Recently, at KFK we’ve witnessed a flurry of rather talented, charismatic and seriously dedicated martial arts femmes beginning to emerge and spring into the light of the silver-screen. They’re in growing demand for opportunities encompassing all manner of martial arts action and stunt movie work. It goes without saying, whenever there is synergy between martial arts and the motivation to regular, protracted, arduous training efforts, you can bet there’ll be a captivating story to tell! Lauren Okadigbo is exactly one of this new breed: a martial artist, stunt player, ballet and theatrical dancer. She has studied at London’s Contemporary Dance School as well as having performed stunts, she has also worked as a movement artist for Paramount Pictures. In this interview we discover more about her, from her solid dance background which makes her a capable, adaptable and stylish performer with a wide range of moves available at her fingertips (and toes!) to her movie features and much more!
Raj: Welcome to the Kung-fu Kingdom interview, Lauren!
Lauren: Thank you Raj, it’s my pleasure!
Let’s take it from the top, what is your DOB and from where do you originate?
I was born on the 10th of July, I’m now in my late twenties. My mother is Finnish and my father Nigerian.
What is your height and weight?
I’m 5 ft 7inches (1.70m) and 125 pounds (57kg)
How did you first get into the martial arts? How old were you?
Well, the very first encounter was in Finland actually. I was dancing for a dance company and they wanted to do a show with martial arts in it. So they hired a group and we got exposed to some wu-shu demonstrations and I was fascinated by the beautiful and fluid aspect of it (initially more so than the fighting aspect!) which is similar to dancing. I was 18 then, even though pretty late, I was always active and into dancing since the age of seven and studied at the National Opera Ballet Academy. That has proved to actually be a great help in the practice of the martial arts!
What was the first main style you trained in and how long have you been training?
After I left Finland, I came to the UK then it was a few years after that. I didn’t push the martial arts until I got into my 20’s. Then I got into capoeira then I started studying Shaolin kung-fu at the Tang Long Shaolin Centre in Finchley Road London with Sifu Heng Wei, an ex-Shaolin monk. Soon after, I got into taekwondo. In my weight category I held the ITF championship in sparring. It was my first competition which was pretty exciting!
Who would you credit as having most influenced you so far in the martial arts?
I would say it was Bruce Lee’s philosophy which is incredible! I would also say, Johann De Silva, who currently teaches me taekwondo at his Ealing Broadway school in London. He’s an excellent martial artist who manages to keep a good sense of humour! I’m going for my belts now, but not for the sake of gradings alone.
You’ve worked a little in movies, now you have some new opportunities, can you tell us more?
Well, in 2011 I was hired as a movement artist for the movie: World War Z. I was hired as a dancer to research and create a certain “language” for the zombie movements which involved throwing oneself around, quite violently at times! It also included filming of specific scenes set in Israel which were actually filmed in Malta! Yes, we met Brad Pitt on the first day, he said a polite “hi” to us (zombies) hanging from a cage contraption above him. Even though he was around a lot, I didn’t feel a need to try compel any small talk especially while in my zombie gear, can you imagine…!!
I also starred with the Babes with Blades performance group headed by Cecily Fay (main star of Warrioress). The movie is called “Flower of Sarnia”, which has been completed and will be released on DVD next year!
See Lauren in action here:
What was it like working with Cecily who is a multi-talented martial artist, gymnast, ballet dancer, writer, and singer?
Cecily Fay is really inspiring to work with. She’s very strong minded, with clear views, about what she wants which is very useful. When the aims are clear and verbally expressed it’s far easier to produce what is wanted and needed. She also has as you’ve said, a dance background too, trained in the same dance school as I did: London Contemporary Dance School! We can both relate to many things. She is a sword master and I’ve learned a lot of sword work from her.
You’re in training for the stunt register, can you tell us a bit more about that, what are the requirements?
Well, you need to have six different skills, to quite a high level. It includes 60 days’ credit worth of filming work in front of the camera, when you’ve got that together you can submit your application. To achieve this, you can do for example a mountain instructors’ qualification, gymnastics, (there is a list of certain moves you need to complete)…high diving (ten different moves to complete), trampolining etc. It will probably take me another year to accomplish this.
What are your current/upcoming projects?
I’m working with a dance theatre (Silver Street Dance Theatre) in London until the end of the year. I have also started working with Stunts 360 in Denmark which has extremely skilled affiliates and professional performers worldwide. They’re specialists in aerial stunt rigging, fight choreography and stunts. They also run the best stunt school in Europe, www.europeanstuntschool.com, with participants coming all the way from New Zealand and Canada and so on, to train as I have. Latest assignments include: Honda commercial (precision driving) for the Japanese market. Aerial stunt rigging for Peter Pan in Germany, I assisted with the flying rehearsals on this. Fight choreography for the Bayan Dental Clinic, in Lebanon. They have numerous stunts undertaken for the entertainment industry in Copenhagen, Denmark where they have their HQ.
Who do you most admire in the martial arts film industry, and why?
Well, sounds corny I know, but I love how Jackie Chan, brought action/comedy into the genre. I also admire and aspire in a way to Jean Claude Van-Damme, because he has amazing legs and incredible kicks…as I’m also very into leg training and developing my flexibility and range of motion to the maximum. I also like Michelle Yeoh: her movements are, elegant, beautiful and well choreographed.
Who would you most like to work with and why?
What immediately comes to mind…I’d be intrigued to work with the Jackie Chan Stunt Team! Haha! Also want to continue to work with Cecily Fay, she’s got a wealth of experience and she’s a walking, talking demonstration of drive, commitment and dedication.
What are your top five kung-fu movies?
- Enter The Dragon
- 7th Samurai
- Drunken Master
Could you share with us any training tips that work for you?
Well, in terms of mindset, I believe consistency, is the key. I also like to have “to do” lists for my training schedule: they may include for example, taekwondo practice, going to gymnastics, maybe looking at forms, and keeping up with flexibility. It’s good to analyze your progress and surpass your previous results. Sometimes I have long train rides so I try to use that time well and look-up martial arts forms and videos on my phone…There are so many good phone apps for taekwondo these days!
What kind of injuries have you had and how did you work around them?
Fortunately, I’ve only ever had one serious injury. I’m double jointed and I had snapped my elbow ligament. I couldn’t use the arm for a while, it took about four months to heal properly and I had to get it treated privately because of a blood clot that developed literally “froze” my elbow, preventing it from moving! I’ve been very lucky, never broken a leg or anything like that, my tissues are very soft and pliable. I’d say my elbows are the weakest link in my body.
What’s the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?
I did a stunt before in an opera show and due to technical difficulties it kept going wrong. It was a walk from a huge open air stage to the lakeside water under the stage. It had been rainy and foggy, so visibility was poor. What I can say is that stunts without safety can be nerve wracking! I have jumped and done high falls from 15 metres etc. Heights are not really an issue for me!
Is your diet something you pay attention to, what kind of nutrition helps you to be energised so you can be at your active best?
I am actually vegan so I eat pretty clean, balanced diet especially when training. This includes fruits, vegetables, cooked food, rice, not too much fat. I’m also keen on juicing making my own smoothies with a little spirulina, wheatgrass powder, hempseed powder, flaxseed or goji berry. I also make sure I’m getting my protein. Here’s a quick recipe that I use: 4 bananas, 1 avocado, spinach leaves, and a little spirulina. Good to have them when they’re fresh ready pre and post workout. I also eat dates for a quick energy boost and drink water. Basically just eat as naturally as possible, then no supplements necessary.
What’s a day in the life like for you Lauren, from waking -up to sleeping. How long do you spend training per day?
Well, I’m a freelance performer so a typical day for me depends on whether I’m on contract or not. When I’m not on contract, I tend to do two sessions of training per day. After I wake up and have my breakfast smoothie, I go to my local gym for a two hour combination of cardio conditioning and yoga or go into London for gymnastics typically those are three hour sessions. After those I would travel to practice some taekwondo and boxing which are an hour each. Some days I might just have two sessions of the same thing, like two sessions of gym. When on contract I do a session of training before work. When I was performing in Austria you could just go climbing a mountain before work, that was awesome! So generally, in a week I would spend anywhere between 10-22 hours (depending on work) with flexibility training for 3-4 hours per week.
What’s your direction now, what are you working to accomplish?
My driving ambition now is to get to the point where I am adept in my training, where I can be as good as I can be utilizing the gifts I have. I want to do more fight films, work with more people in the industry and develop my skills and talents. There’s so much more to achieve, to stretch, grow and to fulfil my potential. This self belief came from my Christian family, dad was a big dreamer in possibilities in himself and in everything, I’m harnessing that same confidence now!
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Becoming and unravelling the female Van-Damme in me, God willing! To help provide for family back home, there are sometimes things from the past that can help propel and push you forward!
What do you like to do to relax, any hobbies outside of the martial arts?
I watch Vampire Diaries on TV –for me it’s like McDonalds for the soul!
What advice would you give to women interested in beginning in the martial arts?
Find a club, and don’t worry that it’s attended mostly by males. Discern the areas you want to train in and utilize those skills you enjoy the most, it should be an enjoyable process! Be brave, go with it. Believe in your own capabilities, and doing things you like and don’t be afraid to share the expertise you gain!
Tell us something else unusual/interesting about you?
In winter I sleep in a fluffy, pink onesie with bear ears!
When I was young, I found a baby pigeon that had fallen out of its nest, so I took her home and reared her for several months until she could be free and fly!
Which warrior principles do you live by?
Here are my main three:
- Do unto others as you would wish be done unto you.
- Strive to fill your potential.
- See the good in things.
What special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers from around the world?
Anyone can choose to be the best version of themselves. I truly believe that there is a hidden potential for greatness in every single human being, you just need to find it from within.
Tell us what quote or piece of “warrior wisdom” gets you motivated, fired-up, and keeps you going?
To quote Aesop: “The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”
How can readers find out more about you, and what you do?
Feel free to take a look at my website: http://www.okadigbo.com/
Sadly, we’ve come to the end! Thanks Lauren, how has this interview with KFK been for you?
It’s been an absolute pleasure talking with you Raj! I really enjoyed our interview and you made me reflect on my own life and experiences which has served as a reminder for me on why I keep on going… We need that from time to time in life, so thank you!
Thanks Lauren we wish you all the very best, please keep in touch!