On the big screen, it might be difficult to tell the difference between careful choreography and genuine brilliance. And action films, in particular, are renowned for blurring these borders, with actors who appear to be skilled at fighting on screen but not in real life. Of course, individuals like Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal have been successful in taking their real-life martial arts expertise to the big screen, but they are far from alone. This list covers actors and celebs that are actually skilled in one or more martial arts disciplines, and some of the entries may surprise you…
Milla Jovovich, the ass-kicking actress, is no stranger to action-packed combat scenes, which is apt given her actually outstanding martial arts talents. The Resident Evil heroine has made no secret of her affinity for MMA and continues to hone her Brazilian jiujitsu talents.
The lovable John Cusack is one of those performers who, in terms of publicity, tends to fly under the radar. As a result, you might be shocked to hear that he has a level six black belt in the martial art of ukidokan kickboxing. In fact, he’s been connected with the sport for three decades and is frequently found on Twitter gushing about it.
Have you ever wondered how Jennifer Aniston has kept her beautiful shape for so long? Budokon, a mixed-movement practice that the Friends actress has acknowledged for her upper body power, could be the reason. She’s also introduced yoga-like activities to her spouse, Justin Theroux.
Despite playing the wicked tyrant Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker is actually endearing. However, you might not want to get on his bad side, especially given his Kenpo karate high-kicking skills. And Whitaker has attained the rank of 1st Dan, demonstrating that he is more than capable in the demanding discipline.
While many on this list began martial arts as a passion separate from their employment, Jessica Biel was the polar opposite. She discovered she enjoyed learning routines for her role in Total Recall so much that it has now become a part of her exercise routine. “I’m really into martial arts now – it’s the most amazing workout ever,” she told Look magazine in 2011.
Keanu Reeves has made no secret of his love for martial arts throughout the years, starring in The Matrix and directing the kung-fu film Man of Tai Chi. But with the 2014 action film John Wick, he pushed things to a whole new level. He not only spent months learning judo, but he also studied jiujitsu, which helped give his character the lethal moves featured in the film.
Katheryn Winnick is a martial arts gem in the acting profession. Her ass-kicking abilities were well-honed before she entered the industry, as she received her first black belt at the age of 13. Winnick had three martial arts schools up and running by the time she was 21. The Vikings star focuses in taekwondo and karate, and she holds black belts in both disciplines.
James Caan, another acting legend, was no stranger to getting physical and gained a very outstanding 6th Dan level in Gosoku-ryu karate. In reality, under the guidance of Takayuki Kuboto, he ended up teaching martial arts to the Culver City Police Department. Wow!
Sean Connery may have appeared to be the perfect gentleman, but he could get down and dirty with the best of them. The Scot studied Kyokushin karate and got a first-degree black belt as a result of his efforts. In addition, everyone’s favorite During the making of Never Say Never Again, James Bond famously got into an actual battle with a martial arts master, who shattered his wrist. Who was the instructor? Steven Seagal, to be precise.
Isn’t Ashton Kutcher perfectly safe? No, not exactly. Kutcher is a student of Brazilian jiujitsu and achieved his purple belt in 2014. He’s also in good hands, having been taken under the wing of the legendary Rigan Machado. Meanwhile, Machado was trained by The Gracies, pioneers in martial arts development.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
It’s critical to have some slick maneuvers in your arsenal if you’re going to play Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And Sarah Michelle Gellar has enough of them, even rising to the rank of 1st Dan in taekwondo. In addition, Gellar engages in kickboxing, street fighting, and boxing, making her the perfect all-arounder.
You’d think Naomi Watts, who played the scared Rachel in The Ring, was all sweetness. That is not the case for this modest performer, who has been studying martial arts since she was a child. Yes, after competing in amateur judo competitions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Watts moved on to learn Brazilian jiujitsu, which she still does today.
Wesley Snipes is an all-around legend, but combine him with martial arts and you’ve got the real deal. The Blade actor is skilled in two martial arts: Shotokan karate and Brazilian jiujitsu. Meanwhile, the Independent asked him in 2010 if he had ever had to utilize his abilities in a real-life encounter, to which he replied cryptically, “It ended very quickly.” The lesson to be learned here is don’t mess with Blade.
Mariska Hargitay, star of Law & Order: SVU, is no stranger to martial arts. She began her training in the 1990s and has now mastered the technique of Shotokan karate. She even received a first-degree black belt for her efforts. In describing her love for the sport, she previously said, “It exercises your discipline in a way I haven’t found in other sports.”
Jason Statham, a British tough man, trains in a variety of martial arts, including Brazilian jiujitsu, Wing Chun, karate, and kickboxing. However, the rationale behind his selections is rather intriguing: he wishes to conceal his face. Furthermore, in a 2014 interview with Combat Bear, he expressed his aversion to any form of face-to-face martial arts. “Because there’s not a lot of contact with the face,” Statham explained. “As a result, the face will not be injured, which is critical in my line of work.” Excellent decision!
Jessica Alba, an actress and entrepreneur, is no slouch when it comes to battle scenes, viewing them as the ideal occasion to showcase her martial arts skills. And, while she’s dabbled in a variety of martial arts over the years, she’s just discovered the highly violent Krav Maga. On a 2016 broadcast of Today, she remarked of the fighting style, “It’s brutal, it’s fast, it’s to the point, and it was fun to do!”
Ed O’Neill, star of Married… with Children and Modern Family, is perhaps not someone you’d expect to be involved in martial arts. He was taught Brazilian jiujitsu by the famous Rorion Gracie and was awarded a black belt for his years of dedication.
Few media figures are as fiery as the belligerent rapper Ice-T. He may be found practicing jiujitsu techniques in his spare time when he isn’t playing the imposing detective Fin Tutuola on Law & Order: SVU or fronting the violent heavy metal band Body Count. Don’t annoy the iceman.
Robert Downey Jr.
Few stories are as uplifting as Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback to Hollywood. While his difficulties with addiction are well-documented, few people are aware that the martial art of Wing Chun played a significant role in his recovery. The actor was trained by the fighting style’s originator, Eric Oram, and credits it for his lifestyle shift. Downey Jr. was so moved that he told Oprah, “Martial has just been… I can’t tell you how much it has affected my capacity to stay healthy and focused.”
Ralph Macchio may not be as skilled as the other martial artists on this list, but he was the Karate Kid! He also has injuries to show it. Macchio stated on the DVD commentary for The Karate Kid that the bruise on his chin, which is visible at one moment in the film, was caused by a wayward roundhouse kick during the Halloween night skeleton fight.
The Kung Fu Panda and Tenacious D rocker has studied judo and has been known to display some of his techniques when performing on stage, including a tiger roll. In preparation for Kung Fu Panda, he also underwent kung fu training.
Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady’s spouse and occasionally harsh critic of wide receivers, is another famous person who does martial arts to maintain a healthy lifestyle. At the Boston Kung Fu Tai Chi Institute, Gisele received kung fu and tai chi instruction from Yao Li.
Here is the Friends co-star who introduced Jennifer Anniston to Budokon. Even David Arquette, Courtney Cox’s ex-husband, joined her for a workout (while they were married, of course). The name of Cameron Shayne’s organization, Budokon, translates as “the way of the spiritual warrior.”
D’Brickashaw Ferguson, a 6’6″, 310-pound offensive tackle for the New York Jets, holds a black belt in karate and also practices taekwondo. His father holds a license to teach karate. Ferguson’s footwork, dexterity, and discipline have all been attributed to his martial arts training.
President Barack Obama
Barack Obama, the president of the United States, has a green belt in taekwondo. When he was a junior senator from Illinois between 2001 and 2005, the president spent four years studying taekwondo. President Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea conferred an honorary black belt in taekwondo on Obama in 2009.
Since he was 12 years old, Megadeth’s main singer has been learning various fighting strategies. He holds black belts in both taekwondo and karate. He represents the World Taekwondo Federation as a goodwill ambassador.
Shaq has been practicing MMA for a long time and is a major admirer of the sport. He just consented to challenge another well-known name on this list. Later, we’ll talk a little more on that…
David Lee Roth
Frontman/crazy person for Van Halen, David Lee Roth has studied a variety of martial arts, including karate and kung fu. He even runs classes in martial arts. Watch this video to see Roth applying his skills in the real world.
Jose Canseco, a former baseball slugger who has acknowledged to using performance-enhancing drugs, has competed professionally in mixed martial arts. Canseco was indeed the one who challenged basketball legend Shaq to compete in an MMA contest!
The comedian and UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as MMA fans are aware. He studied BJJ with Eddie Bravo and is a brown belt. Since he was a little child, he has also trained in taekwondo. He actually holds a black belt in taekwondo and has won four consecutive state championships in the sport in Massachusetts.
He won the US Open Taekwondo Championship at the age of 19, and he went on to win the grand championship after outlasting the middleweight and heavyweight champions in his weight class.
Tommy Lee, the notorious drummer for Motley Crue, studies Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with the Gracie Family. Simply observe the rear-naked choke in the image.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the famous people who practice martial arts. Do you believe there’s a potential that Celebrity MMA will become popular like Celebrity Boxing was a few years ago?
Mickey Rourke, who had studied boxing as a youngster, switched his focus to acting and rose to fame in the 1980s thanks to roles in films like Diner, Rumble Fish, and 9 And A Half Weeks. He won the most praise from critics for the Charles Bukowski movie Barfly. When Rourke decided to stop acting in 1989 and start boxing professionally, many people were shocked. According to his own account, he had “had little respect for [himself] as an actor” and had gained greater notoriety for his personal life and acting choices.
Jean Claude Van Damme
It should come as no surprise that Jean-Claude Van Damme is a skilled martial artist. At the age of ten, he started learning Shotokan karate, and at the age of 18, he received his black belt. Van Damme began practicing for the national karate team when he was 12 years old. At the age of 15, he started a competitive career in semi-contact karate, where he amassed an astonishing 44 victories. To enhance his physique, he also started bodybuilding, which allowed him to become ‘Mr. Belgium Bodybuilding’. He started dancing when he was 16 to develop his general physicality and balance. Although he also studied taekwondo and Muay Thai, the most of his moves are a fusion of karate and kickboxing.
Lundgren has frequently asserted that the tense nature of his relationship with his father motivated him to continuously push himself to do better. He has a degree and master’s in chemical engineering, but he wasn’t just content to stick to academics; he also decided to learn karate and became a 3rd dan black belt in Kyokushin karate. Following his transformation into Grace Jones’ bodyguard, the two started dating and eventually moved to New York. Lundgren was given a small part as a KGB operative when Jones, Roger Moore, and Christopher Walken were cast in the James Bond film A View to a Kill.
It’s possible that Taylor Lautner trained in martial arts since birth. Actually, he started learning karate at the age of six, received his black belt at the age of eight, and at one point held the top spot in his division according to the American Sports Karate Association.
Lautner was a gifted athlete who excelled in dance and football. He played the fictional hero Sharkboy in the movie The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl, where his outstanding talent at such a young age was well utilized. In addition to his ongoing martial arts training, he engaged in intense weight training to gain over 30 pounds of muscle before landing his breakthrough role as Jacob Black in the Twilight film series.
Neil Brown Jr.
In total, Neil Brown Jr. spent 26 years learning boxing and martial arts before making an appearance in the WMAC Masters martial arts TV show. The two-season program featured carefully staged fights between real martial artists. Despite the show’s lack of popularity, he was given enough screen time to draw some attention.
Mark Dacascos has primarily played action parts throughout his career and has studied in martial arts since he was seven years old. He participated in and won a number of kung fu and karate competitions between the ages of 7 and 18. Dacascos has studied muay thai with kru puk, capoeira with Mestre Amen Santo, and wushu with Coaches Eric and Debbie Chen. He is skilled in his father’s martial art, Wun Hop Kuen Do.
Michael Jai White
His appearances in the Tyler Perry films Why Did I Get Married and Why Did I Get Married Too have made him most well-known. Michael Jai White has established himself in a number of action movies over the past few decades, in addition to Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse and its spin-off TV series. In 1997’s Spawn, a year before Wesley Snipes’ Blade, he made history by becoming the first black actor to play a prominent comic book superhero in a major motion picture.
White has been practicing jiu-jitsu since he was seven years old. He is an incredibly talented and committed martial artist, holding no less than eight black belts in shotokan, taekwondo, kobudo, goju ryu, tang soo do, wushu, and kyokushin.
According to rumors, Chuck Norris pulls the world down more than he pushes himself up when performing push-ups. Although the entertaining list of Chuck Norris facts is not entirely accurate (there isn’t another fist hidden under his beard), his reputation as a strong guy is well-earned.
He joined the Air Force in 1958 and was stationed in Korea where he first trained in tang soo do. His interest led to black belts and eventually in developing his own fighting style, chun kuk do. He currently holds a 10th degree black belt in that, a 9th degree black belt tang soo do, an 8th degree black belt in taekwondo, 5th degree black belt in karate, 3rd degree black belt in brazilian jiu-jitsu and a black belt judo. In 1990, he became the first westerner to be awarded an 8th degree black belt in taekwondo, becoming a Grand Master.
John Foo, one of the list’s more promising actors, is quickly establishing himself as a dependable action star. He began his career as an extra or stunt performer in films like Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Batman Begins (2005), when he played a member of the League of Shadows (2010). He has been studying intensively in Wushu since he was 15 years old. From the age of 8, he pursued Kung Fu and Judo training. This skill set gave him an advantage when breaking into Hollywood, and when combined with his stuntman abilities and shockingly quick delivery of a deadpan one-liner, he becomes a star to watch in the future.
Jason David Frank
Without a Power Ranger, this list wouldn’t qualify as an actor/martial artist list. No other actor has the martial arts badassery of Jason David Frank, who played Tommy Oliver on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The cast of the program has fluctuated throughout the years, and some of them had actual martial arts training before being cast. Jason started learning martial arts at a young age, and by the time he was 18, he had earned a black belt and was instructing younger students. Jason is now studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and holds a 7th degree black belt in Shotokan karate.
Sho Kosugi was the ideal ninja from a movie. Sho Kosugi’s badassery in the 1980s is to thank for the shinobi’s love. Sho Kosugi’s amazing skill set was utilized in every film that featured a ninja with advanced martial arts abilities. Sho Kosugi was not just a fantastic fighter and weapons specialist, but also a gifted actor given the subject matter.
How about the American Ninja series from the 1980s while we’re talking about movie ninjas? In the film series of the same name, Michael Dudikoff portrayed the American ninja who holds the title. Michael was trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a martial art that was less well-known in the United States at the time the American Ninja movies were filmed but was familiar with striking martial arts when he was cast in the part.
At 64 years old, Steven Seagal is still going strong and has a well-deserved reputation in Hollywood as an authentic ass-kicker. Although it’s well known that Seagal has run-ins with many people, he still maintains positive working connections with everyone in the industry that helped him become well-known in the 1980s and 1990s. A 7th Dan black belt in Aikido, Seagal was formerly employed as an Aikido instructor before stepping in front of the camera. He started his career in Japan, then established the first American Aikido dojo before relocating to Los Angeles in an effort to maybe make money with his skill set.
Before Jackie Chan found fame in American cinema, he had been doing it for a very long time. Ironically, Rumble in the Bronx, one of his first movies to be made in the country, wasn’t even intended for an American audience. Additionally, the movie wasn’t actually filmed in America. Yes, it was filmed in North America—more specifically, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. However, it made Americans aware of Jackie Chan, the Chinese sensation. Chan is a skilled martial artist who has trained in tae kwon do, judo, hapkido, and karate. He was a product of Chinese martial arts cinema, yet the top stuntmen in Hollywood and around the world coveted his work.
Another Chinese film legend who eventually received a role in American cinema was Jet Li. Li was given the chance to play the unstoppable villain in Lethal Weapon 4 opposite Mel Gibson and Danny Glover after years of acting in movies in his native China. After astonishing viewers in the blockbuster, Jet Li went on to have instantaneous success in a number of American martial arts movies, where he played both the hero and the bad guy. He has a strong background in martial arts, is a master of several types of wushu, and won numerous gold medals in Chinese national contests before the age of majority.
The legend of Bruce Lee goes far beyond the movie screen, but thanks to the medium, the world was able to know the martial arts master. For those who absolutely love the sub-genre of martial arts flicks, you can offer your continuous gratitude to Bruce Lee. No doubt martial arts films would have been made, but would they have been popular or profitable without the founder of Jeet Kune Do? Bruce Lee studied Wing Chun under the legendary Yip Man. Unlike many on this list, Bruce didn’t start training as a toddler or child, rather as an adolescent who was getting his butt kicked by rival gangs.
In the films, Rothrock exhibits possibly the highest level of female martial artistry we have ever witnessed. She was viewed as the ideal combination of beauty and badass by both martial arts and cinema lovers. She was also one of the select few Western performers to enjoy true stardom in China.
At the age of 13, Cynthia began her martial arts training, eventually becoming a master in a variety of techniques. She participated in numerous martial arts competitions, including those using weapons. She took first place 32 times throughout her career, including 12 times in competitions using weapons. Additionally, because there were no women’s divisions back then, she frequently fought against men.
Billy Wayne Blanks
In the 1990s, Billy Wayne reigned supreme in underground martial arts films. He was also, in our opinion, a seriously undervalued actor who was an accomplished martial artist in real life. Billy’s hip joints were abnormal when he was born in 1955, which limited his ability to move. He enrolled in Taekwondo and Karate classes when he was a small child. However, his coaches believed that given his limitations, he would not accomplish much. Wayne was able to triumph despite all odds and achieve mastery in taekwondo, kung fu, and karate thanks to his unwavering determination and willpower.
Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson
Wilson is unquestionably the greatest underappreciated martial arts actor, and we can’t seem to get away from that. He wasn’t a megastar like Jean Claude Van Dame, which is primarily the reason for this. However, he had a sizable fan base just because he appeared in so many legendary underground action films. In addition, many people consider him the greatest full-contact kickboxer in American history and the greatest kickboxer to ever appear on the big screen.
In Goodfellas and The Sopranos, Michael Imperioli perfected battling with words. But it turns out he’s not too bad on his feet either. The talented performer began taekwondo as part of a healthy lifestyle and claims that it assisted him in quitting smoking. “Taekwondo teaches you that you can overcome any obstacle, that you can tackle anything,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.