Sunday, May 9, 2004
He’s a ghost-busting, fire-walking, Bigfoot-chasing, Mack-truck- pulling bodyguard to the stars – when he’s not teaching karate at the local dojo. And tonight, Tom Muzila, 54, will be on TV trying to help a petite kindergarten teacher trick a panel of judges into believing she’s a bodyguard too. When the TLC network’s “Faking It” reality series sought experts to train Stephanie Jones, 26, of Missouri to defend herself in combat, fire a gun, and take out an opponent to “fake” being a bodyguard, they turned to three pros, including Garden Grove’s own Muzila. Why? “My specialty is focus,” he says, displaying his hazel-eyed, laser-beam stare. “The mental game. I’m good when there are no rules.” He’s also been named by martialartsmagazine.com as one of the top bodyguards and Shotokan karate experts in the nation, a fifth-degree black belt who has studied for 37 years under Tsutomu Ohshima, who brought Shotokan karate to America. Says Ken Osborne, 63, of Joshua Tree, one of the sport’s most respected teachers: “Tom is probably the nicest, easiest-going, kindest, calmest, most dangerous guy I ever knew!”
KEY FACTS FILMOGRAPHY Here are some of the films Tom Muzila has worked on, either in an acting role or as a stuntman or stunt or fight coordinator. His stunt specialties include street fighting, boxing, rock climbing, rappelling, skiing (water and snow), scuba diving, horseback riding, skydiving, hang gliding and precision driving, not to mention firewalking.
At 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Muzila is small by bodyguard standards, but he’s been trusted to guard Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Warren Beatty, Steven Seagal, Desmond Tutu and parties attended by Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.
“The thing about Tom is he has a warrior’s mentality,” says the World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster, who’s worked with Muzila for six years on the mental aspect of boxing. “He believes in the tradition of the warrior and the mind-set, and so for every fight he helps me channel my energy. Like he says, ‘One strike, one kill.’ ” Underdog Brewster defeated Wladimir Klitschko to win the WBO title last month in Las Vegas.
By Muzila’s own admission, his strength as a strongman is his ability to channel his thoughts. To focus. Intensely.
In college he studied Eastern religion. In the Army, he joined the Green Berets. And throughout his karate training – beginning in 1967 – he’s tested his own limitations with feats of endurance. Things like climbing Mount Shasta in a day – without bringing water. Walking over fire pits – and stopping to pick up glowing embers in his hands. Pulling a 17,500-pound Mack truck and a 20,000-pound fighter jet.
He once performed 14,000 stepping front punches while friends were performing 1,000. And when a karate master did 7,000 squats holding an eight-pound ball, Muzila did 10,000. “Mr. Ohshima would tell us the ways of the old samurai, pushing themselves to unlimited mental, physical and emotional capacities, and I was inspired by that,” he says. “I wanted to scratch the surface of how the old warriors trained. In karate, the worst opponent is ourself. It’s really facing our own fears, our own insecurities, our weaknesses and mental blocks and inhibitions.”
Overcoming fear became his mantra. Even when it took him to the outer edges of credibility. Throughout the 1970s, he worked on psychic teams researching ESP, on paranormal teams investigating ghosts and UFOs, and on expeditions scouring the Pacific Northwest for Bigfoot. “We had screams (on tape),” he says of Bigfoot. “We took foot casts, even potential hair samples and blood samples.” Such talk from others might sound silly. From Muzila, it becomes another way to strengthen the mind. “It’s one thing to face a human,” he says. “But to face the darkness of the unknown, to face a 10- to 12-foot creature, whether it exists or not, to be able to mentally face that, and not be fearful but self-confident, that’s something else.”
Overcoming physical fears leads to overcoming emotional fears, he says, adding: There is a samurai saying that when the sword is over your head, under the sword is hell. But beyond the sword is heaven. “Most say, ‘Oh, the sword is coming. I’ve got to get out of the way, I must go back,’ ” he says. “But to face that sword, right when the sword is coming, and attack – heaven is over there!” That has been his lifelong philosophy. And one that apparently has rubbed off on the people he’s trained, like former Oakland Raiders receiver Willie Gault. “There’s instant respect there,” says Gault, who met Muzila on Venice Beach and began training with him. “You learn inner strength. He’s able to use his entire power, both mental and physical, to be as big as a 300-pounder.”
Muzila’s philosophy also appeals to 81-year-old Norman Lear, who produced the 1970s TV classic “All in the Family,” and now trains five days a week with Muzila. “We talk about focus,” says Lear. “I’m fairly focused in any event, but he tightens those screws.” Muzila broke into bodyguarding working for Steven Seagal, who himself was a bodyguard before his movie career. Muzila later served as Seagal’s bodyguard and appeared in Seagal’s “Above the Law” and “Under Siege.” He’s worked on more than 25 feature films as an actor, technical advisor, stunt coordinator and fight choreographer. He has trained Los Angeles Police Department SWAT teams and Camp Pendleton Marines in hostage rescue, and teaches bodyguarding classes regularly. As a bodyguard, he says, you look for things that go against the flow. “I look at everyone’s eyes in the audience,” he says. “Most stalkers won’t look at a bodyguard. They’ll look down or away, but they won’t look you in the eyes.”
His life can be glamorous – cruising the French Riviera aboard the yacht of Ted Field of the Marshall Field’s department stores. Or boring – watching the TV monitor of a Bel-Air mansion gate for eight hours straight. Or dangerous – like tackling a would-be gunman while escorting a gem delivery, or headlocking a Malibu beach-house intruder. But in 30 years, he’s never asked a client for an autograph. “I never want to come off that way,” he says. “I want to get out of that emotional state of mind, get into that Zen state of mind cool, confident, not attached to material stuff.” That’s the same attitude he tried to teach the kindergarten teacher on tonight’s episode of “Faking It.” Muzila won’t divulge the outcome. And if you think there’s a way to get it out of him, you try.