Twenty-five years ago, American moviegoers were introduced to a new kind of antihero when bar bouncer Dalton took off in his baby blue Mercedes for The Double Deuce, a seedy bar in the tiny town of Jasper, Missouri whose residents were in need of the kind of justice that only a man like Dalton could deliver. Road House has since become a cult classic – the perfect mix of ridiculous storyline, over-the-top acting, and (sometimes unintentionally) hilarious dialogue. But the key ingredient to the film's immense watchability is one thing: the fighting.
Whether he's peacefully perfecting his martial artistry or ripping a man's throat out with his bare hands, Dalton's appetite for human destruction is why so many have seen the movie over and over, and sensei Benny "The Jet" Urquidez of Team Karate Centers in Woodland Hills, California is the man who made it all happen. "The producers were looking for a martial arts teacher," Urquidez recalls of how he came to arrive on the set of Road House. "I hold nine black belts in nine different disciplines, so they asked me if I would work with Patrick Swayze."
A pioneer of the free form method of martial arts, Urquidez has been a competitive fighter since the age of five. Judo, boxing, kickboxing, full-contact karate, and Muay Thai are just a few of the art forms the undefeated world champion has practiced professionally. Yet he still recalls his time on the set of Road House as one of his most thrilling victories. And on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, he shared the details of choreographing some of cinema's most memorable ass-kickings.
Fight 1: Bar Brawl at The Double Deuce
The Setup: Before committing to clean the place up, Dalton checks out the scene at The Double Deuce. Predictably, an all-out bar brawl breaks out between just about every one of the bar's patrons – men hitting men, men hitting women, women breaking bottles over the heads of the male counterparts.
The Story: "It's easier to shoot a scene like this, when you have a lot of chaos, because the camera can go to a lot of different angles," says Urquidez. "When you've got a one-on-one fight, it's all about detail, but it's hard to see any detail when you've got a lot of people involved. When you're shooting a bar fight and everybody's fighting everybody, it's a lot of fun. The audience picks out certain things when you're watching it, but there's so much going on that it's hard to really see what's happening."
Fight 2: Be Nice Until It's Time to Not Be Nice
The Setup: After spending the day teaching his partners in bar policing his three simple rules (1. Never underestimate your opponent, 2. Take it outside, and 3. Be nice) Dalton gets to observe as they put these lessons into action. When a switchblade is pulled, it's time to revert to the extended version of that rule: Be nice until it's time to not be nice.
The Story: Adding a weapon into the mix is always a challenge, says Urquidez, because "You always start off with a real weapon and use it until you get to the point of actual contact. When you get into the actual contact, you have to bring in plastic guns, plastic knives, or whatever – weapons that only look real."
Fight 3: An Office Meeting With a View
The Setup: A human resources meeting in the office of Tilghman, The Double Deuce's boss, turns violent when Dalton refuses to re-hire shady bartender Pat McGurn. McGurn expresses his disagreement with this decision by brandishing a hunting knife. Dalton responds by throwing McGurn through the office window.
The Story: "Here's the thing about breakaway bottles and breakaway glass," says Urquidez, "They hurt! And sometimes you don't break it perfectly in the middle – you hit the edge of it. It breaks and crumbles, so it doesn't stay in a sharp point, but if you don't hit breakaway glass at the right place, it hurts. So people come out with big old knots on their head and little cuts. Especially when you're doing two or three takes. You can't slow down; you have to go full action, because you can see everything." The key to doing it right, says Urquidez, was practice. "We practiced hitting it just right. Sometimes we had to raise the body to make sure it went through it just right."
Fight 4: Never Sneak a Boot Blade Past Dalton
The Setup: Dalton can spot danger – and a tiny blade in the tip of an entering patron's boot – before the guy's foot has barely made its way into the camera's line of vision. He's not about to let this guy ruin the good time being had at The Deuce, so he and his team quickly snap into action.
The Story: Swayze busted out every move in his fighting toolbox to take down these baddies, from power punches to the gut to some seriously impressive leg work. For training him, "first I taught him how to do damage with what he was doing [with his leg work], then I took it to the completely opposite side and taught him how to control it," says Urquidez. "You control it all by knee motion; wherever your knee points is where you're kicking. I got him to the point where he could kick a cigarette out of my mouth. And we had the kind of trust because I knew he could do it. He had that kind of control where he could go from one extreme to the other, and then I taught him how to find the balance in that."
But Urquidez's cheerleading almost backfired when it came to shooting the scene in which Dalton must defend himself against that lethal boot tip. When Urquidez informed the actors that they'd be using a rubber tip, and not a real one, Swayze protested. "He kept saying, 'No Sensei, it's okay. I can do it. I can get away from it.' I told him I knew he could–I knew how good he was–but asked him to humor me. 'It's my job,' I told him. 'If something should happen to you, it's my fault–not yours. And he looked at me and said, 'Okay… But I can do it!'"
Fight 5: Sam Elliott Arrives
The Setup: Dalton's antics haven't been a source of amusement for Road House's villain, local businessman/bad guy Paul Wesley. So much so that the bar has had to find an alternative liquor supplier. But Wesley's henchmen aren't about to let that happen, and corner Dalton in the back of the bar in the one incident in which he appears truly outmatched. Fortunately, Dalton's mentor, Wade Garrett (played by Sam Elliott) arrives just in time to save the day.
The Story: After seeing the intensity of Urquidez's training with Swayze, "Sam Elliott was looking at me and saying, 'Now what are you going to teach this old fart?,'" Urquidez laughs. "I told him that when I watched Patrick move, he moved like a cat, so I choreographed all of his movements very cat-like. I told Sam, 'You have bear movement. Everything that I'm going to teach you, I'm going to use bear power movements. When you strike, you're just going to go right through it.' He looked at me and said: 'I like that.' When I stretched him, I knew that I didn't want him kicking above the waist–first of all, because he didn't have the flexibility. And secondly, because his character just wouldn't do that. He would be doing power blows with elbows and knees. That fight in the back took a couple of days to shoot because it was like a couple of bulldozers fighting. It was just power against power. Sam had bad knees and he didn't have very good flexibility, but he's such a great actor and he sold it so well."
Fight 6: Dalton, Jimmy, and a Pool Cue
The Setup: With Wesley at The Double Deuce looking on, his right-hand henchman Jimmy (played by martial artist Marshall Teague) takes on Dalton with a fast-moving pool cue.
The Story: "Marshall Teague is a true martial artist," says Urquidez. "So was Patrick Swayze, but he had a much softer technique. Everybody I choreographed for, I was actually looking at them like animal movements. I watched how they moved and they reminded me of certain animals. And I made Marshall Teague a mongoose. I wanted him to go in there in a very powerful way, but told him, 'You're going to get in there and get out.' I wanted him to get in there and do a little Kata with the pool stick, and he really started getting excited and getting into it. I had to keep telling him to slow down – he was moving too fast and too hard, and using a real pool stick. Eventually, we had to switch to a prop one. All the form he did in the beginning was with a real pool stick, but then we switched to a prop which isn't as strong. 'That way, if you whip it, it's going to snap,' I told him."
Fight 7: Dalton, Jimmy, and a Motorcycle
The Setup: That whole pool stick dance floor number wasn't the only one-on-one faceoff between Dalton and Jimmy. But the second one became a fight to the death – with Dalton emerging victorious when he opted to rip out Jimmy's throat with his bare hands, then throw him into the lake.
The Story: "Oh, that was awesome," says Urquidez, who counts this three-minute battle as his favorite Road House fight. "They were both sore! They were wearing pads all over, but they were really kicking each other. Let me tell you, you're doing fast kicks with a light impact, but with that impact over and over and over again, you're going to feel it. Finally I just gave them the thumbs up to keep going, because I knew that no matter what I said, they were going to do it anyway. I just told them to just be safe. That was a week-long choreography, but they shot it in two and a half days, which was amazing. It was a great fight scene."
Fight 8: The Grand Finale (With Polar Bears)
The Setup: In the film's grand fight finale, Dalton has to make his way through a string of bad guys to get to the real villain: Wesley, played by Ben Gazzara. The final standoff takes place, appropriately enough, in Wesley's trophy room, which is littered with enough weapons and animal heads to keep the multi-minute standoff interesting, and plays a bit like a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
The Story: "That was the major scene," says Urquidez, who still marvels that they were able to shoot it in just three days. "That's the one I was really concerned with. And I made sure that Ben Gazzara understood exactly what he had to do, because I didn't really have a chance to work much with him on his flexibility. So I said, 'Okay, we're going to make this very simple: You're coming out with weapons! Patrick is going to do all the fancy stuff – all the movements and coming forwards and backwards, and you're going to come in with the guns.' Which made it easier. But we really did kick him over that couch. We wanted everybody to see that it was Ben getting kicked, so we put pads on him and kicked him enough just to make the movement where he would go over the couch. Then we brought in the stunt double and put him into that glass table. And Ben was game. The stunt coordinator [Charlie Picerni] and I really worked well together. He was such a gentleman. He really trusted me and what I was doing. He was the one that really helped me understand picture fighting. So I really had a good time working with him. Road House, to me, was not work. Everybody was having such a great time."