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The Muscles from Brussels is Back!

Posted in: Articles by ProSource, Superfeature Articles
By Daniel Collier | Feb 9, 2009

At 48, Jean Claude Van Damme reflects on life, fitness,
and his most praised film to date 'JCVD'

Action movie star and former international martial arts champion Jean Claude Van Damme is making a big screen comeback! In his recent film ' JCVD', Van Damme portrays'¦well, himself, an aging action movie star whose B-list status has fallen so far he's even losing roles to Steven Seagal. Here's a short synopsis: After a failed custody battle over his daughter, Van Damme retreats to his Belgian hometown only to stumble into a hostage situation at a local bank. His cinematic martial arts moves are no match for real bullets, and to make matters worse, the police and the public believe he's the culprit, not the victim.

Unlike any of his previous roles, Jean Claude's acting in 'JCVD' is receiving all of the attention'¦Yes, I said his acting! In fact, Time Magazine recently called Jean Claude "A bold, gifted actor" and awarded him the second best actor of the year award in the magazine's annual list of top ten movie performances. New York Magazine's David Edelstein calls the film's pivotal scene in which Jean Claude faces the camera and reflects on his life in an agonizing, tearful six minute monologue, "The most amazing piece of acting I've ever seen by a martial artist."

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jean Claude about his new film 'JCVD' (currently open in select cities) among other things. In seeing and speaking with the now 48 year old, two things are still very apparent: 1. He's as ambitious as ever about life, fitness, and making movies. 2. He's as fit and toned as he was in ' Bloodsport' and still very much deserving of the nickname " The Muscles from Brussels".

Q: Where did the concept for your new film JCVD come from?

A: Well the movie is based on a couple different elements. It's based on some of the facts of my life and also it's part of a fictional story created by a director (Mabrouk El Mechri) who gave me a lot of artistic respect and creative freedom. The film was truly made out of heart.

The studio (Goumont) initially took a chance on doing a movie with me as the lead without having any kicks and punches in it. But based on the response it has received from audiences and critics, they're risk has paid off.

Q: How long had you been thinking about making this movie?

A: Mechri and I started talking about the idea of making a film loosely based on my life about two years ago.

Q: The genre of the film and the role you play are very different from most of the films you've done in the past. Given the subject matter, were you intimidated going into filming?

A: No, because I know who I am and what I was capable of doing. It's like training or working out. Even as a small kid from Belgium I needed to train to feel good physically and mentally. As you know, training, whether it be in acting, martial arts, whatever, can give you a lot of confidence in yourself. It has given me a lot of confidence from the physical point of view and confidence from the mental point of view.

Q: 'JCVD' and your performance in the film have received exceptional reviews from fans and critics alike. How does that make you feel given how personal the story is?

A: Well, because of this film I was able to express myself more as a truthful guy rather than just an action film character who's just putting on a show or portraying an empty person. 'JVCD' is full of life, full of feeling and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to put these things on the table for once in a film.

Q: How close is your portrayal of yourself in the film to real life?

A: A piece of it was real. Some of it actually hit pretty close to home, but much of it was fictional as well. At one point in the film I have a seven minute nonstop monologue explaining some of the aspects of my life story. But you know, I didn't really have enough time to explain my entire life story which is like two cycles in a sense. However, in a couple of years from now, I will be doing a well structured film of my life. The film will be shot on a basic HD camera and will consist of me speaking about my dream as a child that eventually became reality in my adult years.

Q: For the people who have heard your name and have seen some of your films but really don't know much about you, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

A: Sure. I'm from Belgium. I was born and raised in a poor area near downtown Brussels. Because I was born into a poor family, I truly did appreciate going from nothing to something when I started experiencing success with my martial arts and acting careers. I wanted to become something to honor my parents and my country. But then when I was on top, I really didn't see anything special. I eventually got to a point where something really felt like nothing.

I had lost contact with society and the streets that I had known so well as a kid. Because I was constantly traveling all over the world, from city to city, from hotel to hotel, it seemed I never saw the ground anymore. That is why I now make it a point to speak with everyone I come in contact with whether it be the woman who cleans my hotel suite or the man who parks my car. I just enjoy meeting and speaking to all kinds of people. I'm 48 years old, I've been all around the world, and I'm not just talking about one day here, one day there. When you're making a movie you generally stay in any given place for about three to four months. So I've had the privilege of getting to enjoy various cultures, philosophies, religions and just the human side of many different places.

Q: How were you first introduced to martial arts? Did you compete professionally?

A: Yes, I was 11 years old when I started training in a very traditional style of karate in Belgium. Being by far the youngest person in my dojo, I was forced and pushed to compete with guys more than twice my age. I was encouraged to touch their faces with my kicks and just to be an overall better fighter. Plus, I wasn't very gifted physically, so I had to train extra hard every day to compete and be as strong as these much older guys. I eventually started competing under my real name 'Van Varenberg' and I won many competitions. At the time, not many competitors used their legs. So when I introduced the infamous leg splits between two chairs it created a lot of buzz. The film 'Blood Sport' eventually came as a result because the studios saw something unique in me without the help of cable work or computer graphics.

Ultimately, I stopped competing because of the people surrounding martial arts at the time. The language was constantly like; "Kill him! Kick his ass!" To me karate was too noble for that, so I left the sport.

Q: What was your training like at the time?

A: I've always had a very addictive personality, so when I train, I really train hard. I would bike for two hours a day through the woods, I would spar non stop for like an hour almost every day. I followed a very complete training program in every area and it was very rigorous. I was doing condition, cardio, sparing, stretching, and weight lifting.

To really be good in karate, you've got to do everything except karate in your training because when you have the techniques of kicking and punching down, you've got to build around it with condition, balance, and the other aspects I previously mentioned.

Q: Has nutrition always been important to you? Did you use any vitamins/supplements when you were younger?

A: I began training with a very smart teacher at a very early age. Everything with him was very scientific, he was like a doctor. His approach to nutrition and vitamins was very individualized and structured. Some guys needed more calcium than others, and other guys needed more B vitamins or protein than others. My teacher obviously had a major impact on the way I train and the way I view nutrition. For example, every type of car uses different tires, different stick shifts and parts depending on the engine power, and depending on the suspension.

I always try to use examples and analogies to help people better understand the myths of education in regard to training. I didn't have a great education because I left school early, but one thing I do know about training is (Long pause), I came to a point in my training where I just feel, and when you feel yourself, you start to internally talk to yourself. Not talking verbally but just feeling and listening to what your body and muscles are telling you about what works for you. It took me years to learn how to do this. I hurt myself many times when I was younger by not listening to my body. I mean, I was bench pressing 166 kilo at the age of 19, and I actually really hurt some bone structure in my wrists. The bones and joints just aren't made for that. So now I lift and train very slowly and precise, meticulously listening to my body.

Q: You've been know to have exceptional flexibility. Did that come naturally or did it take intense training / stretching?

A: No, I was not flexible at all. I was like a broom that would not bend. Then eventually that broom became a bamboo, and how exactly to do that is very difficult and takes years of training, stretching, etc. I still do a lot of stretching particularly yoga very frequently not only to keep my body flexible but also because I'm a hyper guy and yoga tends to have a very calming affect.

Q: You're now 48 years old, and you clearly still workout. What changes if any have you made to your workout routine?

A: Just wisdom really. I'm consciously listening to my body and muscles more now than I did when I was younger. I don't follow a piece of paper or guidelines for how many sets or reps to do anymore. I just go by how my body is feeling. It's better to listen to your body than to make your body listen to some external guidelines or whatever.

Q: Do you still do a lot of weight training?

A: Yes, I still regularly train with weights. Again, I've just learned over the years to train very meticulously and slowly with weights. Like with bench pressing for example, I go down very slow and precise, feel the muscle, and come back up slow and straight. I elevate my knees almost up to my chest so that my back is not curved at all. Let me tell you, a person can totally change the shape of his or her body by training very precise and correct.

Q: How important is cardio in your training?

A: It's the most important. If you don't have any arteries to see the muscle, you can't put on volume. So instead of taking too many supplements to open your arteries and liquefy your blood, its good to do cardio training to open up the veins so you have great results faster. Plus cardio is also great for your brain because of the increased blood flow.

Q: Given your busy schedule, how do you find the time to workout and eat the right foods?

A: Again, I just listen to my body. One thing I've learned over the years is that sometimes you think you're tired but you're really not. The trick is to always go to the gym with the feeling you'll only be there for about 10 minutes or so. Then after working out for about 10 minutes, you'll often realize you're not really all that tired and you work out longer. But if your body is still very tired after 10 minutes, you should listen and stop. You have to go with what I call the flavor of the day.

Q: Has your nutrition plan changed at all over the years?

A: I eat a lot more vegetables now I can tell you that much. I'm not quite a vegetarian because I do still eat meat on occasions but I can't say it enough, veggies and plant based foods are the best things for you.

Q: Have you noticed any difference in your training, performance, stamina, etc. since incorporating more plant based foods into your diet and less meats?

A: To be honest with you, it was kind of strange at first and took some getting used to for probably about the first month or so. But my body adjusted and I feel great now!

Q: What project or projects are you currently working on?

A: I just finished filming a movie called 'The Eagle Path' that I wrote, directed, financed and star in. It's a great story with a lot action and drama. It's about a guy with a troubled past hiding from society, living in a foreign country. It's a very strong movie and it should hopefully be released in the U.S. some time in the summer of 2009. I was fortunate to have some really talented people attached. My director of photography did movies like, 'Full Metal Jacket', 'The Last of the Mohicans', and worked with Stanley Kubrick, and Michael Mann and other prominent directors. All of the actors in the film are brand new like I was in Bloodsport. As you can see, I'm very excited about this film.

Q: It sounds really good, I look forward to seeing it. Do you have anything you'd like to say to our readers?

A: Well first I'd like to thank ProSource for sending me a package of their products. I look forward to trying them out and training with them when I get back to Hong Kong in a few weeks. Also, I'd like to thank the readers because they are sports minded people and to be honest with you, I wouldn't be where I am today without them. And I feel that ' JCVD' will show them something completely different, that's really a new chapter in my life as far as my movies are concerned. So again, I thank you!


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Disclaimer: The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. Product descriptions and general information are based on a combination of factors and sources, including customer feedback, customer reviews, manufacturer’s literature, product labels, and/or opinions of the author(s). No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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