The exact origins of martial arts are difficult to trace. Some of the earliest mentions of this sort of advanced fighting appear in Egyptian recordings dating all the way back to 4000 B.C. These consist of murals and hieroglyphs that outline boxing activities and wrestling techniques.
Over time, nearly every culture has developed sophisticated methods for defeating enemies in bare fisted or hand-held weapon-based combat. Some thrived and spread throughout the world, particularly techniques developed in China, Korea and Japan.
In recent times, movies like Mortal Kombat and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon opened Hollywood’s eyes to the selling power and beauty of martial arts, heavily inspired by Eastern methods of self-defense. Since then, movie characters proficient in kung-fu are everywhere, and sports like MMA have portrayed skilled fighters as heros to audiences around the world.
Some surprising martial arts are celebrities who became interested in MMA, especially Jiu-Jitsu. Some of the people in this list of shocking celebrity martial artists are seasoned veterans with decades of experience and deadly techniques, while others have been recently inspired by the rise of MMA in North America. Many don’t look the part of a practicing martial artist while others have developed skills beyond anyone’s expectations.
Of course, considering the aggressive nature of some fans, media outlets and paparazzi, the biggest surprise might be that not all celebs learn advanced fighting skills…
15. Ed O’Neill
Better known as the sarcastic father Jay Pritchett in Modern Family or couch potato dad Al Bundy in Married with Children, Ed O’Neill‘s television credits certainly wouldn’t lead us to believe that he’s involved in the martial arts.
What audiences don’t see are the decades of practice that he’s dedicated to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, for which he’s earned a black belt.
14. Guy Ritchie
He made his name directing great crime films such as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but truly became a name in the gossip pages when he married Madonna. Turns out that badboy Ritchie also practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has dedicated enough time to the pursuit to earn a brown belt.
Rumor has it he attempted to make a movie about Jiu-Jitsu, but instead accidentally filmed Swept Away, a romantic comedy flop starring his now ex-wife.
Pop culture icon Madonna is well known for her multiple number one singles, risqué performances, her philanthropy… And a few movies as well. She decided to start training during the early 2000s when her husband at the time, Guy Ritchie, suggested she give karate a shot as part of her legendary fitness and body maintenance routines.
12. Courtney Cox
Courtney Cox is an avid practitioner of Budokan for fitness and self-defense. It’s a blend of Jiu-Jitsu grappling, yoga and a variety of martial arts and street striking techniques. Her mega fame came from her role as Monica in Friends, one of the most successful sitcoms in the history of television.
Her enthusiasm for this martial art lead Cox to recruit Jennifer Aniston into the practice as well as her husband at the time, David Arquette.
11. James Caan
Actor James Caan has a film and television career that’s spanned over five decades, including playing Sonny Corleone in the first two Godfather movies. His martial art of choice has been Gosoku Ryu Karate, earning him the title of Soke Dai after training for more than 30 years.
The title of Soke Dai is bestowed upon the second in command for earning honor within the dojo.
10. Mick Jagger
As frontman and one of the lead songwriters for the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger is famous for millions in album sales, world tours and rock star living. However, he trained in the art of Judo under George Kerr.
Kerr was one of Britain’s greatest and one of the few Western practitioners to reach the level of 9th Dan. It’s been said that some of Mick’s wackier dance moves were inspired by Kerr’s judo.
9. Kevin James
Kevin James is typecast as an oafish comic foil in television and movie productions. Despite this, James is in fact an avid participant in MMA, boasting a surprisingly powerful frame.
His love of this type of fighting led to his becoming involved in Here Comes the Boom, where he played both a teacher and an MMA fighter.
8. Prince Albert of Monaco
His Serene Highness, the Sovereign Prince Albert the II, holds the titles of Grand Cross of the Order of Saint-Charles, Grand Cross of the Order of Grimaldi and Colonel of the Carabineers. Recently, he took over as Regent in accordance to Monaco’s Statutes of the Sovereign Family.
Along with all this, he defends his kingdom through a black belt in Judo… And paid guards, of course.
7. Evan Rachel Wood
A black belt holder in the art of taekwondo, Evan Rachel Wood is another Hollywood star with a filmography and look that don’t suggest deadly physical capabilities.
She’s appeared in movies such as The Ides of March and The Wrestler, along with popular television series such as True Blood, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The West Wing and Touched by an Angel.
6. Dave Mustaine
Heavy metal legend Dave Mustaine is the lead vocalist for the thrash outfit Megadeth as well as the first lead guitarist for Metallica before he was thrown out of the group. As if his death howls and violent guitar solos weren’t enough, Mustaine holds two black belts, one in taekwondo and another for karate. He’s been practicing a variety of martial arts since the age of 12 and became an ambassador to the World Taekwondo Federation in 2007.
5. Phil Mickelson
This golfer was recently caught up in an SEC and FBI investigation. Mickelson’s trading activities in Clorox were probed, along with two other pro golfers. The athlete probably worked through a lot of this stress when practicing his advanced taekwondo and kung-fu skills.
4. Jim Carrey
The physical talents of Jim Carrey have lead him to superstardom. His comedic values lies largely in his ability to twist his body and face in endless bizarre ways, although he has showcased his serious side to great effect on a few occasions.
He recently decided to use his physical prowess to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If the high-kicks and high jinx of his characters like Ace Ventura and a possessed Stanley Ipkiss are anything to go by, we bet he’ll be a pro in no time.
3. Barack Obama
When he was young, President Barack Obama practiced taekwondo, eventually earning a green belt for his efforts. He did receive an honorary black belt from the president of South Korea and shows interest in the world of martial arts. Hopefully, he won’t have to break out his skills to get Congress working during the last two years of his presidency.
2. Nicolas Cage
We know him best for his ultra-intense, offbeat performances and odd script selection. But not many of us know that Nicolas Cage actually learns Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Royce Gracie, one of the best MMA fighters the sport has known.
Maybe he’s preparing for a role in a futuristic, MMA-inspired action thriller? Nothing much can surprise us when it comes to Cage.
1. Willie Nelson
He’s an incredibly chilled out country performer who radiates peace and calm. So, it might be surprising to learn that Willie Nelson is a skilled practitioner of taekwondo who can kick you hard enough to send you back to the 70s.
After many years of training, he obtained a black belt in the sport. While he was practicing the ancient Eastern art, he was writing some of the biggest country hits like “On the Road Again” and “Crazy”.