Ready for action!

English actor Christian Howard learnt martial arts in his teenage years. (Image compliments Christian Howard)

by Latoya Burnham

Two English stars are in Barbados for AnimeKon: Heroes vs Villains under the auspices of Xtreme OMG Productions, and both are excited to see what the island has to offer.

Actor Christian Howard, who plays the Street Fighter Legacy character Ken, and martial arts champion and instructor, Joe Hallett are here for this weekend’s action at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

Arriving in the island early yesterday afternoon and now tucked away in a villa on the west coast, the handsome Christian looked at home in a pair of jeans and T-shirt, as he chatted casually and laughed with friend Joe. Nearby Joe’s parents and his sister who have come along to lend support were also pleased to be back in Bim, a trip they last made 10 years ago.

For Xtreme OMG director, Trecia Gibson their arrival is a feather in her cap, but one that was not easy to come by. In fact, sponsorship is still one of her biggest challenges, even if she has brought an actor and martial arts star here.

“It is tremendous. I am very, very happy. They will be promoting Project Camp ahead of next year, but AnimeKon will be the place where we will launch it. We have a 40 x 40 foot room and a 10 x 10 booth so we have ample space and performances throughout the expo.

“I just want to launch the brand and get people aware of the extreme sports and martial arts and get the camp going for next year, and make people understand we are trying to build a venue, we want to give people the space to do what they want to do and express themselves,” said Trecia.

And she is hoping that Christian and Joe can help build that excitement around Xtreme OMG. For their part, the charming English duo can hardly wait for AnimeKon to begin.

In its third year now, as the only “pop culture convention” on the island, the event continues to grow each year allowing patrons to explore their animation, video game and comic fantasies, in everything from art to clothing and even stunts. The latter is where Xtreme OMG is hoping to make a splash this year, officially launching the company brand and promoting Project Camp Barbados.

His first time in the Caribbean, Christian said he first heard about AnimeKon, when Trecia approached him with the idea of coming to Barbados and Joe encouraged the consideration.

“It is nice to see all these different kinda cultural things coming together, anim?, skate boarding, the extreme martial arts and things like that. I think it is great having all of that coming forward because it really is very popular these days and I think more and more events are happening,” he said.

The 28-year-old stunt man and actor, said as a youth he was always interested in physical activity which led him in his teens to begin martial arts training. That then led him to getting involved in “pseudo-stunt work”.

“I always liked to do a lot of fight choreography and just kind of developing it to the point where you are then creating something new because all these things that have been done in the past since the 1980s is kinda like the same old tricks and it is just nice to be in a position where you can develop it for a newer style and just bring your own twist.” Christian said he had done a lot of physical projects involving fighting and gun-play, but with Street Fighter he had been able to find something he loved in Ken.

“[W]ith regard to the Street Fighter, it is so good to take something that I actually grew up with as a kid and really loved and kinda do it justice. There were a few attempts in the past where they’ve missed the mark for whatever reason. They hadn’t really taken into account why it was so popular to begin with, so the specific fighting styles of each character, that needs to be addressed.

“So that is what we are doing with the short that we made and the series that we are doing now, Assassin’s Fist, is to show people or show the fans what they want to see, like we illustrated with the pilot, Street Fighter Legacy. It was about Ryu and Ken being in the exact poses as the game, doing the exact fighting moves they do in the game and that is why the response was so good because we kept it faithful to what the fans like to see and what they grew up loving and what we grew up loving.”

It has meant him learning Japanese as well, to add some authenticity to the character, seeing that the character Ken grew up in Japan and began training there. It also meant adding muscle to his frame.

“[E]ven for the pilot I had to try to put on as much mass as I could and that was really a different kind of training for me because I was more used to springing about and jumping and I had to put on about 10-15 kilos of muscle, but suddenly you feel a lot heavier. So there is a lot of training you do, not only in terms of weights and gym, but gymnastics and moving around in that kind of way so we can actually do those characters justice and look the part as well as acting and being able to do the feats they do in the game for real and not having to worry about CGI. This is about having a physical skills set and acting skills set that will do the characters justice.”

It’s kind of the same for Joe. This 21-year-old editor with Martial Arts Illustrated Magazine, UK; owner of Whatever Weapons and founder of Infinity Martial Arts, said extreme sports and martial arts gave him a new direction at a young age.

His influence to get involved in the sport came from watching Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles and wanting to do those stunts. After a few years he decided to take his craft more seriously, joined a club and started to compete.

“I took British, European and World titles in the martial arts, then I found the art of tricking which is the gymnastics and martial arts coming together, and the use of weapons as well and it was my thing. I was never a great fighter, but when it came to the entertainment stuff I loved it and I really gelled and that is what I have been training in ever since. That is what I made my name in,” said Joe.

Returning to Barbados after ten years, he said he was beyond excited to have come back to his second home as a premier presenter in martial arts.

“It is really a great experience to be here. I have done a lot of things in Europe, France and Germany, but to be over here in an international country and be promoting martial arts and definitely in a country where it should be huge. You have the facilities here to make extreme sports a pastime for everyone here. So to be the pioneers to help it grow is fantastic.”

He said he believed Barbados needed a figure head to push the extreme aspect of the martial arts, and it could work with the right trainers in place.

During AnimeKon, as a member of the Xtreme OMG team, Joe will be pushing the Project Camp Barbados 2013, where Trecia is trying to bring together young people in skateboarding, biking, martial arts, paint ball, extreme watersports, among other sports.

He acknowledged that as a world champion, he knew how difficult it was to source sponsorship unless one was on top.

“When it comes to extreme sports you only get sponsorship when you are at the top. You only seem to get sponsors when you are the best guy out there and that’s the wrong time to need that help. You need it when you are starting out, when the skateboarder needs to buy a new deck and has no money and that can cost a lot of money. That’s the time when they need sponsorship.”

He had been able to succeed, he said, because his parents pumped thousands into his training as well as his trips to various competitions, and it was only after he was a success that sponsors started to take notice.

“When I started my martial arts school when I left school at 16, it was a great experience to think I was teaching the new generation… That was a great feeling to think that these kids were coming in and learning from me and they were the next ones to take it over and they were the ones to look at.

“To come to Barbados and be able to teach young people and be able to say to them this is how you should do it, teaching them is amazing. You are making a difference to people and that is the whole point,” said Joe.

The two will be giving autographs, demonstrations and be featured at the Xtreme OMG booth and demonstration areas at AnimeKon tomorrow.

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