In the world of martial arts fans are usually treated to just fights or action movies, but every so often something comes along that stands out all on its own. With the unthinkable amount of styles out there today only one stands above them all, Ameri-Do Te. This style is now featured on the popular YouTube series Enter the Dojo featuring Master Ken. I had the chance to not only sit down with creator and star Matthew Page to learn a little more about the hilarious series, but was also treated to a surprise interview with Master Ken himself.
Bobby: Where did the idea for Enter the Dojo come from?
Matthew: It was basically from training in martial arts since I was 17. I’m a big fan of martial arts and started at a very traditional Okinawan Kenpo school. As I traveled around the US trying to figure out what I was going to do with my career, I trained at a lot of bizarre dojos with some that were instructors that had made up their own martial arts and some who said and did some very bizarre things. After experiencing things like that over 10 years just bouncing from dojo to dojo and at that time I became obsessed with Ricky Gervais’ BBC version of ‘The Office’ and since I was already working in film I wanted to do something that maintained the same mockumentary style and since I had been in the martial arts world for so long thought I would go with that.
Bobby: Obviously there is an over the top aspect, but you still maintain a somewhat serious tone to the series. How hard is it to structure this series to maintain that balance?
Matthew: The creative side of the episodes, I don’t want to say is the easiest, but is the most fun part of what we do because the cast are really amazing actors and the crew is really talented. Usually a full episode comes about because I would sit down and write it and then we go to the dojo and do all of the things that are scripted and then we improvise on top of that. Some of the best stuff comes from me and the other actors trying to make each other laugh and seeing what’s funny. The trickiest part is that we have had the show for two and a half years now and it is becoming harder and harder to get everybody together to make the show. That’s why the seasons keep getting produced further and further apart because half the cast now lives in Los Angeles pursuing their acting careers, my co-director Adam is in New York City, and there is some of the cast and crew still living in New Mexico, so getting together to make the show is more challenging. Of course that is the irony of working with really talented people in that the longer you know them the more successful they become.
Bobby: How long does it take to shoot one of your episodes?
Matthew: We shoot really fast. We shot 80% of season 2 in two weekends. It was an amazingly fast schedule, but we had it planned out really well. All of the scripts were written ahead of time, we knew everything we were going to do and we basically did two Friday, Saturday, Sunday shoots back to back. Season 3 was a little bit harder to put together because people had moved away and we had to fly them in so it was a little bit more complicated. The basic formula that we have we are able to shoot an average of 3 episodes per weekend when we can get the whole crew together. Part of the reason we are able to do that is because it is contained within the dojo. If we were going out on location and trying to film those characters on out in the world, there would be no way we could move that fast, but we generally go into the dojo on Thursday night and pre-light the whole space so that we don’t really have to mess around with the lights during the weekend and then we just film various parts of various episodes throughout that weekend and knock out as much as we can.
Bobby: How did you come across that specific dojo for the show location?
Matthew: It’s actually a dojo that belongs to Joe Conway who is on the show that plays the character Todd Woodland, who is the blue belt that I seem to be beating up in the various instructional videos. That is his real functioning dojo called ABQ Karate. He is a Kenpo guy that I have trained with for two years now and he happened to be moved into the space shortly before I had the idea for the show. I pitched it to him and asked if I could come in and film a couple of episodes and he said yeah there are no classes on weekends. At least every other weekend we are there doing the short videos and when we do the seasons we shoot the whole show in his dojo, which is great.
Bobby: Where did the idea for the style Ameri-Do-Te come from?
Matthew: It came from a couple of places. I have a lot of experience in Okinawan Kenpo and American Kenpo so I had thought about making Master Ken a Kenpo guy, but then I felt like I was picking on Kenpo too much and alienate people who didn’t study Kenpo and wouldn’t get all the jokes. One of the things I noticed from the schools that I have trained at was that a lot of people who create their own version of a particular style are trying to appeal to everybody. A lot of schools that are trying to stay in business try and say that they have a piece in everything in the martial arts world. Master Ken believes that he has taken the best part of every other art and combined them into one perfect art which seems to kind of be a real thing in the martial arts world. People just do not embrace what their art is known for. Tae Kwon Do is known for their fancy kicks, Muay Thai has those killer roundhouses and elbows and they all have things that are good about them, but every martial art has a thing they are kind of known for and it seems like in order to appeal to more customers they are not embracing that and I think it kind of weakens the strength of the art. That’s where my personal philosophy of the martial arts starts to filter into the show.
Bobby: Master Ken seems to have that clichéd martial arts villain aspect without actually being a bad guy. Where did the idea of him come from?
Matthew: He is kind of mash up of a few people I have trained with over the years of martial artists are on the upside very passionate about martial arts and their style, but in some cases passionate to a fault where they are real aggressive and closed minded about anything outside of their own style. It’s kind of a mixture of those characteristics, but the other thing that was important to me was that I didn’t want Master Ken to be a character you didn’t like. The reason he gets away with acting the way he acts is that he is sort of oblivious and not openly mean spirited. He is just convinced that he knows everything, but he is not trying to be cruel about it he is just oblivious about how arrogant he comes across.
Bobby: Where did his look come from? He isn’t weird looking or anything, but sports this almost porn style mustache that adds so much character, but it is just a mustache.
Matthew: The major thing was the mustache and I never get recognized when I take the mustache off. As soon as I put the mustache on, I walk differently, I talk differently, the way Master Ken moves and thinks is very different. One of the people I used for the look was Larry Tatum the Kenpo guy. There are these great instructional videos he did in the early 80s that look like they were shot on VHS and he has this big hair and the mustache and everything and I really loved his look. As for the uniform, I wanted Ken to have the red uniform, the senior student to have a blue uniform and the other students to have white so that Ameri-do Te would have red, white, and blue all through the dojo.
Bobby: Besides the main show, you also have some shorts focusing on each style being bullshit. Where did this spin off aspect from the show come from?
Matthew: There were two reasons for that. Number one I noticed that videos that were very specific seemed to get a lot of viewership on YouTube and I think the first one we did was called “Ninjitsu is Bullshit” and that one got more views than the episodes got and we realized people would watch this so we did a follow up fake public service announcement called “Stop Ninjitsu” that was treating Ninjitsu like it was a disease. When we released that one it got like 18,000 views overnight which was the biggest jump that we had had so we thought we were really on to something. Part of it we get a lot of views if we call someone’s martial arts bullshit and part of it is in order to keep the YouTube channel growing and expand the fan base we try to release a video every week. We can’t release full episodes every week because it takes too long to shoot them and edit them so we are constantly looking for simpler videos and the bullshit videos are just Master Ken sitting at his desk just talking so we can shoot those very quickly. It’s the same thing with the instructional videos where Master Ken is demonstrating Ameri-Do Te techniques on Todd those are something we can shoot very quickly and keep generating views to the channel, get new subscribers and expanding the channel. So on one hand they are just fun stuff to do, but on the other I just can’t produce content with the entire cast and crew to release videos real often.
Bobby: I know you have now been traveling around doing Ameri-Do Te seminars with Master Ken. A lot of the traditional martial arts people don’t have the greatest sense of humor, have you gotten any kind flack with this, especially with things like the bullshit videos?
Matthew: Yes, but I don’t know how much of that is genuine. There are people who have threatened Master Ken’s life but I don’t know if they are just putting something online trying to get a reaction. Usually when I see a cluster of comments from a new fan it starts with that they have discovered the bullshit videos and they can’t believe he would say this about Tae Kwon Do or MMA and then the next comment is “Wait is this a comedy?” and then it’s “This is a comedy, this is great!” then it’s “I just subscribed and went back and watched the whole show, I love this!” Once they discover that it’s a joke, they love it. There are still some detractors that have decided that they don’t like our humor and don’t like that we make fun of martial arts. I can’t do anything about that and I think the last thing the martial arts world needs is to take itself more seriously. If some people have made up their mind that they are not going to laugh at Master Ken or Enter the Dojo then that is unfortunate but the majority of martial artists that discover the show really love that we make fun of this wacky world of martial arts.
Bobby: How did the transition from the show to the live seminars come about?
Matthew: That was kind of a fluke kind of a thing. The very first live performance we ever did was at the Bob White Invitational in California. Bob and his wife Barbara invited us to do a live version to help raise money for their children’s charity and of course we wanted to do it. So we went out there and put on the live show and it went over great and the people loved it. I had an opportunity to do a similar event in Arizona and that is where I met my tour manager and she said that she thinks people would love to have Master Ken at these live Ameri-Do Te seminars. I was kind of scared about it because Ameri-Do Te isn’t real so why would they want me to come out and teach this martial art? She said no it is like an interactive comedy show, so I wrote it and we started doing it. It went from just a few appearances to now I have been to the UK 3 times and I am doing at least 2 shows a month for the rest of the year and continuing to add more every month. It’s great because I get to go all over the world performing as Master Ken and teaching Ameri-Do Te.
Bobby: So is this your full time job now?
Matthew: I wish, there is certainly enough work for it to be my full time job, but I also still run my video production company. So I have two full time jobs, but it’s fantastic and I love it. I also do acting work in movies and television that shoot in New Mexico, professional production for my company and then ‘Enter the Dojo’ as Master Ken so it’s quite a busy lifestyle but I love it.
Bobby: Have you started collecting the seasons of the show as of yet for people to purchase?
Matthew: We currently have seasons 1 and 2 in a collection on the website that has all the episodes from the YouTube channels, but also has content that we never released on YouTube like deleted scenes and things you can’t find anywhere else except on the DVD.
As we were speaking Master Ken himself entered the room and I had to take the opportunity to speak with the man himself who brought Ameri-Do Te to the world in this rare chance encounter.
Bobby: Hello Master Ken, how are you today?
Master Ken: I’m fine how are you?
Bobby: I will keep it quick because I am sure you are pretty busy.
Master Ken: Yes, I need to get back to training.
Bobby: How did you first get into the martial arts?
Master Ken: I’ve trained for 17 years in three dozen different dojos (at this point there was an uncomfortably long pause as he just stared at me) and I discovered really quickly with some of them where I got to yellow belt in Shotokan before I realized that was bullshit, I got to purple belt in Kenpo before I realized that was bullshit, Drunken Kung-Fu I only made it to the parking lot and once I saw the sign I realized that was bullshit so I didn’t even go inside. Basically after studying all of these martial arts and realizing how flawed they all were I realized I needed to create my own unique and unbeatable fighting system and that is when I came up with Ameri-Do Te.
Bobby: How did you transition to allow them into your studio to shoot the show?
Master Ken: A group of film students had to create a documentary for a class and it was due right away and they said they opened up the phone book and because Ameri-Do Te begins with an A it was at the top of the list.
Bobby: How has going from just a martial arts instructor to celebrity status changed your life?
Master Ken: It has helped further my mission to rid the world of anything that is not Ameri-Do Te. It helps others to realize that their training and work has been wasting their time. I have had the pleasure of demoting people from all over the world, going to their dojos and stripping them of their ranks and making them start over in Ameri-Do Te. Really it has helped me validate this incredible fighting system that I have created by going around and demoting people all over the world.
Bobby: I know you have been doing a lot of seminars now. Have you ever had anyone that has tried to challenge you to prove that their style isn’t bullshit?
Master Ken: Oh sure, there are people that come in with a chip on their shoulder, but because Ameri-Do Te is so effective, one thrust of freedom will knock that chip right off.
Bobby: Besides proving other styles are bullshit do you have any other goals that you are hoping to accomplish with this program?
Master Ken: Recently someone suggested that I continue to take Ameri-Do Te internationally, but we have kind of already done that so my next goal is to be the first martial arts to go into outer space. My goal is to establish an Ameri-Do Te dojo with a colony, ideally on the moon because I understand that is a lot closer than Mars so the attendance would be better on a month to month basis at the dojo on the moon.
Bobby: That makes sense. I myself have been doing Tae Kwon Do for about thirty years.
Master Ken: Sorry to hear that.
Bobby: Would someone like me be able to come in and adapt to Ameri-Do Te and get more out of it?
Master Ken: Yes and no. I actually tend to discourage people who are already black belts in other systems from coming in, mainly because it takes so much more time to un-train them and to correct all of the bad habits they picked up. Dealing with Tae Kwon Do, people come in and realize that Tae Kwon Do is worthless and want to try something else. I tend to steer them towards ballet or modern dance. Something that is a lot more similar to Tae Kwon Do, but it is not impossible to fix it. You just have to be willing to put in the time to forget all the bullshit you have learned up until then.
Bobby: Ok then. Is there any style out there besides Ameri-Do Te that you think is worth anything?
Master Ken: I don’t understand the question.
Bobby: Is there any style out there that may not be as good or even rival Ameri-Do Te, but you would say is even close on par with it?
Master Ken: Every martial art has strength, but they also have a weakness except for Ameri-Do Te. That is what makes Ameri-Do Te above and beyond everything that is out there.
Bobby: Do you have any anything besides the show you would like to tell us about?
Master Ken: Mainly just my continued mission to rid the world of bullshit training. People can go to www.youtube.com/user/EnterTheDojoShow or http://masterkenlive.com/ to figure out various ways to get training in Ameri-Do Te. My continued mission is to teach people the proper way to train and get them to stop wasting their time. We have various seminars coming up that I think are valuable to the public. I have a seminar that teaches you how to defend yourself using a bicycle, how you can disassemble it and use the wheels, the handle bars, the chain and things like that in a self-defense situation called the ‘Vicious Cycle’. We have an eye gouging seminar coming up called ‘Eye Gouges Galore’ that gets into the specific techniques of Ameri-Do Te that teaches you 70 different ways on how to gouge an eye properly. If anyone ever has a problem with pirates, been attacked by pirates, we have an anti-pirate seminar. We spend the entire day teaching people how to defend against the left hook. There are a lot of exciting things coming up so people need to get to training with me ASAP.
Bobby: I appreciate you taking the time out of your training to speak with me and wish you luck on spreading the word and power of Ameri-Do Te to the world.
Master Ken: You are welcome.
If you haven’t had the chance to check out Enter the Dojo then you are truly missing out so head over to www.youtube.com/user/EnterTheDojoShow to check out the complete first two seasons as well as all new episodes from the third season. For tour dates on where you can check out Master Ken live head over to http://masterkenlive.com/. If the show itself isn’t enough you can also head over to the official site to get your own DVD’s, shirts, autographed photos, and more at http://www.enterthedojoshow.com/.