Once upon a time, Josh Herdman played a fictional henchman and became a bit of a bad boy off of it. Now he’s a real life hero of sorts.
The former actor, who played Slytherin student Gregory Goyle in all of the Harry Potter films, competed in his second-ever amateur MMA fight on February 17, defeating Samuel Radley via split decision at ROC 5 Rise of Champions in England.
While promoting the fight, Herdman proudly talked about how martial arts played a pivotal role in helping him turn his life around. After slipping into a lifestyle filled with excess post-Potter, MMA offered him a far more productive and rewarding outlet for his energy.
“If I’m honest I was a party animal, I was, like many young people are,” Herdman told Metro, who wouldn’t go so far as to blame his early acting success for his choices, but did admit that being around so many people with money made it easy to give into temptations. “But I had enough of it so I decided I was going to get fit and I knew I needed something to focus on and martial arts did change my life.”
Mixed martial arts training did not come easily to Herdman when he first started, and that’s exactly what he liked about it. “You need a discipline, you need a tenacity, you need drive to keep at it. When you start you’re getting hammered, you are a novice. That is what a lot of people who start martial arts can’t get through and they don’t like it but it was exactly what I needed and it taught me a discipline, which I needed at the time, and a focus, it changed everything for me.”
Armed with this newfound discipline and purpose, Herdman won his first amateur bout via unanimous decision in the spring of 2016, which you can watch below. And he’s been diligently pursuing his new calling every since.
Inspired by this young man’s success both in and out of the cage, we’ve been thinking a lot about the transformative power of martial arts. So we’d like to dedicate this week’s blog to looking at the ways in which martial arts has changed the lives of people from various backgrounds.
Robert Downey Jr. and Wing Chun
It’s becoming increasingly hard to remember that Iron Man was anything other than a superhero, but there was a point where the once popular star had hit rock bottom and was quickly burning through what remaining goodwill he had in Hollywood. When rehab failed — again — Downey Jr. turned to martial arts to help him turn his life around.
The actor asked Eric Oram, the founder of LA Wing Chun Academy, if he would give him lessons. Oram was dubious at first. “When he first came to me, insurance companies wouldn’t bond him for movies; he couldn’t get roles,” Oram recalled in 2011. “I told him if he didn’t show up to a lesson, I was going to chop off his toes and feed them back to him. One day he didn’t turn up, and I told him goodbye. Then he had a couple of producers call me and vouch for him, saying, ‘He was with us in a meeting; he didn’t have a phone. It’s our fault. Don’t cut his head off.’ He has committed himself to it ever since and turned his life around.”
But Downey was determined to prove him wrong… and he did. The star is still sober and more popular than ever. And we have Wing Chun to thank for that. “Martial arts has just been… I can’t even say how much it’s impacted my ability to stay well and focused,” he told Oprah a year into his newfound discipline. “It’s a spiritual practice. It’s grounded me and its primary purpose is to promote a sense of spiritual warriordom and to respect your society and to be prepared to defend yourself and your society if necessary.”
Ashley McKenzie and Judo
2012 and 2016 British Olympian (and Celebrity Big Brother 10 finalist) Ashley McKenzie was written off by teachers when he was just a child. At 10, McKenzie, who has ADHD and dyslexia, was actually locked in a padded room because no one knew how to help him properly and were desperate to control his behavior. A year later, salvation came in the most unlikely form: a fight with a bully who stole his Pokemon card. When the thief managed to easily toss him to the ground, McKenzie rushed home to research what had happened to him.
The answer to that question inspired him to take up Judo. And the improvements in his life were almost immediate. The techniques and discipline that he learned on the mats helped him manage his ADHD at school — and his behavior on the playground. The fact that he excelled at his new calling didn’t hurt, either. “I realized for the first time in my life that I was actually good at something. I was finally making my family happy, instead of causing stress for them. If it wasn’t for Judo, there’s 100 per cent chance I’d be in jail,” he told The Huffington Post in 2014. “I want people in my situation to know that if you want something bad enough, you will overcome anything to get it. Don’t give up.”
Mia Kang, Muay Thai
As a model, Hong Kong’s Mia Kang was revered the world over. She had a feature spread in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and high profile campaigns for brands like Guess. But she struggled to love herself as much as everyone else did. Until she developed an interest in Muay Thai.
“First, for about four years, I was just interested in the fitness side of Muay Thai because it is an incredible workout,” Kang told the South China Morning Post in 2017. “My family have a home in Koh Samui and last year I was taking some time away from work and every day I would drive past this little gym and see the young fighters training on the side of the road. One day I just stopped off there and asked if I could try.”
Although Kang points out that Muay Thai has not been a cure for everything that ails her — “I had years of problems with my body and my sanity and it’s something I will always have to deal with,” she said — her physical and mental health improved quickly. She was also able to quit smoking during a training camp in 2016. “The workouts were so intense I just forgot I smoke. It’s high-intensity training and you just train, eat and sleep. I’d never had muscle before. My body completely transformed. I have been a size zero and a size 14 and I’d never ever felt comfortable in my own skin until I found fitness and health through Muay Thai and honestly I am just so comfortable with my body now. However it continues to evolve, I can just embrace it as, honestly, I have never been so happy with who I am.”
Kang now competes in Muay Thai and is eyeing a future in MMA, as well. And she hopes that her experience will inspire other people with similar issues to consider martial arts. “You face your fears and your insecurities. It’s like Mike Tyson said – everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face and Muay Thai doesn’t give you any place to hide. You have to face up to everything.”
Have martial arts improved your life? How has your training helped you to make necessary changes in your lifestyle? Let us know in the comments!