When we think of actors in an action movie, we tend to associate them with exaggerated graphics and stunt doubles. There’s no doubt that Hollywood has a knack for making complete amateurs appear as the real McCoy on the big screen. But there are a surprising number of actors who aren’t all about the hype but have actually earned their stripes as authentic martial artists. A few of them even make it a point to do their own stunts, refusing to let a stuntman risk their lives. These rare breeds of actors remind us that not all roles are fluff.
10 Jason Statham
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The British actor known for his tough, hardcore persona and explosive fighting skills, Jason Statham is more than just a front for the camera. His fighting abilities stem from his athletic background as well as specialized training in martial arts practices such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wing Chun kung fu, karate, kickboxing, and other disciplines. He began training martial arts as a teenager and also represented England as a diver in the 1990 Commonwealth finals. As one of the few actors who insists on having his fighting scenes unchoreographed, he’s done so in most of his films, but especially in Crank, The Transporter, The Fast and The Furious, and The Expendables franchises.
9 Wesley Snipes
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As one of the few African-American actors to dominate in the world of martial arts and action films, Wesley Snipes has made himself a legend out of his brand as a trained martial artist. Although his earlier roles in movies like New Jack City (1991), Jungle Fever (1991), and White Men Can’t Jump (1992) didn’t showcase his fighting technique, his skills were solid and sharp as a blade (pun intended). From the age of 12, Snipes began training martial arts and earned a 5th dan black belt in Shotokan Karate as well as training in Hapkido, Kung Fu, Brazilian Jui-Jitsu, and kickboxing. His role in Blade immortalized him as a martial arts legend, in addition to other low-budget films focusing more on his fighting skill.
8 Keanu Reeves
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Apart from his stellar on-screen performances in movies like Dracula, The Devil’s Advocate, The Matrix, and John Wick, Keanu Reeves is also said to be one of the most humble and undecorated actors in Hollywood. He is most recognized in modern times for his roles in The Matrix Trilogy and John Wick, both of which are high-intensity action films with several martial arts fighting scenes. When asked about his martial arts expertise, he answered, “I have no martial arts background… I only know movie Kung-Fu.” However, what he lacks in personal training he makes up for in self-performed stunts. In the Matrix and John Wick franchises, in particular, he does 90 percent of his own stunts, even at 56 years old.
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7 Jackie Chan
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Jackie Chan has been showcasing his Hong Kong originated martial arts disciplines with the world since the 1970s in kung fu movies such as Little Tiger of Canton (1973), New Fist of Fury (1976), and Drunken Master (1978). He even worked alongside the legendary Bruce Lee as a stuntman in Fist of Fury and Enter The Dragon. He found Hollywood success with movies like Police Story franchises, Armour of God 2: Operation Condor, Rush Hour, Who Am I?, The Accidental Spy, Shanghai Noon, The Tuxedo, and a series of other movies with other famous Hollywood celebrities. Chan is the most praised for performing all his stunts personally, even to the point of near fatality. No risk, no reward I suppose.
6 Jet Li
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Jet Li’s early mastery of Wushu, or “military martial arts” lead him to superstardom on the Hollywood screen. He was reportedly discovered by the Chinese authorities because of his athletic abilities and was invited to attend the Beijing Sports and Exercise School. His first major film was Shaolin Temple and Martial Arts of Shaolin. He experienced international acclaim when he starred in Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 The Grave, Lethal Weapon, The Expendables, The One, and War to name a few. His speed and agility made him exceptional to work with. Li has performed virtually all his stunts on his own, but only uses a stunt double for complex action sequences.
5 Jean Claude Van Damme
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As a highly skilled and proficient martial artist actor, Jean Claude Van Damme has become a household name with his charming and flirtatious demeanor, on and offset. The Belgium actor is also recognized as a filmmaker and choreographer, performing his own stunts in movies like Blood Sport, Timecop, Hard Target, and Kickboxer. He is known specifically for his epic splits, which he has showcased in his films, as well as in a Volvo advertisement where he splits between two moving trucks to show the precision and reliability of the news outside.
4 Michael Jai White
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Michael Jai White is another one of the few African-American actors who has solidified his role as an action-packed martial artist and is also one of the few who is daring enough to perform his own stunts. White is also capable of wearing many hats, as he fits the roles of writer, director, and producer. He began his martial arts journey at the age of seven and hold black belts in different martial arts styles like Shotokan, Taekwondo, Kobudo, Goju Ryu, and Wushu to name a few. His movie roles include his portrayal of Mike Tyson in Tyson, The Toxic Avenger Part II, Blood and Bone, Undisputed, Universal Soldier: The Return (alongside Jean Claude Van Damme), and an array of other films. He is also the first African-American to portray a superhero with his role in Spawn.
3 Taylor Lautner
Taylor Lautner may hold the title of the youngest martial artist in Hollywood, but don’t allow his age to dissuade you. Known most notably for his role as Jacob Black in the Twilight movie series, he captivates the crowd with his athletic physique as well as his impressive fighting skills. His interest and natural ability in the study of the karate martial arts fighting style from the age of six caused him to excel in the discipline. By the age of eight, he became a black belt, and by twelve he won three gold medals for representing American at the World Karate Association. In 2015, he starred in the action-thriller Parkour film, Tracers, in which he performed all his stunts personally.
2 Steven Segal
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Recognized as one of the veterans in the world of martial arts, Steven Seagal has distinguished himself as an actor, producer, screenwriter, and martial artist. The Michigan native began studying martial arts at a very tender age. He traveled to Japan at 17 to teach English as well as perfect his martial arts skills, subsequently earning him black belts in aikido, karate, judo, and kendo. He dominated the 90s era of martial arts films, with flicks like Above The Law, Hard to Kill, and Under Siege, and later in movies with top celebrities like Ja Rule in Exit Wounds.
1 Bruce Lee
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They say it’s best to save the best for last! Bruce Lee needs no introduction as one of the greatest martial artists of all time. Strangely enough, Bruce Lee has never formally studied Karate, but you wouldn’t tell that by his accurate speed and aggressive fighting style. He also created his own fighting style in 1967 called Jeet Kun Do, which was basically his own expression of kung fu. Despite his speed, accuracy, and incredible work ethic, Bruce Lee did not perform all of his stunts. This may have been due to the fact that he is near-sighted. But his personal stunt double for his acrobatic moves was Yuen Wah, as well as Jackie Chan who worked as a stuntman in his movies.
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