Photo by Grapplermag
"here was a fan of someone else that somehow got it into their head that I was being nasty to this other person I was working with. That’s where I got my first death threat from."
It's just before midnight in our small dank gym, heavy with the humidity of Taiwan that accentuates three hours of back-to-back classes. I straddle the bench separating the lockers from the mats. Across from me sits Richard, a charismatic, bearded man with a booming voice and a fresh scar above his left eye. Behind me and off to the left, Rome pulls up a folding chair and starts his voice memo app to backup our recording being captured by the microphone separating Richard and me.
This isn’t a post-show press conference, nor is it a carefully orchestrated sit-down with a diva pop-star. As a matter of fact, this whole scene was conceptualized and planned in less than 48 hours, when a stranger wielding a backpack full of DJ equipment walked up to Rome and I on the streets of Kaohsiung City and asked what floor the jiu jitsu gym was on. As a BJJ Globetrotter affiliated gym, we’re used to backpackers and vagabonds showing up on a whim and bringing their experience to our mats, so we had a chat and directed him up to the ninth floor for a roll.
“That’s cool,” Rome mentioned as we sent our newfound friend upstairs. Apparently in the quick-paced introductory conversation, thick with Australian and Cajun accents, I missed the acknowledgement that we were in the midst of celebrity. It’s not long into our interview with Richard that I realize “that’s cool” was a bit of an understatement.
Richard Magarey, better known around the world as Ladybeard, is an Australian-born cross-dressing professional wrestler and heavy metal vocalist. His accolades outstretch that introduction, but no need to drown in words, those are the high points.
Magarey is in Taiwan to learn from local music icon DJ Chambers, and to catch up with old friends he hasn’t seen much over the last decade. He graciously accepted our invitation for a sit down and worked with us through a tight timeline to make it happen, enthralling us with stories from his journey as a fat kid in Australia to the world’s premier crossdressing heavy metal wrestling act. We encourage you to search him on YouTube, we’ll wait...
...now that you’re back from that YouTube bender, enjoy our conversation with Ladybeard, a one-of-a-kind inspirational presence.
GrapplerMag: What was your childhood like growing up in Australia? Did you play any sports?
Ladybeard: I did some cricket and rugby, but rowing was the sport that I liked. I’m from a family of rowers, but when I was 13 I started taekwondo. I was obese as a kid and got teased growing up, so as a teenager I had almost an obsession with health and fitness.
GM: What was it about doing martial arts that gave you the most joy to stay engaged?
LB: I always liked martial arts movies and wanted to do some kind of martial art. Taekwondo was the one my school had, so that’s the one that I found myself doing. It started fairly slowly, it was only a one day a week and gradually grew from there. When I was 14 and puberty set in, I lost a ton of weight, and that’s when I really started to enjoy taekwondo [eventually earning his black belt]. That sense of getting empowered through physical activities is part of what’s led me to everything I do now.
GM: When did you start performing?
LB: I’ve been on stage since I was really small, maybe five [years old]. When I was young, it was just drama class and doing the extracurricular plays. Then we were like 15 or 16, we had to start making career choices and I liked acting. But I’m from a really academic family and acting was not considered a real job. So I’m sitting there at age 15 doing my physics homework one night, not knowing what’s going on, and I remember going, ‘Forget this, I’m going to be an actor’ (laughs). Yeah, so performing is one of the only things that I feel I have any kind of natural ability at.
GM: As far as commanding your voice, do you do any specific breathing exercises? Vocal warm-ups? Recovery?
LB: I learned a lot of the basics from doing drama school. I learned how to support loud noises. You use this technique called “anchoring,” where you use the abs and the muscles in your back. If you imagine putting your arms up like you’ve got two big balloons underneath your elbows and you squeeze down on those balloons, you feel your lats flex up right. So you need to learn to keep your lats pulling down like that once you’re relaxed, and that then gives you an anchor.
For recovery, there’s a practice called “steaming” where you boil water, put [the water] in a bowl, put your face above the [bowl] with a towel draped over your head, and you breathe in the steam for ten or fifteen minutes. That soothes your throat very much.
GM: What’s it like wrestling professionally in Japan?
LB: In Western pro-wrestling there’s the stomping of the foot, for instance, to make it [sound] like you’re punching the guy when you actually didn’t. In Japan there’s none of that, there’s just ‘hit the guy.’ It’s called Strong Style. So when you’re wrestling, you’re just going to hit me as hard as you can, and I’m going to hit you as hard as I can. People have the attitude wrestling is fake, and therefore you’re not real fighters, you are sissies and what not. But when you do a pro-wrestling match in Japan, if you have a ten-minute match, you’re going in there to be hit for ten minutes.
The Japanese have the warrior spirit [about their culture]. Who wins and who loses is not as important as it is that you take a beat down, keep on coming and do the absolute best that you can.
GM: I’m guessing kids don’t grow up wanting to be pro-wrestlers [I cringe as the words leave my mouth]? Who do the youth in Japan look up to?
LB: I think most of them actually start in pro-wrestling, or a lot of them do anyway. In Japan, being a pro-wrestler is an occupation. In America it is too, but there are very few people that are actually pro-wrestlers. Most of them are wrestling on the side while they do their day jobs during the week. Whereas in Japan, it’s an actual profession, it’s widely watched and popular. Pro-wrestling is very respected, so kids grow up with the dream of ‘I want to be a pro-wrestler.’
GM: How does that work, as far as getting into wrestling school?
LB: I think you can start while you’re still in high school, and then other times people drop out of school to just go do their wrestling training full-time. If you’re a rookie in the Japanese system, then you’re doing your wrestling training, but you’re also working for the company. So you’re doing all the most horrible jobs. You know, you’re carrying and setting up the ring, you’re cleaning the bathrooms and whatnot. The Japanese have their system where you start at the bottom and you work your way up.
GM: When you began your career in Japan, was there any animosity from the athletes who had been in the system since they were young?
LB: No, as a foreigner I’m kind of exempt from the Japanese rules. If I spoke perfect Japanese and I really wanted it, then I would probably be brought into the system. But I came in as an adult, not as a teenager. Plus I got famous outside of pro-wrestling, I was coming in with a following. My first match as Ladybeard in Japan, I think ticket sales tripled. So the other wrestlers were just like, ‘Sweet, we got three-times more people watching us because of this foreigner.’
GM: Do you find a cross-over in your following, from your wrestling fans to your music fans?
LB: Yeah big time. My fans are very collective. It’s actually very, very fascinating, and something I’m still properly trying to get my head around. The Japanese, they are unlike anyone else in their fandom. When they like something, they REALLY like it, they devote themselves to it.
GM: Have you had any stalker-type fans?
LB: Yeah, I’ve had some. We had to call the police at one point. There was a fan of someone else that somehow got it into their head that I was being nasty to this other person I was working with. That’s where I got my first death threat from.
GM: Whoa, is that typical?
LB: The Japanese are very respectful. They’re very keen to leave celebrities alone during their private time. It’s part of the culture. In China, there’s a bit of a different dynamic. They’re amazing in China! In China, if I get recognized, I get mobbed like a zombie attack, just [acting out a zombie attack], it’s awesome.
GM: What drives you to keep up with your relentless training and performance schedule?
LB: The really rewarding time of the job is when you meet a fan face-to-face and they tell you or show you the impact you’ve had on them. For instance, the first time I ever did anything in Osaka, this girl came to fan services and hugs me and she says, ‘Two years ago I broke my back. I was in the hospital, and I was about to kill myself, and I found your photos and they made me really happy, and I decided not to.’
So something like that happens and your like [exhales], it’s just so humbling and so profound. I’m just some idiot in a dress, right? Yet she made that decision because she found my work. So that kind of thing is a huge motivator to make me want to keep going and be better. That’s the thing, you have to get better and give more.
GM: One of the things we want to help convey to our readers is that if you stay disciplined, save some money and put together a plan, you can afford to travel to all these places you see on TV and train in places your friends and family have only read about.
LB: I agree with that. People live inside the matrix. I lived in Hong Kong and met all these kids that had really wonderful dreams and goals. They would say, ‘I want to be a rock star or an astronaut,’ but then follow up with, ‘I’m going to university to be an accountant, because my mom and dad want me to.’
You could just see it in their face, they had this awesome vision of the future and then here’s the real world, and they have to fit into it. Of course that’s actually a very sensible attitude to have, but it feels like a real shame to me. The possibility in those kids, if they pursued that dream, God knows what they would make and give to the world.
That has been a huge motivation for this whole career, to kind of enforce the message that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous your goals and dreams are, you’re able to achieve them if you just go and do it. So I am very pleased that you are conveying this message in your work, and I am very grateful for that. So thank you very much, that’s fantastic.
GM: And thank you for paving the way for dreamers the world over. Before we let you go, what would be the pinnacle for Ladybeard?
LB: World domination, of course!
Check out these kickass videos about Ladybeard