We’re delighted to bring you our interview with the multi-talented martial artist, teacher, author and actor Marrese Crump! With black belts in taekwondo and budo he is also very well versed in capoeira, muay thai and the Filipino stick fighting art of kali.
Marrese has worked on movies such as “The Wrong Side of Town” (2010), featuring wrestling heavyweights Batista and Rob Van Dam, “The Man With The Iron Fists” (2012), and starred in Tom Yum Goong 2 (2013), as the main adversary to legendary Thai superstar Tony Jaa.
In this exclusive interview Marrese opens up with some special insights into the colourful life of combat he’s shared with some of the industry’s highly respected figures and the story of how he became the only Western protege to renowned Thai action director, Panna Rittikrai.
Tony Jaa vs Marrese Crump Fight Scene from Tom Yum Goong 2 (The Protector 2)
We found him to be extraordinarily humble and down to Earth whilst possessing some incredibly slick moves, which he delivers with a fresh, innovative style and energy backed-up with a gravitas that simply dazzles –now, let’s welcome Marrese!
Hi Marrese, wonderful to have you with us!
Hey Raj! The first impression I got about Kung-fu Kingdom is that it’s more about kung fu, but looking at the site I can tell that it extends way past that, so it’s all there, thanks for having me!
Glad you noticed that, we’re happy to represent ALL and ANY martial arts, and you’re most welcome! Okay, let’s get into this…When were you born and from where do you originate?
I was born on the 4th of January 1982 in Florida, USA.
What is your height and weight?
I am 5’10” (1.77m) tall and weigh 175lbs (79.5kg).
How did you first get into the martial arts? How old were you?
I was eight years old and one of my older brothers (I have three older brothers), introduced me to some Bruce Lee movies, “The Big Boss” being the first one I saw. My brother started training first; he would take me to the back yard and show me some techniques. He was really good at boxing and had begun to really get into martial arts training.
Which figures in the martial arts have most inspired you until now, who was your teacher?
I’m pretty much obsessed with Bruce Lee, he’s my catalyst, my inspiration. My first teacher by the name of Kim Jae, taught my brother who in turn taught me in my younger years what he was learning. Later, as I got a little older, I went to train with Kim Jae himself. His background was originally boxing, Taekwondo and he was also a high school wrestler. He’s like a real life Mr Miyagi, a phenomenal martial artist and I’m so thankful that Kim Jae gave me the right mind-set to go out and learn from all different teachers, he helped give me the skill of knowing what to look for so I got real lucky there. He didn’t did teach martial arts professionally or commercially, he taught me the old school way, in his garage. I still train with Kim Jae to this day, he’s still my teacher, and we still train in the garage! As well as all my teachers who have contributed to me, I would give a shout out to all those old school teachers that were around in the 60’s and 70’s because without them we wouldn’t be doing the things we’re doing now.
What was the first main style/s you trained in?
When I was 14, Kim Jae told me to go and earn a black belt he said, ‘Pick something, I want you to go and train with a different teacher’. So I just followed his instructions, he recommended that I go to a dojo and actually start training more formally with different people, by that point I had already trained with him for five years. So, I started going to different dojos researching styles that I thought would benefit me. The very first black belt I pursued was in Japanese Budo with a great teacher named Mr. Giancarlo . I also started studying Filipino Kali and was very fortunate to be introduced to a great teacher, Tuhon Ray Dionaldo. He’s been my teacher for over fifteen years.
What other styles have you trained in?
I’ve also studied Muay Thai for a long time becoming more experienced when I started going to Thailand, Capoeira and Taekwondo in which I have second degree black belt. I believe I can always learn, so whatever I see and think will benefit me, I’m there, ready to be a white belt.
Your first movie was “The Wrong Side of Town”, did you action direct that?
Yes, I helped with the action, that involved me and Dave Batista the former WWE wrestler, he’s a good friend of mine. He’s a major reason why I was able to get into film. While I was focused on my training I was working for another friend of mine in a dojo teaching some classes there and Batista called me one day and wanted to take some private lessons. So I started training him in the art of Filipino Kali. From there we ended up travelling around the whole world together with the WWE –I trained him on the road for several years, easily two hundred days a year plus. Dave’s a great guy. He was also in the “The Man with the Iron Fists” playing the character Brass Body.
We were just moving onto that! You worked with famed hip-hop legend Rza and stunt doubled him on “The Man with the Iron Fists”, can you tell us more?
Yes, I was stunt doubling for Rza. I reached out to him a long time ago about doing my own movie. He and I had developed a good relationship and that’s what led me to go to China with him. So Rza and I have been building for years, I consider him as one of my mentors.
Without even mentioning the Wu-Tang Clan, Rza has a huge respect for the martial arts without a doubt, but had he trained in martial arts much?
He has some training yes. He’s really into kung fu, but more importantly he trains kung fu for balance, spiritual balance. He’s been instrumental to me, he took me under his wing when I was working on “The Man with the Iron Fists” and taught me a lot of things not just about film, but also about life. He’s a wise guy, not a wise guy as in a funny guy, I mean he’s a really wise man.
Now, before we talk about Tom Yum Goong 2 (in which you feature with action superstar Tony Jaa) you also hold the distinction of being the only American protege of famed Thai action director Panna Rittikrai, who was also the mentor to Tony Jaa. Can you reveal more to us about this interesting connection?
Man, this means so much to me!
Let me explain, it wasn’t until I was about 21 years old that I started thinking about getting into movies, previously, that wasn’t really on my mind. Over time I’ve owned three different dojos, all very humble in size, but at one point I had a larger commercial school where I had quite a few students. I’ve always just wanted to promote the martial arts to all people, that was my dream. Then one day I saw the movie “Ong Bak” after hearing about it through my Muay Thai instructor who was saying, ‘there’s this guy, Tony Jaa, doing Muay Thai in movies and that it’s very creative, different and that no one’s really seen it this quite hard hitting’. I watched it and was like, ‘WOW! That guy’s really talented!’ There was also something special about the way they had set up the action. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I can do that!’ – I think that’s what got me thinking that maybe I could take martial arts to a wider audience.
I decided to take the sacrifice of actually closing my school and went back to the drawing board just to train myself harder. Before I even thought about trying to get connections, I just started training. I was already training really hard anyway, but I knew that to get into movies I would need specialised and different knowledge. All of my teachers who taught me martial arts are phenomenal but I needed to find a master who understood movies -Panna was obviously that person. So, over a process of several months, I started researching, trying to find someone I could email or call in Thailand. Actually, the very first person that I ended up talking to on the phone was the director Prachya Pinkaew. He saw my training videos, liked them a lot and invited me to Thailand.
How did you first meeting with Panna Rittikrai go -what was it like working with him?
The next day after arriving in Thailand I met Panna and his first words to me were, ‘Show me your style’! All the stunt team were there so, instead of doing a demo, I said I’ll teach the stuntmen different styles. So, I spent the next twenty minutes explaining all the arts that I do and the way that I train, then he said, ‘come to my house’. The very next day after that, we started training really hard. All the stunt guys became like my brothers, they started taking well to me. That was the beginning of four years’ of training.
Panna is very unique because he has the heart of a true martial artist. He and I have had this conversation a lot; that you know when something is trained for real and with precision, you can’t really fake that, however, you might need to modify it for a movie set. That’s what he was aiming at with me, he didn’t really want to change how I express my martial arts, he just wanted to portray it in a way that people could actually understand and see what I’m doing. Over the course of four years I travelled about thirteen times to Thailand to study and train with Panna.
Are we right in assuming you’ve seen a lot of Panna’s previous films then, including “Born to Fight” (1986) which was his break out movie?
I’ve watched almost every one of his old movies. When I was at his house he showed me his original notes for “Born to Fight” and “Ong-Bak“. It’s just amazing, the history of where he started out and the wealth of knowledge he has. My wife being Thai usually translates a lot of the notes and the things he’s talking about when he’s explaining them. He has a stack of these plans and diagrams, trust me when I say he’s got a real legacy behind him and I feel so honoured because he told me, ‘Maresse I’ll show you this, there are things in there that still haven’t been done yet’. You get a sense of awe and respect you know.
Moving onto “Tom Yum Goong 2”, how did your part come about?
That came up later, we were always training in preparation (with the lead in my own movie being the obvious goal). “TYG2” came up and Panna called me while I was in China working with The Rza on “The Man With The Iron Fists”. He asked me when I’d be available because he wanted me to fight Tony Jaa! I was very excited because you know I had met Tony once before that and we clicked immediately. In my opinion, since we had the same teacher, it was like coming from the same camp, like working with a brother you know.
A brother from another mother!
Yeah, it was phenomenal and we had a lot of fun too!
Can you tell us briefly about your role and the type of martial arts involved?
Well my character’s name is ‘Number 2’. All the characters in the movie have numbers which supposedly explain their ‘danger level’. So you know Tony was ‘Number 1’ obviously and I, ‘Number 2’. My character is the kind of guy who trains all the time having skills in a lot of different styles and he just wants to test those skills against whoever he thinks is the best.
I tried to do something really special with the character. If you look at the different styles of action you have around the world, you have Hong Kong style, Thai style and Indonesian style etc. Each one of these styles of action is based on a frequency or cultural rhythm. Tony Jaa uses Muay Thai as his frequency, Iko Uwais uses Silat as his, and with me being African-American I use Capoeira which is African-Brazilian. In “TYG 2” you may also see me use a little Fifty-Two hand style, I got the idea from my buddy Daniel Marks who teaches Fifty-Two hands in New York. He and I spoke for months in advance about using it in the film. I think only those people who have experience in this unorthodox style will actually pick it up in the movie! I wanted to do something attitude wise and movement wise that broke a lot of the rules about what people usually expect from choreography.
I think that was amply demonstrated in the warehouse fight scene with Jaa -being a very aggressive, high intensity scene with quite a few unconventional moves on display.
I’m glad you picked that up, you’ve got a good eye!
Were you asked to do any other complex or difficult physical moves, if so what?
I would say nothing necessarily too complex -when it comes to my own fighting I usually always design it to suit. The complexity of the techniques basically depend on the complexity of the fight itself and obviously you have to coordinate with the other person! One thing I love about Panna though is that you know there’s going to be a high level of preparation -he’s pretty good at making sure everybody is prepared.
She’s really nice and she’s really tough (looks can be deceiving!) to be able to endure the type of training that Panna requires. We had some fight scenes together and she took some bruises but she really kept on going -I’ve got a lot of respect for her!
Moving on… With the passion, dedication to training and applied creativity you’ve demonstrated, we believe you’re among the inspired pioneers who can show us what’s next on the physical horizon. So what do you think the next stage in the evolution of martial arts and the human body is, what kind of martial arts movies will come next?
I appreciate that compliment Raj, I really do, that means a lot to me. I’d like to say, I think martial arts training and martial arts movies are not as separate as we might think they are. If someone sees you do martial arts correctly in person, they will understand how powerful it really is. As for movies, the camera is about getting in there, capturing and amplifying that power and that’s what transfers to the audience. There have to be methods used for the sake of camera angles and so on. You have to have a story, but at the end of the day with a martial arts action film, I believe it’s the martial art dynamics that people want to see.
What other movie’s fight scenes particularly impress you?
I would say “Merantau Warrior” with Iko Uwais, that’s my favourite of his. When you watch him, you can see he has his own frequency, his own moves, his own way of doing things. That’s the reason why training in different arts, I think I can appreciate watching everybody’s style because I train their styles too.
Could you reel off some of your favourite martial arts movies?
Which martial artists/actors would you most like to work with in the future?
People like Anderson Silva and Jason Statham, they’re really talented!
What is a typical workout for you? Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training, do you combine weights with that too?
I train an integrated martial arts workout, usually cross training between three and four styles per day on whatever I feel I need to work on. I just listen to my body and do what I think contributes to building my body up and not what’s tearing it down. For example, I’ll be often be doing movements from capoeira and silat. I do capoeira movements to keep myself flexible, then you know your body will stay ready to move. I do light weights and meditation –that’s very important. I also consider what my training partners need to work on because you have to have that willingness to help other people train too.
What’s your favourite exercise and what specific or special training techniques do you find really work for you?
I think regardless of what physical technique you practice the mind intent connected to it is important. You’re not going to master a technique in a day so you’ve got to be willing to do the same move thousands and thousands of times if you want to gain a good understanding of it.
What are among the most daring stunts you’ve ever done?
One of the more dangerous stunts I think was when I did “The Man With The Iron Fists” with Rza. There were a few times when I had to be dropped from a high elevation a couple of stories down onto a hard floor or through tables, there wasn’t much padding either! Other stunts involved being spun around and being thrown into a wall head first, for such stunts you’ve got to have perfect timing to protect yourself.
What was your most serious injury and how did you work around it?
Actually, it was nothing to do with movies! When I was younger I actually used to be a sprinter and I dislocated and broke and my hip which was very painful. I had to use crutches and a wheelchair for a while. I was still trying to train martial arts the whole time while leaning on these crutches; I was outside punching my bag with one hand. That was probably the worst injury that I’ve ever had because it stopped me from being able to train for a few months. That’s one of the reasons why I was really happy to start studying capoeira, it actually helped a lot with the rehabilitation of my hip.
What do you like to do to recover from a particularly strenuous period of physical activity? What do you recommend for those leading an intensely physical and demanding lifestyle?
Sleep! Resting, that’s one lesson I need to learn, to sleep more. I don’t sleep enough and my wife always tells me I need to sleep more because a lot of times I’m up until three or four in the morning just putting in more work, I’m very driven and always trying to improve. I definitely recommend to anyone who is doing strenuous martial arts’ training to listen to their body and get enough sleep. Massage is also good and is really important, so I see a massage therapist. Meditation is good if you can just listen to some relaxing music and maybe go into some kind of relaxed state, the benefits are very important. Lucky for me, I have a 7-year old son who loves video games, so sometimes I’ll just kick back and play games with him, that also helps me relax!
What kind of diet do you follow?
I pretty much eat whatever I want, but my wife gets us to eat organic whenever possible. My wife makes all kinds of different foods, a lot of Asian dishes, with vegetables and different forms of meat, organic chicken predominantly. My favourite Thai food for example is chicken and rice. I also like to eat fruits like bananas, apples etc.
Which foods do you find work for you to remain at your most energetic, what’s the best fuel for your workouts?
During my workout, there’s this really, really good electrolyte drink called “Ultima Replenisher” that I take. It’s all natural, zero sugar and 100% non-GMO. I mix it with my water and it really helps with replenishing vitamins and nutrients. When you train and sweat a lot like I do, (I train hours and hours a day) you get cramp or your muscles may get really fatigued so this is really good for that. I drink this during a workout to keep me going as opposed to drinking lots of sugary drinks. It definitely made a huge difference in my training.
One of my other super foods is Gummy Bears (laughs). Perhaps it’s not a super food per se, more like a tradition -I usually eat a handful right before a workout and I’m gone!
Do you take supplements, what do you recommend?
Not really, I just take like standard multi-vitamins that you can get over the counter.
What’s one geeky thing that people don’t really know about you?
I’m a full on 100% nerd you know with the glasses and everything, this is my daily persona you know. The reason I say that I’m a nerd is because I think being a nerd is cool. Studying yourself to be yourself and all, if that’s what people call a nerd them I’m a nerd 100%! A lot of people don’t know how much I actually study and read, I read and write a lot!
What are a couple of your favourite books?
The “Tao of Jeet Kune Do” is one of my favourite books. I’ve actually published one book, “The Warriors Journal”, which was co-authored with my long term friend Mark Cody, the book is a result of my studies from about 14 to 22. Now, I’m in the process of writing another.
Another I would have to mention is “Think on These Things” by Krishnamurti, I read all of Krishnamurti’s books. Have you ever seen the movie, “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” Well I’m learning about quantum physics, I reached out to Dr Amit Goswami and we’ve been talking on the phone quite a bit and asked him to be my teacher in quantum physics. I’d like to do a workshop with him sometime.
What in life do you really:
I like wisdom if that makes sense to you. I like it when I get to learn something new or deeper and I also like it when I see someone else have that ‘Aha!’ moment and they learn something, do you know what I’m saying? So gaining more wisdom insight is my favourite thing; when I get that extra new piece that extra perception, that new little secret to life that makes it a little more functional for me, you know I get excited!
I don’t really focus on things I don’t like.
I listen to a lot of hip hop when I work out. I actually listen to Wu Tang, all day every day! It’s that frequency I was telling you about.
Every fighting style whether it be silat, muay thai, capoeira, etc has music. The music itself drives the movements of the art. You can utilise that frequency, that flow, that rhythm in that particular art.
If you do muay thai and you listen to the sound of that music when you practice, the music tells, instructs and guides you. A person who has been practicing for a long time understands that the music drives the movement. Capoeira does the same thing with the berimbau (the berimbau from Brazil is a single-stringed percussive instrument, a musical bow. -Editor’s note).
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
My greatest accomplishment is being a dad.
What are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?
I think to just continue on the path that I’m on which is to develop myself and my students and we’re building around the world…With Bruce Lee being such a big influence on me, I feel if I could as a martial artist, teacher and a humble student have even a tenth of the influence that Bruce Lee had on the planet, I would feel really fulfilled. That kind of inspiration gives people more hope, so if I could play a part in that then that’s kind of the path I want to stay on. It’s something that I talk to my grandmother daily, she who was a part of the Civil Rights Movement. She always tell me how proud she is of me and I tell her, no, I’m proud of her because I wouldn’t even be able to do this kind of stuff if it wasn’t for a lot of sacrifices that she already made. So, I’d just like to remain loyal to my path being grateful for my opportunities while I try to inspire other people to take advantage of theirs.
What advice would you give to a beginner who is considering taking-up a martial arts movie career?
I tell people if you want to do martial arts in movies you should do martial arts in real life first. First find a good teacher, take your time, be patient you can develop the necessary skills. There’s no guarantee that anybody is going to make it in the movie business, but wouldn’t it be great if at the end of the day you still gained some skills and developed yourself? Either way you’re going to need discipline and focus. If you go into it with that mentality and work your way through, you may well get into a situation where you make some good connections along the way and start getting into films which is like the icing on top of the cake!
What special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world?
Just keep searching for wisdom as none of us have all the answers! So we’ve got to keep each other going get and share more knowledge, got to keep searching…
Which warrior-wisdom quote has shaped you up to this point and moulded you into who you are today?
I’ve got to think about this one because I have quite a few favourite concepts, here let me dig into my happy Bruce Lee stash! ‘Be Formless’. I think when I heard Bruce Lee say that I took it to heart because to understand form, you have to understand the structure of things before you can relate them to each other. When you look at different forms and shapes people always distinguish between them instead of looking for what is the common denominator among them. So I think that’s like a universal principle in life; as all things unfold, we’ve got to figure out how they are connected in the grand scheme of things.
Sadly, we’ve come to the end of this interview! Before we sign off, where can readers find out more about you, where’s the best place to go?
There are my websites:
Thank you Marrese for an absolutely riveting interview we so enjoyed hearing more about your life and experiences in the fighting arts and will be looking out for more from CMA (Crump Martial Arts), your movies and work! Thank you for your kind participation and we wish you all the very best in your exciting upcoming projects.
Thank you Raj, it’s been awesome, let’s keep building… peace bro!