The man who makes Hollywood's heroes super
Patrick O'Donnell
Europe;

Batman, Iron Man, James Bond and John Wick have all been taught how to fight by him… Emil Martirossian is not a man to be messed with.

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The dank, subterranean Brighton and Hove Boxing Club in the UK is not where you would expect to find one of Hollywood's finest, but this is Martirossian's office. The 41-year old has worked as a stunt fighter and choreographer in some of the highest-grossing films of all time – bringing to life several of the world's favorite characters through his love of Chinese martial arts.

Martirossian is a disciple of Chinese Hollywood martial arts legend Bruce Lee, but unlike others who follow his teachings, he can boast a more lineal claim: "I trained with Phoebe Lee, she taught me her father's Tai Chi Boxing – the same style her brother Bruce Lee learnt. Phoebe is my godmother and she continues to support me in spreading her brother's martial arts to the world and to continue his legacy," says Martirossian.

Martirossian with his godmother Phoebe Lee, sister of martial arts legend Bruce Lee (Credit: Emil Martirossian)

Martirossian with his godmother Phoebe Lee, sister of martial arts legend Bruce Lee (Credit: Emil Martirossian)

Bruce Lee adapted his father's discipline alongside Chinese Kung Fu to create Jeet Kune Do (JKD), which he used in his films, and in which Martirossian holds an eighth rank, having trained with two of Lee's original students.

This legacy can be seen in the John Wick movies, starring Keanu Reeves. Martirossian worked on the third installment and says: "The John Wick films are mainly influenced by the old-school Bruce Lee movies, but they brought it forward to this current time. It was very interesting seeing the transition of it all."

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Just as Lee adapted his father's discipline, Martirossian has used JKD to fit his Urban Street Combat classes, which he teaches at the Brighton boxing gym. "It's based on JKD, but it's tailored for the street. It's purely for survival and getting yourself out of a sticky situation," he says.

His journey from martial artist to the silver screen began when he was four years old. Since then, Martirossian has become highly decorated in several other martial arts – he holds a third sash in the Chinese discipline Wing Chun Kung Fu; a first-degree black belt in ITF Tae Kwon Do and a third dan black belt in the WTF version; a third dan in Aikido; and a first dan in Japanese Ju Jitsu.

Martirossian adds: "I was British and European Tae Kwon Do champion gold medalist and I was in the Olympic squad, but my passion was in film so I pursued that instead."

He uses all of this knowledge when creating fight scenes for movies: "I draw on different arts for different characters – there is a certain style that would suit Batman more than, say, Ironman, but you have to see it in your mind and put it on to film."

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His first acting role came at the age of 16, when he appeared in UK prime time TV show The Bill. "I played a teenage thug. I did a small fight scene and had my ear bitten off – it was a good gig," he explains.

Shortly after came his big break. "I had the opportunity to audition for Batman Begins, so I found myself on set playing a shadow ninja warrior. Then, when they saw my skills, I was asked to do the fight scenes and I became a stunt double for [Batman actor] Christian Bale. It was an extremely great experience for me," Martirossian says.

The producers were so impressed with his ability, they called on him again. "I was asked back for the third installment [The Dark Knight Rises] to work alongside Tom Hardy. It was great fun and it all came out really good."

Martirossian on the set of Batman Begins, in which he played a shadow ninja warrior (Credit: Emil Martirossian)

Martirossian on the set of Batman Begins, in which he played a shadow ninja warrior (Credit: Emil Martirossian)

He was then called by Marvel founder Stan Lee. "He asked me to choreograph fight scenes for his latest TV series, which was called Lucky Man," says Martirossian.

His career has encompassed some of the biggest blockbusters of the past couple of decades including Marvel's The Avengers, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Iron Man and the James Bond movie Spectre. So, how does he turn Hollywood stars into tough killing machines for the big screen?

"First and foremost, I have to change their way of thinking into the character they are playing – they need to go back into their past and draw on some memory that ticks them off and we use that emotion for the fight scene," he says. Adding: "I might even, before the take, walk up to them and give them a dig in the stomach to get them angry and in fighting mode – that's the old-school way of doing it. It's completely different from the way I teach my students."

However, one movie franchise stands above the rest for Martirossian: "The most interesting films I've worked on were the Batman movies – it was just surreal being there working with Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine… It was just an all-round great experience as an actor and stunt fighter."

Martirossian checking the fight scenes for Stan Lee's Lucky Man (Credit: Emil Martirossian)

Martirossian checking the fight scenes for Stan Lee's Lucky Man (Credit: Emil Martirossian)