‘Defenders’ Star Scott Glenn on Poetry, Playing a Blind Martial Arts Master, and the Best Piece of Life-changing Wisdom

Scott Glenn
Jessica Miglio/Netflix

Scott Glenn is cooler than you’ll ever be.

The 76-year-old free-diving, spearfishing, knife-yielding gladiator plays a blind martial arts master in The Defenders, (premieres August 18), and has enough spiritual wisdom to last three lifetimes.

Revel in all of Glenn’s ageless glory. See what advice he has to bestow upon Men’s Fitness.

Men’s Fitness: How does one play a blind knife fighter?

Glenn: One way to play blind is to look at someone’s mouth instead of their eyes—but that won’t help with stunts. So I use something I learned in the Marines to pick up on ambushes, called peripheral walking: Look straight ahead but take in only the information your eyes are giving you peripherally. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did that better than anyone. The trick is to relax and allow the bubble to open. If you force it, it’ll tighten up.

What’s with you and poetry?

I love poetry—just to read it and be around it. I got into an argument with someone because I said I think 2Pac will be regarded as a great poet. They said he was just a punk gangster. People said the same thing about François Villon, and he’s now considered the best French Romantic poet of all time. Villon was f#$%ing hanged for murdering a priest and stealing silver from the chalice! Next to him, 2Pac is a choirboy.

You came to New York in 1967. Any special memories?

One of my “tour guides” was Miles Davis. I met him through a beatnik neighbor, and he started taking me to hear bands. He introduced me as “Irish bastard.” We’d sit where you couldn’t even see the musicians, but he knew it was the perfect place, acoustically. He’d say, “Shut your eyes, this isn’t something to watch, just listen.”

How did you prepare for Apocalypse Now?

Francis [Ford Coppola] wanted everyone to enter their own private lunacy and go into it as deep as they could. With me, that meant living 24/7 with a [Filipino] tribe of about 500 people called the Ifugao. I wound up learning their language phonetically and being taken into the tribe.

How do you work out these days?

I live a very physical life—I ski, ride motorcycles, open-water spearfish, free dive, and hike. I’ve been doing martial arts since I was 9. I just came from working out—Sayoc Kali, Filipino, and Indonesian martial arts. Its motto is “All blade, all the time.”

The body part I’m most conscious of now is the big toe and inner-front foot. That’s where you get balance. Sometimes when I’m standing around, I’ll lift one foot off the ground and walk onto my toe and try to hold it there. Good balance makes you a better dancer, musician, actor—anything. So that’s where I’m at: big toes. Not super popular in gyms with people who want to look ripped and sexy, but real important.

Any life-changing wisdom to bestow?

When I decided to pursue acting, my father told me something very few dads would say to their sons: “Don’t give yourself deadlines. Don’t say, ‘If I haven’t made it in four years, I’ll do something else.’” He said that’s like starting a race with a lead weight around your neck. “In for a penny, in for a pound. If you love it, make it your life.” It took me years, but he was right.

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