Martial arts action actor Chuck Johnson finds niche in Japan
Where are you from, and what brought you to Japan?
I’m from Michigan — I spent the first part of my life in Detroit, and the second part in an upper-middle-class suburb called Okemos. That move was my first experience with culture shock! I started Olympic taekwondo when I was 15, and I took the gold in my very first tournament. Two-and-a-half years later, I was the Michigan State Junior Olympic Champion for both sparring and forms, winning the gold medal in both six days after receiving my black belt.
When I was 20, I had big dreams of going to the Olympics, so I started traveling back and forth to Korea to train. After three years, I had won one national championship in the States. But I decided that that path simply wasn’t for me. I came to Japan to find a new path.
Which was a harder culture shock for you: going from the murder capital of America to a cushy upper-middle-class suburb, or going from the West to the East?
Korea wasn’t so difficult for me to adapt to because I’d been around Koreans since I was a teen, and culturally, the Koreans share a myriad of elements with African-Americans: they both have a strong Christian social base, community-first orientation, super-direct communication patterns, etc. But Japan was a whole ‘nother ballgame. It took me a long time to get used to working here.
What kind of martial arts do you do now?
My base is Olympic taekwondo, but I’ve been studying capoeira and katana tate for two years. I also have experience in judo, kendo, hapkido, tai chi, kickboxing and boxing.
Tell us about your upcoming projects.
I just finished a live action show with the Pass Guard Action Team, and we have another one coming up in around October. Beyond that, I’ve been cast as one of the main characters in a post-apocalyptic Japanese samurai movie that starts filming next year, and will be shot in Thailand. I’ll be doing sword action and free hand action, and I’ll have Japanese speaking lines, so most of my efforts for the remainder of this year are going towards preparing for that role and promoting myself in Korea and China.
What do you like to do in your downtime?
Rest. I train 4-5 days a week, so usually I’m sore all the time. When I’m not resting, I spend my time working on Phat English, a system I developed while working as an pronunciation coach. It uses specially designed hip-hop music to teach American English Phonetics. When I’m not doing that, I’m studying other languages myself — in particular, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese.
For more information, see www.chuck-n-action.com and www.phatenglish.com. This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).