Black Panther has broken the Marvel mold in many ways, but there is no denying the movie has created its own signature fight scenes. No doubt aided by the fact that lead actor Chadwick Boseman is a student of the martial arts, the action is sleeker looking and faster than most traditional action.
“There are some actors who make it work with camera tricks and computer graphics,” says expert martial artist Marrese Crump. “But there is a spatial intelligence that comes from sparring and studying the martial arts for years.” Since the age of seven, Crump has studied numerous techniques from Muay Thai to Capoeira to Tae Kwon Do, earning several black belts. He is also the only American protégé of the late Master Panna Rittikrai, who choreographed the legendary 2003 film Ong-Bak: The Muay Thai Warrior.
So when Boseman’s sensei, Grandmaster Bill McCloud, was looking for someone his student could train with to advance his skills, he knew Crump was the man for the job. Not only did he end up helping Boseman through his sequences, but he also ended up an invaluable asset to the stunt crew and director Ryan Coogler. Men’s Journal spoke with Crump about collaborating with Boseman to create the fighting style of Black Panther.
Do you remember first meeting Chadwick?
It feels like a long time ago. First Grandmaster McCloud, who put us in touch originally, connected us over the phone. This was before preproduction on Black Panther began and he asked me if I would train him through the martial arts. I knew we would flow together very well. I also knew this movie would be making history, so there was no way I could turn that down.
How did you start the work together?
One of my first discussions with him was over the fact that I would only do the training if he would come to Florida, where I was based at, because I knew that it would be difficult if he were in Hollywood and surrounded by all of that noise. I was lucky in the fact that he had already learned much from his grandmaster, who I truly respect, in Brooklyn. We began our one-on-one sessions and immediately there was a great energy.
How did the training begin?
I was blessed with the opportunity to study with Master Panna Rittikrai, who trained Tony Jaa. I took the principals that I had learned with him to start the foundation of what I did with Chadwick. It started with the mindset. There needed to be the right energy and vibration. Chadwick had already started on the structure of what it meant to be a king and a warrior, but together we added more.
What techniques can be seen in Black Panther’s fighting style?
Chadwick had a video of himself doing a Filipino martial arts knife-tapping exercise that popped up on the Internet. Just because of that video people started asking if we were doing Filipino martial arts. Of course we did, but we also did Muay Thai and Capoeira and others. He had to know them all. There are a lot of action movies that relegate to one certain style, and all of the fights look the same. Because of who T’Challa is, who the character is—a master of many—we couldn’t do that. We wanted to create a freedom in the fights that showcased how adaptable T’Challa is.
Once production started, how did you collaborate with the rest of the crew?
The stunt team from Marvel laid out the blueprint of what they wanted in scenes, which was very impressive of course. But since I was there on set with Chadwick, and I had a unique background in action movies, I was able to help with some of the action elements. It was nice that I was able to voice my opinions to director Ryan Coogler and the stunt coordinators. It was truly a team effort.
There were a few photos that surfaced of you working with Chadwick while he has the Black Panther suit on. What were you working on?
That particular picture I’m not going to tell you what we were practicing. [Laughs]. There is a certain level of personal development that comes from the martial arts, and those sort of things need to remain personal when possible. Let’s say it was a sensitivity awareness exercise.
Sounds like you’re holding a few things back.
[Laughs.] Let’s just say that Chadwick is a true athlete and I was impressed by what he brought to the table. The fact is, there is still more to his ability than what you have seen in this movie. He can do more.
For someone that is inspired to try out the martial arts for the first time, where do you recommend they start?
It is a tremendous way to train the body, the mind, and the spirit. I always say that people should find the art that you feel makes you a better person at the end. Even if it is not the martial arts; perhaps it is meditation. I personally teach To-Shin Do, a modern adaptation of Ninjutsu, which I also did with Chadwick. I enjoy teaching it because it gives me a chance to take all of my martial arts experience and bring it to the people. I think it is a great thing for your actions to not only benefit yourself, but also your community.
How to Train Like Black Panther
“One of the techniques we used to create Black Panther’s style was Capoeira,” says Crump. Here, he demonstrates a Capoeira flow that also combines conditioning.