Kai Martin has doubled Daniel Craig as one of his stuntmen, for over a decade. He’s been a stunt performer for over twenty years and I had the pleasure of preparing him for Bond #25 for a solid eighteen months.
My job was to coach Kai in the martial art of Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing. I was his pad man and strength and conditioning coach, anywhere from three to five days a week. I also had the responsibility of programming and taking him through thirty minutes of conditioning work after each sixty minute pads session.
Ten years with Bond
Here’s five things I learned over those exciting and challenging months.
1. adaptation is criticaL
From the standpoint of the coach, there were plenty of sessions when I had to adapt on the fly. Here’s a few fun examples from our time working together.
A gig (stunt) had been booked on very short notice; less than a few hours prior to our session, due to start only a few hours after our session. This happened multiple times – it’s the nature of the stunt business. Performers are often called with very short notice to perform a stunt. Often enough I would have to scrap the planned session in exchange for the following adaptations;
- I made sure energy levels were kept high. That meant no excessive, neurologically demanding work (no heavy back squats, no tornado headkicks), no muscle damage and obviously no injuries from our session. The last thing you need is a battered stunt performer who hasn’t even started performing their stunt yet. These guys and girls can shoot anything from one take, to fifty-plus takes. They need to be as fresh as possible before beginning their sequences.
- A constant, light sweat was good, with a lot of movement after a very thorough warm up. Combos were kept to 3-5 strikes, power was reduced to 75% or less.
- Work : Rest ratios were kept at 2:1, respectively – between 2 minute work rounds, rest times were set at 60 seconds.
- Hydration was encouraged and reminded from my part. Kai would often consume an electrolyte drink alongside his water bottle during our striking sessions. Sometimes he’d even have immune support vitamin drinks, too.
- Cardio post-session was scrapped. Instead, stretching for recovery; focusing on returning used and shortened muscle-groups to their normal, resting length.
- Nutrient intake immediately after our session ended.
2. BODY AWARENESS HAS NO LIMIT
One of the most impressive things about working with Kai was his ability to X-Ray himself each and every session. His level of body awareness was so heightened, he could pinpoint areas of tightness, restriction or inefficiency in his body with ease. He would often mention to me that his hamstring was ‘talking’ to him, or that his rib was ‘out’, and that seeing a manual therapist later in the day would remedy the temporary restrictions before our next session working together.
Observing Kai’s levels of awareness over the time we worked together made me realise that there is no cap. Body awareness is cultivated everytime we move in a new manner or refine learned movmement patterns. It’s a valuable tool for autoregulation and longevity, it can constantly be added to, it doesn’t cost anything and is vital for learning how to control your body and mind.
3. WHAT YOU PUT IN, YOU MUST TAKE OUT
This was probably one of my favourite lessons from Kai himself. I already had a similar ethos that I had discovered for myself through the sheer act of life experience but the way Kai phrased it has stuck with me ever since.
To illustrate this principle, think of the muscular body as a system that can either be in a taught state (one of tension and stiffness where the muscles feel hypertonic or overly tight) or in a relaxed state (where the muscles feel looser and more fluid). Everytime you perform resistance training or expose the body to a physical stressor, you are putting tension into the system. Everytime you deliberately focus your efforts on relaxing your muscles and breathing rate, you are taking tension out of the system, so to speak.
One of the reasons Kai rose to the top of his game and stayed there for years was this unique approach. He would rigorously train the body, putting tension into it, but also practice taking the tension back out with just as much fervour. This meant his body could perform at a high standard, year after year and his injuries were kept to a minimum.
I noticed that compared to some of the younger, more naive stunt performers, they would train hard and be great at putting the tension into the system, but neglect the important elements of deliberate recovery and then wonder why they were regularly getting injured or unable to maintain long training blocks without their bodies rebelling.
Some of Kai’s favourite methods to take tension out of the system were forms of Asana, massage therapy, sauna and long walks.
4. ALWAYS KEEP ONE MARTIAL ART GOING
Kai swore by always keeping a martial art practice consistent whilst he was in ‘off season’. He has experience with western Boxing, Muay Thai and chinese weapon forms of Wushu, to name a few. He believed the regular training of martial arts kept him sharp; hand-eye coordination, reflexes, general corporal conditioning, timing, the ability to learn and adapt to new movements, power output and a cool arsenal of moves he could use in his work on-screen, were just some of the reasons he told me as to why martial practice forms part of his physical training baseline.
5. UPGRADE YOUR KNOWLEDGE BASE WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Not only was Kai a vivacious mover but he was just as keen a reader, too. Always buying books, reading and sharing his thoughts, ideas and questions, asking for new book recommendations or passing them onto me. He’s always updating his knowledge base on a variety of subjects, both in the realms of fiction and non-fiction. The broader your knowledge base, the more people you can talk to about a variety of interesting things.
The stunt performing world is people-based. Interactions and communication make up the majority of the time on set. Kai would either be reading inbetween takes or talking to other performers and coordinators on set about anything and everything. Surprise, surprise, people remembered him and gigs were always coming his way.
Working with Kai was one of my most memorable coaching experiences so far. You can check more of his appearances here;