Idris Elba kickboxing in a professional ring raised some eyebrows. How would Idris, who’s played some huge roles in some of the biggest franchises, handle the gritty profession of kickboxing? Here’s his journey to the ring in order to become even meaner than his celluloid self.
Look carefully at this London born actor and you’ll find he’s impervious to something we all suffer: aging. This isn’t something that happened by accident, he’s well known for being fastidious about his health and fitness regime.
While notorious for dramatic roles, such as Stringer Bell in The Wire, he’s the kind of actor who oozes manliness. That’s about to be kicked up a notch thanks to his new documentary Idris Elba: Fighter. He sat down with TRAIN to discuss his journey that’s taken him from playing a tough guy to becoming one.
“I’ve been interested in sports for as long as I can remember,” smiles Elba. “For me, training and keeping fit have always been a part of my life and a part of my job since I’ve been acting. I’ve always tried to fit in workouts whenever I can.
I’m into running, body weight training, a bit of traditional weight training, skipping, and then kickboxing has been a big thing for me, although nowhere near as it has been for the last year or so with Idris Elba: Fighter.” This is the story of how one man took a reel life and turned it into real life.
Base level fitness
He didn’t suddenly wake up and wonder what it would be like to become a tough guy. Combat sports is somewhat of a passion. “I’ve been kickboxing to keep fit since my 20s, but to get in the ring and actually fight and train for actually fighting was a different experience. I love pushing myself and to go on a journey with my trainers and sparring partners, people that have so much more experience and expertise than me – it’s incredible and an absolute honor.
Before, my kickboxing training was bag work, drills of three-minute rounds where I go through high and low kicks, combos, and then light sparring. The bag work was always the thing that I would go to in order to keep fit.
“On this journey, it was a totally different thing. The training was very much how a fighter would train… Albeit a guy who’s now in his 40s and hasn’t had any professional fights before,” he says, while belting out his famous baritone laugh.
“I was training much in the way a professional would; it was a big challenge both mentally and physically. Before this Idris Elba: Fighter series, kickboxing was more a of a keep-fit type thing, and it was tricky to really go head first into it because of my schedule with acting – the producer’s probably wouldn’t be so keen on it. Delving head first into it was a true journey and I absolutely loved it.” Proof that you’re never too old to try something new and push yourself to new limits.
Idris Elba kickboxing and turning pro
A series such as this involves risk. Being exposed as un-athletic could spell disaster for his on screen hard man persona. These were threats he was willing to take on. “I learnt a lot about myself doing this,” he explains, while leaning back in his chair. “I was very fortunate on this experience. My trainer, Kieran Keddle, is brilliant and, throughout the show, I got to train with a number of top trainers, sparring partners and former champs in top-notch gyms around the world.”
“I got to spar and train in Thailand, Japan, Cuba, South Africa, France, Australia, and then have my first fight. I did the weight cut, a lot of sparring and had a proper camp in the run up to the fight; I had lots of knocks and niggling injuries that are a part of the territory. I was putting in the hours. They were going for me in sparring, trust me – as they should. In the nine or so week run-up, I was training at least two hours a day; sometimes twice a day. It was intense.”
Idris Elba kickboxing with functional muscle
There are two kinds muscle: there’s the showboating guns you see at the movies and the arms you see at live sporting events. “With the strength and conditioning, that was predominately old-school, tried and tested body weight stuff like different kinds of push-ups and pull-ups. The training regime was very much bag work, pads, sparring, running, battle ropes and skipping.
“Repetition is the key and those were my staples. It was rounds upon rounds of pad work, doing different combos, and as much sparring as possible. I really enjoyed sparring. I like pad work and running, but I do love the sparring. I learnt a lot about myself as well. The training was very much geared around me learning the craft of kickboxing. I had the basics, but it was really about honing the form, improving my technique and timing and balance.”
The sweat sessions were only part of the equation because, to do it right, you need to marry solid nutrition with all the training. “With the diet, I didn’t want to bulk up because I was at a good weight for my size, so I actually cut down a little. I don’t really eat much junk food and I’m pretty disciplined, so that wasn’t too hard. I’ve always watched what I eat and I try to balance my carbs and protein intake. I love steak and eggs with a bit of spinach on the side – that’s my favorite.”
Taking it to the ring
It’s one thing training and quite another fighting, but Idris is happy with the result. “Oh man, it’s an amazing experience. I can’t wait for people to see the series,” he says. “It was a dream for me, travelling and speaking to so many masters in this world. It has been a lifelong ambition of mine to fight professionally; to enter the ring and to test myself. The whole process leading up to that was truly blood, sweat, and tears… There’s a lot of drama in the series, believe me.”
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