Interview with Aziz Cem
Aziz Cem is a young, dedicated martial artist, stuntman and choreographer originally from Istanbul, Turkey. Equipped with some notable martial arts skills, career ambitions as well as the full zest and vitality of youth, he has recently journeyed to the movie mecca of the world, Los Angeles, looking to fulfil an American Dream or two.
He’s practiced martial arts from the age of 6 and, like many, has been strongly inspired by the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and Jean-Claude Van Damme. He’s trained in several martial arts and continues to train in seven types even today.
He works with “Action Turkey” -a stunt team established in 2006 dedicated to fight choreography, stunts, and the various aspects of action filmmaking. He’s learned from veteran pros of the arts such as 14 x Taekwondo Champion Silvio Simac and lunches with legends like Bolo Yeung!
His short film, “Escape”, shows Aziz doing what he does best; he demonstrates some cool moves which tells us that he’s trained in the old-school ways with a good sense of style, timing, speed and flexibility.
He possesses a lot of passion, knowledge and the requisite humility; the mark of a true martial warrior which we think will carry him far. Let’s check in with Aziz right now and get the lowdown on his background, martial arts, training, and much more!
Hi Aziz, it’s great to connect with you and we hope you’re keeping well?
Welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! Thanks for taking some time out to share with us.
Thank you Raj and thank you Kung Fu Kingdom – it’s great to get in touch with you!
Super! What do you think of the site and what do you think of the name Kung Fu Kingdom (KFK)?
I was surfing around the site for some time and read very good interviews and amazing martial arts news. If anyone wants to be up-to-date for martial arts news, Kung fu Kingdom.com is the No.1 website to check in my opinion!
Thank you! Now let’s kick off with some basics:
When and where were you born, and w
hat is your height and weight?
I was born in the European part of Istanbul in a place called Boshporus. I am 1.80m tall and I weigh 75kg.
How did you first get into martial arts? How old were you?
I started to train martial arts at the age of six which I feel very fortunate about. It was my parents’ decision but if I could go back in time to make my own decision, it would be the same or I’d’ve started even younger! I wasn’t so good at speaking when I was young so I started to train before I started talking!
You’re the first Turkish martial artist (in Turkey) that we’re having the pleasure of featuring, can you give us a snapshot of how martial arts is perceived there?
I can say that Turkey has a number of world renowned martial arts performers.
Just as Karate is Japan’s national sport, wrestling has been Turkey’s national sport throughout the ages. Turkey also won the gold medal in Taekwondo at the 2012 Summer Olympics. I think that the most common and best sport in Turkey is martial arts after football. If we talk about the sport that gets financial support, then martial arts is the best by far.
What was the first main style you trained in and what different arts have you studied?
I started out with Karate and Kung Fu and I train in seven styles to this day.
Who would you credit as having most influenced you in the martial arts and who would you consider your heroes or inspirational figures? A top five perhaps?
There are many martial artists that inspired me in different ways and each one has a different influence on me. I can summarise this by saying: Bruce Lee for his philosophy, Sylvester Stallone for his acting, Jean-Claude Van Damme for his aesthetics and Jackie Chan for his creativity. The top guys for me are Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Bolo Yeung, Mark Dacascos, Jet Li and Donnie Yen.
You’re becoming more involved in action movies now, what made you get into this?
When I was a kid, if you wanted to know anything about martial arts films, you could ask me. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent buying and watching these movies and I even remember the subtitles.
When I was in secondary school I was writing adventure stories featuring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Van Damme, along with the characters from their movies and myself.
The plot was the adventures of a boy when his father decides to send him to his friend’s home in Japan to learn martial arts. And yes, the father’s friends were Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Van Damme. When I re-read my stories, I see how colourful imagination was and still feel the excitement I did as a boy!
You’re also working with the group Action Turkey, how and when was the team created?
Action Turkey was started as a stunt team in 2006 and it does stunt work, martial arts’ choreography, action directing and action design in the movie industry. We’ve worked on many projects including German and Polish productions as well as Turkish ones. We also believe that fight sequences require supervising at the editing stage so we also provide an editing service which is done in a fully equipped studio.
You recently released the action feature “Escape”. What were the ideas behind it, how did it originally come about. You did some cool moves there, tell us more!
Escape has all the components of a fully-fledged movie using the mandatory techniques at every stage of production. From the camerawork, colour profiles, colour grading styles, editing, compositing software to techniques such as green screen, 3D models and matte paintings, follow the requirements of a full production.
Also the preparation for the fight and stunt scenes, martial arts choreography and rehearsals took some time, but I feel really lucky to be part of a hardworking, determined and creative team. What you can do together is really a source of joy and satisfaction.
What kind of training was involved in preparing for it? What was complex or difficult if anything?
The most important part for us was the martial arts choreography and fight scenes, so naturally we gave that the most emphasis. The second most time consuming element is editing and that’s why my friends call me a bit of a ‘perfectionist’. Nevertheless, they appreciate that I want the production to be as good as it can be with what we have available.
You’ve also worked with the U.K.’s 14 time Taekwondo champion Silvio Simac, can you tell us a bit about that? How was it working with him and can you recall any interesting moments?
It was in a word fantastic working with Silvio Simac. I knew Silvio long before but I could never have imagined his level of humility and sincerity until we met in Istanbul. When I was talking with him, I was thinking how inspiring he is as a person; I mean he has greatly improved as both a sportsman and an actor but far more than this, as a person. I really learnt a lot from him.
Did Silvio give you any training or other tips?
Yes. We worked on a feature movie in Turkey last year and I learnt a lot about acting, martial arts and many other things about life and film-making. He was like my older brother. I also got a lot of nutrition tips as he is very knowledgeable about nutrition and fitness as well as martial arts. We keep in contact and I am really looking forward to meet him again soon.
Who do you most admire in the martial arts movies? Give us your brief views on:
Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Mark Dacascos, Scott Adkins, Tony Jaa, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung.
Each of these guys are unique in their styles and careers. All are physically fantastic and have inspired me in one way or another, in different respects.
I have a special feeling and respect for Bruce Lee.
One of the most special martial arts actors is Jackie Chan. I always look forward to his new projects as many martial artists around the world do.
I am also interested in production and cinematography, so when I watch for example Donnie Yen’s movies, I see new shooting techniques and different overall movie styles with incredible martial arts scenes. This is one of the most outstanding characteristics of his movies in my opinion. If you want to have a better understanding what I am saying, you can compare a few shots from “Dragon Tiger Gate” and “Ip Man”. Just fantastic!
What are your top 10 kung-fu movies?
There are many and it would be difficult to put in order, so let’s put them in alphabetic order;
- Armour of God
- Dragons Forever
- Enter the Dragon
- Flash Point
- Game of Death
- Ip Man
- Only the Strong
- Ong Bak
Which martial artists/actors would you most like to work with?
Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone, Van Damme, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and Silvio Simac.
Talking about training now; what is a typical workout for you? Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training and do you combine weights with that?
All my regular workouts include flexibility training. A large range of motion is essential for me. My weight training consists mainly of body weight exercises for practical strength. I train with additional weights for specific purposes as and when needed. In addition to these, I train for neuromuscular coordination which means I can more easily adapt to new techniques. In turn, flexibility is vital for this.
What’s your favourite exercise and what specific or special training techniques do you really like and find brings out the best in you?
Learning new techniques correctly and efficiently is the key. So a balance of relative strength, coordination and flexibility training works really well for me.
What’s the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?
Jumping from Galata Bridge. Perhaps it’s not so high but it was pretty challenging for a 16 year old high school youth! Later I learnt that there were some left over construction materials down there under the water such as vertical bars etc. I consider myself very lucky to survive. Another stunt was jumping over a motorbike in 2007, something went wrong and the bike hit me, I spun in the air and landed on my feet. However the rider wasn’t so lucky as he crashed himself and the bike through a window into a basement.
What was your most serious injury, how did you work around it?
I’ve had 18 bone injuries, 5 of them being (both sides of) my collarbones. It wasn’t so easy but I handled it, as a result I am much more careful now.
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?
One main cause of fatigue in the muscles is lactic acid. As soon as you get rid of it, you feel recovered. Also there are some special training methods to get minimum lactic acid and achieve maximum efficiency. For me, planned and regular training works best. Training for the long term is one of the important keys to consider because the human body is smarter than we think and whatever we do for long enough it adapts to.
What are a couple of your favourite pieces of gym/exercise or training equipment that you absolutely love using and would recommend to others?
I use my own body weight for strength training. PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) and static trainings give me what I expect for flexibility. I am currently using additional leg weights for running and for training my kicks.
What’s one interesting thing that people don’t really know about you?
Probably that I am an academic.
What are some of your other hobbies outside of the martial arts?
I really like solo free rock climbing and swimming. I also like to read about space and the cinema. I have a special interest in speaking foreign languages and I think this is why I love travelling.
It depends on mood, but I like to listen to mostly epic soundtrack styles of music. Overall though I like music and songs from many genres.
Favourite movies? (non martial arts)
I’ll give you my personal top 5:
- Titanic – Amazing in every respect.
- The Truman Show – The greatest story ever.
- Annie Hall – Reminds me of my days in New York City.
- Troy – I was in high school when I saw it and still feel the influence. By the way, Troy is a place in Turkey, and yes, that giant wooden horse is there!
- Hababam Sınıfı (The Class of Chaos) – This one is a Turkish comedy movie that got a 9.5 rating on IMDB.
If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most love to have?
Definitely it would be Bruce Lee! Is Bruce Lee superhuman? Actually I think yes.
Imagine a man who inspired everyone around the world, led countless people to start knowing about and learning martial arts. Then, inventing a new powerful and efficient martial arts system, creating his own philosophical path by “being like water” and achieving all this and more in only 33 years. If this person is not a superhuman, then who is? Given, he can’t fly or emit laser beams from his eyes, but he can still inspire people in many ways even after almost half a century has elapsed since his passing. He still guides new martial artists through his philosophy and will continue do so for many centuries, without a doubt. The best thing about this is that, even though you might not learn to fly by training, you can do some of these exceptional things through your own solid hard work. As a student of Bruce Lee’s path, these are the type of ‘superpowers’ I would want to have.
What in life do you really:
Like? I love pizza!
Dislike? Mushroom in pizza!
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
Learning how to cook pizza ?
What are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Make movies, nonstop!
Which warrior-wisdom quotes have shaped you up to this point, and moulded you into who you are today?
I usually write them down when I read these quotes and I have a long list of them. I will mention 3 here:
“Do it now. Sometimes later becomes never.”
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
“When you’re scared, when you’re hanging on, when life is hurting you, then you’re going to see what you’re really made of.”
What special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world?
I’d like to thank you very much Raj and all the Kung Fu Kingdom team for making this happen, I’ve had a wonderful time. We are open to independent filmmakers in the UK and around the world. Greetings to all readers in the United Kingdom, the USA and everyone who happens to read this. Thank you!
If people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?
My official Instagram page: http://www.instagram.com/aziz.cem
YouTube channel where all our latest broadcasted work can be found: youtube.com/actionturkey
My personal website: azizcem.com
Our stunt team web site: dublorekibi.com (“Dublorekibi” means “stunt team”)