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Following our exclusive interview with actor and martial artist Daniel Wu about his extensive film career in Hong Kong, China the US and movement into the TV world, in this article he discusses the details of his training and preparation for filming a stunt intensive TV show like Into the Badlands.

Into The Badlands daniel wu
Photo Source: Into The Badlands Facebook https://www.facebook.com/IntoTheBadlandsAMC/

Interview About Training For Into The Badlands

What does a typical workout look like for you when getting ready for Into The Badlands?

For the pre-season, I start about four to six months out. So I’m preparing for Into The Badlands Season Three now. I do one 2-3 hour session a day, six days a week. Three of those days are martial arts, two days are Yama Yoga. Because I’m getting old and I need my body to be more flexible.

Into the Badlands daniel wu
- Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Fight Camp Training
Photo Credit:AMC/Susan Morelock

It sounds like your training changed since your earlier career?

Yes, this is one thing I really want to talk about in this interview: training for older people. How do you keep performing at a high level and not degrade your body well into your 40’s? In the past, I would do 100, 200 kicks a day, maybe even 500. Now I don’t want to do that, because the more I do, the more it degrades my muscles and tendons and everything. With my Yama yoga trainer Matt Lucas, I’ve adopted a completely different mentality. I do all my kicks really slowly, and I only do 5-10 repetitions.

For example, I’ll do a side kick that takes 3 seconds to extend. Then I hold it for 3 seconds, and then 3 seconds to return. So one kick takes almost 10 seconds. It develops strength without shocking your system all the time, because if you’re snapping out 100 kicks, there’s significant wear and tear on your joints, your tendons, and your bones.

At 42, I don’t have a lot of peak years left, so I want to preserve what I have left as much as possible. What I’m really concentrating on now is strength conditioning and movement, being able to move freely, more than martial arts, like making sure the muscles in my lower back are loose. Muay Thai and boxing tightened up my back a lot. Even wushu, which makes you very flexible in certain ways, makes you less flexible in others. So the Yama yoga really pointed out where my problems were, and started to fix those problems, and I started to balance myself out.

I discovered that my lower back was weaker, and I was using my abs to mask that weakness. Once I realized that, I could work on my lower back and fix that. Now I have a lot less lower back pain. I’m able to train full days without having much pain or stiffness. It’s usually 2-3 hours/day, six days a week.

Into the Badlands daniel wu
- Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Fight Camp Training
Photo Credit:AMC/Susan Morelock

Yama is a lot like Shaolin, very line-based, but it almost looks like Shaolin and Yoga combined. You go a bit deeper in poses, and do more twisting. It really stretches your waist and hips and knees. It’s something I like a lot, and I feel that it’s really helped me as I get older.

I’ve also discovered the importance of a martial arts system. With UFC and MMA, everyone’s cherry-picking all the best things from different martial arts, so there’s no system any more. They train really hard, and by 40 their bodies are really damaged. The importance of a Kung Fu system like Shaolin or Taiji or Qigong is that you do the hard stuff when you’re younger, and then you do the softer stuff when you’re older. That way you experience the whole gamut of experiences and training to keep you interested and also keep you active and able to do things across your lifespan.

My first Kung Fu master, YC Chang, just died last year. He was 98, and he could still touch his toe to his chin. So I’ve re-examined the system I came from, and I’m starting to go back to it. In my youth, I did what a lot of MMA guys are doing; I studied Muay Thai and boxing, and others, to get the best from each, but it degrades your body to do nothing but the most intensive things.

If you put racing fuel in a car and run it flat-out all the time, you’re going to destroy the engine pretty quickly. So for me, it’s a matter of finding the right ways to train without hurting myself. Especially for this show, because I fight a lot. This past season I did, I think 20 fight scenes. In a movie, you’re in, at most, 3-4 fights over a 4 to 6-month period. I did those 20 fights in 5 months.

The next season is going to be 16 episodes, so it’ll be even more!  You’ve got to be smart about how you use your body. I train smart, and I give it my all when we’re filming the show. I train hard, but I don’t do crazy stuff like I did before. I don’t try to jump as high as possible; I don’t do flips, or back flips, or anything like that. I just try to maintain good, fluid body movement.

Into the Badlands daniel wu
- Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Fight Camp Training
Photo Credit:AMC/Susan Morelock

When working on Season One of Into the Badlands, you mentioned on social media that you had to bulk up a lot for this role. How did you approach adding mass while getting in shape?  How did that added muscle weight affect your martial arts and stunt work? Is it helpful or hurtful overall?

After I did it, I realized it was a mistake. I did all the weight training first, and then went to fight camp. I added 18 pounds, but when I got to camp, I couldn’t do half the things I could before. My spinning back kick was horrible, I couldn’t do it. My glutes had gotten bigger, but also much tighter. I lost several inches off my jumps. I wasn’t just 18 pounds heavier; it was also that my muscles were tighter. So I actually spent the entire fight camp trying to undo what I had done with the weight training.

From that point, I decided I wasn’t going to do the Olympic-style weight training at all. I just do functional weight training. I’m not trying to get bigger any more, I’m just maintaining 170 pounds, and that’s fine. I’d seen all these actors getting bigger for superhero roles, and I felt like I needed to do the same thing. For a martial artist, that was the wrong thing.

For the second season, I just did functional weight training, like kettle bells, sledge hammer, tire flipping, that kind of stuff. Sort of like CrossFit training but not at the CrossFit pace.  Doing as many reps as you can in 30 seconds when you’re 40-something is not something you should be doing. You can do it in your 20s, but in your 40s you’re just going to rip your joints apart.

I do all those exercises, but I take my time with them. The interesting thing is, I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life. Before I could bench press and dead lift a lot, but now I feel like I have better core strength. I move really well, and really smoothly.  Issues like my back pain have gone away.

Into the Badlands daniel wu
- Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Fight Camp Training
Photo Credit:AMC/Susan Morelock

The shooting schedule for Into the Badlands seems very grueling. Do you continue to do maintenance training while you are on location?

It’s maintenance training, because we’re fighting 10-12 hours a day, sometimes 6 days a week. If we’re doing drama scenes that week, I will find a day or two to do some maintenance. I’ll hit the gym, do some cardio, and stretch a lot. I stretch every day. No matter what, I keep stretching. That’s part of my daily routine. If I’m just sitting around on set, or resting at home, I’ll put a leg up on something and stretch it out. We’re doing martial arts stuff all day long, so that keeps us in shape.

Into the Badlands daniel wu
- Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Fight Camp Training
Photo Credit:AMC/Susan Morelock

Can you tell us more about the fight camp you have the cast go through before Season 2 started?

It happens five weeks before we start filming. All the actors come in, and it’s really intense. It’s from 9-6 every day. We train the actors from 9-3, and from 3-6 Master Dee Dee and the stunt crew work with us on specific choreography. Those 5 weeks are long days. It’s pretty hard for the other actors. I’ve trained in China, where all day is the norm. But for people who haven’t done it, it’s pretty daunting.

I enjoy the training, but I’m used to it. I try to stay in shape all the time anyway, because if I’m not shooting Into the Badlands, I’m probably shooting a movie somewhere in the world. I find it’s much easier to stay in shape than to get in and out of it. And as I get older, I find that it really helps me prevent injuries from happening and keep doing what I love.

Into The Badlands daniel wu
Photo Source: Into The Badlands Facebook https://www.facebook.com/IntoTheBadlandsAMC/

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