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Getting Up: From Homeless To World Class Martial Artist And Entertainer with Marco “Da@nswer” Johnson
I got someone very special for you. I don’t know if you’ve heard of with this guy, but Mr. Marco “Da@nswer” Johnson is with me. This guy is a six-time World Sports Karate Champion, a two-time MVP, a Point MMA Lightweight Champion, a martial arts action star who starred in TV and movies like A&E, Luke Cage season one and many more. This is the son of the legendary martial artist Willie “The Bam” Johnson. Marco, welcome to show.
How are you feeling? Thank you so much. I love the energy.
You can tell I’m feeling good. I got you. The introduction does not do you justice. You’ve accomplished so much in your life. What I like to do right now is have you tell us about yourself. I’m not sure if everyone may know who you are. Maybe it’s their first time learning about you. Why don’t you give us a little bit about who you are?
My full real name is Marco Dawarn Johnson. My real name was supposed to be Dawan, but my grandmother refused. They gave me Dawarn. When I first started in martial arts, everybody always asks me the question could I follow in my father’s footsteps? He was a legend. He was in jail. He was in a lot of the base of the wires resembled off of Lafayette Projects where I grew up. Those teenagers in that movie were my uncles, my godfather and those kids. It was like, “Could I break the cycle?” When I finally broke that cycle, it was like, “Can you accomplish more?” I always get up and ask myself that every day, “How am I to answer?” I love the intro. The intro was great, but for me, my biggest accomplishment was at 22, I was homeless, eating out of trashcans up in Philadelphia, dancing in clubs just to eat.
To be here years later and I’m doing Luke Cage, I’m doing movies and now doing my own movies. I’m going around and teaching kids that come from our city that there is more than dribbling the ball or sitting on a corner. This is my biggest accomplishment. Going to tournaments and stuff when I was young was great, but as I got older, it was like, “If I pass now or tomorrow, what will my legacy be?” Could I leave it as Bruce Lee left? Can I leave it as Michael Jordan leaves it? Can I leave it as LeBron leaves it? Can I leave it as Jim Brown leaves it? Can I do what George Clinton did for Funk? Can I be that dude when it comes to martial arts and hip hop? You’d be like, “That’s the one.” Every day my biggest accomplishment is that somebody great like you can hit my phone and say, “Let’s do an interview. I need you.” That’s the greatest for me.
I want to say thank you for picking up the phone and saying yes and being here with us. It’s an honor to interview you. I want to back it up a little bit because Willie “The Bam” Johnson is very successful. He is a great individual and here you are following into his footsteps but didn’t you said you ended up homeless, eating out of trash cans? There’s a little bit of a disconnect there. Talk to us about it. Let’s start from there. How did you find yourself in that place? What happened in your life?
Every kid, you graduate, I was at stardom and I was winning everything. I was eighteen. I’d probably won all six of our titles. After about eighteen, I stopped counting. If you become an adult, it’s no more about the titles, it’s about how you feed your family. At about eighteen or nineteen, I had my first son. When I had my first son, my destiny was to leave and go to Hollywood because I was already winning everything. I’ve accomplished this. I went over to Trinidad and represented our country at sixteen and was beating soldiers. I said, “I’m going to go to college.” I saved up $10,000. When my son was born, you make life decisions and you get caught up in life. Everybody knows if you caught up in life and you’ve got to go through life things, you’ve got to make different decisions. You have your dreams, you have your visions.You can't accomplish anything in this world by yourself. Click To Tweet
For me, sometimes it was always destined to be greater than what I’ve seen. My father is a legend. Most people have a hero. I love Allen Iverson. That’s one of my heroes. My father, hands down, is my hero because I was a part of everything. I was a part of him being in prison cells or doing things where everybody put the odds. He would get on buses for three days and go and kill people for eighth place. Eventually, I watched this man go undefeated coming straight out of prison with no backing, not his instructor and nobody. When I’ve seen those things, when I couldn’t accomplish them, I felt like I wasn’t making those right decisions.
You go against the grain. When I went against the grain, I was always taught never to ask. If you need it, don’t ask, go get it yourself. Go eat. You’re a lion. Go find that food and go eat. When I made those decisions, it was like, “I had to go eat.” I never wanted to tell my parents like, “I’m struggling,” or “I’m going through this.” I wanted to see that other side of maybe I could make it out of this myself, but I got caught in a lot of street stuff. I made a lot of bad decisions. When you’re from a city that you’ve only grown up around savages, sometimes at a point in your life, you’ve got to learn to become a savage. When I became a savage, it taught me how to become a savage where it put me in rooms with Lil Wayne.
I was hosting parties for Lil Wayne, hosting parties with T-Pain, hosting parties for Beanie Sigel and Freeway, Lacey Duvalle and Pinky. I was hosting parties all around because I had to eat, but I didn’t want everybody to know that I was the son of a legendary martial artist, Willie “The Bam” Johnson. If somebody found out, they were like, “Let’s do that. Let’s go to your pops and do this.” I never wanted people to know. When I built that name in the hosting game, we called it the Chitlin Circuit. I built it on the Chitlin Circuit, I said, “I’m going to go back to what I love.” I never stopped doing martial arts, but I was hustling in tournaments. We would talk about it to this day.
It was funny, I went to a tournament and a little kid walked up to me and he was like, “When I was like seven years old,” he’s seventeen now, that’s like years ago, “You came in this tournament and everybody was like, ‘The champion. This person’s a champ.” Everybody was like, “Marco showed up. Marco’s here. We haven’t seen Marco in months and you won everything, and you walked out.” The only thing you said, “This is a business. This is not fun for me no more. I’ve got to eat. If I don’t win this tournament, I can’t pay my rent. If I don’t win this tournament, I can’t put food on my table. If I don’t win this tournament, my little son who wanted to go to McDonald’s every Wednesday to go play in the ball, I can’t do that. I’ve got to make this happen.” It put me into the vehicle where now it’s like every day I get up, the vision doesn’t change. I wanted more. Even if now or tomorrow, my universe, the Creator would call me up and say, “It’s your time.” I can look down and say, “Dad, my legacy is already put out because somebody else can grab hold of it. It’s out there enough.” I hope that wasn’t too much.
Obviously, your son was a turning point in your life. That was a major motivator that drove you to accomplish things and making sure that there was food on the table and that you were successful at raising your son. There’s no greater compliment than to be a good dad. In this world, there is not a lot of good fathers out there. I commend you for stepping up to that responsibility and doing it because there are not a lot of people doing it. You’re a six-time world sports karate champion. That’s far beyond homeless and so there had to be some level of mindset, something that changed the game that drove you to accomplish champion’s status. I believe that everyone in their own right has the champion’s status in them, but not everyone accomplishes the champion’s status. Let’s talk about that. What were the things and if it was inclusive of your being a dad and your son, that’s fine, but I also want to get into other things that were game-changing for you, that pushed you to that level of success?
When I was four years old, I realized what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to entertain the world with martial arts and hip hop. When I was four years old, I used to watch No retreat, No surrender and Ninja Turtles every day. I didn’t watch anything else. My dad went to China in 1984 and I was born in ‘84 on December 8. My grandmother died that same year in his arms and she laid in his arms for two days. Everybody said when I was born, my eyes were open. I had her spirit. When I was about four years old, I know, I write it down every day, “At four, you knew what you wanted to do.” The game-changer for me was when I was eight. My mom was strung out on drugs. She was addicted to heroin and cocaine. About four or five months earlier, she had a bad overdose, but it was just her and me.
My pops were in and out of prison. When he came home from prison, he walked from Baltimore to DC just because he wanted to chase his dreams. I was like, “He’s going to come and get me one day.” I didn’t know how soon it was going to be. One day, it was probably a Wednesday. My mom said she was coming back and I didn’t see her for two months. I was raising myself. She abandoned me. A lot of things that kicked in when my pops came and got me and what I was seeing, I already knew it. I already had the trophies when he went from tournaments and I recognized when I went to a tournament, he was the only African American representing a culture that was created in the streets of the ghetto. These people in China resembled it and loved it. I’m not saying that the Kung Fu with the hip hop, the flavor, the essence, the different style and the charisma where you could captivate an audience and get people up to wave their hands and move them side to side was what I’ve seen that my dad did.
When I got the opportunity, all I wanted to do was be better than him. When I went to a tournament, I remembered it. When I won my first tournament, I was thirteen years old and my mom called me. She said, “I’m coming back home.” Every night, I used to have nightmares but it never clicked until I got about thirteen, fourteen that I was molested at two. My mom was still struggling and I was molested by my grandmother’s boyfriend, and we talked about it. It was the first time I made a decision. I said, “I’m not coming home. I want to be a world champion one day. I want to be a star.” That changed the game for me. Every day as I get up, that’s my game-changer life. I remember I was two years old and this is what I went through. I got to this age, then I went through this and in 22, I went through this. At 34, people call me a legend, but I don’t even look at myself as a legend. I look at myself as a kid that’s hungry, that wants more and more and better for the world. That’s my game-changer.
You’ve accomplished so much. Many people that would have accomplished what you’ve accomplished, perhaps would stop. They’ll be satisfied. Not many people can say they’re a six-time World Sport Karate Champion and two-time MVP, a Point MMA Lightweight Champion and you’re doing movies. You’re an action movie star but you said you’re still hungry. Explain that to me. You’ve accomplished so much.
I see so many kids die in my city and I’m happy to make it out. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough to give back. I don’t feel like I’ve done enough to make it easier for the next generation. Everybody has closed the door on our generation to make it harder for us. Instead of opening a door and leave it as a revolving door and the blueprint, I haven’t done it. When Nipsey died, people don’t know what he did to me because every day I got up and that man made me realize there’s more to accomplish than clean yourself, the dollar bill and making the millions. How can you come to be a whole society of people that are in wheelchairs, kids that are losing mothers and kids that are being molested? How could you do that? That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I feel like I haven’t done enough.
What would be enough? What do you want to change in society? What would you like to see done differently?
I wanted the world to know that there is more to it. When they see these athlete’s contracts or you see a kid become a huge phenomenon, we’ve got kids in these societies that are phenomenal in computers or are leaders already, but we never teach them the trade or the skill. Back in the day, when you went you learned a shot or you went, and you learned how to write a resume or put together a portfolio. We teach them the surface of life. We don’t teach them what we call a lifestyle, which we say your street knowledge. No, it’s not a street knowledge, it’s life knowledge. What we learn in schools now, I feel like when a kid leaves the school, that’s not what they face. A teacher told me one time when I was creating my tour, because my goal one day is to do 100 schools tour and to empower kids, to show kids that there’s more.
For 30 to 40 minutes, I want you to have a party with me to show you there’s more than what you see right now. We’ve got seven principles that we follow. It’s ready, attention, open-mindedness, knowledge, unity, open-mindedness and respect. If you follow those seven principles every day, how could you fail? You’ve always got to get up ready. You’ve always got to call yourself to attention. You’ve got to keep an open mind. When you’ve got an open mind, you gain knowledge. From knowledge, we’ve got to remain unified because you can’t accomplish anything in this world by yourself. No matter how far you get, no matter how much many millions you get, you’ve got to remain humble and remain open. At the end of the day, you’ve got to respect the game, the people that come before you and the next generation that’s coming after you.
That’s what I want to teach this generation. When I created that, a teacher told me one time, “When kids think about STEM or they think about STEAM, it’s not about lifestyle, it’s about math, science and this. I said, “That’s life.” That’s a lifestyle. Life is a science. When a kid comes out and he has got to find out how much soap powder he got to use because he has got to wash clothes in the tub, you grew up not having a washer and dryer, that’s science. That’s life. You all don’t know he has got to deal with it. You’ve got a ration of foods because you’re the oldest kid or your mother got food and she’d tell you, “I’ve got a boyfriend coming over. You can’t eat all the chicken, you only can have four pieces.” If you never learn math and science outside of what’s in school, that lifestyle, you’re stuck. That’s a trait that our kids are scolded for but they don’t know because in school, it has changed so much. Life has changed so much. It became a popularity contest versus becoming a lifestyle contest.Love is absolute. It’s just another word for soul. Click To Tweet
What would you say is missing? The example that you explained, I understand that. What I would like to see happen is people learn or children and this generation that’s coming up learn not only to survive. Those are some valuable skills that you were describing but thrive. How can you make that shift from the mentality of surviving into a mentality of thriving? What would you say would be the game-changer there?
Somebody told me a long time ago and I had to research it because I was against it. They told me love isn’t absolute. I believe our love is absolute. Love is another way for a soul. If they could say soul was love, love is soul. I don’t think enough people share enough love. We don’t love that generation. Think about it. If you’ve got a kid that bucks at you and you’re teaching them something and they bug or cuss at you, would you take time to bug back at them and be like, “I’m trying to help you. If you don’t want my help, I’m not going to help you, but I’m here. I know what you’re going through because I’ve been there?” The moment you say that to them and you got the situation. I’ve been in situations with kids that carried guns in their book bags and I’m teaching them. At the end of the day, the counselor comes in and says, “This kid, I caught him carrying a gun last week and I didn’t want to tell nobody. You got him to open up and share something with you that he never shared.” I said, “It’s because I loved him.”
At the end of the day, when I say I love somebody, I really love them because when people say, “I’ve got the love for you,” it’s high love because it’s a word that is so recognizable to the world. To love someone is if they were running in the street and that car was coming, would you pull them off the street? If you loved that person and that homeless man, you know they look like a dope thing, would you still give them a dollar and say, “I’m not going to give you what I could give you, but I’m going to give you this dollar because I want you to take this dollar, cherish it and pay it forward. Just don’t get high off this dollar?” That to me, is what is missing. The genuineness of taking the time out to be an example and give an example, that’s love.
We think that everybody knows. You got it. It’s on YouTube. Follow this group on YouTube and if you get caught up in it, technology takes away from the wholesomeness of me being able to touch and interact. When I go into a room, I want to touch everybody’s hand even if I don’t know you. I’ll tell you a story. I used to teach for Under Armour in Living Classrooms here in Baltimore, the summer camp. I taught about 2,000 kids that summer. My ultimate goal was to do a deal with Kevin Plank so we could do something for the city. I would go in. I would take shortness on pay. I didn’t care about the money. It was about what I could do for the kids. The guy that owns Living Classrooms, his name is Mr. James Bond.
I see Mr. Bond all the time. He used to have a ponytail. I’d say, “Mr. Bond, what’s going on? I see you cut your hair. You’re looking good.” He says, he hit me with, “I love the energy. You’re the man. I did cut the hair so I look good for the ladies.” This is a billionaire. “I don’t look at your billions. Your billions mean nothing to me. I love your heart. They told you my story. You didn’t look at me like everybody else, but I’m like every dude that you’ve closed the door and said, ‘Can I see your ID?’ I’m them. My focus is different. My hunger is different.” When he said that to me, and believe it or not, Kay Jeweler and his wife were standing right there. They’ve got a nice purple suit on. He had a purple velvet suit and his wife had a nice velvet purple dress. I said, “How are you doing sir? It’s nice to meet you.” They were like, “This is Mr. Kay.” We call him Mr. Kay. They own all the Kay Jewelers around the world. I said, “How are you doing Mr. Jeweler?” He said, “I want that same energy you gave him.” I said, “My bad. How are you feeling?”
For me, that’s who I am every day so I don’t have to change. At the end of the day when they say, “That person is Thomas Cane,” or “That’s Thomas Pett.” One day he had walked past a person who was watching TV and be like, “I’ve met that dude. Get him on the phone because one day I was in a room with him and he shook my hand, and he gave me energy. I need to get in shape and I want him to train me.” That’s all I want. I don’t need anything new because I’d be like, “I’ll pay you X amount.” No. How can we open up a community center in my city where we can open up a school of arts where kids can go through? We could charter them and they’re getting the same education they’re getting in regular school, but I’m paying for them to go through college. What college do you want to go to? What’s your inspiration? Do you want to play ball? Let’s get you into a proper ball school. Do you want to do this? Do you want to play ball? If you don’t make it in ball, are you trying to be a true personal trainer for athletes or trying to be a sports manager? Let me get you on to some stuff that you could still pursue your dream, but you’ve got a backup plan. That’s it for me.
I want to ask you because this is a touchy subject. I want to hear from you on your thoughts of living in the inner city, coming from that place and having a lot of experience with that, do you feel that people that have made it out of that life and have become millionaires, that become stars. Whether they’re athletes, business owners or whatever, did you feel that there’s enough love, as you said? Do you think enough athletes are giving back? Do you feel like they’re looking out for the next generation that is coming, sharing their wisdom, techniques and knowledge on how they made it out with these young kids?
My personal opinion, if I was to use where I’m from, no. I believe there are so many people that come from Baltimore that want to leave Baltimore behind or we use the clout that we are from Baltimore. We go hard, but we never remember when it was called in the early ‘90s and early ‘80s. This used to be called The Charmed City. When you came in, it was so small and so charming. Everything was sold, the harbor was there and everything was touchable. Now, it’s one of the most feared cities in the world. Oprah Winfrey got her career started here, but she never will work in Baltimore ever again. People don’t know that she started on Channel 7 News. Kurt Schmoke, Mayor Martin O’Malley and his wife, one of the highest judges in Congress started here and Jada Pinkett-Smith. All of these people come from this city.
If you just gave $1,000 and said, “Let me throw a little more block party for these kids and keep them away from the hood. Give them what I would do in Cali and invest here. Let me film a movie and see what it would change for the economy of the city.” When we win Super Bowls in this city, it changes the economy for a moment, but that’s only for a moment because after the parade is done, after the freakiness is done, the guns don’t stop, the killing doesn’t stop because that doesn’t open up new jobs. That opens up a moment for a weekend as a job. “I’m going to get a job that weekend.”
What are we doing? What are we opening up? There are so many powerful people? I told people my goal right now and it probably had been for the last several months. I want to make $100,000. If I say, “What you going to do with it?” I’m going to invest $50,000 into research for me to open a charter school and to start events where I can have something for these kids to take them out of Baltimore and do more in my city. Every movie I film for the next four to five movies, I have a couple of them filming outside. The movies I control, I want to film in my city to increase the economy level in Baltimore and then it’d be time for me to move somewhere else, get my big house and get married and all that.
For me, if I accomplish those things, I tell people that my dream is my wife. A woman comes in my life is my mistress. When she understands that balance, she’ll understand and she can take over my dream because my dream is someone that will share my dream with her. For me, that’s the ultimate goal to get up every day like Mr. Obama. He got up every day and said, “I control the world. Let me make it a little bit better for my people or people that have come from what I come from or experienced it.” It wasn’t even the color of the skin. We look at it as the color of skin. I want to change people.
My brother is Caucasian. We grew up together and if I tell people his story and I’m getting him to write a book, people will be like, “What?” I see him every year he’s been in prison for the last several years. Since he has been home, I told him, “You aren’t going back. I’m going to create something where you never got to go back and teach these next generation of kids that want to follow in those footsteps. Something bigger than gang bang. Something big in it and representing your neighborhood. What about representing the next generation to open up jobs? Do you know how many kids out here right now that drop out of school that can’t read? You give them a book, they can’t read.” That’s what it is for me.
I’m going to put you on the spot a little bit. If you were to challenge individuals that come from your city that are classified as successful and have made it, what would you challenge them to do for the City of Baltimore? What would that look like?
What I would challenge them to do is contact every school in the City of Baltimore when the fall season starts. I created an idea where you can touch 100 schools in 90 days. While you got a tour, you’re doing live concerts and some of these kids can’t afford it because they can’t afford shoes, they got holes in their socks. When you go train them in March, July, I teach them the lifestyle. I’ll teach you to style. Style tells you to take your shoes off. The art tells you to come as you come. Don’t take your shoes off because I don’t want you to feel embarrassed because you’ve got holes in your socks.Pursue your dream but have a backup plan. Click To Tweet
Offer them something where they could get the same thing. You are charging these people millions of dollars. Put your money where your mouth is and give them something back because you can still eat. We know the tax write-offs that you get if you’re a nonprofit or you’re working with nonprofit organizations as celebrities or popular figures in our society. Give it back. Do 100 schools tour and I’ll match you. I bet you won’t outwork me because when you leave in one school to go take a nap, I’ve contacted another school was to find a way that we could do this.
I’m not saying start with your high school kids. I’m not saying start with your middle school. Go to elementary schools. I can guarantee there are more elementary school kids that have more adult problems at a young age because an adult at that age is around their twenties, that’s when the adults are trying to test in their loins. They’re not really worried about their child. They’re not worried about their well-being if the kid has a speech problem or the kid can’t read well or certain things that they are going through. Give it to them and then move your way up the totem pole because if you change them, if I change a baby, I could change an adult. An adult only wants to do what their kid does, pay attention. When a new song comes up, I might not even like the song on the radio, but if your kid likes the song and they start learning the words, you play it in your car. That’s how it is. We change with the generation. It grabs hold to the generation. That’s how you start with the generation.
What’s needed? I appreciate having events and I know some of the people that are successful are musical artists and things like that. I feel, at least in my heart of hearts and based on my experience and what I’ve seen, is that we need more than an event or a concert. Even if the kid could afford to go to the concert and the shoes weren’t an issue or whatever was an issue, what are they gaining from the concert? I’m not bashing being an artist. I think it’s great. Everyone needs music. We need different genres of music but I feel that there comes a time when you’ve made it as an artist in your music and then we’re talking about giving back. Giving back doesn’t necessarily have to be the product or the service that made you successful.
I was on an interview not very long ago and I said to the person that was interviewing me that the most expensive thing in this world is ignorance. For those that have made it, wherever we are in life, it’s because of our self-awareness of where we are. If there’s somewhere we want to go, we have to become more aware in order to get to that place that you want to go. We’re not there yet because we’re not aware of how to quite get there yet. Once we become aware, awareness is what allows that possibility to become a reality, awareness in the form of education. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. A lot of these inner city kids are not exposed to certain things that will make them aware of how to get out of the inner city or how to become a scientist, an astronaut or how to get a four-year scholarship. I feel that’s what’s missing. If we’re going to do something, it would be making sure that the kids in the inner city get that level of awareness, whatever that looks like.
I think what you’re saying is so important because that’s where the part where I say when I went through the seven principles, I say you got your knowledge and you gained unity. For me, unity knows that I am a professor of lifestyle that uses the vehicles of martial arts and hip hop as a way to captivate my audience and bring into empowering them. To me, most people look at martial arts and hip hop as kick, punch. Martial arts is to me defined as this. Kung Fu means work. Hip hop has always taught me attitude. Work with the proper attitude is what I teach. I’m going to teach you whatever you are how to make this work. We’re going to put this working, but you can’t work without your attitude being right. If your attitude isn’t right, it’s going to come to a point in time where somebody might sock you in a mouth in a sparring match and you’ve got to tap him on the butt because you might be down one point and it’s 30 seconds left and this is $1,000 to $2,000 in two minutes.
How are you going to put that together? How are you going to change your mindset to go to the next level? That’s for me when I realize it’s no longer about the style. This is what makes you an artist because they give you a whole bunch of crayons and say, “I’m going to give you white, yellow, orange, then we’ll go and take you to green, blue and then give you purple. They would go to red, brown and then when you mixed all these colors up and it ends up being black.” “You just made black. Black is not a color. It’s made up of all colors. You’re telling me at the end of the day, you taught me this to make my own picture? This painted my own picture.” Whatever this turned out to be, this plane, this captivity I have is what? When somebody walks past, they’re like, “I want to know that style.” That’s how styles were created. It wasn’t that somebody said, “My style is supreme and it is blue or it’s red.”
They took a whole bunch of styles. They might have painted it soft, they might’ve been in karate and painted it hard. It might have been Taekwondo and they painted it with their feet. It might’ve been Kung Fu and Tai Chi and printed it with the essence of the spirit, the water and the flow. No matter what that picture came up to be is what you call that art now. That’s how I look at it. That is my play on it because most people look at it as like, “I’m the artist.” “No. How are you as the artist? What color did you start off with? What was your favorite color? If you had a color, you would have something to start it off. You might have been a writer that wrote for other rappers. You might’ve been a beat maker that said, “I want to make music now.” You might’ve been the old school rapper that was a poet that said, “I want to do this.” What is the color that you started off with?
Tell us a little bit more about this. You work a lot with the art of Kung Fu and hip hop. I don’t know if I’m saying that properly. Obviously I don’t know about it. What do you do with that? Can you explain to us in more detail what the art of Kung Fu and hip hop is all about?
It was ‘99, 2000 when I started winning on a consistent basis. When I first came up in the game, my dad always had this thing where he always said, “You did hard Kung Fu. Your Kung Fu is not of China.” My father went over to China and trained. The way he trained us was you learn as a karate stylist, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to evolve to Kung Fu because we come out as karate. When you come out, your body’s unstructured, you’re not flowing. As you get older, you go to a smooth crawl, then you go to a nice smooth wall, then you start running. Before you know it, you might walk backwards. You might develop this phenomenal skill. When I was going against the grain, my dad would use hip hop, but he would still hit you with a little bit, maybe Hawaii Five-0, maybe a little Phil Collins when he would combine his music to perform.
I said, “I want to be different.” I want to tell the story of where I’m from. Every kid that comes out here to compete isn’t it from the ghetto? When I talk to them and I’m using the N-word, but I mean it in a different way. They like, “Are you?” It was because that’s the way we were raised. It wasn’t until I got about 2009, they created the N1 mix tapes that the judge was coming out and I was like, “What if somebody took martial arts?” I know all the young dudes. I was coming up with the older cats. I hold it out when they drink at the 40s. They probably watched the N1 and went like, “They rewind that. You see them with the crossover.” I said take that and put all sports karate where somebody could flip three times in the air or somebody gets hit with a tremendous spring kick and let’s put mixed tapes out where people can recognize martial arts on the hip hop level.
We did it. My dad took off with it. We were doing it, but I still felt like I was still different. Everybody suddenly called me the King of Kung-Fu Hip Hop because I was the first kid to come out and use the whole Luke Skywalker song. Everybody goes, “You just used the whole Luke Skywalker.” I said because Luke back in the day, was a party animal. If I get the ‘90s people and the early people in the ‘80s that listen to Luke and you’ll be like, “Luke now,” everybody is going to be with me when you start something. I stopped performing the form for the judges and the crowd. I started making beats. I might not have had a song on, but every move I was doing was watching, almost starting becoming like Black Belt Theater on Saturday mornings.
It started with me watching old school Kung Fu movies and bringing the Kung Fu movies then take it to another level of watching. The black exploitation movies are saying, “When I make that face or I throw that punch, I want an old school dude but that’s what Dolemite would do,” because now what am I doing? I’m giving you the attitude because I already got the Kung Fu. I put the work in and won six titles, but now every time I come out, I want to put a performance on where people would be like, “I want to see that again.” It isn’t even a form. Do you know like that? I want to see that. I haven’t changed the way I present. I got my own uniform design. I started to invest in where I put gloves on.
For me, it was like when I was coming up with a superhero and I put the gloves on, that was the man. I started getting kids. They’re like, “Your gloves, how can we get those?” It wasn’t everybody. It was like the arm sleeve with Allen Iverson. He hurt his elbow in a game, they gave him the arm sleeve. Not everybody in the NBA wears an arm sleeve. You’ve got no elbow problem but you’re wearing arm sleeve because it became a trend. It changed the style where NBA was not hip hop, but he changed it to hip hop where now LeBron James is the same type of hip hop Allen Iverson was. It’s everything so forward that everybody can recognize like, “LeBron is starting the school.”
People don’t know that in Newport News, Virginia, Allen Iverson rebuilt his elementary school, middle school and high school. He invested in the football and basketball teams way before any NBA player was doing that. That was becoming a trendy thing because it was to give back of where he was from. What I realized that’s what the Kung-Fu Hip Hop was. It wasn’t the martial art no more. It was how can it be recognized amongst the sports and be recognized amongst where martial arts can be looked at. Bruce Lee is not a martial artist. Bruce Lee is an athlete. When you think of all Bruce Lee, you don’t ever say, “Bruce Lee was the greatest martial artist.” You say, “Bruce Lee was one of the best athletes of all time.”Yesterday could have been great or could have been the worst day of your life. You got to make today better than yesterday. Click To Tweet
That’s where it got me. That was Jeet Kune Do for him. Jeet Kune Do was to make people realize that when you break it down, it’s the only Wing Chun. When you go through all the philosophies of what Jeet Kune Do is, his original style was Wing Chun and he expanded to weightlifting, calisthenics and taekwondo kicking, karate kicking, Kung Fu hands, which was what we call MMA now. Jeet Kune Do was original MMA. We’re like water. Evolve with what you’re doing. Roman wrestling. All these things that you learned, for me it was like when I was young, my dad said, “Get your IQ up because one day if you love what you do enough, you’re going to have to explain it without showing. If you can explain it, you can give them a 30-second elevator pitch.” It’s like, “In 30 seconds, this is what Kung-Fu Hip Hop is.” Work with an attitude. People would be like, “What?”
I never got it. It became a thing of like, “That’s what Kung Fu means. It’s work.” You go to China and say, “I practice Kung Fu.” All the people in China are laughing at you. “I’m about to go to work now. We better go to make these rice balls.” Coming up hip hop now isn’t what hip hop was back in the day. It probably was graffiti art. Hip hop was poetry. Hip hop was word play. Hip hop was fashion, hip hop was B-boy, B-girl. We call it hip hop. What we hear in music now, that’s not a hip hop. It’s a lifestyle. It was the attitude that you portrayed. It was taking all the elements of what I had and they explain every element. You are going to have to go see the elements now.
It brings up a good point because we hear those things that we don’t know any history in itself. That sounds trendy, it sounds good so we go with it but we don’t do the homework to understand where this stuff has originated. There’s an appreciation that I have with you breaking all of that down and sharing that with the audience. How long have you been in the study with your Kung-Fu Hip Hop?
Kung-Fu Hip Hop, we created in 2000 but I’ve been studying martial arts since I’ve been born. My first day home from the hospital, I was in a split. My mom says I was in split drinking the bottle. Every day, my dad would do little Kung Fu hand techniques, mantis, crane, tiger, everything until I got older. I think my first class, I was one year old. I got a little brother now and I started at the same time. I got my son started but his thing is football. For me it was a young age so when people are like, “How about telling him all my life,” because the only thing I know, the only thing I recognized it was not when you’re young and you love sports and you find an athlete, I didn’t look at it. My hero was Brian of No Retreat, No Surrender. People are like, “Who’s Brian?” That’s the star of No Retreat, No Surrender. His boy Leroy was to do with the Jheri curl. That’s who I wanted to dance like. That’s who I get. Since birth is when I’ve been training and it’s going to be forever.
Now, you’re doing tours at schools. You are doing what you called the DME 100 School Tour. Can you tell us all about that?
The DME 100 School Tour is something that I created when I was with Under Armour and Living Classrooms. On goal was to be able to touch 100 schools in 90 days. Most people, when I tell them that, they’re like, “Do you want to go to a hundred schools?” “Yes. It’s something I want to do.” I want to do 25 middle schools, 25 elementary schools, 25 high schools and then expand it to the charter school. Most of the challenging schools where kids are kicked out or they don’t get other things and you’re discharged off from the regular school. We’ve been working with sponsors. I did a partnership about three months and they brought me on a board or directors of a non-profit called WACA Arts, which is crazy. What I do as an art.
Our goal is to be able to get this done in the fall where we go in, we do a 45-minute. For most people, it was a concert but as I say, it revolves around the seven principles. I fill it with a live DJ from Mic’d Up. A crazy idea came from me because every day I listen to a different book and I was going through the ET book. I was listening to Eric Thomas book and I listened to it ten times. Every time I listened to him, it was like listening to my dad. I was like, “This is like when we’re training in the gym and he called me a sucker bill and I’d be like, “Go ahead. They aren’t going to worry about it if you’re going to make it. What do you think? That somebody feels sorry for you?”
It was those things that took me into the evolution to understand that there is something so much more. There is something more I could see. I say, “If I do the next level of a motivational talk where people are doing homecomings and stuff like that, we do it for 45-minute, 30-minute captivation and give these kids something to take home versus me giving you a service. Something that you could take home to remember what I’m doing.” You remember the D.A.R.E. officers that used to go to school? Everybody remembers the D.A.R.E. officer whoever came to your school and he was a good D.A.R.E. officer and he gave you the reel and he taught you really about D.A.R.E. That’s how you remember D.A.R.E. That’s where this came for me. I’ll say the DME Tour is called DA Martial Elements. I’m teaching kids about DA Martial Elements.
DA Martial Elements are the seven principles. Ready, attention, open-mindedness, knowledge, unity, open-mindedness and you’ve got to stay respectful. If I teach you those seven principles on the things that you already love, which is hip hop but I teach you with the proper work, when you go back into a classroom, there is a ray of energy. I created it and my goal is we’re working every day. My manager just signed on. She told me it’s one of the greatest things she’s ever seen. It makes me even believe in it more because when I created it, I was homeless. I was sleeping in my car. I wrote it down at the back of a Bible. When I got done, I created it into a proposal where people would be like, “Who created this?” I created it sitting in the back of my car.
Marco, this has been awesome. How can people connect with you if they wanted to learn more about your tours, if they wanted to get a personal trainer, how can they connect with you?
All of the social media you can look me up. It’s MarcoDJohnson. I always got the D on, Da@nswer or you can go on to Facebook, Instagram. If you put in UrBoyDaAnswer, I’m going to pop up anywhere. It’s is a unique name that one of my father’s instructors gave to me. They always used to ask me, “They have the question so you’re the answer.” @UrBoyDaAnswer, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr. We’re on everything. I always give everybody something positive. If you tune in to my channel, you’re going to get 1% better every day.
I want to thank you. This has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you for what you do in the world. Thank you for giving back, reaching out to the young kids. They need that so much and being a positive role model. I don’t think we have enough positive role models. For you to have accomplished what you’ve accomplished with all the movies, the championships, MVPs and still remain humble enough to want to go back and help kids all around the world, I think that’s very commendable. That is your greatest accomplishment, from me to you. Do you have any last words that you would like to share?
I tell everybody, this is my number one saying, “Always get up. Remember what your hell is. Remember what your fears are and that’s why you grind. Grind times 365.” Remember, you’ve got to make now better than yesterday because yesterday could have been great and fantastic or yesterday could have been the worst day of your life. They’ve got to be 1% better. Thank you. I appreciate you.
That’s the game-changer message. As always folks, peace and love. Thank you.
- Marco “Da@nswer” Johnson
- Living Classrooms
- WACA Arts
- Facebook – Marco Johnson
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About Marco “Da@nswer” Johnson
Marco “D@Answer” Johnson is a 6 time World Sports karate Champion, 2 time MVP , Point MMA Lightweight Champion… Martial arts action star playing TV & Movies … like A&E , Luke Cage Season 1 and many more. He’s the son of legendary martial artist, Willie ‘The Bam’ Johnson.
Are you ready to shed your past, rise above your present, and go confidently in the direction of your dreams? The first step? Decide. Choose right here and now to make a move. Set your intention. Then simply ask Rodney for help. https://rodneyflowers.com/mentoring/
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