Watching a Chinese action film and wanting to get into martial arts is one thing, while watching a Chinese action film and getting into martial arts is another. Shifu Kanishka Sharma belongs to the latter category.
The martial arts expert first saw 36 Chambers of Shaolin at the age of six. He went on to watch it at least 300 times more. “That was the film that actually caught my interest and since there were no trainers from Shaolin in India, my dad enrolled me for the regular karate classes. But the urge to visit Shaolin remained. After completing my MBA, I even took a job with Reliance but I realised the corporate world wasn’t for me,” says the Pune-based martial artiste.
So he took off to the esteemed Shaolin Temple Secular Discipline Union in China in 2001, thus becoming the first Indian to train there. “The hardcore training sessions lasted for six years before I earned the title Shifu, which means master in Mandarin. Besides, it’s been 26 years now since I dedicated myself to martial arts,” adds the 37-year-old.
Bollywood took notice of him soon. In 2003, during his stay in Shaolin, he was asked by National Geography Channel to train Akshay Kumar for their TV series Seven Deadly Arts. “I trained him in Shaolin Kung fu and Muay Thai. After that, I got a call from Farhan Akhtar to choreograph action sequences in Don (2006). I trained Shah Rukh Khan for three months in Jeet Kune Do -- a style founded by Bruce Lee -- for two months. Meanwhile I also taught Priyanka Chopra Shaolin Kung fu and Arjun Rampal Muay Thai for the film,” says Sharma. Later, he trained Abhishek Bachchan for action sequences in Game (2011).
Pekiti-Tirsia Kali (a style specific to Filipino Martial Arts) seems to be the latest fad in the world of cinema. Matt Damon trained for five months to get it right for the Bourne series. Expecting Indian film stars to spend that much time would sound preposterous but according to Sharma, the change is gradual but real. “There is a long way to go since things are different here. That’s the reason why one punch results in 25 onscreen deaths (laughs). Now, actors are willing to spend more time training.”
For instance, Sharma groomed Anil Kapoor for the latter’s upcoming TV series 24. “He picked up quite well.” However, the Shifu is all praises for Madhuri Dixit whom he trained for three months for her forthcoming Gulaab Gang. “She’s amazing. I trained her in handling weapons, basic Kung fu and Kali. Despite the fact that she’s on the wrong side of 40, she learned pretty fast. Her background in dance helped a lot as it’s all about timing, rhythm and fitness.”
Unique martial arts fest at Goa
In December, Panaji will be hosting a first-of-its-kind martial arts festival called Zambhala. The Shifu is upbeat about it as he has requested his master from Shaolin Temple to attend the event. “We’ll be teaching Tai Gong along with Kung fu demonstrations. It’s an opportunity for international artistes, spiritual guides and yoga experts to come together. Madonna is going to be there too,” sums up Sharma.