Leo Howard Kicks It
by Grant Balfour
I am not America's hugest Leo Howard fan. Sure, I think he's smart, and he's funny, and he's got a level of dedication that anyone would envy. And I've enjoyed plenty of his acting work on big and small screens - mainly on the Disney XD comedy KICKIN' IT. The thing is, I know I'm not his hugest fan because I'd have to get in line behind my kids. And all their friends.
When news got out in our house that I'd gotten a chance to interview Jack from KICKIN' IT, pandemonium erupted.
Howard was born in 1997. (Remember 1997? I do.) He has been studying martial arts since the age of 4 and was thrilling audiences as part of the Sideswipe Performance Team at the ripe old age of 9. Even if you're not a Disney Channel fan, you might have caught him a few years back in MONK (dressed as a karate kid for Halloween) or in 2011's CONAN THE BARBARIAN (he played the young Conan).
When it came time for us to talk, he turned out to be sincere, gracious and patient - more than willing to give his hugest fans something to remember.
GB: I have to say up front I have two kids - one is 9 and one is 7 - and they're both huge fans.
LH: Oh, great!
GB: And they were so thrilled when I said, "Hey, I'm gonna be talking with Jack from KICKIN' IT," to the point where, um, I'm going to be asking you some questions that they gave me.
LH: Of course! I'd be happy to answer 'em!
GB: Great! Well... My daughter, who's 9, wants to know: What made you want to get involved with martial arts?
LH: That's a really good question, because I was 4 when I got into it. One of my childhood friends was doing martial arts at a dojo. And the dojo didn't let anyone younger than 6 participate.
I just remember sitting on my mom's lap and watching it and just dying to go out and train with the kids. And the dojo didn't allow anyone under 6 to go out into the dojo, but I was so obsessed with it at such an early age that they just let me in. And the obsession is kind of fulfilled and, well, here I am now!
GB: And that was Shorin-ryu Karate?
LH: Yeah. Shorin-ryu, Japanese Okinawan style.
GB: Awesome. My daughter's next question: How long have you trained? And where did you spend all that time training?
LH: Well, I've kind of jumped around a little bit. The first style I did was Shorin-ryu, and it took me about nine years to get my black belt. And I did, I got my black belt in that. And then, after that - or, kind of in the last part of that - I started training in the extreme martial arts. You know, if you don't know it, it's all the stuff you see in the movies - it's not that practical but it looks awesome.
GB: It impresses girls.
LH: No-no, yeah (laughs). Yeah, but all the flips and stuff? I use that in KICKIN' IT quite a bit. More recently, I've been training in MMA and sparring - jiu jitsu and, you know, the whole nine yards.
GB: Wow! You... You do a little bit of everything!
LH: I try. There's a lot of styles. I'm lucky to be around so many people that know all these styles. They'll show me. They've shown me a whole bunch of stuff, so it's good to have that knowledge.
GB: Do you have a trainer on set?
LH: Oh, yeah, definitely. Actually, the stunt coordinator and one of the stunt guys - they're great friends of mine. We train probably two or three times a week together. On set, we're always doing drills. Actually, Jason, who plays Rudy on the show, he trains with me. He's been training really well and we spar quite a bit, and he's getting really good!
GB: Alright! Another question from my daughter.
LH: Of course!
GB: She needs to know how you got on the cast of KICKIN' IT.
LH: Well! I guess I had an agent and I got the audition. I saw what the breakdown was, which was "a karate sitcom," and they needed, you know, a kid who could do karate - and in a sitcom - and I was like, "Soo-weet! I don't think that's ever been done before." (Laughs) So I saw that and I really wanted to do it. And it was, I think, seven or eight auditions and then I got it, thankfully, and it's been a blast ever since.
GB: That does sound nice. The next question is also from my daughter: Have you taught any moves to your castmates? I know you mentioned sparring with Rudy....
LH: Yeah. Actually, quite a bit. They've learned karate, whether it's from me, just from watching, or they've been learning it. I just try to show as much as I can. Actually, Dylan, the guy who plays Milton on the show? The nerdy kid? He's actually a phenomenal grappler, a wrestler. He's never trained in it before. We were showing him a couple things, and since he's so long and so flexible, he can really twist around at angles that I have no idea how to prevent! So he's good.
GB: Do you ever get to make any story suggestions or any, like, corrections to the script based on things that you know that maybe the writers didn't know?
LH: Well, they'll always... Well, frequently, sometimes they'll ask me if I do any other sports or anything, and they'll play off each one of our weaknesses, because we're all good friends. They know what we're all really like, so they'll play off our weaknesses. And any time we're on set, when we're doing a scene or whatever? We can pitch a joke. If it's good, it'll get used. We all chip in, and, you know, we all wanna make the show better!
We all always try to improve as much as we can. Sometimes it's a bust, but sometimes you get a laugh, and that's the best feeling in the world.
LH: Other than a great training workout - don't get me wrong! Heh heh!
OK, I have one question from my son, who's 7. He really wants to know: How do you kick through everything?
LH: Welllll, I hate to tell you this, but the stuff on the show that I kick through is fake! (Laughs.)
LH: No, a lot of the boards and stuff, they're fake - just because, you know, they get liabilities and all that good stuff.
I've trained and all that before, and just tell him that a whole lot of practice and a whole lot of training. He'll hate to hear that, but it's true.
GB: Well, you know, Dad wants to hear that! (Laughs.)
GB: I guess this is my last question - do you do your own stunts? I know you have a stunt coordinator. How many of your own stunts do you do?
LH: I actually do all my own stunts on the show. All the flips, all the action, every single bit of it's me. Which is pretty cool, because I'm lucky they allow me to do all that. And it's a blast - I have such a great time doing that. All the fight scenes and the guys I get to meet and all the stuff I learn.
And, anyway, it's great practice. Before KICKIN' IT, I was doing things like CONAN THE BARBARIAN and G.I. JOE and big hit action movies like that. And I'm really excited after KICKIN' IT to keep doing stuff like that. On KICKIN' IT, I have a fight scene every episode, so it's great. It's great practice for the future, also, so it's great. Really great practice.
GB: What else do you have planned for the future? Do you have anything lined up during the off-season, or are you just filming year-round?
LH: We have a couple - actually three or four projects maybe coming up this fall, so we'll see. None of them are for sure yet, so we'll see. Movies... I look forward to pursuing the action side of everything, because that's what's always been my passion. I don't really think there's really been a kid who's done that sort of thing before, so... It's close to my heart because it's what I've always been doing, you know?
GB: Yeah. It's fun to watch, too!
LH: Right. It's fun to do!
GB: Great. Well, I can't think of anything else that I absolutely have to know. Do you think there's anything that I've missed?
LH: I don't think so - just that the show starts back in September and it's airing on Monday nights.
GB: Monday nights in September, we'll be lined up and watching!
LH: Fantastic! Tell your kids I said hello.
GB: They'll be thrilled. Thank you so much!
LH: I'm glad. Thank you - have a good one, OK?
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About Grant Balfour:
Grant Balfour is a tabloid poet, bon vivant, traveler and family man based in South Florida. He studied Yang Taiji with Weilun Huang, but today spends too much time reading about the I Ching, Taoist meditation and foreign ports of call and not nearly enough time actually practicing. For more information on KICKIN’ IT, visit http://disney.go.com/xd/kickinit