‘Negative attention is also attention. I started to provoke my dad: I was a brat and ended up in fights at school. I got bullied, but I quickly learned to stand up for myself. When my classmates attacked me, I would switch off all my emotions and fight back with surgical precision. But I still felt like the victim. I did not understand why my classmates were picking on me. I figured out it had to be my looks, so I threw away my glasses, put gel in my hair and went for a look styled on Fonzie from Happy Days.
Action heroes like Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone became my role models. I liked their characters, the tough villains that kicked ass. I developed a fascination for the medieval Knights Templar, the first biker gang in history. To survive, they not only perfected the art of combat, but they were also sophisticated diplomats who set the rules.
When I turned eighteen, my dad kicked me out of the house, which was the best thing he had ever done for me.
I wanted to become a real man and experience the full spectrum that life had to offer
It was around this time that I noticed I was rapidly going bald. When my long hair could no longer hide the bald patch on top, I shaved my head completely. To complete my Viking-look, I started growing a beard.
At first, the idea was to have one braid under my chin, like a plait I had seen in a King Arthur movie. But my goatee grew slowly, and I could not make a single braid in the middle. I could make two small ones, though, one on each side. They grew longer and longer, and I never went back to the single braid look. In the fifteenth century, nobility and warriors in my hometown also had split beards. My beard is a homage to them.
After graduating from high school, I decided I needed to upgrade my life lessons. I wanted to become a real man and experience the full spectrum that life had to offer. This meant finding and surviving in an environment where I would be exposed to extreme, life-altering situations. I went underground into a world of violence and made my money in a less legitimate way. I do not feel the need to elaborate on this, but let’s just say it has given me a lot of resilience. Eventually, I moved on.
‘Throughout the years, I have built up resilience and have become the man I set out to be’
I began to pursue my big passion: European swordsmanship. I transcribed and studied historical manuscripts. I founded AMEK, an academy for historical fighting and fencing arts, where I teach martial arts classes. I also competed in many tournaments around the world, won gold medals, and ended up teaching in twenty-eight countries worldwide. In 2008, I was elevated to the Hall of Fame for Martial Arts and got knighted.
A few years ago, a movie director saw me fighting in Italy and asked me to be the fight choreographer for his Medieval epic Richard the Lionheart. He asked me to read some lines from the script, and he offered me the role of the main villain. I accepted and went to Los Angeles. After Richard the Lionheart, I starred in several other movies and popular shows like Vikings and Game of Thrones.
I still compete occasionally. Before a fight, I take time to do my breathing exercises. The most difficult thing is to silence the noise inside your head and let go of your emotions and thoughts. When you have reached this point and enter the ring, you begin to observe your opponent’s slightest movements, down to his breathing routines. You focus, until that beautiful moment when your body and mind decide to attack, landing your weapon onto your opponent’s mask, scoring that critical point.
‘I never had a real-life role model when I was young, so now I try to be one for others’
Every now and then, I call my dad and we chat on the phone. It is fine, really, but we do not have a proper father-son relationship. For a long time I felt as though he was superior to me, but now the roles have reversed.
Throughout the years, I have built up resilience and have become the man I set out to be. Many of my pupils at the academy are dealing with the same shit I struggled with as a kid. I teach them to be strong and how to overcome the obstacles life throws at you. I never had a real-life role model when I was young, so now I try to be one for others.’