Action stars have been a part of cinema since the early days of Hollywood with swashbucklers such as Errol Flynn. The tradition has carried on through the years with the likes of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and Clint Eastwood. Modern action heroes since the 1980’s have exploded in terms of both budget and muscle size, with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, The Rock, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor.
While they all kick some major butt on screen, how many of these “action stars” are actually legitimate badasses? This is a list of five legit badass action stars.
Rothrock may not be as well known as some of the others on this list, but she was a bona fide star for the Hong Kong production company Golden Harvest during the 1980’s and some American co-productions in the early 1990’s. She began training in martial arts at the age of 13 and had her fifth black by the age of 25
From 1981-1985, she was one of the leading performers in open and closed karate
competitions in the United States, with most of the divisions not separating
the male and female competitors .
During that time, she was the five-time World Karate Champion in forms and
She holds five black belts in Eastern martial arts disciplines, including an 8th
degree black belt in Tang Soo Do (Korean), Tae Kwon Do (Korean), Eagle Claw
(Chinese), Wu Shu (contemporary Chinese), and Northern Shaolin (classical
Her exposure in tournaments and various martial arts publications led to her
transitioning to film and her first martial arts production in 1985 titled Yes, Madam, which co-starred Michelle
Yeoh. She appeared in seven Hong Kong motion pictures and was the first
Westerner to actually perform a majority of the action sequences in them. She
went on to do what were considered B-grade American action movies during the
1990’s, but most of them were highly successful internationally.
While only holding a black belt in Hapkido that he earned during his time in the film industry, it’s hard to discount his martial arts ability and the intensive training that he received at the Peking Opera School. He was sent there when he was six and the school was legendary for its intense and harsh training regiments. It could be compared to the type of training that a Shaolin monk or other very traditional martial arts school may put the students through. A movie was made featuring Chan and fellow former student Sammo Hung titled Painted Faces, which told the story about the teacher and the harsh treatment that they went through. Once in the industry, he further trained in various disciplines that included Karate, Kung Fu, Wing Chun, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, and Jeet Kune Do. Besides becoming one of the greatest martial arts movie stars of all time, he has served as a stuntman and martial arts choreographer, performed his own outrageous stunts, and shown his skills with various weapons.
Before Walker, Texas Ranger and appearing in infomercials for gym equipment, Norris was an action star during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Even before that, he had his own chain of Karate schools and created the martial art Chun Kun Do, which was a combination of Tang Soo Do and elements from other combat styles and disciplines. He started training in Tang Soo Do while in the Air Force and then had a successful run in Karate tournaments during the 1960’s, holding the Professional Middleweight Karate championship for six straight years and being named fighter of the year in 1969 by Black Belt magazine. He’s the first Westerner to receive the rank of 8th degree black belt grand master in Tae Kwan Do, as well as an 8th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Say what you will about his constant subpar B-movie releases, Seagal has a very impressive martial arts history. He started learning Shotokan Karate around the age of 13 and then moved onto studying Aikido at the Orange County Aikido School. He relocated with his father to Japan sometime around the age of 19 and continued his training in Aikido, eventually achieving a 7th dan degree and Shihan (master instructor)
He became the first foreigner to run an Aikido dojo in Japan. When he married
Miyako Fujitani, he eventually became the head of her father’s Aikido
organization when he retired. He opened several dojos in America before making
his first film Above the Law in 1988.
He also has black belts in Karate, Judo, and Kendo, has served as a bodyguard,
and has been a fully commissioned deputy with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s
Office in Louisiana for almost 20 years.
How much really needs to be said about the most iconic martial arts star in the history of cinema? He had the chiseled body and physical style that made him look so powerful on screen and yet he could legitimately kick ass if he had to. He trained in Wing Chun under the legendary teacher Yip Man, who has been immortalized in several movies starring Donnie Yen. He began teaching other students in the United States when he was 19, referring to the style as Jun Fan Gung Fu. He officially created his own discipline known as Jeet Kune Do, which was meant to eliminate techniques that he thought were too rigid in realistic street fights. He had several exhibitions at the Long Beach International Karate Championships, displaying his two-finger pushups, one inch punch, and powerful kicks. These appearances and having several students that were in the film industry led to his appearance as Kato in The Green Hornet and a few other small television and film roles. He eventually signed a contract with Hong Kong production company Golden Harvest and those movies shot him to super stardom.
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