Following his triumphant U.K. debut showcasing his patent style of martial arts `The Wing Flow System` atthis year’s UK Martial Art`s Expo in Doncaster, Christopher Evans asks the “Belgium Bruce Lee”, a few probing questions about his career in martial arts,action film making and the future of his latest film project Emerging From The Shadows, which is dedicated to the memory of the late actor and martial artist Max Repossi who sadly passed away during its initial filming.
Christopher Evans: Mark, you have been a martial arts practitioner for over 30 years. Thinking back to the beginning of your martial arts journey, how did you get introduced to the martial arts, and how has your training evolved in the intervening years?
Mark Stas : I was a young kid when I discovered on television anime such as Fist of the North Star, Judo Boy, Dragon Ball or Saint Seyia on the French television Channel. Combined with Enter the Dragon with the incredible Bruce Lee, these gave me motivation to train. I trained alone in my small room and found such a joy just to imitate movements. I took all martial arts books I could find in our local library and thus started my early martial arts days. I copied texts from these books so that I could remember the movements and some details once I had to give back the library books. A few years later I could join a Karate school and thanks to a good friend, Serge, who thought I was talented (and who was older than me and had a car) he convinced my parents to let me continue to train a few times a week. From Shotokan Karate I changed into Taekwondo because I loved so much kicking. Due to my physiotherapy studies in the university city Leuven, I had to stop my regular Taekwondo training and thus I started to train and teach a hybrid system before discovering the art which led me to my Wing Flow System. This was in the nineties. I remember after reading a very interesting article about this southern Chinese martial art, Wing Tsun, visiting by train one of the best fighters and instructors in Germany, Aachen, Sifu Salih Avci. This was an experience I never forgot: he was approximately my size ( at that time i was build larger than now and trained very hard physically), he didn’t impress me physically but once he started to go in action with one of his students who was a big guy, I was totally convinced this was the art I had to master. I moved to Germany to start training every day, leaving behind everything I had in Belgium. It was difficult years in the beginning, since I knew no one, didn’t had a job and didn’t speak the language. Little by little I managed to make a living and focus 100% on my martial arts training. From this classic Wing Tsun I developed in a more dynamic expression thanks to the excellent teaching I received from different masters. Finally due to disagreements within the last federation, I decided to go my own path and follow my personal passion in martial arts. I was always very dedicated to solitary training since I was a boy and created some training methods which could help me to evolve. With some serious injuries due to intensive training, I changed the way I trained and banned weightlifting or punching against a boxing bag from my training regime. I changed the power training I did before and created some routines which helped me to develop functional strength. Some of the main tools where elastics and the wooden dummy, which since many years I studied more in-depth and discovered details which could help increase short distance power, my coordination as well explosive power. I created with elastics some 10 years ago I think, kicking routines which became famous on internet a few years ago. With age and experience, our view on martial arts and training methods can change, which is also true for me.
CE: There is an old saying, “A tree with two roots grows twice as strong”, meaning that a person who is from a multi-cultural background can take influence from their different heritages to become a stronger person. You were originally from Korea but you were adopted in Belgium. How important were martial arts and movies to you finding your cultural identity when you were growing up, and what struggles did you face as a Korean growing up in Belgium?
MS: Maybe my Asian blood gave me this advantage to love more martial arts. Many say I’m so talented because I am Asian. I don’t know for sure but of course I think talent helps if it’s linked to hard training. I met talented students who were surpassed by lesser talented martial artists. When I read books about martial arts, Asia was always mentioned, so at a certain time I thought also that living in an Asian country could help to improve quicker but in the end I never went to Asia till I was around 30 and it didn’t stop me from becoming better each year. I didn’t have much struggles in Belgium but what is true is that I was always the smallest of my class but for that also very good in gymnastics. (martial arts wasn’t part of the regular school disciplines then ) And practising martial arts gave me some advantage: I was well respected with my schoolmates. I only wonder would I have had the same respect if I would not have practiced martial arts when I was young?
CE: The Belgian press were the first to dub you as the “Belgian Bruce Lee”. How influential was Bruce Lee`s philosophies and work ethics on you as a martial artist and also as an actor?
MS:His philosophy and the dedication he had were at a certain moment in my martial arts life a big help to discover my own potential. Although I never really practiced his Jeet Kune Do, his philosophy and theory are far more universal than one can imagine. It’s simply astonishing how far revolutionary his thinking and knowledge was, especially at that time. We speak about the sixties, early seventies, where all the actual scientific info wasn’t available as now on internet. His physical and philosophical level together with his vast theoretical knowledge were beyond normal. And when you imagine his action, he put on screen was for his age really incredible. To have all these components in one single person at his young age: he is a true pioneer and legend.
CE: Do you see yourself now primarily as a martial artist that makes films, or a film maker that is a martial artist?
MS: I always considered myself as a martial artist and will stay this till the end of my life. I also love making movies but martial arts stays in front of moviemaking to me. Martial arts helped me during very difficult moments in my life, also martial arts helped me to recover after 2 years severe shoulder and neck problems, where specialists told me to stop training. But my martial arts skills brought me into the movie business and helped me to be successful in the movies I could play in.
CE: Belgium has produced quite a few martial arts actors within the local scene and on the international stage, with the other main famous martial arts export from Belgium being the “Muscles from Brussels”, Jean-Claude Van Damme. You recently worked with Bloodsport director David Worth on the low budget thriller Borrowed Time Part 3. Have you ever met or trained with Van Damme, and if the opportunity arose to work on a project with Jean-Claude, would you take it?
MS:Yeah, in the nineties JCVD he turned the martial arts world upside down with his “Bloodsport”. What an inspiration he gave us. I had the chance to meet David Worth and it’s more than an honour. I never met JCVD and yes why not? If he would propose me to work on a project with him, definitely. Who would refuse to be honest.
CE:. The Martial arts has taken you all over the world, in the pursuit perfecting your skills. Where has been your most favourite country to train and live in?
MS:I really loved Thailand, where I stayed for 3 months and train every day. The many years I lived in Germany when I was younger, brought me also a lot, but the context was different: I was really a student in martial arts there. Belgium is the country where I lived the longest and trained the most. But I think I could live in any country and continue to train and feel well. When i train, the place or country isn’t really of a matter to me. But I like my privacy when I train.
CE: Was it always your goal to use your martial arts knowledge to transition into acting and film making, or did it just progress naturally?
MS:Thanks to my specific martial arts training I could progress naturally and easier into the action movie world. I had to adapt some little things but overall it went very fluid. The goal of my martial arts knowledge wasn’t for movies, although I was a big fan of movies and anime since I was very young. But I never thought of wanting to play in movies: I always wanted to become a better martial artist and simply train. Nowadays, yes, I look movies in another way, see techniques also for movies, I write a lot and gather ideas for fight scenes or how to film certain action scenes. Since I play in movies, I have a double interest with martial arts and movies, and distinguish techniques for my martial art and techniques for fight scenes.
CE: You got your break into film thanks to Dutch Kickboxer/actor Ron Smoorenburg seeing you in a fight reel on social media. This led to your casting in the movie English Dogs In Bangkok. You and Ron`s fighting styles are polar opposite, yet the scenes are the highlights of the movie. In hindsight, now that you have gained further fight acting experience, if you had the chance, is there anything about those fight scenes or your early films you would change?
MS:Yeah Ron and I are really opposite: physically we are very different and in fighting styles but we have such a great harmony and fusion when it comes to create a fight scene and many messaged me to say they simply loved the fight scenes I already did with Ron.
Yes there are things I would change in the fight scenes we did together, but I also think what has been filmed and released can stay as it is, since it’s part of my evolution. Looking back on the different fight scenes I made, I’m very proud with the result, although it always can be better, but it’s not over yet: more will come and hopefully seen as an improvement of what I already did before in movies.
CE: What is your opinion on the current boom in the creation of short movies in the action genre and the state of the low budget action movie scene in general post the covid-19 pandemic?
MS:That’s a great thing actually: as a martial arts lover and big fan of martial arts movies, I’m always happy to see new short movies or movies. These short movies open the path for so many talented persons who maybe would never have the chance to play in movies. I also created a short movie, Emerging From The Shadows with big success at festivals, although not released publicly. I think when there is passion and skills, short movies are definitely a great solution and opportunity.
CE: Your recent short movie Emerging From The Shadows (TBA) won an award for best original opening credits and was completed as a tribute to co-star Max Repossi (Check out our interview here) who sadly passed away in 2021. What is your overall memory of Max, and what are your plans for developing the film further?
MS: He was a great person and so passionate about playing in movies and doing martial arts. Sadly, often we realise we would have loved to take more time to chat, when it’s too late. But I’m very happy that my short movie had Max in it as his last project. And he was the reason I finish it. I still hesitate what to do with this short movie: there must definitely come a follow up, but if it will be more episodes, or a featured movie or or, i didn’t come yet to a conclusion. But for sure I will work on it, even if it’s not immediately.
CE: If you were offered a role in a large Hollywood movie, similar to John Wick or a Marvel movie, would you take the role, or are you happy working within the low budget film community where you would have more creative control ?
MS:The budget is not always the most important point to me. If the movie has a good script, is well filmed and edited, and I have an interesting role, then definitely interested. Of course, the input I could give in the movies I played in, makes it more agreeable for me but why not be guided and grow differently as well.
CE: What goals do you hope to achieve next, in terms firstly of film making, and also the future development of your martial arts system?
MS: I hope to be able to continue to play in movies and have interesting projects.
I work together with some talented persons from UK on a new project where I did the choreography of a fight scene. So really looking forward to the result. And working on a big project where hopefully the trailer will be released very soon. In martial arts: I continue to train very passionately and take time to improve the skills of the instructors in our association, the WWFSA. I hope also with our association to develop Wing Flow System further slowly with new passionate instructors.
CE: Finally for fun, as you are a fan of mystery and detective fiction, which detective character would you love to play in a movie?
MS:Yeah I’m really a big fan of detective books and movies such as Poirot, Detective K, Murdoch but love also a lot Arsène Lupin or the Saint as characters. A mix of deduction capacities, stealth and martial arts skills that would be a great character to play.
CE: Touching briefly on your martial arts system that you developed “Wing Flo”. What was the catalyst for creating the system, and were you prepared for how popular that it would become throughout the world, especially with the special and tactical forces?
MS:Wing Flow System (WFS) has been created more due to situational circumstances. It wasn’t my goal to create a martial art, but in order to be able to teach, to give seminars and present what I do, I had to create a name, logo and even more teaching programs. It’s a lot of work, especially the high-level programs but I really love to create and work on it. Indeed, it has this success, but I always was kinda holding back to promote it publicly for new teachers. Since it’s my personal creation, I’m more concerned with quality than with the number of instructors I have. During several seminars in France, Lyon, my WFS has attracted one of the team leaders of the RAID. A of member of the GOM ( Intervention Unit Police of Lyon ) was so impressed with my skills and the defensive tactics I showed, which are adapted both to the legal framework governing their interventions but also to the constraints related to their equipment ( WFS has this small part of self-defence woven into the system, although the main focus is the non-restricted use of the human body in combat ): the latter one was convinced of the efficiency, usefulness and logic of these defensive tactics that he started to train WFS and became the instructor in Lyon Who knows how far we can go with WFS and the special police force: a project is ongoing and I hope to be able to speak more in the near future.
CE: Mark, thank you very much for your time and all the best for what seems will be an exceptionally busy year for you.
MS: Christopher You are very welcome
More information about Mark`s Wing Flow System can be found at https://www.wingflow.com/
Mark Stas IMDB https://www.imdb.com/name/nm9865792/
English Dogs In Bangkok
fight scene below enjoy