From Tokyo to LA, this fall guy is on a roll

Dancer, teacher, po­lice trainer: BIANCA CAPAZORIO crosses swords with stunt­man Sen­sei Ndlovu. Pic­tures by CINDY WAXA

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

AC­TOR, dancer, chore­og­ra­pher, stunt­man, teacher. You name it, Sen­sei Thu­lani Ndlovu can do it all. Oh, and he speaks Ja­panese too. You would be for­given for think­ing that Sen­sei is his mar­tial arts ti­tle, but ac­tu­ally, it’s his real birth name, printed in his green bar­coded South African ID. So how does a 100 per­cent South African, born in Dur­ban, land up with a his­tory in mar­tial arts and a name like Sen­sei? It’s a mat­ter of ge­net­ics, re­ally. His fa­ther stud­ied mar­tial arts, and so did his six broth­ers. Sen­sei was the first-born, hence the name.

“Sen­sei is made up of two parts, Sen mean­ing first and Sei mean­ing birth, so it trans­lates as First Born. My fa­ther stud­ied mar­tial arts and when my mom was preg­nant, he was talk­ing to his Ja­panese friend about what to call me, and he sug­gested Sen­sei,” he ex­plains.

And through the years he has lived up to his name, tak­ing up karate at the age of eight, orig­i­nat­ing his own mar­tial art, be­com­ing a teacher – Sen­sei is of­ten used in Ja­panese to re­fer to some­body who teaches. He teaches stunt work to third-year drama stu­dents at City Var­sity and can hold a con­ver­sa­tion in Ja­panese.

“I learned Ja­panese out of pas­sion. For me, be­ing able to count from one to 10 in karate class wasn’t enough. I wanted to do a lit­tle bit more, and I’m pas­sion­ate about Ja­panese cul­ture,” he said.

An FNB Vita award-winning dancer, Ndlovu, who now lives in Ob­ser­va­tory, fell into stunt work through a se­ries of lucky co­in­ci­dences. Work­ing as a full-time dancer in Dur­ban, a pho­tog­ra­pher friend told him about a Sin­bad se­ries which was due to start film­ing, for which they needed a stunt dou­ble. Ndlovu com­piled a CV, and a few months later was in­vited to au­di­tion.

“At the au­di­tion I had to do all sorts of phys­i­cal tests like climb­ing up ropes. They did au­di­tions all over the coun­try and in Toronto as well. I didn’t hear from them again, and then six months later I got the call that I got the job.”

The job en­tailed in­tense train­ing in mar­tial arts, high falls, rolls and weapons’ use and health and safety prac­tices in Toronto, be­fore two years of film­ing.

Af­ter that, Ndlovu hit the big screen. Stunt work and act­ing roles fol­lowed for a num­ber of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional se­ries and films. Th­ese in­cluded big mo­tion pic­tures like Lord of War with Ni­co­las Cage and King Solomon’s Mines with Pa­trick Swayze. He’s worked on the hit se­ries 24 and has worked with big names like Keifer Suther­land, Steven Se­gal and Wes­ley Snipes.

While “hum­bled” by the ex­pe­ri­ence and the ac­tors’ re­spect, he says he has ab­so­lutely no plans to pack his bags for Hol­ly­wood.

“This is home and the skills I have to in­vest and share, I want to share here. It’s easy to com­plain and to pack up and leave, but what have you done to try to change the way things are?”

Ndlovu has been in­vest­ing his tal­ents in South Africa since his Di­men­sional Stunt School opened its doors in 2002. He says it was the first stunt school to open in Africa.

It was an idea that had been in the pipe­line for years, and which Ndlovu worked tire­lessly to get recog­nised. He wrote all the poli­cies and pro­ce­dures sur­round­ing stunt train­ing him­self.

“There was this core of about 15 guys that I al­ways used to work with.

“They trav­elled all over do­ing stunts be­cause there was no one else. There are not a lot of black stunt per­form­ers in this coun­try, but no one had the time to put down the hours to train new guys.”

Ndlovu took on the job, pick­ing stu­dents from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds, but says his idea was ini­tially not very well re­ceived.

“I went to the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment with this idea to train guys, but they thought I was mad. They looked at this idea of teach­ing guys to kick and punch and fall off build­ings and asked, how is this an ed­u­ca­tion?”

The school has since been recog­nised by the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment and has been suc­cess­fully turn­ing out qual­i­fied stunt­men and women.

Ear­lier this year, the Bree Street build­ing that housed Ndlovu’s school burned down, de­stroy­ing all its unin­sured stunt equip­ment – but he is sur­pris­ingly Zen about the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.

“They say that when one door closes an­other opens, and maybe it was meant to hap­pen. We couldn’t in­sure the stuff be­cause it is very dif­fi­cult to in­sure train­ing equip­ment, with all the wear and tear. But we’re train­ing some­where else now.

“I got the con­tract to train the Metro Po­lice, so ev­ery­thing has turned out okay.”

HEAD OVER HEELS: Drama stu­dent Inge Frol­icks learns how to stage a fall.

WHEN I SAY JUMP: Pre­cious Nyawuza takes a fly­ing leap.

CROSSED SWORDS: Ndlovu takes on City Var­sity drama stu­dent Al­lan Mur­ray.

GIV­ING IT HIS ALL: Sen­sei Thu­lani Ndlovu be­comes pas­sion­ate when talk­ing about his job.

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