heavily into stunts? If so what’s the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?
Not particularly though have the utmost respect for the stunt guys. I have however, jumped through a few sugar glass windows, been hit over the head with many sugar glass bottles and I do all my own fight scenes. Once on a very wet shoot day I climbed out above a treehouse and then attached myself to a zip wire to escape a swat team which was a little hairy and not the most sensible thing to do as there was no real safety in place, if I slipped and and fell, would’ve been OUCH big time!
What was your most serious injury and how did you work around it?
Thankfully, none whilst filming; as a fighter though I broke my hand, ribs and nose during my career. To work around it, what I do is simple; ice, rest and carry on 🙂
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?
After a serious workout I end with a developmental stretch and diaphragmatic breathing. I always eat within 30 minutes of training and then sit and on most occasions read for 30 minutes to an hour afterwards before rushing onto the next thing.
My day usually starts at 5 or 6am and ends at 11pm so I make sure I work off a to do list and take time to switch off during the day, including switching off any access to phone and social media etc! It’s amazing what 30 minutes in your own company with no distractions can do.
Let’s talk about that all-important food fuel, what kind of diet do you follow?
I follow a 70/30 diet – I eat well/healthy 70% of the time (if I’m not preparing for a specific event) and enjoy myself the rest of the time.
Which foods do you find work for you to remain at your most energetic, what’s the best fuel for your workouts?
My body responds well to a mixed diet and I love things like; for breakfast: 2 eggs, halloumi with spelt toast – lunch: lamb, couscous and salad – dinner: lentils mixed with fish and vegetables.
Sounds really healthy! Do you take supplements, what do you recommend?
I take omega fish oils, a multi-vitamin and zinc with vitamin C.
Okay! Fun stuff now, what are a couple of geeky things about you that people don’t really know?
I was a singer/songwriter, I write children books and I have a thing for grilled Halloumi.
If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to possess?
Superman as I’d love to fly and x-ray vision would be next but that might get me in trouble with the ladies!
What else do you like doing to relax, what are your hobbies?
Messing about writing music.
I love to explore music, anything from R&B, Soul, Rock, Indie, Acoustic, Swing, Rap, Classical, 70’s, 80’s, Disco. I’m open to all, if it sounds good to me I embrace it and usually dance.
Favourite non-martial arts movies?
The Shawshank Redemption, Rocky, The Usual Suspects, Inception, Old Boy (the original version), The Game, The Prestige, and The Matrix.
What in life do you really:
a) Like? Grilled Halloumi and people who take the steps towards their goals and dreams, no matter how many times they’re knocked back or down.
b) Dislike? People who take advantage of or abuse others or hurt animals.
What would you say are you most proud of so far?
Helping others without expectation of return; it’s the most amazing thing to take time out and mentor or coach an individual or a group and empower them to take action and move towards what they want, who they want to be.
Winning titles and awards etc, isn’t that important to me, what’s important to me is conquering myself (between the ears) and going out in the world and making my goals and dreams a reality! What makes me proudest is what I do for others.
What are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Continue landing key or lead film roles and going onwards across the pond to present myself to the LA, Hollywood, USA film/TV industry.
What advice would you give to a beginner who is considering taking up a martial art? How about to someone who aspires to use their skills on film and television?
Sit down and get clear about what it is you want to achieve, what styles you’re drawn to and want to learn, then find a good teacher(s) that suits your plan and aim to train with focus 3 – 6 times a week; in a class environment, one to one or self-practice. Once you have a solid foundation you can go on and do a screen combat course to understand translating combat skills to screen. If you’re aiming at the stage then look to stage combat courses. Personally I’ve exposed myself to both screen and stage combat and both are useful.
What special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world?
I hope that my work gives great pleasure and my ambition, focus and sacrifices inspire others to fight for their goals and dreams. As an actor my aim is to tell the story truthfully and as a martial artist, I choose to live with harmony, honesty and honour – having this clarity allows me to move forwards towards my goals and dreams. Life will always push you from all angles but in the end if you believe in yourself and you put in the work while keeping on pushing forwards no matter what, anything is possible really!
Which warrior-wisdom quotes have shaped you up to this point and have moulded you into who you are today?
Not sure if this a warrior message, however, this quote had a huge impact on me… “One short life that soon will pass, only what’s done with love will last”…. So when I’m making decisions, I always choose LOVE over fear.
Where can people go to find out more about you?
They can visit the following:
My website: http://www.cengizdervis.com/
Thank you Cengiz for taking the time out to share so many eye-opening experiences about you, your martial arts and your soon releasing movies in this interview! We wish you every success in your upcoming projects and work, were looking forwards to see more, please keep in touch.
Absolutely. Thanks for having me guys, its been a real pleasure!