It’s a warm autumn afternoon in Hollywood, and Ashton Kutcher is attacking a heavy bag with a vengeance usually reserved for boxers training for a prize fight. His focus is intense, his grimace demonstrative and mean. And he’s sweating. A lot. It’s sweat with a purpose – but not the purpose you might think. Within minutes of our meeting, Kutcher makes it perfectly clear that, for him, working out has nothing to do with being healthy, looking good for his next romantic comedy or getting his long, lean frame (he’s 190cm and 88 kilos) ready for a fierce action thriller. He’s not even trying to stay in shape for Demi Moore, his gorgeous movie-star wife. No, Kutcher says he trains because he believes all hell is going to break loose someday, and when it does, only the meanest, smartest and strongest will survive. He intends to be among them.
That’s why, as he jogs up the steepest of inclines at Runyon Canyon near his Los Angeles home, he pretends he is being chased by wild boars or aliens, whatever civilisation-crushing beings the 33-year-old actor mentally conjures up that day. It’s why he endures hours of blazing hot Bikram yoga, pretending he’s in the desert with no water. And it’s why he started learning Krav Maga, a hand-to-hand combat technique developed by the Israeli army and taught to special elite forces around the world (see box, p.55). All of it in order to be prepared – for anything. “If the shit hits the fan,” Kutcher says, “you can get out of the shit.”
Kutcher was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was something of a troubled teenager before winning a modelling contest and finding his way to Hollywood. Before long, he was cast as Michael Kelso in the hit sitcom That ’70s Show. The role vaulted him into the Hollywood spotlight and sparked roles in movies such as Dude, Where’s My Car?, The Butterfly Effect and Valentine’s Day. He also introduced the word “punk’d” into our everyday vernacular with his self-titled MTV celeb prank show, which he created and produced.
Currently, he’s starring in No Strings Attached, a romantic comedy with Natalie Portman and Kevin Kline, which opens in Australia on February 10 (see review, p.40). In 2010, he played a hitman in the action flick Killers. It was during his preparation and training for that film that he discovered Krav. Growing up, Kutcher remembers being fascinated with self-defence and wanting badly to learn martial arts. Didn’t happen. “I was in the swing choir instead,” he says with a laugh.
Today, he works out almost continuously, often with Moore, 48, to whom he’s been married for seven years. But he never had much enthusiasm in the gym, getting bored easily in the weight room or on a treadmill. Krav sparked something, though. He says that in the practice he found his purpose: saving his loved ones from Armageddon.
“It won’t take very much, I’m telling you,” he says passionately. “It will not take much for people to hit the panic button. The amount of convenience that people rely on based on electricity alone. You start taking out electricity and satellites, and people are going to lose their noodle.” He continues with exasperation. “People don’t have maps anymore,” he says, his voice rising with incredulity. “People use their iPhones or GPS systems, so if there’s no electricity, nobody has maps.
“And people are going to go, ‘That land’s not yours, prove that it’s yours’, and the only thing you have to prove it’s yours is on an electronic file. Then it’s like, ‘What’s the value of currency, and whose food is whose?’ People’s alarm systems at their homes will no longer work. Neither will our heating, our garbage disposals, hot-water heaters that run on gas but depend on electricity – what happens when all our modern conveniences fail?
I’m going to be ready to take myself and my family to a safe place where they don’t have to worry.”
One of his favourite moments in years was Christmas 2009, when he and his family lost power for 14 hours at their Southern California mountain cabin. “It was 20 below zero,” he says. “I got my guns out.” (Real guns. Not his slim but muscular arms.) “We made a fire. We went to the grocery store, and the doors were open because they’re all electronic. People were rolling in and out, clearing out the shelves.
“I’m telling you, it was like a preview [of what’s to come],” he says. “All of my physical fitness regimen is completely tailored around the end of day. I stay fit for no other reason than to save the people I care about.”
And so Kutcher spends one day a week on a furious hike. He does yoga up to three days each week for flexibility. And then there’s three or four days working with Krav Maga trainer Jarret Waldman, who worked with Kutcher on Killers. Kutcher quickly advanced out of Krav’s Level 1 basic combat techniques because of his natural aggressiveness and attitude. “When he was training for Killers, we worked out several times a week and went away and worked every day for a week,” Waldman said. “He is athletic by nature, but Krav got the best out of him. Right off the bat, when I put him in the gloves, he goes balls to the wall.”
It’s a punishing but practical workout that involves punches and kicks targeting the body’s most vulnerable points, such as the eyes, nose, groin, collarbone and throat.
It also teaches counter-attacks designed to break an opponent’s joints, if necessary. It’s aerobic and anaerobic and guaranteed to give you an edge in everything from a street fight to a military invasion.
“The great thing about Krav,” Kutcher says, “is that every year it changes. Every time someone comes up with a new move, something new with ground defence, [Krav] finds a way to counter-attack it.” There’s
no set discipline, he says. “It’s whatever works. For Killers, I worked out six days a week for two hours a day. I was doing Krav Maga and Muay Thai fighting. I was trained by the French Muay Thai national champion. I also have a friend who’s a former military guy, and so we worked together on some technique, you know, just basic groundwork. In No Strings Attached, the character wasn’t supposed to be in tip-top shape, so I was off the hook.”
“I like knowing I could live off of water and syrup for a couple of weeks.”
That meant cutting back a bit on exercise and enjoying a few more servings of all his favourite cheat foods. In fact, Kutcher says he eats basically whatever he wants unless he feels he needs to drop some kilos. Then, it’s bye-bye carbs. He and Demi also like to go on the master cleanse diet, a fasting diet of just water, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and lemon juice. The couple does it at least once a year, he says, to “clean out the pipes”. “Plus, if shit hits the fan,” he adds, “I like knowing I could live off of water and syrup for a couple of weeks.” Naturally.
Postscript: After this story was published in the US, Kutcher’s Armageddon comments drew media attention. He has since stated they were taken out of context.
What is Krav Maga?
This Israeli fighting technique proves that the best offence is a good defence.
Originally developed for members of the Israeli Defence Forces, Krav Maga (it means “hand-to-hand combat” in Hebrew) is actually a fairly straightforward and highly effective form of self-defence – and it’s a great workout.
Expect to learn some basic fighting stances before moving on to punching and kicking skills, often using pads or bags. Then come strikes – direct hits to vulnerable body parts, such as the groin, throat, eyes and knees. “The idea is to end the fight quickly and get away,” says Krav Maga trainer Jarret Waldman. “The technique is popular with police officers and military who don’t have a long time to learn other martial arts.” A session lasts about an hour.
Waldman says the discipline appeals to people of all ages and fitness levels. “An average person can burn some fat, build muscle and learn self-defence,” he says. “It is not a competitive sport, because competition means rules, and in Krav there are no rules. We take the approach of teaching you how to react if you’re attacked on the street – while still getting in a good workout and getting your aggressions out.”
Krav Maga is taught in Australia and New Zealand. To learn more about it and to find training locations nearest you, go to kravmaga.com.au.