famous martial artists

11 Most Famous Martial Artists in Hollywood

Martial arts films are a famous subgenre of modern action films that rely heavily on the philosophies of different martial arts.

They’re really popular in Asian cinematography, with the Chinese market having a big impact on martial arts films in the world. [1]

But along with them, America’s Hollywood also has its fair share of martial arts films, and a lot of these movies made stars out of certain actors and actresses.

In this article, I am going to bring you a list of the most famous martial artists in Hollywood so enjoy the list and check out these great fighters, who were lucky enough to be exactly that, because their acting skills are… poor (at best)!

The list is ordered alphabetically, not by the popularity rank.

Jackie Chan

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: April 7, 1954
Martial arts practiced: Kung fu, Hapkido, Judo
Famous roles: Enter the Dragon (1973), Rush Hour trilogy (1998 – 2007), Kung Fu Panda franchise (2008 – 2016)

Chan Kong-sang (Chinese: 陳港生), known professionally as Jackie Chan, is a Hong Kong martial artist, actor, film director, producer, stuntman, and singer.

He is known in the cinematic world for his acrobatic fighting style, comic timing, use of improvised weapons, and innovative stunts, which he typically performs himself.

He has trained in Wushu or Kung Fu and Hapkido and has been acting since the 1960s, appearing in over 150 films.

Chan is one of the most recognizable and influential cinematic personalities in the world, gaining a widespread following in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, and has received stars on the Hong Kong Avenue of Stars and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

He has been referenced in various pop songs, cartoons, and video games.

He is an operatically trained vocalist and is also a Cantopop and Mandopop star, having released a number of albums and sung many of the theme songs for the films in which he has starred.

He is also a globally known philanthropist and has been named as one of the top 10 most charitable celebrities by Forbes magazine.

Brandon Lee

11 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: February 1, 1965
Death: March 31, 1993
Martial arts practiced: Kung fu (Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Wushu), Muay Thai
Famous roles: Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), The Crow (1994)

Brandon Bruce Lee was an American actor and martial artist. He was the only son of martial artist and film star Bruce Lee.

While his father was a major leading man in martial arts films, Brandon would visit his father’s sets, which inspired him to become an actor.

Lee was 8 years old when his father died, becoming an iconic figure of both martial arts and martial arts films. Lee pursued his goal of being an actor.

Although he wanted to escape his father’s image and become a dramatic actor, he hoped that acting in action films would eventually lead him to other types of roles.

After doing local theatre for a while, Lee made his screen debut opposite David Carradine in the 1986 ABC’s television film Kung Fu: The Movie.

In 1992, he landed his most notable role as Eric Draven in Alex Proyas’s The Crow (1994), based on the comic book of the same name, which would be his final film.

On March 31, 1993, only a few days away from completing the film, Lee was accidentally killed after being shot on the set by a prop gun.

Later, production resumed with the blessing of Lee’s family. With very few scenes to film, The Crow was completed by re-writing the script, using early CGI technology and stunt doubles.

It was generally well reviewed and considered to demonstrate Lee’s dramatic abilities. It was a commercial success and is now considered a cult classic.

Many saw parallels between Lee and his father comparing their careers as action film leading men who died young, prior to the release of their breakthrough film.

Bruce Lee

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: November 27, 1940
Death: July 20, 1973
Martial arts practiced: Kung fu (Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun), hybrid martial arts
Famous roles: The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973)

Lee Jun-fan (Chinese: 李振藩), known professionally as Bruce Lee (Chinese: 李小龍), was a Chinese American actor, director, martial artist, martial arts instructor, and philosopher. 

He was the founder of Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid martial arts philosophy drawing from different combat disciplines that is often credited with paving the way for modern mixed martial arts (MMA)

Lee is considered by commentators, critics, media, and other martial artists to be the most influential martial artist of all time and a pop culture icon of the 20th century, who bridged the gap between East and West. 

The son of Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-chuen, Lee was born in the Chinatown area of San Francisco, California, to parents from Hong Kong, and was raised with his family in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

He was introduced to the film industry by his father and appeared in several films as a child actor.

Lee moved to the United States at the age of 18 to receive his higher education at the University of Washington in Seattle, and it was during this time that he began teaching martial arts.

He is noted for his roles in five feature-length martial arts films in the early 1970s. 

Lee became an iconic figure known throughout the world.

He trained in the art of Wing Chun and later combined his other influences from various sources into the spirit of his personal martial arts philosophy, which he dubbed Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist).

Lee died on July 20, 1973 at the age of 32. 

Jet Li

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: April 26, 1963
Martial arts practiced: Kung fu (Wushu)
Famous roles: Fist of Legend (1994), Romeo Must Die (2000), Hero (2002), The Expendables series (2010 – 2014) 

Li Lianjie (courtesy name Yangzhong), better known by his stage name Jet Li, is a Chinese film actor, film producer, martial artist, and retired Wushu champion who was born in Beijing.

He is a naturalized Singaporean citizen. 

After three years of training with acclaimed Wushu teacher Wu Bin, Li won his first national championship for the Beijing Wushu Team.

After retiring from competitive Wushu at age 19, he went on to win great acclaim in China as an actor, making his debut with the film Shaolin Temple (1982).

He went on to star in many critically acclaimed martial arts epic films.

Chuck Norris

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: March 10, 1940
Martial arts practiced: Chun kuk do, Karate, Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Judo
Famous roles: Way of the Dragon (1972), Walker, Texas Ranger (1993 – 2001)

Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris is an American martial artist, actor, film producer and screenwriter.

After serving in the United States Air Force, Norris won many martial arts championships and later founded his own discipline, Chun Kuk Do.

Norris is a black belt in Tang Soo Do, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Judo. 

Shortly after, in Hollywood, Norris trained celebrities in martial arts.

Norris went on to appear in a minor role in the spy film The Wrecking Crew (1969). A friend and fellow actor Bruce Lee invited him to play one of the main villains in Way of the Dragon (1972).

While Norris continued acting, friend and student Steve McQueen suggested to him to take it seriously.

Norris took the starring role in the action film Breaker! Breaker! (1977) which turned a profit.

His second lead Good Guys Wear Black (1978) became a hit, and Norris became a popular action film star.

Throughout his film and TV career, Norris diversified from his regular endeavors.

He is a noted writer, having penned books on martial arts, exercise, philosophy, politics, Christianity, western novels, and biography.

Cynthia Rothrock

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: March 8, 1957
Martial arts practiced: Tang Soo Do, Taekwondo, Karate, Kung fu (Wushu, etc.)
Famous roles: Righting Wrongs (1986), The Inspector Wears Skirts (1988), China O’Brien and China O’Brien II (1990), 

Cynthia Ann Christine Rothrock is an American martial artist and actress in martial arts films.

Rothrock holds black belt rankings in seven styles of martial arts and was a high-level competitor in martial arts before becoming an actress.

Steven Seagal

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: April 10, 1952
Martial arts practiced: Aikido, Judo, Karate, Kendo
Famous roles: Under Siege (1992), The Patriot (1998)

Steven Frederic Seagal is an American actor, producer, screenwriter, martial artist, and musician who holds American, Serbian, and Russian citizenship. Seagal was born in Lansing, Michigan.

A 7th-dan black belt in aikido, he began his adult life as a martial arts instructor in Japan, becoming the first foreigner to operate an aikido dojo in the country. 

He later moved to Los Angeles, California, where he had the same profession.

In 1988, Seagal made his acting debut in Above the Law. By 1991, he had starred in four successful films. 

Seagal is a guitarist and has released two studio albums. In addition, Seagal is a known environmentalist, animal rights activist, and supporter of 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. 

He is known for his outspoken political views and support of Vladimir Putin, to whom he once referred as “one of the great living world leaders”. 

Jean-Claude Van Damme

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: October 18, 1960
Martial arts practiced: Karate, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo
Famous roles: Kickboxer (1989), Lionheart (1990), Death Warrant (1990), Double Impact (1991), Universal Soldier (1992), Timecop (1994)

Jean-Claude Camille François van Varenberg, known professionally as Jean-Claude van Damme and as JCVD, is a Belgian actor and retired martial artist best known for his martial arts action films.

His most popular projects include Bloodsport (1988), Cyborg (1989), Kickboxer (1989), Lionheart (1990), Death Warrant (1990), Double Impact (1991), Universal Soldier (1992), Nowhere to Run (1993), Hard Target (1993), Timecop (1994), Street Fighter (1994), Sudden Death (1995), The Quest (1996), Maximum Risk (1996), JCVD (2008), Jean-Claude van Johnson (2016–2017 series) and The Bouncer (2018).

Michael Jai White

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: November 10, 1967
Martial arts practiced: Karate, Jujutsu
Famous roles: Spawn (1997), Tyson (1995), Black Dynamite (2009)

Michael Richard Jai White (born November 10, 1967) is an American actor, martial artist, and director.

He is one of the first African Americans to portray a major comic book superhero in a major motion picture, having starred as Al Simmons, the protagonist in the 1997 film Spawn

White appeared as Marcus Williams in the Tyler Perry films Why Did I Get Married? and Why Did I Get Married Too?, and starred as the character on the TBS/OWN comedy-drama television series Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse.

White portrayed Jax Briggs in Mortal Kombat: Legacy and the Cyborg Seth in Universal Soldier: The Return. He portrayed boxer Mike Tyson in the 1995 HBO television movie Tyson.

He also played the title role in the blaxploitation parody film Black Dynamite, as well as the animated series of the same name.

Donnie Yen

10 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: July 27, 1963
Martial arts practiced: Jeet Kune Do, Boxing. Kickboxing. Muay Thai. Taekwondo. Hapkido. Judo. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kung fu (Wing Chun, Tai Chi, Hung Ga, Sanda), Karate, Wrestling
Famous roles: Ip Man series (2008 – 2019), Rogue One: A Star Wars (2016)

Donnie Yen Ji-dan (Chinese: 甄子丹) is a Hong Kong actor, martial artist, film director, producer, action choreographer, stuntman and multiple-time world wushu tournament champion.

Yen is one of Hong Kong’s top action stars. 

Yen has displayed skill in an array of martial arts, being well-versed in Tai Chi, boxing, kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Taekwondo, Karate, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Wing Chun, and Wushu.

One of the most popular film stars in Asia of the early 2000s, Yen is consistently one of the highest-paid actors in Asia.

Yen is credited by many for contributing to the popularisation of Wing Chun in China. 

He played Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man in the 2008 film Ip Man, which was a box office success.

This has led to an increase in the number of people taking up Wing Chun, leading to hundreds of new Wing Chun schools being opened up in mainland China and other parts of Asia.

He has also gained international recognition for playing Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and Xiang in xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017).

Michelle Yeoh

11 Best Martial Artists in Hollywood

Birth: August 6, 1962
Martial arts practiced: Kung fu
Famous roles: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Reign of Assassins (2010), The Lady (2011), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016), Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng is a Malaysian actress who rose to fame in 1990s Hong Kong action films and is best known internationally for her roles in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), along with recent international English films and series.

She has appeared in many English, Mandarin and Cantonese language films.

Her other works include Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Reign of Assassins (2010), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016), Star Trek: Discovery (2017), and The Lady (2011), in which she portrayed Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 2018, she starred in the American romantic comedy-drama film, Crazy Rich Asians.

She has also co-starred in the 2018 film Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy and the 2019 film Last Christmas.

And… we’ve come to the end of the the list!

Also, when it comes to martial arts and Hollywood, check out my list of best martial arts movies of all time.

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