The promotional cycle for a new action or superhero movie can be a fun time for martial artists and martial arts enthusiasts who also enjoy pop culture. Martial arts have such a huge impact on combat scenes—and how stunt people and actors prepare for them—in modern Hollywood films. And it’s always interesting to learn more about that ongoing influence.
So when Dwayne Johnson started doing interviews to promote his new film and longtime dream project Black Adam, we were excited to see what he might say about his training process for it. Had the most electrifying man in sports an entertainment added some martial arts training to his illustrious resume? How would a man famous for his choreographed combat both inside of the wrestling ring and in front of cameras incorporate more practical-based techniques into his oeuvre of action moves?
The short answer is that the artist formerly known as The Rock’s prep for Black Adam draws far more heavily on his background in football and professional wrestling than it does on any kind of martial arts. But he does have an interesting history with martial arts. Especially mixed martial arts.
Let’s take closer look in this week’s blog.
Does Dwayne Johnson have a background in martial arts?
Johnson’s father, WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson, trained as a boxer before he turned to pro wrestling. And many fans have speculated that a young Dwayne may have learned some moves from him. But the future Rock’s early athletic pursuits leaned more toward team sports and athletic competitions. He did do some amateur wrestling during this period. But he also tried his hand at rugby, track and field, and football. He was so good at the latter that he earned a full athletic scholarship to the University of Miami after just two years of playing.
After a professional career that included a stint in the Canadian Football League, Johnson turned to professional wrestling. And the rest is history.
But before his pro wrestling career took off, Johnson briefly considered taking up mixed martial arts.
Did Dwayne Johnson seriously consider a career in MMA?
On Twitter earlier this year, Johnson admitted that he’d briefly flirted with the idea of making the switch from predetermined combat to competitive combat. “There was a point in 1997 where I considered going to Japan to train to begin an MMA career when my wrestling career was failing miserably,” he wrote.
In the end, though, he decided that getting hit by someone who was actually trying to defeat him wasn’t his style. “Realized quick I actually hate being punched in the kisser,” he quipped.
A decade and a game-changing pro wrestling career run later, though, he started to entertain the idea again. Although he eventually arrived at the same conclusion, Johnson clearly made it a little deeper into the planning stage this time.
“I thought, man, I achieved everything I wanted to achieve in WWE, my movie career is floundering a little bit, what do I do? … I thought, oh well maybe UFC,” he told the UFC Unfiltered podcast in 2017. “In my head, I felt like it was at least a two-year process for me to even get in the [cage], let alone the UFC. I wasn’t quite too sure what to do or what kind of people to put around me at the time, so the idea kind of fizzled out and I continued to stay on the path of movie making.”
Although he wasn’t sure what initial steps to take, he did later add that he had a dream trainer in mind for the venture: Greg Jackson, whose highly influential vision for MMA competition played an important role in the success of fighters like Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, and Holly Holm.
But once again, he came to the same conclusion. “Smartened up ’cause I prefer my jaw in tact,” he tweeted.
“Kidding aside, I have boundless respect for MMA and the discipline it takes to become a champion,” he said in another interview on the topic in 2014. “The best way I can honor the warriors is through my support.”
How did Dwayne Johnson train for Black Adam?
In a lot of ways, Johnson’s preparation for Black Adam was more old school than what most superhero actors are doing these days. While many stars have turned to martial arts to help them move like their comic book counterparts, Johnson’s approach is more in line with his pro wrestling background. He moves with the power he’s exhibited since his football days. And his primary goal in training was to look even more muscular than his character looks on the page. To accomplish that, he focused on traditional weight training and circuits, and turned up the intensity.
“The training we did for this movie was the most arduous I’ve ever done in my life,” he told Men’s Journal in a recent interview.
Although you could argue that the mindfulness in his current training is very martial arts-influenced.
“Doing that work with Dave [Rienzi, Johnson’s strength and conditioning coach] we wanted to bring a whole new philosophy and methodology to the way I push myself in the gym. There’s a lot of fine tuning that goes on in our training together. Even if we’re not together, I’m constantly sending him photos so he knows exactly where we are when it comes to results. If needed, we’ll make adjustments in the moment. He doesn’t only care about the aesthetic, but also about my energy levels and how I’m feeling.”
Maybe he did get something out of his brushes with MMA after all.