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Saturday, June 22, 2024

15 Best Martial Arts Actors of All Time (Movies & Arts Known)


Also known as ‘The Muscles from Brussels’, Van Damme won the Mr. Belgium bodybuilding title and is the martial arts actor with the best physique of all time through his dedication to diet and training and his use of anabolic steroids. Steven Seagal’s best/most notable movies are:

15 Best Martial Arts Actors

Gordon Liu’s best/most notable movies are: Michael Jai White knows the martial arts:

1. Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee training with Ip Man

Sammo Hung is a Hong Kong actor and martial artist, who toward the end of his acting career focused on fight choreography, directing, and film production. He is remembered as the martial arts actor who led the way in the wave of 1980s Hong Kong movies, and who gave many stars their start in acting. Scott began practicing taekwondo at the age of 13 and kickboxing aged 16 before joining the Professional Karate Association as a kickboxing instructor. Scott Adkins is a British actor, martial artist, and film producer. He’s been in over 70 movies, most of which are fighting/martial arts based, and is recognized for his impressively muscular physique.

  • The Big Boss (1971)
  • Fist of Fury (1972)
  • The Way of the Dragon (1972)
  • Enter the Dragon (1973)

Dolph Lundgren knows the martial arts:

  • Boxing
  • Fencing
  • Kali (eskrima)
  • Judo
  • Tai chi
  • Taekwondo
  • Wing chun
  • Wrestling

Donnie Yen started his martial arts career with tai chi and kung fu (wushu) at a young age. At 16, he joined the Beijing Wushu Team and won various gold medals (unknown amount). 

2. Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan in Fearless Hyena (1979)

Are you wondering who the best martial arts actors of all time are? Donnie Yen has been a lifelong martial artist and he knows the following martial arts:

  • Drunken Master I & II (1978, 1994)
  • Police Story (Franchise 1985 to 2013)
  • Rumble in the Bronze (1995)
  • Rush Hour (Trilogy 1998, 2001, 2007)
  • The Tuxedo (2002)
  • The Karate Kid (2010)

Bruce Lee is the best martial arts actor because he’s simply iconic. He inspired more people than anyone else to start a martial art and he’s also known as the ‘Godfather of MMA’ because of his martial philosophy, jeet kune do (JKD), which promotes using the best techniques from many martial arts and casting away the useless. After winning his fifth championship, Jet Li retired to pursue an acting career. His acting career lasted 38 years, with his first role in The Shaolin Temple in 1982 and his last in Mulan in 2020.

  • Boxing
  • Hapkido – black belt
  • Karate
  • Southern and Northern style kung fu
  • Taekwondo
  • Wing chun

In his movies, Jet Li’s fighting style was very similar to his graceful wushu-taolu performance-like movements and athleticism, with his offense being mostly a mix of long fist and xing yi quan. These focus on speed, power, explosiveness, and direct attacks.

3. Donnie Yen

Photo by May S. Young

Before his movie debut in 1985, Dolph Lundgren was captain of the Swedish kyokushin karate team and was the European Champion in 1980 and 1981. He’s also a five-time Open Champion. Dolph Lundgren is mostly recognized as a boxer because of his historic role as Drago in Rocky IV, but he often uses karate for striking (spinning wheel kicks, side kicks, and roundhouse kicks) and judo for grappling in his other movies.

  • Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)
  • Iron Monkey (1993)
  • Hero (2002)
  • SPL: Sha Po Lang (2005)
  • Flash Point (2007)
  • Ip Man I, II, III, IV (2008, 2010, 2015, 2019

In his movies, Steven Seagal had his own unique style of fighting. He didn’t throw a lot of kicks, but he did use a lot of aikido and judo techniques such as throws, joint manipulation, and bone-breaking joint locks, as well as many other brutal techniques which include eye gouging and the use of knives/weapons. Bruce Lee’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Boxing
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu – purple belt
  • Judo – black belt
  • Kickboxing
  • Muay Thai
  • Taekwondo – 6th-degree black belt
  • Tai chi
  • Wing chun
  • Wrestling
  • Wushu

Scott Adkin’s best/most notable movies are:

4. Jet Li

Photo by Robert Scoble

Here are the 15 best martial arts actors ranked. Michael Jai White started training jiu-jitsu at the age of four and karate at the age of 7, so he’s been a lifelong martial artist. Gordon Liu knows the martial arts:

  • Once Upon a Time in China I & II (1991, 1992)
  • Fist of Legend (1995)
  • Hero (2002)
  • Unleashed (2005)
  • Fearless (2006)

Jason Statham is a British actor and martial artist known for playing the role of a violent martial artist in many of his action/martial arts movies, where he performs the majority of his stunts and fighting scenes.

  • Baguazhang
  • Eagle claw
  • Long fist
  • Tai chi
  • Tumbling fist
  • Wushu-taolu
  • Xing yi quan

Love him or hate him, Steven Seagal is a martial arts acting legend. He made his acting debut in Above the Law (1988) and went on to feature in 57 movies, most of which are martial arts/fighting based. Chuck Norris is an iconic American martial arts actor, starting his career in 1968 and finishing in 2012 spanning 33 movies.

5. Chuck Norris

Jackie Chan knows the following martial arts: Iko Uwais is the youngest of the best martial arts actors of all time, being just 40 years old in 2023. He’s also a stuntman and choreographer, so he’s often involved in creating the fight scenes in his movies. Van Damme put his martial arts to use and was a professional contact kickboxer with a record of 18 wins (100% knockouts) and only 1 loss. Throughout his movies, his style was most representative of his real-life skills as he used mostly kickboxing, karate, and taekwondo – and was mostly a great kicker.

  • The Way of the Dragon (1972)
  • The Octagon (1980)
  • Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
  • Code of Silence (1985)
  • The Delta Force (1986)

Just before his acting career began, Chuck Norris was a consistent karate champion, winning the Sparring Grand Champions (karate) twice and the Professional Middleweight Karate Champion title (1968) for 6 consecutive years. He’s been in over 80 movies and most of them are fighting/martial arts based. Dolph Lundgren’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu – 3rd-degree black belt 
  • Judo – black belt
  • Tang soo do – 9th-degree black belt
  • Shotokan karate – 5th-degree black belt
  • Taekwondo – 8th-degree black belt

Tony Jaa initially practiced and self-taught the techniques he’d seen in movies, before starting muay Thai aged 10. After achieving a BA from the Sarakham College of Physical Education, Tony Jaa spent the next 14 years working as a stuntman, particularly for muay Thai movies.

6. Iko Uwais

Photo by Sachyn Mital

Jackie Chan is also a real-life martial artist. Starting his journey at the Peking Opera School in Beijing at 7 years old, Jackie continued learning martial arts throughout his movie career. Tony Jaa’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Merantau (2009)
  • The Raid I and II (2011, 2014)
  • Headshot (2016)
  • The Night Comes for Us (2018)
  • Triple Threat (2019)

Jason Statham’s most notable/best movies are: Jet Li is a former Wushu champion and martial arts actor. He started his wushu career at the age of 8 and won his first gold at the age of 11. By the age of 18, he’d secured five consecutive golds while on the Beijing Wushu Team. 

7. Tony Jaa

Photo by Colin Geddes

In his movies, Scott Adkins generally plays the villain with an aggressive style of MMA fighting, which mixes in many of the above martial arts he knows, especially flashy taekwondo kicks and powerful kickboxing combinations. And while his martial arts training was limited to others on this list, he’s definitely one the best martial arts actors for the movies he’s been in and the influence and longevity he had.

  • Ong-Bak 1, 2, 3 (2003, 2008, 2010)
  • The Bodyguard (2004)
  • The Protector 1, 2 (2005, 2013)
  • SPL II: A Time for Consequences (2015)
  • Triple Threat (2019)

Tony Jaa is an incredibly talented Thai martial artist, actor, action choreographer, stuntman, and traceur. Tony was inspired from a young age to learn martial arts by his admiration for Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li, and their movies. The best martial arts actors are those who’ve made the most famous and best martial arts movies, are recognized as martial art icons, and have legitimate martial art skills in real life.

  • Judo
  • Muay Thai
  • Muay Boran
  • Taekwondo
  • Wushu

Muay Thai is the art of eight limbs, using knees, elbows, punches, and kicks, while muay Boran also incorporates ground fighting, throws, grappling, weapons fighting, and deadly techniques such as the snapping of bones via joint locks, eye gouges, and pressure point techniques. Within his movies, Jackie Chan’s fighting style is mixed martial arts (MMA), heavily influenced by the Southern and Northern styles of kung fu he first started learning. Scott Adkins knows the martial arts:

8. Sammo Hung

Photo by Sasoriza

Some of Michael Jai White’s best/most notable movies are: Gordon Liu was a pure kung-fu man, which is why he became synonymous with kung-fu movies in the 70s and 80s. His fighting style throughout his movies was various forms of Southern and Northern-style kung fu, and he often used Chinese martial arts weapons. In his movies, he mostly uses karate, judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he uses a great mix of many martial arts.

  • Enter the Dragon (1973)
  • The Prodigal Son (1981)
  • Winners and Sinners (1983)
  • Wheels on Meals (1984)
  • Pedicab Driver (1989)
  • Ip Man 2 (2010)

Chuck Norris also founded American Tang Soo Do and Chuck Norris System, two martial arts which are a blend of judo, shotokan karate, and tang soo do.

  • Aikido
  • Boxing
  • Hapkido
  • Karate
  • Kung fu
  • Taekwondo
  • Wushu

From a young age, Gordon Liu skipped school to learn Southern-style kung fu from Lau Cham. This love for martial arts is what landed Gordon his first martial arts movie role in Shaolin Martial Arts (1974).

9. Jean-Claude Van Damme

Photo by Georges Biard

In this article, we’ll examine the 15 best martial arts actors, their most notable movies, the martial arts they know, and the type of martial arts they use throughout their movies. Donnie Yen is a Chinese martial artist and actor, credited with popularizing wing chun and MMA in Asia through his roughly 77 martial arts movies. His first role was in Shaolin Drunkard (1983) and his most recent was in John Wick 4 (2023) – a career spanning over 4 decades.

  • Bloodsport (1988)
  • Kickboxer (1989)
  • Lionheart (1990)
  • Universal Solider (1992)
  • Sudden Death (1995)

Sammo Hung’s best/most notable movies as an actor are: Bruce Lee was a great actor with a great mind who used his movies to break down racial barriers and pave the way for the success of future martial arts movies. He was absolutely ripped and was skilled in both armed and unarmed combat.

  • Muay Thai
  • Kickboxing
  • Shotokan karate – 2nd Dan Black Belt
  • Taekwondo

The martial arts Jet Li knows are:

10. Gordon Liu

Steven Seagal was an aikido instructor in Japan in his early 20s, and his knack for the role saw him head a dojo owned by his father-in-law before he moved to America to open and start teaching at his own dojo. Jet Li is a real martial artist but not a fighter. He hasn’t fought professionally and learned the above martial arts for the purpose of his early wushu-taolu professional career. The martial arts he learned were then used through his martial arts films.

  • 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
  • Dirty Ho (1979)
  • Clan of the White Lotus (1980)
  • The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)
  • Kill Bill 1, 2 (2003, 2004)

Iko Uwais was discovered by the director, Gareth Evans, who was filming a silat documentary in the school Iko trains. Iko Uwais knows the martial arts: Chuck Norris knows the martial arts: As most of his movies are muay Thai based, Tony Jaa’s fighting style is mostly muay Thai and muay Boran based. Sammo Hung began his martial arts journey at the Peking Opera School in 1961 and now knows the martial arts:

11. Michael Jai White

Photo by June Korea

Steven Seagal knows the martial arts: His main style is kyokushin karate and karate overall, but his most prominent roles were as a boxer and MMA fighter, such as boxer Mike Tyson, a boxer turned mixed martial artist in Undisputed II, and a mixed martial artist in Blood and Bone.

  • Tyson (1995)
  • Undisputed II (2006)
  • Blood and Bone (2009)
  • Black Dynamite (2009)
  • Falcon Rising (2014)
  • Never Back Down 2, 3 (2011, 2016) 
  • Triple Threat (2019)

Jet Li’s most notable/best movies are: Michael Jai White is an American actor and martial artist. He’s known for playing stoic martial arts roles, and his acrobatic ability, fighting skills, and huge muscular physique create a unique blend separating him from the rest.

  • Boxing
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu
  • MMA
  • Okinawan kubudo – black belt
  • Shotokan, kyokushin, and goju-ryu karate – black belt in each
  • Taekwondo – black belt
  • Tang soo do – black belt

Jean-Claude Van Damme’s most notable/best movies are:

12. Scott Adkins

Photo by Eva Rinaldi

In the movies he featured, Sammo Hung’s fighting style was mostly kung fu but he later adopted taekwondo and hapkido and mixed all three. Van Damme joined a Shotokan karate school aged 10 and at 18 he was part of the Belgian Karate Team which won the European Karate Championship in 1979. Also at 18, Van Damme earned his shotokan karate black belt.

  • Undisputed II, III, Boyka (2006, 2010, 2016)
  • Universal Solider: Day of Reckoning (2012)
  • Ninja 1, 2 (2009, 2013)
  • Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019)
  • Triple Threat (2019)
  • Avengement (2019)

Jean-Claude Van Damme knows the following martial arts: He’s also an exceptional acrobat, and Tony Jaa knows the martial arts:

  • Capoeira
  • Jiu-jitsu
  • Judo
  • Karate
  • Kickboxing
  • Krav maga
  • MMA
  • Ninjitsu
  • Taekwondo – black belt
  • Wushu

The martial arts Jason Statham knows are:

13. Steven Seagal

Photo by Gage Skidmore

As well as his martial art philosophy of JKD, Bruce Lee knew the martial arts: Dolph Lundgren is a Swedish actor and martial artist. Dolph Lundgren started his martial arts training at the age of 15 with judo. After 6 months he switched to goju-ryu karate, and after another 6 he switched to kyokushin karate which is where he committed himself.

  • Above the Law (1988)
  • Hard to Kill (1990)
  • Out for Justice (1991)
  • On Deadly Ground (1994)
  • Under Siege 1, 2 (1992, 1995)

Iko Uwais’ most notable/best movies are: Jackie Chan’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Aikido – 7th-dan black belt in aikido
  • Judo – black belt
  • Kendo – black belt
  • Shito-Ryu karate – black belt

Within his movies, Jason Statham’s fighting style is mixed martial arts with a heavy influence from kyokushin karate – an aggressive style featuring close-range fighting, head kicks, and direct punches.

14. Jason Statham

Photo by Cuddles98

With lifelong practice and skill in so many martial arts, Donnie Yen considers himself a mixed martial artist (MMA). Throughout his movies, his fighting style is wing chun and mostly MMA because of the huge variety displayed. Gordin Liu is an iconic Chinese kung fu martial arts actor who was in many movies during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. He’s been in over 130 movies, with the majority being martial arts based.

  • Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
  • Transporter I, II, III (2002, 2005, 2008)
  • Crank I, II (2006, 2009)
  • The Mechanic I, II (2011, 2016)

Another megastar, Jackie Chan is among the best martial arts actors of all time. He performs many of his own stunts and has been and starred in over 100 martial arts movies over the past 50 years since his first appearance in the 1972 movie, Fist of Fury – an average of two movies a year.

  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu – purple belt
  • Karate
  • Kickboxing
  • Taekwondo
  • Wing chun

Some of his best/most notable movies are:

15. Dolph Lundgren

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Donnie Yen’s most notable/best movies are: With the up-close nature of many of his fighting scenes, his fighting style also incorporates kung fu.

  • Rocky IV (1985)
  • Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)
  • Universal Solider (1992)
  • Men of War (1994)
  • Red Scorpion (1988)
  • The Expendables 1, 2, 3, 4 (2010, 2012, 2014, 2023)

He started as a child actor and has featured, co-starred, and starred in around 100 movies, and has been involved in 265 movies including the ones he’s produced, directed, and choreographed. No one else in the martial arts industry comes close to his involvement in so many movies. Within his movies, while mixed martial arts (MMA) was his overall fighting style, he was most heavily influenced by wing chun and later in his career by taekwondo for his flashy kicking techniques.

  • Goju-Ryu karate – black belt
  • Kyokushin karate – 4th-dan black belt 
  • Judo
  • Taekwondo

Uwais is a master of silat and was an Indonesian national champion in 2005. Iko Uwais mostly has a silat fighting style in his movies, which focuses on speedy hand attacks, great footwork for evasion, throws, and pressure point strikes – all with the purpose of ending a fight as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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