The RZA’s Iron Fist

The Wu-Tang Impresario talks about his new film, “The Man With The Iron Fists 2,” and a new album that won’t drop for 88 more years. 

The RZA has never been satisfied with doing just one thing. After conquering the New York City hip-hop scene in the mid-nineties, the native Brooklynite immediately began venturing out into other fields. He began acting for prominent art house directors, writing the theology of the Wu Tang Clan, and scoring films. In 2012, he put it all together with his directorial debut The Man With The Iron Fists,” which RZA also wrote and scored. Now, RZA’s blacksmith character has returned in “The Man With The Iron Fists 2,” which will be released digitally and on blu-ray on April 14th. 

Maxim spoke with RZA about his training regimen, how he became interested in the martial arts, and the future of “Once Upon A Time In Shaolin,” the Wu-Tang album that caused controversy earlier this year after it was announced that it wouldn’t be released for 88 years

What did you do to train for your role in the film?

Well, I’m one of those guys who learn martial arts from watching the movies. You know what I mean, come home and try the tricks you see on the screen. Of course in 1995, I had the chance to meet a Shaolin Monk named Shi Yan Ming. He’s 34th generation and he defected from China to America. He formed a school called USA Shaolin Temple in New York City and I became his student. He taught. When I was young, I bought a manual called “The Tiger/Crane Form of Hung Gar Kung-Fu.” Just from the photos in the books, I would practice that. I bought that and ODB bought Snake and Monkey style and we would just practice like two crazy kids. But years later when I did Iron Fist 1, I had a chance to go to China. I had about 14 weeks of prepping for that movie, and they hired a Hung Gar master to teach me the form for real. You’ll notice that most of my moves are very upper body Hung Gar style type of training.

So when you do your stunts in the film is that actually you?

Yeah, I do a lot of my own stunts. Of course I have a stunt man if things get stupid, but I like to try and do it. That’s why it’s not as accurate as some of the Asian brothers when they’re doing it. You can see some of my clumsiness, but I think the character would be kind of clumsy, you know? So I always go through the moves. If the director wants to have a stuntman do it after me, that’s up to him. I go through it about four or five times myself, because it’s like “Yo, it’s all good.” I get a little scratch here, a little scratch there but it’s all good.

What has been the reception overseas for these films?

I haven’t been over since the film came out actually. I’ve kind of been in Hollywood a lot just working on films. I haven’t had the chance to move around the world like I’d normally do as a touring artist. I don’t know, but I could say that I have a colleague who said that a lot of people in China speak highly of RZA for the work he did out there and welcome him back anytime, so that’s cool.

Obviously, you’ve tried a lot of stuff in your career from hip-hop, to acting, to food, is there something you will not try?

There’re a lot of things that I won’t try.  Let me just tell you the reason why you see me in multiple arenas. It’s because some of those arenas actually have the same foundations. I think I’ve recognized that key. As a musician, whether I’m on drums, piano or guitar if you hand me a flute I’ll get a melody out of it. It’s because I know what music is. So once you know what music is, that’s why you see somebody like Beck. Beck can play 12 to 16 instruments because he’s a musician. Once you mastered the music itself, you have to understand music theory. You want to eventually take the instrument and make it make music. To me, making a film is like making an album. That’s the common denominator.

When it comes to Wu-Tang, where are we at with the latest album that won’t be heard for 88 years?

It’s been handed over to a company called Paddle8. It’s an auction house. They deal with rare items, so it’s basically handed over to the art world. They’ve been having private meetings of all so I let it go and put it in their hands. I trust that that’s what they do for a living. They preserve anything —  whether it’s dinosaur bones or fine art.

Once it’s sold can it be released non-commercially? Will people be able to hear it?

I think there are some loopholes that that could happen. If somebody has some philanthropy in them, then they have the cure to letting people hear it. It’s a non-commercial piece. It’s art. Some great collectors, they collect it. I had a buddy who collected Mickey Mantle’s baseball gloves. You won’t even see that unless you go to his house. But it’s fun. Him and his friends looking at it as a piece of art and they let it go on tour. So maybe the same thing happens with the album.

Photos by Universal Pictures