When you think of non-English-teaching foreigners living and working in Japan, the title “stuntman” is usually not the first job title to come to mind. While a large bulk of foreigners who are living do work as English teachers, these are not the only way to a career as an expat in Japan.
Chuck Johnson shows that with a little hard work and lots of determination, anyone can carve out a long-term career path in this country.
“The plan was to come to Japan, teach English to pay off some my student loans, and then return to the States for graduate school.” Chuck’s story starts like many of our own. But Japan was more than just a way to pay off student loan debts, it was chance for him to gain exposure to a new culture.
Chuck had previously studied Olympic-style Taekwondo in Korea. And after visiting his older brother—who was studying abroad and learning kendo in Shiga, Japan—he felt inspired to deepen his understanding of Asian culture, from the Japanese perspective. Soon enough he found himself back in the country and teaching English. But he didn’t remain an English teacher for long.
By chance, while at an event, Chuck was discovered and hired as a celebrity bodyguard soon after he arrived in Tokyo. Due to his ability to speak more than one language (and not to mention his extensive martial arts training), he provided security for both English-speaking and Korean celebrities visiting Japan. Just being in that environment allowed Chuck make connections in Japan’s entertainment industry, which led securing a spot as a martial arts extra in Godzilla: Final Wars.
“The second I stepped on set I thought: this is it. This is what I need to be doing. This is what I want to do.” From that point on Chuck’s life went into a totally different direction. All the experience he gained in training to become a Taekwondo Champion would now be used in a totally different arena: filmmaking. But this stroke of luck wasn’t left unchallenged. Even Chuck himself believes that he failed his way to the point that he is at now. He had to spend many hours training to fight in the way of a stuntman, which is surprisingly quite different from contact fighting.
Additionally, in trying to establish himself as the only serious foreign stunt/action actor in Tokyo, and having no previous Japanese language experience, it took a long while for Chuck to gain and build the trust of his colleagues in the industry. But as Chuck reminisced on the many obstacles he faced in Japan, it almost seemed as if these roadblocks motivated him to become better; to find ways around and through the challenges.
“Life is perfectly unfair; everyone starts in a different place. But we can always get somewhere better.” Whether it be studying martial arts, acting, stunts or anything else, Chuck seems to pride himself on just that: Getting better. After suffering from two major injuries a few years ago, he didn’t let his time off set hinder his productivity. Instead, Chuck used this time to learn more about the craft of film-making, and produced “Fists of Absinthe“, a film that was an official selection at the Urban Action Showcase Expo in New York, and later went on to get a distribution deal. More than 10 years after stepping on that Godzilla set, Chuck still retains that excitement to tackle his next goals.
An average day in Chuck Johnson’s life starts with training in the morning followed by whatever film or commercial work he might have at the time. If there’s nothing going on he uses the time for language study: Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. Chuck continues to stay active in the martial arts world, teaching both Taekwondo and fight choreography classes, and producing martial arts video content for his YouTube channel.
For those looking to break into entertainment industry (Japan or elsewhere) Chuck has five words: “Go Big or Go Home…The biggest people in entertainment work everywhere in the world. If you want to be one of them, you have to realize that you’re competing on a global scale.”
So what’s up next for Mr. Johnson? Well, he tells me that producing a feature might be next on his long list of goals. And now that he has his own team of stuntmen, who knows what kind of awesome action film he might create. I’m looking forward to it.
If you think you might want to take a stab at learning Taekwondo or fight choreography, feel free to contact Chuck for more information. He holds a master’s rank in Olympic Taekwondo, a black belt in Karate, ranks in 4 other martial arts, and has studied 10 altogether, so this guy definitely knows what he is doing.