Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis or maybe Idris Elba had really gone off the deep end, but the English actor challenged himself to become a professional kickboxer in 12 months. In his corner was Kieran Keddle, a former kickboxing champion and veteran trainer, who trained Elba for his first professional fight. We chatted with the man (below, with Elba) to find out what went down in the gym and whether Elba was made of the right stuff.
What was the most difficult thing for Elba?
The main thing is time schedules. As you can understand, the 12 months that we were together, he did numerous things. He was on three different movie sets. He was doing music – he’s really keen into his music producing. A lot of voice overs. So, it was actually finding out and getting a time schedule.
And the other difficult thing I think for Idris was that he has the brain of someone who is really young. He believes he could do everything, which is fantastic for me. At the same time, I needed to make sure that he didn’t go over the top and drain himself. At first, that was very difficult for him to understand. He wanted to go full-on every session. And it’s very difficult to understand sometimes, you have to do technical sessions or lighter sessions just to benefit your body, as well.
What surprised you most about Elba?
Well, there are two answers to that. First is his dedication and the commitment of time to train with me. We did all types of training sessions. 3:00 in the mornings, 22:00 at night. He never missed a session once, never cancelled on me. Sometimes he came to the gym and he was exhausted from being on the set for 12, 15 hours. His dedication was one of his attributes to make his dream possible. Like I said, he’s 43, and obviously when he competed he was 44. But he wasn’t given easy chances. Everything was very difficult. Every task I gave him was very difficult.
Even all the way to the competition at the end, it was very difficult. This whole programme is real. There’s nothing fake about it. And Elba dedicated his time.
Second, he has a nice personality and he’s a friendly person. he has. There’s no rudeness, no arrogance. And you hear about how other actors are – this is one of the busiest actors at the moment and he doesn’t have that much time sometimes. But he always makes you feel like he has got time. And the attribute is, he’s just a very warm-hearted person who just moulds and gels with everybody.
Was Elba’s age an issue in terms of training?
I mean, from the beginning, I had to explain to him that you have to listen to me because when you’re 44, you still will have that mindset of being a young person. And your mind can still be set as a 21-year-old, 25-year-old, wherever it is. The fact is, you get wiser, there’s no denying that. But your body, no matter what, is obviously going to fatigue faster than a younger person. So, we had to – and it took some time for him to understand that you have to listen to your body and at the same time, listen to your coach in terms of how to train.
Like I said, sometimes, we’ll be doing a very, very hard session when we’re doing sprints, we doing lots of pads, we’re doing heavy sparring. And then the next day, we have to work with techniques. Stretch out, talk tactics, talk about his opponent, talk movement, footwork. And then, obviously, maybe even get a massage or something like that. It is quite normal for people of his age, that you have to – the quality is important. Not the quantity, but the quality of his sessions.
Did you perceive any kind of weakness in Idris?
I mean, as a coach, you’ve got to be positive when you train people. Be positive. At the same time, you have to understand that nobody is perfect. So, I was always going to be worried about who he was going to face, in terms of his opponent, and along the journey he sparred many people as well.
You basically assess the situation, and then you discuss with your student exactly how to deal with it. Like we said earlier, a lot of people talked about Elba’s age. That was never a factor for me. It was mainly to do with his mindset, understanding himself and trying to be very patient. But like I said, along the journey there was many bumps along the way, shall we say, many injuries.
There were a couple of upsetting situations. It’s very normal for fighters of all ages to go through this. But, of course, it was quite new to him. So, it was just basically as a coach, taking away his fears, taking away his worries. Because no matter what, the connection between a fighter and a coach over time grows stronger. And then you become friends. So, you have to be honest with each other. And you’re going to see that in the series.
Idris Elba: Fighter will debut on the Discovery Channel, 29 January, 9pm