7 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Martial Artists
We all know Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, Jet Li and all the other master martial artists that leveraged their combative skills into lucrative Hollywood careers. What people don’t know as much about are the silver screen darlings who crossed over in the other direction – whose lifestyles or the physical requirements of a specific role pushed them to pursue martial arts mastery off-screen.
Some might surprise you while others might seem like obvious butt-kickers, but what all these guys and girls have in common is a dedication to the pursuit of the noblest of arts: the martial arts.
Robert Downey Jr.
Before he became the alcoholic Avenger in red-and-gold powered armour, Robert Downey Jr. battled his own real-life addiction to alcohol and other substances.
With his career spiralling downward and abuse-related legal troubles harrying his every waking moment, Downey eventually decided to take control of his life and make a real effort at defeating addiction. One of the tools the superstar chose to use in this fight was Wing Chun Kung Fu.
He began his training in 2003, and has never looked back.
Along with meditation and the support of his loving wife, Robert Downey Jr. credits the practice of Kung Fu with his recovery and remarkable career resurgence.
Probably most widely known for his iconic role as Al Bundy – the Homer Simpson-esque father in the nineties sitcom Married… With Children – Ed O’Neil is something of a meme-spawning celebrity within the martial arts community for his long dedication to the fighting style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
O’Neill was introduced to the grappling art over two decades ago, and has been training under Rorion Gracie, of the famed Gracie family, ever since. In 2007, he earned his black belt – an accomplishment that he considers, after his children, to be the greatest achievement of his life.
That the shredded action hero, Jason Statham, is a martial arts enthusiast is probably one of the least surprising revelations on this list. What stands out about Statham is his level of proficiency and lifelong dedication to the martial arts.
Having developed a passion for martial arts when he was a child, Statham is currently proficient in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kickboxing, Kung Fu and Mixed Martial Arts – to the point that he could reputedly be competitive in a professional fight promotion like the UFC.
Idris Elba is good at everything.
The 45 year-old actor/musician/DJ/producer proved that in 2016 when he added “professional kickboxer” to the list of titles you could add to his resume.
In his professional debut against Lionel Graves (a younger, more experienced Dutch kickboxer) Idris Elba wasted no time in proving his mettle – winning the bout by first round knockout.
The bout took place in the Glory kickboxing promotion and was the culmination of Elba’s lifelong dream to fight professionally.
While it is unlikely that the star is going to pursue a kickboxing career, the fight still stands as a notable achievement in an illustrious career.
Not generally considered to be an imposing individual, Naomi Watts is nevertheless a lifelong student of the martial arts.
In the late eighties, The Ring actress competed in several international judo competitions, and while her career and family life no longer leave her with the time for that level of intense training, she now maintains a wellness routine that includes regular Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training.
Watts is an object lesson in not judging a book by its cover.
That the slender-built and frail-looking Michael Jackson was a martial artist may come as a surprise, but according to Matt Fiddes, the late singer’s one-time bodyguard, Jackson did not just train, he was an exceptionally gifted martial artist.
“[Michael Jackson] was one of the best martial artists I’ve ever seen. People might laugh at that because of the image he projected, but he was very sharp. Martial arts is very similar to dance. He was one of the best dancers in the world, and he could bring that across to his martial arts.”
You probably didn’t know it at the time (it was before the UFC popularised the art) but your first exposure to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was quite likely in Gibson’s 1987 hit, Lethal Weapon. The triangle choke that Gibson’s character locks on Gary Bussey toward the end of the film was taught to him by Rorion Gracie in preparation for the film.
The fighting style appealed to the star, and he kept up his training. While it’s uncertain what rank Gibson is at, he has been seen training as recently as February of this year – under the tutelage of Professor Carlos Machado.
Celebrities might have a reputation for being coddled and soft, but you can never judge a book by its cover. Make sure you’ve got as many tricks up your sleeve as these darlings of Tinsel Town – contact SMA today, and master the martial arts!