Dev Patel Puts Taekwondo Black Belt To Use In New Movie

0 Posted by - February 27, 2024 - Film, Martial Artist

Monkey Man isn’t just an extremely cool looking action/martial arts movie. It’s also the culmination of a lifelong dream for writer, director, and lead actor, Dev Patel.

The star of films like Slumdog Millionaire, The Last Airbender, and The Green Knight and Taekwondo black belt has dreamed of being an action hero since he first saw Bruce Lee on the screen as a child. Now he has the opportunity to create that role for himself—and inspire the next generation of martial artists and performers. 

While we get ready for the April 5 release of Monkey Man, let’s take a closer look at Dev Patel’s martial arts background, his Bruce Lee fandom, and the inspiration for his latest film. 

Dev Patel and Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was an early role model for a young Dev Patel. “As a child and a British Indian, I could really relate to Asian actors who were strong leading men [in cinema],” he told the South China Morning Post in 2018. 

“He just exuded this energy,” the actor added in an interview with CBS News. “I was like ‘wow, he’s just a superstar, he’s just so different and just a breath of fresh air.”

In 2022, he told Global Indian that seeing The Little Dragon on screen was actually what inspired him to take up both acting and martial arts in the first place. “Once at home I went downstairs way past my bedtime and I saw this Asian man centre screen bursting with testosterone, and it was Bruce Lee, and I was like, ‘I want to be like him.’”

Dev Patel and Taekwondo

With visions of Enter The Dragon dancing through his head—and the need to find an outlet for his excess energy—Patel began taking Taekwondo lessons when he was ten. 

“I was very hyper,” he explained in the March 2009 issue of Totally Tae Kwon Do Magazine. “I had way too much energy in school. I needed something to focus my mind on, and channel all of that wasted energy – and Taekwon-do was the answer.”

Talking to The Standard in 2012, Patel’s longtime coach, Stuart Anslow from Rayners Lane Taekwon-do Academy, had nothing but praise for his pupil’s early years. “He was a child when he first came to me. Some kids are there because their parents want them to be but he was there because he loved it. He was really serious about it. Everyone liked him, he was a good guy, a laugh. He didn’t just get on with the kids but with the older students as well. He was an easy guy to get on with.”

His good nature and willingness to learn to paid off. When he was 14, he scored a bronze medal at the 2004 Taekwondo World Championships. Two years later, he earned his 1st dan black belt. 

Dev Patel in The Last Airbender, Source: Paramount Pictures

How Martial Arts Helped Dev Patel Become A Better Actor

In addition to the physical skills that would eventually help him to create and perform in a film like Monkey Man, Patel credits martial arts training with giving him the right mental discipline for acting. “I was ten when I joined the tae kwon do academy, and by the time I was 15 I was mainly fighting adults. I was constantly covered in bruises because of the beatings I got. By some miracle I never broke any bones. Oddly, I tend to remember the whippings I got rather than the fights I won. I quickly learned to accept defeat as part of the process,” he told The Daily Mail

“As I got older and more experienced, I learned to channel the pain of defeat in order to make myself better and stronger. Once you become skilled in a martial art it makes you streetwise. I didn’t just learn competition fighting – I learned how to be smart on the street. It’s not about going out looking for a scrap; it’s the confidence that comes from knowing that you can defend yourself if the need arises. Most of all I learned about physical and mental discipline. That discipline has been a huge help to me with my acting.”

Balancing Martial Arts And Acting

It hasn’t always been easy for Patel to maintain his martial arts training with an internationally successful acting career. 

Back in 2009, he managed to make it work, although he admitted to Totally Tae Kwon Do that it was a challenge. “Sometimes when I’ve got a late call to go on set, or a day off, I will stay up in my room doing exercises and stretches. Or if I’m in a hotel, then I make sure to venture down to the gym sometimes, so that I can still retain some sort of speed, flexibility and stamina in my body and technique. I just try and make the environment I’m in work for me. My busy work schedule does mean that I can’t train as regularly as I would like to. It’s quite difficult juggling the two, but whenever I’m free I go training.”

The demands of the average acting gig also limited how hard he could go in his training. ““I can’t allow myself to get battered around like I used to before I started to work. There would be continuity issues on set. If I did do half a scene normally and fresh faced, then came back the next day with pulled hamstrings, a black eye, broken nose etc, it just wouldn’t work. Unless it was like 28 days later and I got the crazy virus during the scene!! You get the general picture.”

He did get a small chance to combine his two passions while filming The Last Airbender, and he was particularly proud of his roundhouse kick. According to his old coach, though, most of Patel’s best martial arts work didn’t make the final cut. He was sure that his former pupil would have better opportunities in the future, though. “He’s a good black belt, he can fight, he’d be great in other martial arts films,” Anslow said. “He’s not an actor trying to do martial arts, he’s an actor that can do martial arts. It’s great that he’s doing so well and doing the things he likes – martial arts and acting – together.”

Monkey Man and Martial Arts

Although Patel confessed in 2022 that he hadn’t been keeping up with his training as regularly anymore, he finally has the chance to live up to his childhood dreams and prove his old coach right with Monkey Man. Not only will we get to see Patel show off his physical skills as Kid, an underground fighter who takes on a shady establishment to avenge his mother, we will also see how all of that Taekwondo training is reflected in his writing and direction. 

Monkey Man opens in theatres on April 5. 

Train Like Monkey Man With Taekwondo Gear From AWMA

If seeing Dev Patel in Monkey Man inspires you to take up Taekwondo training, here are five pieces of martial arts gear to help you get started: 

ProForce® 7 oz. TKD Uniform: This top quality 7 oz. Tae Kwon Do uniform is made of 55% cotton/45% polyester blend for the best comfort available. The uniform features a v-neck jacket with side vents. The pants feature an elastic pull-string waistband. Both jacket and pants feature reinforced stitching for extra durability. This uniform is perfect for all students looking for a medium weight TKD uniform. $49.99-$69.99 USD.

ProForce® Gladiator TKD Reversible Chest Guard – Circle Target: This reversible taekwondo style chest protector features a shock absorbent rubber body that has been covered in soft vinyl for added durability. Features red circle point scoring zones on one side and blue on the other. Long, elastic shoulder straps cross in the back and tie through the side loops while hook and loop fasteners help to ensure a snug fit. Sizing for the ProForce® Gladiator TKD Reversible Chest Guard is based on your uniform size, so check your uniform size carefully. $59.99 USD.

ProForce® II TKD Glove: Proforce® II Taekwondo Gloves has closed cell flexible foam padding, cushioned palm grip with extended longer finger padding, and adjustable elastic hook and loop wrist wrap closure. $39.99-$49.99 USD.

ProForce® II TKD Shin Guard: Designed for Taekwondo but suitable for all martial arts training styles, these shin guards feature a double layer of curved foam padding, vinyl cover, and two adjustable elastic hook and loop closure straps and one flexible elastic band for a snug fit. Available in seven sizes and sold in pairs. $34.99 USD.

ProForce® Transformer™ II Bag/Backpack: Carry and store all of your Taekwondo gear in this stylish and durable gear bag. This backpack is 20” long (with the ability to expand to 27”), 10” deep, and 12” wide, and features a u-shaped main compartment with nylon liner. It also has a vented front panel to encourage air flow and keep your gear fresh on the way to and from the gym. $64.99 USD.