Silvio Simac is a Croatian-born British martial artist and actor who has enjoyed a long and varied three decade career with some outstanding achievements. These include being (multi-time) British, European and World Taekwondo champion. Aside from TKD, Silvio holds black belts in Choi Kwang Do, kickboxing, karate and combat self-defence.
Having starred in numerous movies with such action superstars as Jet Li, Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi and Jason Statham he also regularly attends martial arts and health-oriented seminars and conferences alongside such friends as Benny The Jet, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Jai White, Don Wilson, Shannon Lee and many more!
Silvio is widely respected by his peers for being a fount of martial arts knowledge and experience on training techniques, nutrition and philosophy; he remains a hardcore student of life, happily sharing and communicating what he’s learned with ease, covering those details that can be so easily overlooked by other teachers in this day and age.
We decided to find out more about this broadminded, broad-shouldered, charismatic and well-armed (mentally and physically!) personality for ourselves! In this, the first of our two-part interview, we discuss his story, martial arts background and movie career.
So, let’s meet Silvio!
Hi Silvio, wonderful to talk with you! Let’s start off with our usual questions. What is your DOB and from where do you originate?
Hi Raj, likewise, nice to speak with you! I was born on 21 November 1973, born in Croatia to a Croatian father and Italian mother.
What are you vital stats, height and weight?
I am 6ft (1.82m), tall and weigh 15st (95kg)
How did you first get into the martial arts? How old were you?
I was 12 years old, and like many, was inspired by Bruce Lee. I remember as a young child going to the cinema and watching some of Bruce Lee’s movies and I was very impressed in terms of the physical shape Bruce appeared in and the speed he moved with -it was pretty mind-blowing! Once while on holiday, my brother was beaten up, and we both decided to take up martial arts in order to gain confidence and to be able to defend ourselves, it just continued on from there. The first time I walked into a taekwondo dojang, the spark and passion for martial arts just took off, my first aim being to get a black belt.
What was the first main style you trained in and how long have you been training?
It was actually taekwondo itself and I really wanted to focus on one discipline, and I was also advised to thoroughly learn one system before going into other martial arts. I was 17 by the time I got my black belt. Been training overall for 28 years.
Who would you credit as having most influenced you in the martial arts? Who were your teachers or sifus?
My father first and foremost, he had a big influence over my life. Then my Master, Orello Ellis who I used to drive to Oxford to train with (on Tuesdays and sometimes Sundays too) and receive the best instruction and guidance that I could. Other influences aside from Bruce Lee are Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
My first Master in taekwondo was Umesh Vijibura, (now a 5th dan), who later referred me to someone more experienced, my second instructor, Master Chris Naidoo, 7th dan, and then to Master Ellis 8th dan –they were fair like that, referring me to teachers that got progressively more advanced. When I was training for the World Championships in 1992, my instructor Chris Naidoo at the time, used to encourage me and take me to kung fu kyushokin karate classes just to get as much experience as possible.
Another person who inspired and motivated me perhaps above all is Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi, a taekwondo pioneer. He had sustained a lot of injuries and could hardly walk. He went to America to look for a way to recover himself from those severe injuries gotten through incorrect training methods. Over the years he combined his extensive knowledge of kinesiology, neurology, nutrition and physiology and formed a martial art system which he called, Choi Kwang Do.He encouraged me to spar in different disciplines and I’m ever so grateful that he gave me that opportunity because I know a lot of traditional martial arts frown upon you practicing other systems. Nowadays it’s different, you mix martial arts but, back then it was pretty much unheard of to do that.
Even though it’s a relatively ‘small’ system of martial arts (it’s not a massive movement probably because it’s not really had any marketing or been promoted much) I can vouch for it as I’ve trained with him at his private dojo in Atlanta USA.
For his age, he performs much better than most masters I have met; he’s 70 years old but moves like a 20 year old! I watched some of the footage of his performance 20 years ago, and believe it or not, he moves faster, better and with more power now than he did 20 years ago! He’s phenomenal in terms of his knowledge and for his strength and power –he’s unbelievable!
One thing I like about his philosophy is that martial arts should be accessible to anyone regardless of age. Another thing that impressed me is that Choi Kwang Do is a health-enhancing system. You see, by the time young UFC athletes for example, get into their forties they can’t do anything; they’re crippled in their joints, knees and hips.
Nowadays competitive sports are often more damaging than healing. I think sports should be healing and enhance your health rather than being detrimental to it. Talking sports science, it’s about delivering maximum force in your punches without causing damage to your bones, joints and body, otherwise, you’ll get wear and tear, you’ll deteriorate.
Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi has published a very thorough encyclopaedia which goes into the science of delivering incredible punches. I did a seminar with him in Atlanta with Master Rick Stanton who was George Foreman’s sparring partner –he really knows how to use his hands!
Performing techniques he talks about kinesthesis which is a process whereby neuroplasticity (which is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life) occurs. This re-wiring to takes place when we learn a new skill or technique. Performing techniques slowly you learn three times as fast. Interestingly, Bruce Lee said, “I am more afraid of the man who has practiced one technique a thousand times than the man who has practiced a thousand techniques once”.
Can you tell us a little about your professional competitive career?
Well, as I continued practicing, my enthusiasm grew along with my passion, my belts changed colour pretty quickly too! I always had a competitive nature so I started competing.
I competed in taekwondo on an international level for nine years. Some of my achievements include; fourteen times British Champion, four times European Champion and once World Champion attaining gold medals in all.
Moving onto your movie career, one of your earlier roles was in the pool fight against Jet Li in the film “Unleashed” (aka Danny The Dog), what was it like working with Jet and renowned fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping?
That was my second opportunity to work with Yuen Woo-ping, I’d also worked with him on Black Mask 2, in Thailand in 2002. Unleashed’s fight scene was rehearsed for a week and took two weeks to film. Jet Li turned up and Yuen Woo-ping said the first technique I was to do was a flying side kick into Jet Li’s back!
Well, I couldn’t imagine hurting the main star, so I kept holding back my kicks, but Yuen got a little frustrated because my kick wasn’t selling on screen, he said, “more power!” He got Jet padded-up and I kicked him in the back and he went flying.
In the make-up room (as it took an hour and a half for the make-up people to fix the tattoos on my head) Jet would sit right next to me and we would have a little chat. Then he would close his eyes for a whole hour and a half and meditate with his Buddhist beads, and chant, that’s when I realised he was pretty spiritual!
As for Yuen Woo-ping, he’s very demanding! Once he has vision, he will keep shooting until he gets what he’s looking for. He would characteristically put his hands behind his back, pacing up and down whilst coming up with creative ideas, he’s quite strict in his ways, in contrast to Corey Yuen for example (director of Charlie’s Angles and X-Men, who I worked with on Transporter 3 and DOA), he’s more flexible.
There was a scene where one of the guys rugby tackle me and I had to grab him and throw him over my shoulder and the guy landed on his shoulder. I apologised profusely but he seemed happy and not bothered, and when I asked him what he was so happy about, he said, “I get to go home I haven’t been home for six months!” Poor guy!
You also had an awesome, high powered fight scene with Scott Adkins in Undisputed 2, what was that like?
I’ve worked with Scott on five movies, my first being Black Mask 2, playing his right hand man. We were the only two British guys working on that one so we became close friends and have kept in touch over the last 14-years. It’s been fun and I enjoy working with him because we trust one another, when we rehearse choreography we bounce off each other’s ideas so we tend to work well together.
When I was offered a role in Undisputed 2, working with Scott and fight choreographer JJ Perry, I was over the moon, it was so much fun! Imagine, it was filmed in Sofia, Bulgaria, in the middle of winter at minus 20 degrees –it was freezing and we were in the studio wearing only our shorts!
You also worked with ninja legend, Kane Kosugi in DOA, how was that?
Yes! I worked together with the entire cast for three months, we became like a family. Kane and I got on very well and played chess and pool almost every day! Kane is a very competitive character – there had to be some kind of bet or forfeit even if we were in the gym! I got on with all of them, Matthew Marsden, Eric Roberts, Sarah Carter Holly Valance, Deva Naoki, I personally trained many of them, they had strict diets and I made sure they stayed in shape.
Considering DOA is a video game adaptation, what would you like to have seen done differently for DOA to have realised its potential?
I think the biggest mistake when it comes to video game adaptations is where the director has not really been a big fan of the game itself, and rather did it for commercial gain. I think it would be nice to have these movies written and directed by those who are also big fans of the video games.
My friend Joey Ansah, recently directed Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist and he’s been a huge fan of Street Fighter his whole life, so naturally he’s going to deliver the true essence of what Street Fighter is and what fans want to see as opposed to merely recruiting actors who are hot at the moment for the sake of the box office.
You also appeared alongside Tiger Chen in Keanu Reeve’s directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, your thoughts?
Working with them was fantastic! I have to say Keanu Reeves is the nicest person I’ve ever worked with, he’s very thorough, aware of his angles: he’d come on set and greet me every time asking if I needed anything.
Unfortunately, they had to cut 80% of my fight scenes out, Keanu saying it was a bit too violent; they had cut out quite a bit of all the fights. However, it was great fun to be working with a legend like that! I had worked with Tiger Chen on Unleashed actually, since he was one of the stunt guys chosen to be on Woo-Ping’s team.
How was Transporter 3 with Jason Statham?
Yes, Europa Corp, Luc Besson’s production company called and asked if I’d like to feature in the movie. I worked with Corey Yuen, filmed in Paris, it was great fun. Jason was pretty relaxed and it was nice to work with him, he didn’t seem to need to do any rehearsals at all -he would just turn up on set and pick it all up there and then!
Which of your roles required the most demanding preparation and training?
I think Undisputed 2, because JJ Perry called me and asked me what kind of shape I was in, he wanted me to be in the best shape ever, so I trained very hard for it! I’d say DOA was demanding too and I would have to say the fall I did in India on the Bollywood movie was the most psychologically challenging (more of this in part two of Silvio’s interview). On the flip side, I also worked with Michael Jai White and Darren Shahlavi on the French sci-fi series, Metal Hurlant Chronicles. For me it was quite a nice role to play for a change because I was acting and shooting guns, there was no fighting involved!
Can you share a funny or unusual thing that happened on a film you’ve worked on?
(Laughs!) This is the first time I’m sharing this in public, not sure I should be saying this! Well, Keanu Reeves called me up for “Man of Tai Chi”, and told me to come a week early before shooting started to get acclimatised, used to the time difference, try on the costumes and so on. For some reason, whenever I go to China my body takes quite a while to adjust, so I was tired, I was jetlagged, I couldn’t sleep and was on just two hours sleep a night. I asked for some sleeping pills but couldn’t get any. In-between takes in a scene where Tiger Chen was punching me; I fell asleep on the set and started snoring!
What are your top 10 martial arts movies?
- Undisputed 2
- Enter The Dragon
- The Big Boss
- Best of The Best
- Ip Man
- Ip Man 2
- The Karate Kid! (Yes, I loved it as a kid!)
Who else in the martial arts/movie industry have you enjoyed meeting?
I had the privilege to meet Jackie Chan when “The Medallion” was being filmed. Bey Logan, the producer invited me to come along to get to know the cast and crew. When I arrived, Jackie was asleep in the car, so Bey suggested going up to the window and knocking on it, so I did. Jackie was quite surprised when he woke up! He’s a really pleasant person. Onscreen, I love his style of movies, always have because there’s humour, it’s unique, different, entertaining and I like the way he uses his surroundings to his advantage which is pretty ingenious! I prefer his Hong Kong work compared to what he’s done in Hollywood, as I sense he had more freedom.
I also worked for a week with Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee when I was in China on a cultural forum. I was a little star struck meeting her, the daughter of such a legend, and she’s a lovely person! Thirty five years after Bruce passed away she’s still receiving awards on behalf of her father for his contribution to exporting Chinese culture to the rest of the world.
Which martial artists/actors would you most like to work with?
If you could have a sparring match with any martial artist at all, who would you choose and why?
Don “The Dragon” Wilson! We’re good friends, he’s a great character, full of energy, and I respect his fighting career. He was offered to come out of retirement at the age of 60 last year in Istanbul, Turkey. Unfortunately, the fight never happened, though he trained quite hard for it. I’d love to spar with him! I think his style is quite similar to what I do in ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) Taekwondo.
So ends our interview with Silvio Simac, part one. Come back tomorrow for part two with the incredible Silvio!