Celebrities Who Are Also Skilled Martial Artists
While you’ve seen plenty of actors and actresses appear as crime-fighting superheroes in movies, do you ever wonder how many actually know legit self-defense? Prepare to find out as we take a look at a list of celebrities who are accomplished martial artists in real life. From actors you never knew practiced martial arts in the first place to the exact styles some of your favorite action heroes practice, you’ll get the low down on which celebrities really could take you down!
Robert Downey Jr.
If you saw Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in Sherlock Holmes, then you may have wondered how he learned to fight so well so quickly. As it turns out, the Iron Man actor has been training in wing chun kung fu since 2005.
A serious practitioner who trains up to six times per week, Downey has credited martial arts with keeping him in shape both physically and mentally. “I can’t tell you how much martial arts has impacted my ability to stay focused. I’m coming from a place of total strength and humility now,” Downey once said.
Like Downey, Russell Brand has become well known for overcoming his past struggles with substance abuse. Brand has credited his training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) for helping him learn how to face life head-on and overcome the obstacles.
“I had to overcome my fear about getting smashed. It’s good to learn about how to channel your aggression. Life is struggle, and BJJ teaches you how to deal with it,” said Brand. He’s currently training both in England and with two of the famous Grace brothers, Ryron and Rener. He’s currently a blue belt.
Lucy Liu may be gorgeous, but she also definitely knows how to handle herself. So where did she get all those cool skills she used it movies like Charlies Angels and Kill Bill? Well, she’s been training in the martial art of kali-eskrima-silat for years.
A mixture of Filipino and Indonesian fighting styles, this blend of martial arts focuses on both traditional hand fighting as well as striking with sticks and swords. Such experience no doubt also came in handy for her role as the baton-wielding Dr. Watson in Elementary.
Courteney Cox shot to fame back in the 90s for her role as the charming Monica Gellar on Friends. Her character made such an impact that producers were originally hesitant to cast her as more aggressive characters, such as the one she later played in Scream.
Courteney is no slouch when it comes to defending herself, however, as she signed up for budokon karate lessons in 2004. While she was originally attracted to karate as a means of staying in shape, the actress ended up falling in love with the art.
While Forest Whitaker may not be an actor who you see in a lot of action movies, he’s a serious martial artist off-screen. Whitaker earned his black belt in the art of kenpo karate and credits martial arts for helping him learn to understand and direct his own energy.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Whitaker also took up training in kali, the Filipino art of stick fighting, under Dan Inosanto. Inosanto was not only a student of the late martial arts legend Bruce Lee, but also ended up training Lee’s son Brandon.
Make no mistake, Al Bundy is not a man you want to mess with. Ed O’Neill, who portrayed Bundy on the sitcom Married … With Children, has been practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu for over 30 years. O’Neill took up BJJ when he was 40 years old and has credited it for helping him change his thinking in regard to self-defense.
Known for requiring not only skill but also a great deal of thought, BJJ is all about control and intelligence. O’Neill earned his black belt and trained with legends such as Rorion Gracie.
Sean Connery shares his action hero characters’ love of smooth moves. Connery has a black belt in kyokushin karate, a style founded by Korean Masutatsu Oyama. The full-contact style emphasizes not only self-defense techniques, but also self-improvement, hard work and discipline.
Back in 1967, Connery was able to utilize his skills on the set of the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, where he demonstrated the kyokushin style. That same year, Connery even appeared on the cover of Black Belt magazine.
Look no further for proof of the physical benefits of MMA than Kevin James’ appearance in Here Comes the Boom. While James was already famous for his role as the frumpy Doug Heffernan on King of Queens, he decided to get fit for his role in the UFC-themed movie.
At the time, James was an MMA fan who had trained on and off for several years. In the 14 months before Here Comes The Boom, however, he trained with top fighters like Wanderlei Silva, Mark Munoz, Rafael Cordeiro and Jason Lambert.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
While it’s hard to believe that Buffy The Vampire Slayer first premiered over 20 years ago, it’s less of a surprise to fans that lead actress Sarah Michelle Gellar is a black belt in taekwondo. Gellar was known for doing many of her own stunts on the show, and her hard work definitely showed onscreen.
In addition to martial arts, Gellar has also trained in boxing and kickboxing as well as yoga and gymnastics. In 2018, her husband, Freddie Prinze Jr., even showed off an Instagram picture of their daughter training in jiu-jitsu.
Okay, so it’s no surprise that action star Wesley Snipes has trained in martial arts. What’s truly impressive, however, is just how many different styles he’s mastered. Snipes has been training since he was a child and has racked up some serious achievements.
He’s a fifth degree black belt in shotokan karate and a second degree black belt in hapkido, a Korean martial art that employs joint locks and throws in addition to traditional strikes and kicks. The actor’s also trained in other martial arts like kung fu, eskrima, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Guy Ritchie is famous for several things, including directing films such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and for once being married to Madonna. What many fans may not realize, however, is that he’s also a total martial arts addict.
Ritchie began training in shotokan karate when he was just seven years old and started training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the early 2000s. Earning a black belt in BJJ can take upwards of a decade, but Ritchie was awarded the honor at his 2015 The Man From UNCLE premiere by Renzo Gracie.
You don’t get the body of Ukranian actress Milla Jovovich by just sitting around depending on stunt doubles. The Resident Evil actress is a huge fan of martial arts, which she once revealed was the reason she loves doing action movies so much.
Jovovich has expressed disdain for the gym, simply because it can be so boring. Martial arts, on the other hand, give her a chance to stay fit while having fun and learning patience and discipline, not to mention killer moves to use on hordes of onscreen zombies.
There’s no doubt that Chuck Norris is one of the greatest martial artists of our time. He learned jeet kune do by training with Bruce Lee himself and has one of the most impressive resumes of any martial artist alive.
Norris is a black belt in judo, a third degree black belt in jiu-jitsu, a fifth degree black belt in karate, an eight degree black belt in taekwondo and a 10th degree grandmaster black belt in Tang Soo Do. He even founded his own style of martial arts called Chun Kuk Do, also known as the Chuck Norris System.
Growing up as a child star is not always easy, as no one can attest to better than Grammy-nominated singer and actress Demi Lovato. Lovato first began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 2017 and has credited the sport for helping her work through her struggle with addiction.
After a near-fatal overdose in 2018, Lovato underwent a stint in rehab before immediately jumping back into her BJJ training. She’s since earned her blue belt and has trained with high-level fighters such as Danielle Martin, Tarsis Humphries, Randy Couture, and Chuck Liddell.
While Jackie Chan may be one of the best stuntmen and martial artists around, you might be surprised by his actual martial arts background. Make no mistake, Chan does indeed have a black belt, but it’s not necessarily in the style you might think.
After training at the Peking Opera Stunt Academy and in various martial arts over the course of his life, Chan ended up developing his own fighting style. Though he’s trained in styles such as wing chun, taekwondo, kung fu, judo and BJJ, he only has one black belt in the Korean martial art of Hapkido.
When Margot Robbie scored the role of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, she knew she was up for a physical challenge. Though she had trained as a trapeze artist in the past, Robbie decided it was time to up her self defense game.
For the next six months, she not only trained in gymnastics, but also began studying jiu-jitsu three times a week. On top of that, she also worked through personal training sessions and hit up the boxing ring four times a week. The dedication she put into the role definitely paid off when the cameras began to roll.
Steven Seagal may be an actor, producer and screenwriter, but he’s also a terrifying opponent on the mats. Before he was known for his roles in films such as Under Seige and Hard to Kill, Seagal became the first American to ever operate an aikido school in Japan.
He began his career in Hollywood as a fight choreographer for actors such as Sean Connery before becoming one of the biggest action stars of the 1990s. He currently holds an eighth-degree black belt in aikido as well as a black belt in kenjutsu.
Millie Bobby Brown
It turns out that Millie Bobbie Brown is a great fighter in real life, with or without the special powers that her Stranger Things character, Eleven, enjoys. Originally born in Marbella, Spain, Millie now splits her time between Los Angeles and England.
At just 15 years old, she’d already earned her blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu, which is no easy task no matter what your age. Millie trains in England at Phoenix BJJ under black belt Trevor Chamberlain. In addition to BJJ, she’s also trained in boxing and muay thai.
Remember the Twilight movies? Well, the masses of young girls who fell in love with Taylor Lautner, the actor who portrayed Jacob in the franchise, have karate to thank for helping him achieve his chiseled good looks.
Lautner has been doing karate for most of his life and began training when he was just six years old. It turned out that he had quite a knack for it, as he began winning tournaments within a year. At the age of 12, he even represented the US in the 12 and under division at the World Karate Association.
British actress and producer Naomi Watts, who has starred in films such as The Impossible and King Kong, is known for being one of Hollywood’s most beautiful leading ladies. But don’t mistake that sweet exterior for weakness because this lady also knows how to throw down.
Watts first began training in judo at a young age and even went on to compete in amateur championships from 1989 to 1992. These days, she’s joined the long list of celebrities who have fallen in love with jiu-jitsu and has trained for several years now.
Of course Christian Bale knows martial arts — he is Batman after all. Before he became the dark knight, Bale starred in movies such as American Psycho and Equilibrium while training in the art of kung fu regularly. But when he stepped up to play the caped crusader, the actor had to tweak his style a bit.
The filmmakers decided that Batman should utilize a newer fighting style known as the Keysi Fighting Method or KFM. Created by Andy Norman and Justo Dieguez, KFM is a sort of “anything goes” martial art that’s designed to devastate opponents on the street.
When Tom Hardy was preparing for his role in the movie Warrior, he went through some intense MMA training. Fortunately, the actor discovered that he really enjoyed his time in the octagon, and he’s been training in various styles ever since.
While preparing to film Venom, Hardy reported that he trained up to five times a week, and sometimes twice a day, in jiu-jitsu, boxing and mixed martial arts. Pro-MMA fighters such as Nathan Jones and Dan ‘Villi’ Edwards reportedly stepped up to join his team of trainers for the film.
For years now, Crazy, Stupid, Love actor Ryan Gosling has been capturing the hearts (and eyes) of ladies everywhere with his sensitive guy vibe and ridiculous abs. But how does he stay so in shape? With a little help from the art of muay thai.
In preparation for his role in the 2013 film Only God Forgives, Gosling signed up to learn the “art of eight limbs.” Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, uses not just fists, but also elbows, shins and knees to produce a series of hardcore strikes.
If you’ve seen a Marvel movie in the past decade, then you probably already know that Scarlett Johansson has some pretty killer moves. But what styles does Black Widow favor when it comes to taking down the bad guys?
In order to prepare for the role, Johansson took up boxing, MMA training and Jiu-Jitsu. Okay, so maybe she had a little help from invisible cables for some of the crazier fight scenes, but give her a break. She moves pretty well for a gal who doesn’t actually have a team of beefy superheroes covering her back.
Willie Nelson is awesome. Not only is he one of the most recognized stars in country music, but he just seems like a really cool dude in general. That said, prepare to love him even more than you already do.
Despite his laid-back vibe, Willie is a black belt in the martial art of gongkwon yusul, which is sort of like the Korean version of MMA. Apparently, he’s been practicing it for over 20 years and got his fifth-degree black belt on his 81st birthday.
One look at Mario Lopez is all it takes to see that he loves to stay in shape. Back in the 1990s, Lopez was famous for his role as AC Slater on the hit show Saved by the Bell. Like his TV character, Lopez was also a wrestler growing up, so it makes sense that he’d eventually fall in love with jiu-jitsu.
Now a blue belt at Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Academy, Mario trains with his kids and friends alike. He and Saved By The Bell Co-star Mark-Paul Gosselaar even recently met up for a roll.
As an eighth degree black belt in judo, Russian President Vladimir Putin is no stranger to the mats. Though the Japanese martial art was once banned in the Soviet Union, the USSR lifted its restrictions on the sport in the 1960s when it was introduced to the Olympics.
The sport is gaining in popularity among Russians these days, in part because of Putin’s love for it. The Russian leader even showed off a few of his moves as he sparred with the Russian national judo team in Sochi, Russia in 2019.
Superman actor Henry Cavill is yet another actor who is a self-professed Brazilian jiu-jitsu addict. Though still relatively new to the sport, BJJ practitioners everywhere could relate completely when Cavill described his love of rolling in an interview with Men’s Health.
“I’ve done a little bit of boxing, but for me, the martial art I do the most is jiu-jitsu,” Cavill said. “I’m very fortunate to [work with] the world-famous Roger Gracie. When you’re doing jiu-jitsu, you can’t think of anything but Jiu-Jitsu. You have to focus fully on it — or someone chokes you out.”
Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal also trained in MMA — not that anyone would be rushing to jump into the octagon with him even if he didn’t. The seven-foot tall basketball star has recently been brushing up on his skills in boxing, jiu-jitsu and muay thai after reportedly falling in love with UFC style fighting.
Recently, Shaq even faced off against UFC legend Forrest Griffin in an episode of his new Facebook reality show, Big Chicken Shaq. Though Shaq freely admitted that he was still an amateur, he seemed to hold his own in the light-hearted match.
If you’re a fan of the show Vikings, then you doubtless know Katheryn Winnick as the fearless shield maiden, Lagertha. In real life, Katheryn has no problem defending herself with or without a sword in her hand. She’s been training in martial arts since she was seven years old and owned three dojos by the time she was 21.
She rocks both a third degree black belt in taekwondo and a second degree black belt in karate. These days, she and her brother also run a team called WIN KAI aimed at teaching women the art of self-defense.