5 Action Movie Stars Who Are Real-Life Martial Artists

Action on the big screen unleashes powerful neurons in our brains and triggers feelings and emotions that mirror what we see while watching them.

Our hearts raced as we watched Rocky in an all-out brawl with Apollo Creed. We were inspired as we witnessed Robert De Niro play the legendary Jake LaMotta in his final bout with Sugar Ray Robinson in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. We cheered Karate Kid Daniel Larusso as he summoned all of Mr. Miyagi’s teachings to unleash a flashy crane kick to Johnny’s face.

Feelings of overcoming what seem to be insurmountable obstacles in action movies keep us wanting more and more of these action-packed, heart racing and excitement-filled scenes. It is even more interesting when the actors portraying these heroic roles turn out to be actual martial artists that have shared their talents on the big screen.

Martial arts movie actors are a different breed. They evoke a sense of realism into their fight scenes that make the movie more realistic and credible in terms of martial arts. How many of these martial artists have you watched in movies you’ve enjoyed so much?

Today, Evolve Daily shares five Hollywood movie stars who are actually real-life martial artists.

1) Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is the quintessential martial arts legend known for combining various martial arts disciplines like Kung Fu and Jiu-Jitsu with the grace of a dancer. His unique style, Jeet Kune Do, was self-developed through his talent for dancing and his propensity to engage in street fights during his younger years as a tough kid on the streets of Hong Kong. Lee studied the Chinese martial art of Kung Fu while absorbing other styles like Wing Chun.

His life changed when his mother decided to send him to the United States because he was frequently getting into trouble. Lee is famous for his role as Kato in the popular TV series, “The Green Hornet”. He later starred in several films such as “Fist of Fury” and “Enter the Dragon” that set box office records. Known as the Father of Modern day MMA, Lee’s sudden death in 1973 left the film industry with a void and catapulted him to legendary status.


2) Tony Jaa

This talented martial artist is known to his home country of Thailand as Jaa Panom. He is a Muay Thai practitioner that has starred in the movies “Ong Bak” and “Tom Yum Goong”. He started training at the age of ten largely from the influence of his Muay Thai practicing father.

The young Jaa was inspired by Jackie Chan movies he saw as a youngster and gave him a vision to one day star in his own action films. Director Panna Rithikrai’s movie “Born To Fight” prompted Jaa to seek out the filmmaker by becoming his student. Jaa rose through the ranks of water boy while practicing martial arts during downtimes.

Rithikrai was convinced of his protégé’s skills over time, eventually offering Jaa to join his stunt team. Jaa has been named the heir apparent to the legacies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan by nearly every film critic from Bangkok to Hollywood.


3) Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan was born Chan Kong-sang in Hong Kong in 1954. He grew up in a Hong Kong boarding school where he studied martial arts, drama, acrobatics, and singing. His first movie in 1962 was “Big and Little Wong Tin Bar” which he filmed when he was only eight years old.

Chan caught the eye of Hollywood and martial arts legend Bruce Lee when he worked as a stuntman in his 1972 film “Fist of Fury”. After Lee’s tragic death, Jackie Chan was seen as a likely successor to the king of Hong Kong cinema.

By the late 1970s, Chan had decided to create his own image as an actor by blending in his martial arts abilities together with his natural flair for comedy. He later starred in leading roles in movies like the “Rush Hour” series, “Shanghai Noon”, and “The Karate Kid” remake. It is a well-known fact that Chan always loved to perform all his own spine-tingling and hair-raising stunts that is characteristic of a typical Jackie Chan movie.


4) Jet Li

Jet Li won his first Wushu national championship at the age of 11. Born in 1963, Li is the youngest of five children.

Li traveled to several countries as part of the Beijing Wushu Team and once gave a martial arts demonstrations to President Richard Nixon. He retired from the sport when he was 17 and debuted in the movie, “Shaolin Temple” which catapulted him to fame in his home country of China.

At the end of the 1980s, Li moved to Hong Kong where he starred in more movies that eventually gave him his star status. Li’s most popular movies include “ Once Upon a Time in China”, “Lethal Weapon 4”, “Romeo Must Die”, “Kiss of the Dragon”, “War” and “The Forbidden Kingdom” among many others.

As a martial artist, Li is known for his incredible skill, unmatched speed, and relentless.


5) Chuck Norris

Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris founded his own school of martial arts, Chun Kuk Do. He is also known in pop culture as one of the toughest human beings that ever lived.

Norris’ interest in martial arts began when he was stationed at the Osan Air Base in South Korea as a member of the United States Air Force. His training began in Tang Soo Do, a Korean form of martial arts that combines techniques from Subak and Wushu.

Upon his discharge from the Air Force in the 1960s, Norris opened a chain of about 30 Karate schools spread over different US cities. An encounter with Bruce Lee during a martial arts demonstration in Long Beach, California led to his appearance as Colt in the movie, “The Way of the Dragon”, where he performed in one of the most iconic fight scenes in film history.

He appeared in a series of action films after that which included “The Octagon”, “Lone Wolf McQuade”, “Code of Silence”, and “Hero and the Terror”.


So, who is your favorite martial arts actor?

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