Interview with Khalil Maasi

From 2003 to 2006, comedian Dave Chappelle’s eponymous sketch comedy series aired on Comedy Central, entertaining millions of people across the globe and providing a platform for veterans of the entertainment industry, as well as a starting point for newcomers. One of the latter group was the son of Grandmaster Shaha Mfundishi Maasi, martial artist Khalil Maasi, who served as Mr. Chappelle’s stand-in during the show’s final season.

Since that amazing experience, Khalil has worked tirelessly to forge his own path as an actor and filmmaker, always with the goal of staying true to his martial roots and representing his warrior lineage with integrity.

Today, Khalil sits down with us to share the story of his path in martial arts, his history with “Chappelle’s Show” and where that initial first opportunity has led him, and gives a behind-the-scenes look at his upcoming film “The Way”, which will give the world a glimpse into the realm of African martial arts and the warrior traditions of the African continent. 

Watch out for Khalil's offense!

Watch out for Khalil’s offense!

Brad: Hi Khalil, it’s great to have you with us and we hope you’re keeping well?

Khalil: I’m blessed, how are you?

Doing great, thanks! Welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! Thanks for taking some time out to share with us.

Thank you for taking the time to interview me!

Have you taken a look at our site? What do you think of the name Kung Fu Kingdom (KFK)?

Yes I have. I think it is an excellent platform for martial artists and martial arts lovers to find out what is going on in this industry. 

Fantastic! Now let’s kick off with some basics, where do you hail from?

I was born in East Orange, New Jersey.

Nice! What is your height and weight?

I’m 6 feet (1.82 m) and 220 lbs (99.7 kilos, 15.7 stone).

Great! So, how did you first get into the martial arts? How old were you? I was born into the martial arts. I started my formal training around 5 or 6 years of age. My first and root teacher is my father Shaha Mfundishi Maasi. I’ve crossed trained with many different teachers over the years.

So, what was the first main style you trained in and what different arts have you studied and trained?

The duel intensifies

The duel intensifies

My first system was Bando, a system of martial arts from Burma, now known as Myanmar. I’ve gone on to cross train in various systems such as Capoeira, Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling and submission moves, Silat…the list goes on. I’ve had the opportunity to grow up in a martial arts community, see many things and experience martial arts of various nations and cultures. I integrate all this knowledge together in a manner that fits me. I call my system of training Neo-Ngolo.

That’s an amazing background! and Neo-Ngolo sounds intriguing. So, who would you credit as having most influenced you in the martial arts and who would you consider your heroes or inspirational figures in the arts; a top 5 perhaps?

My mother is my first influence. She was not a martial artist but your mother brings you into the world and is your first protector and teacher, she shows you how to live and survive. Next would be my father. He is a martial arts legend in my community. One of the first blacks in his day to reach a high level in the martial arts and be known internationally for it. My younger brother Malik Heru Maasi is one of my influences and heroes because of how he lived before he passed away. He was a good soul and worked to better everyone around him and the world. Mestre Joao Grande who is the oldest living Capoeira Mestre in the world has a special place in my heart as well as Saya Maung Gyi of The American Bando Association. I couldn’t rank them all, however, because there are so many others who have influenced me.

It sounds like you’ve had some solid mentors on your path. Moving ahead now, how did you first become involved in the film industry?

Khalil's spinning kicks are unstoppable!

Khalil’s spinning kicks are unstoppable!

I became involved in the film industry after leaving the fighting world and studying at the Harlem Theater Company in New York City. From there I went on to study British Acting Technique and Meisner Technique aka Method Acting. Since then I have gone on to act, produce, write and direct.

All rounded experience there. Okay, so what advice would you give to martial artists who hope to work in the film industry?

The advice I would give to martial artists who want to pursue a film career is first figure what area you want to go in. Acting? Stunts? Choreography? Directing? Pick great projects that represent the best of you and martial arts. I chose to study acting seriously because I believe it will bring me longevity in the industry beyond just being a martial artist. Martial artists who want to be in film are a dime a dozen but being an actor who’s also a bonafide martial artist is rare.

Excellent advice! Looking back on your career, one of your earlier experiences was your work on “Chappelle’s Show”. Can you tell us about some of the more memorable experiences of working on the show and alongside such a renowned comedian as Dave Chappelle?

I worked on “Chapelle’s Show” during its last season. I got to see how a big set was actually run first hand and was able to learn the business while being on the most popular show on TV at that time. I was Dave’s stand in. My most memorable experience is that Dave made me a cast member after seeing my work ethic and passion for the business. I was able to act in one skit before the show went off the air. That experience showed me that I can make it in this business with hard work.

An eye opening take away lesson right there! Some other television shows you’ve worked on include “Johnny Zero”, “The Point” and “The Black List”. Can you describe your experiences being a part of these shows and your roles in them?

On “Johnny Zero” I played a porn star. The lead actor in that series was an upcoming actor at the time named Franky G. In “The Point” I played a killer pimp named Diddy Bop. On “The Black List” I played the role of Joseph Batuoala, an African warlord game poacher. I take pride in being an actor who can step outside of my martial arts mentality and bring different characters to life. Each of these experiences has helped me grow as an actor and human being.

Diverse roles indeed! So, jumping ahead now, your first time as leading man came in the film “P.O.E” in 2007. Tell us about how the film came about and your experience in making it.

I was living in Washington D.C. managing a gym, teaching martial arts and fitness as well as training to possibly go into a MMA career. Things happened and I came back to NYC and began to audition and “P.O.E.” was one of the first roles I got when I came back. I learned a lot about myself while acting on that set and made friends and producing partners with the filmmakers of that project and we still collaborate to this day on projects.

Khalil prepares his next attack

Khalil prepares his next attack

Okay, so then a little later, you appeared in the 2010 MMA film “Circle of Fury” in the role of Owen. Explain how you became involved in the film and your experience of making it.

The producer/director of “Circle of Fury” I have worked with in the past on other projects. He called me and asked me to be involved. I don’t do many martial art based features because frankly they are not done right. Jackie Chan recently talked about that in an interview. I think the film could have been better produced and choreographed. It was a learning experience for me to stick to my guns and only do films that I think will move my career forward. When I do martial arts ones I want them to be done right because I represent several lineages and want to be proud of what I put out there.

That stamp of satisfaction is definitely needed! You are currently hard at work on the film “The Way”, which you are co-writing with Ray Muhammed who will also direct the film. How did this movie originate and what can fans can expect from it?

“The Way” came about as a result of me wanting to create a vehicle for myself as well as to express some ideas and philosophies about martial arts and life. My partner Ray Muhammad had just directed me in a film called “A Tight Spot” which won some awards. I let him see the script and he decided that he wanted to partner with me to get it made.

I see. So can you describe the role that African martial arts will play in the film?

In “The Way”, African based martial arts tradition and philosophy will be introduced to the general public just like Chinese martial arts, Muay Thai, Karate and other styles were introduced to audiences who saw films with those warrior traditions in them. For the most part the general public is unaware of Africa and the African diasporas martial history.

Khalil launches a Jump Spinning Back Kick!

Khalil launches a Jump Spinning Back Kick!

Well, it’s great that “The Way” aims to introduce them to the wider world. What originally inspired you to make “The Way”?

I wrote “The Way” in order to have a vehicle to star in and showcase my skills as a martial artist, to pay homage to my lineage and culture and to send a strong message out there about how important martial arts tradition, philosophy and culture is to our communities, particularly to our youth.

Well, we most definitely look forward to seeing it! What else do you have coming up on the horizon after “The Way”?

Before I shoot “The Way” I will be in the feature film “Ring the Bell” written and directed by Jason Sarrey. Jason has worked with big names like Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) so this is another big move for my career as an actor overall.

Sounds promising. Moving on now, who do you most admire in martial arts movies? Can you give us your brief views on the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Mark Dacascos, Scott Adkins, Tony Jaa, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung?

Bruce Lee is and will forever be an immortal to the martial arts film world and martial arts world in general. Jackie Chan is an original. I respect Donnie Yen and his body of work especially the “Ip Man” films. Mark Dacascos needs to be seen more, filmmakers are sleeping on him and I think he still has a lot to offer. Scott Adkins is dynamic and Tony Jaa is a phenomenon. Yuen Biao has an extraordinary body of work, Sammo Hung…simply legendary.

Absolutely agreed! So, which martial artists/actors would you most like to work with?

Khalil lands another strike

Khalil lands another strike

I would like to work with Wesley Snipes, Michael Jai White, Marrese Crump, Tony Jaa, Mark Dacascos, Donnie Yen, Lateef Crowder, and Scott Adkins… Let’s all get together and do a big Expendables-like movie!

That would be a most welcome sight, bring it on! Moving now onto training, what is a typical workout for you?   Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training, do you combine weights with that too?

I don’t have a typical workout. I’m constantly changing up to shock and confuse my body and mind in order to continue to grow and adjust continuously. I do everything from traditional to MMA training, weights, plyometrics, internal arts etc. I’m constantly exploring as a martial artist.

An essential mindset to have. So, what’s your favourite exercise and what specific or special training techniques do you really find works to bring out the best in you?

My favorite is somewhere between internal training/yoga and Capoeira Angola. I find these practices bring out the best in me as a martial artist and human being and gives me longevity.

They definitely have a lot to offer the practitioner. Switching topics slightly, what’s the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?

I fought against a live knife on the set of a film project in my younger (ignorant) days.

Sounds intense! So, what was your most serious injury, how did you work around it?  

I was stabbed by that knife. Luckily it did not go in too deep and we continued with the shoot.

Glad that turned out well for you! So, 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?

Khalil holds nothing back

Khalil holds nothing back

I sleep. Sleep is underrated and I am just beginning to understand its importance in training. Sleep is the elixir of life.

Simple practices often have the deepest impact. So, what are a couple of your favourite pieces of gym/exercise or training equipment that you absolutely love using and would recommend to others?

Well, I don’t particularly like gyms. I think gyms are overrated. They function more as hangouts and social clubs. I try not to use a gym or equipment unless absolutely necessary like a ring or cage to spar in or bags to train on. I try and get outdoors and use the natural environment the way the ancients use to. I only use equipment now and then to change up and confuse the muscle. If I do go to a gym I prefer it to be a dirty, funky real fighters gym, not a pick up spot!

Yes, just step outdoors and the world is your gym, nice! Moving now onto nutrition, what kind of diet do you follow?

I eat primarily a diet of no red meat or shellfish, lots of vegetables and fruit and very few dirty carbs, but I believe in cheat meals. I prefer plant based protein shakes throughout the course of the day.

So, which foods do you find work for you to remain at your most energetic and serve as the best fuel for your workouts?

My plant based protein shakes work the best for me.

Do you take supplements, what do you recommend?

I use Source of Life Gold which is a plant based protein shake with more natural based supplements in the ingredients than I can name here.

Excellent! Moving now into fun/leisure what’s one geeky thing that people don’t really know about you?

I used to play “Dungeons and Dragons” as a teenager.

Khalil evades the attack

Khalil evades the attack

(Laughs) So, if you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to possess?

I would be either Wolverine or Black Panther.

Cool! What are some of your hobbies?

I don’t have hobbies. Either I’m acting, developing projects, training, sleeping or studying. I’m also a traditional African Priest so that study takes up much of my time. I don’t have time for hobbies. I am thinking of doing the Tough Mudder competition though.

Favourite music?

Silence and nature are my favourite sounds.

Favourite movies? (non martial arts)

Some of my favourite movies are “Slumdog Millionaire”, “1984”, “Blue Velvet”, “Malcolm X”, “Sankofa”, “The Last of the Mohicans”, “My Left Foot”, “Bronson”…. Man, I could go on all day!

What in life do you really:

a) like? Peace

b) dislike? Violence

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?

My daughter.

Wonderful! So, what are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?

Establishing myself as a recognizable actor.

Khalil advance with feet of fury!

Khalil advance with feet of fury!

Big goal! Okay, speaking philosophically now, which warrior-wisdom quotes have shaped you up to this point and molded you into who you are today?

“Where there is life there is hope”. (Yoruba, Nigerian proverb).

Very profound! Lastly, what special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and those who know you around the world?

What you give to the martial arts the martial arts gives back to you.

We come full circle as well now as we get ready to wrap, if people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?

I have a personal website coming soon, in the meantime just Google Khalil Maasi and you will definitely find me and see what I’m up to.

Super! Thank you, Khalil for your kind participation in this interview.  We look forward to see “The Way” and wish you all the very best for your other upcoming inspired martial art movie offerings!

Thank you very much for the opportunity to be featured on Kung Fu Kingdom!

From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

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