Matt Mullins: The New KAMEN RIDER
by Dr. Craig Reid
Bruce Lee has done more for martial arts than anyone else in modern times. With just four movies he inspired countless people to learn kung fu, karate, tae kwon do and other martial arts styles. Over the past few weeks I have met a series of martial artists who were inspired by different films: Akshay Kumar from CHANDHI CHOWK TO CHINA was inspired by Gordon Liu Chia-hui?s solid performance in THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN; four visiting Shaolin monks were inspired to become Shaolin monks by Jet Li?s cinematic maiden flight in SHAOLIN TEMPLE. So how appropriate is it that Matthew Mullins (Matt to his pals), who hails from a small Midwestern town and is now a rising Xtreme martial arts and TV/film talent, was inspired by KARATE KID?
Mullins' passion for martial arts and teaching kids is readily apparent when speaking with him, and he is exuberant about the opportunity to flash his acting and physical skills on his
latest TV project KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT. The underlying themes of the project reflect his personal philosophy. Many younger folks that get into film and TV based on their martial arts abilities have two things on their minds: money and recognition. Meanwhile, the reasons for practicing martial arts dissolve into philosophical rants or prepared statements of little content. Mullins, however, remains as honest and dedicated to his art and philosophy as he is to helping others. Just as KARATE KID inspired him to find a path in martial arts, he fervently hopes KAMEN RIDER will inspire kids to find their own path in martial arts. But Mullins is not relying on just TV to spread the word of martial arts; he has been training and teaching kids for several years, and it all started in Naperville, Illinois.
Mullins does not talk about how great the show is or boast about being a five-time martial arts world champion of this and that. Instead, he talks of his background in martial arts, how important this path is to him and how he is able to comfortably combine traditional martial arts and Xtreme martial arts (XMA) under one roof ? a new home for kids, the entertainment industry and himself.
"I started off with Shorei Ryu karate, an Okinawan style, perhaps not as well known as Shotokan or tae kwon do, but it is my foundation with John Sharkey as my sensei," he relates. "I got my black belt in that style, then moved out to California and began to branch out and practice traditional tae kwon do with Simon Rhee, a little bit of capoeira, some wushu with Ming Liu, which are all now part of the Xtreme martial arts I do with Mike Chaturantabut.
"What I do like about the traditional martial arts are the philosophical aspects of it, which nowadays is becoming a non-traditional route as to why many people do martial arts. I originally wanted to do martial arts because I wanted to learn how to fight, and I did a lot of that. But then I became interested in wanting to inspire by the whole performance aspect of the art and so that is what I am drawn toward. Yes, it is a different look to martial arts but all the different values of martial arts are still there. Hard work, the spiritual nature of the arts of what you do, except now one does it as a performance as opposed to a traditional strict way.
"In a way, it is similar to what Jackie Chan has done with his martial arts; it is basically entertainment, so in a sense that sort of makes us the first generation of Americans that have come up with our own style of performance martial arts. This is why I like Sideswipe, because we are showing a whole other style of martial arts that no one has ever seen."
Not to be confused with the Transformer Sideswipe (twin brother of Sunstreaker, loyal warrior to Optimus Prime and part of the Ark crew of Autobots that crash-landed on Earth four million years ago), Mullins is referring to the Sideswipe Performance Team, a martial arts-based group that blends traditional martial arts with gymnastics and acrobatics. That pretty much sounds like what Chan and his clan did with Beijing Opera, but without the singing. Based in Los Angeles, Sideswipe has been entertaining audiences across the country over the last three years, performing on television, stage, at sporting events, live action shows and karate tournaments.
"What I think inspires kids," Mullins continues, "is when they see someone who can do something like what we do and they can think that they can do it too. I can?t imagine how many kids started up swimming after seeing Michael Phelps win all those gold medals. I get a sense that kids think XMA is cool and want to be able to do it, so it is about inspiring them to believe that they can do it. Getting them to do something like this, a step in martial arts, and then they can shoot for any level of achievement that they choose to focus on.
"Although I?m busy with the show?s shooting schedule, I still continue ? although not as often ? to teach kids martial arts a few days a week because it is an important part of who I am, and that comes from all the great people who gave me so much when I was growing up, who taught me martial arts when no one else was willing to help me. It is important to just simply give back and to keep the art going. I can share with kids my experiences, my principles, the way of martial arts, to point out that it is not just physical, but also about being mentally strong. Then with these things, these martial arts tools, they can get to a higher level, which can translate into life and into anything a kid wants to accomplish in life."
The latest use for Mullins? martial arts tool is forging a new and exciting look on an old idea, KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT (on the CW ? new-ish TV network partnership of CBS and WB), based on KAMEN RIDER, a sci-fi franchise created by renowned Japanese manga creator Shotaro Ishinomori that debuted April 3, 1971 as a tokusatsu television show and was subsequently adapted to an iconic live-action kids television series by Toei Company, Ltd.
Tokusatsu, which in Japanese means "special effects" and has its origins in the fight scenes from early kabuki theater, now usually features superhero characters that liberally use special effects not only in TV serials like KAMEN RIDER and ULTRAMAN but also in kaiju monster movies such as GODZILLA, MOTHRA and GAMERA. Over the years, the popularity of the KAMEN RIDER franchise has grown and the original series has spawned a number of successful television and theatrical sequels. Still going strong after 37 years, KAMEN RIDER has a stellar history of 18 series, 892 episodes, 10 TV Specials, 28 theatrical releases, and 11 straight to DVD releases.
In the original KAMEN RIDER (translated as MASKED RIDER) series, actor Hiroshi Fujioka starred as Takeshi Hongo, a human rescued from the brainwashing attempts of Shocker, a clandestine terrorist group bent on taking over the world by turning humans into mutant cyborgs and making them Shocker agents of worldwide doom. Fortunately for the world, Takeshi maintained his moral compass and newfound powers, donned a grasshopper-like exoskeleton and assumed the identity of his new alter ego, Kamen Rider, who zipped about on a motorcycle and sorted out Shocker with martial arts-inspired sorties.
Similar to the original STAR TREK TV series, where George Takei eventually had a star named after him, the impact of KAMEN RIDER was so culturally significant that Hiroshi also had a star named after him, 12408 Fujioka. Furthermore, the show itself also became a heavenly body known as 12796 Kamenrider.
KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT follows the heroic adventures of teenager Kit Taylor, who discovers a mysterious deck of Advent Cards that grant him the power to transform into an ancient armored warrior called a Kamen Rider. He joins Kamen Rider comrade Kamen Rider Wing Knight (Mullins) to battle the renegade warlord General Xaviax and his army in both the real world and an alternate reality called Ventara, or Mirror World.
Mullins was initially unable to get even an audition during the original casting of the show. But just as he teaches persistence and belief to the kids who attend his martial arts lessons, he did not give up. "I could not get into the original casting for the pilot," he says, "and so instead I ended up crashing the series, which got me an audition and a booking on the pilot. It really was just about not taking 'no' for an answer and getting seen. It was great to work with Steve Wang and Mike Wang and to do fights with Koichi (Sakamoto; he?s been involved in POWER RANGERS for over 15 years); it was really awesome."
When asked if he thinks KAMEN RIDER is merely a hyped-up version of POWER RANGERS, he responds, "Sure, absolutely. That is a really good way to describe it, but at the same time it eclipses that show and takes a different path. The stories are much more interesting, not a linear story, and you don?t know who the good guys or the bad guys are as they are adventing (spirit killing) each other. The effects are also state-of-the-art and they use a lot of time and effort to make sure the show takes it to the next level. I like to describe it more like THE TRANSFORMERS than POWER RANGERS."
Mullins is also quick to point out that although he does all of his own fights and stunts in the show, due to the fast shooting schedule there is no time for him to switch back and forth into the Kamen Rider costume, so a double does those action sequences.
In a subdued tone he adds, "I am a martial arts junkie; if you want me to wear a big old rubber gorilla suit and ask me to do martial arts, I will do it. But unfortunately in this show that is the way it goes, time won?t allow me."
On the other hand Mullins will always make time for keeping the spirit of the martial arts alive, by teaching kids, doing demonstrations and not forgetting who he is, where he is from and his foundation in life.
"I would like to think that there is a lot more goodness and morality around," he says. "In our business, one really gets involved in a lot of stuff and sometimes people you have known like for your entire life will step on your face if they think they can get someplace by doing that. To see family and kids do stuff that you could never imagine them doing in a million years, it makes me question my own morality, like maybe I am approaching things all wrong, and maybe my vision of what the world is, is really skewed. I feel I am a righteous person for what is right and wrong, and this is probably not shared across the board. I would like to think that nice guys don?t finish last, you don?t have to be a jerk to make it in this world, you can be a good moral person and you can get through hard times without stepping on someone?s face.
"By elevating yourself you can elevate those around you. I try to work toward that every day, it is who I am, and I try to remain true to it, and that?s why I teach and work with kids. We charge for our classes but I never turn anybody away. If they can?t afford to come in, they come anyway, because I really believe that is the way the world should be. If you are ready to learn, there should be a teacher there to teach you. This is how I was treated. Some people have gone out their way to help me and stand by my side more than I could ever expect them to?and that is what I want to fight for too."
Written by Dr. Craig Reid for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM