Chuck Norris was born Carlos Ray on 10 March 1940 in Ryan, Oklahoma USA. His family later moved to Torrnace, California. After graduating from high school, he joined the Air Force. There began his knowledge of martial arts. During a stay in Korea, Norris studied Tang Soo Do. On his return he became a full-time instructor in Karate.
Norris’ career as a fighter only lasted from 1965-1970, but was a fruitful era. His mass of titles was immense for such a short time-span. These included The National Karate Championships (1966), All-Star Championships (1966), World Middleweight Karate Championship (1967), All-American Karate Championship (1967), Internationals (1968), World Professional Middleweight Karate Championship (1968), All-American Championship (1968), National Tournament of Champions (1968), American Tang Soo Championship, and the North American Karate Championship.
During this period Norris was accepted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1968. Later he founded the ‘United Fighting Arts Federation’. As a major milestone for Western Fighters, he was the first to achieve 8th degree black belt Grand Master in Tae Kwon Do.
It wasn’t till his film and TV career had fermented did he receive major recognition beyond the borders of America. The final duel between himself and Bruce Lee in ‘Way Of The Dragon’ (1972) is still an iconic moment in movie cinema, set against the backdrop of Rome’s Coliseum.
Norris became an “American Hero’ during his TV performances. His portrayal of duty-bound heroes captivated the American-spirit and was a major success for the networks. Norris starred in, and was Executive Producer of ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ (1993 – 2001), a long-running show that built upon his previous projects as a major force in the martial arts community.
Over the past decade Norris has geared headed a non-profit organization, ‘KickStart’, with the aim of steering young school kids in America away form drugs and gun violence. A program of self-defense and martial arts, intended to stimulate students’ own self-esteem and discipline, was brought into school curriculum across America, and is still flourishing. His contributions to the world of martial arts cinema, TV and community are still being felt in both America and across the world.
Jean Claude van Damme
Claude Van Varenberg was born on October 18th, 1960 in Brussels, Belgium and adopted the name Van Damme from an early mentor. He was a self-admitted “skinny, sensitive kid who loved classical music and painting.” His father urged him to learn karate and ballet, which later form the basis of his athletic and dramatic martial arts style on screen. He dropped out of school aged 16 and set up a profitable fitness centre in Brussels. But he decided that his future lay in film and he left Belgium behind him.
After trying unsuccessfully to break into Hong Kong action films he went to Hollywood where he had several setbacks which forced him to work as a taxi and limo driver, nightclub bouncer, pizza delivery boy, carpet layer and personal trainer. However, his dream continued to elude him until he performed a spin kick outside of a Hollywood restaurant for a movie producer.
Things changed for Van Damme from 1988, when the 28 year old was cast in Bloodsport. He then went on to make two more movies, Cyborg and Death Warrant. Then several major studio films followed including Double Impact, Van Damme made what some regard as his best performances in Kickboxer and Lioneheart in 1989 and 1990 respectively.
Van Damme had created a niche for himself in the action packed testosterone fuelled 80’s alongside Schwarzenegger and Stallone. However, the late 90’s were a problematic period for Van Damme’s career with several films failing to live up to expectations, including The Order, Derailed, and In Hell.
Jean Claude has lived a stormy personal life. He has been married 5 times, and has two sons and 1 daughter. He has also had highly publicised problems with drugs and drinking which have brought him into contact with the Law.
Van Damme was also the initial alien monster in predator until he was replaced. He also was a the European Professional Karate Association Middleweight Champion.
Van Damme brought a new level of flexibility and athletic beauty to martial arts. His signature 360º kicks wowed audiences the world over. Van Damme is by no means a spent force, he is known the world over and is currently reviewing several new projects.
Jet Li is now one of the most famous martial arts movie stars in the world, as the recent worldwide smash of Yimou Zhang’s classic ‘Hero’ proves. But his road to success has been long and arduous.
Jet Li or Li Lian Jie was born on the 26th April 1963 in Beijing, China. His father died when Jet was only 2. In the absence of his father Jet was inspired by his teacher role models, and by the age of 8 Jet had developed such skill that his teacher recommended he go to train at the Beijing’s Amateur Sports School for formal training in Wishu. This early training, a martial arts performance, rather than a mode of fighting is evident even now in his fight movies.
At 11, he won gold at the Chinese National Championships and was taken on to Beijing’s professional Wushu Team, and over the next 5 years, he went on to perform in 40 countries across the globe. One of these shows was held on the Whitehouse Lawn, where Jet Li met Henry Kissinger and President Nixon.
Jet hates to be called an prodigy. He has on numerous occassions talked how this undermines the years of toil and hard work. In fact, during this preparatory period he was close to giving up, but was guided back by his mentors, who saw his talent and pushed him harder than the other students.
In 1982 Jet Li starred in a remake of the classic ‘Shaolin Temple’ which has been a hit in 1976. This film tells the story of a youngster who learns kung fu after his father is killed to revenge his death and save the Emperor. This success led on to many other film successes, but there were failures too. Jet’s marriage fell apart and his directorial debut was not well received.
Jet Li has always benn big news, but it was for all the wrong reasons when his Personal Manager was shot, allegedly because he would not hand over Jet Li’s control to the Triads.
In recent times Jet has found mainstream success in the West with Lethal Weapon 4, where he played a rather stereotypical bad guy figure. However, this film broke Jet Li in the West, and he has remained good friends with Mel Gibson since. Lethal Weapon 4 led to Jet Li being recognised more in the West, and he then took up the male lead role in Rome Must Die, starring opposite Aaliyah, who later died tragically in a plane crash.
Whether he is learning English 4 hours a day, or through training in martial arts, Jet Li is a shining example of what dedication and commitment can achieve.
Steve Seagal was on April 10th, 1951 in Lansing, Michigan. His father was a teacher and his mother was a nurse. He attended the Orange Coast College and Fullerton College in California. At the age of 17 he made the brave step to travel to Japan where he taught English, studied Zen, and honed his martial arts skill. In fact, he trained in several styles of martial arts and holds a black belt in Aikido, Karate, Judo and Kendo.
During his time in Asia he studied eastern philosophy and even managed to choreograph fight sequences in several martial arts action films. It has even been alleged that Steven was a bounty hunter. Steven has skirted the issue of whether or not he was involved with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
On his return to the United States after 15 years Steven Seagal opened a new martial arts academy, where his clients included famous Hollywood personalities. He found both a wife (Kelly Brook) and agent (Michael Ovitz) in Hollywood. At one stage he even trained Sean Connery, fracturing his wrist.
Through these new contacts Steven forged a movie career including ‘The Patriot’ (1998), ‘Hard to Kill ‘ (1989), and ‘Under Siege’ (1992). As fans of his movies can testify, Seagal is a big guy and tends to be involved in fight sequences where he is up against multiple opponents in which he shuns the use of spinning kicks aka Van Damme preferring to use throws and fast striking action.
Seagal is a serious student of Buddhist philosophies and spends much of his time meditating, studying and practising his tenets to enhance his teachings. In his movies he tries to incorporate the philosophical teachings of martial arts. Steven Seagal brings an innovative and distinct identity to the world of martial arts movies.