Celebrity Students of Karate
by Staff Writer, 2019-06-10
Karate might be a martial art for the people, but it’s also earned a devoted following among the A-list crowd. Although some celebrities took up fighting for a film role, many pursued the practice for their own personal development and still sing its praises. Let’s take a look at the star-studded list of karateka from Tinseltown, Silicon Valley, and beyond.
Jason Statham, the Brit with a back kick
This English actor has pulled off some crazy on-screen stunts over the years (he does his own), and we might have karate to thank for helping him prepare. In addition to studying karate, Statham has also trained in Wing Chun Kung Fu and kickboxing. When on the press tour for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he occasionally sparred with director, Guy Ritchie, who is a black belt himself. Curious about how Statham ups his martial arts game? There are plenty of training clips online that may inspire you to hit the gym immediately (or just break into a cold sweat at home). Now if you see him in person, you can break the ice with a topic besides The Transporter or Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, which comes to theaters this summer.
Mariska Hargitay: SVU by day, Shotokan by night
She’s known for pulling no punches as NYPD Lieutenant Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, but in real life, Hargitay has some crime-stopping moves as well. She began studying Shotokan karate in the 90s, and ultimately earned a 1st degree black belt. Hargitay has even said of karate, “It exercises your discipline in a way I haven’t found in other sports.” We hear you, Mariska— the benefits of karate go far beyond the fight techniques and strength. She is also a high-profile advocate for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and abuse off-camera, so the line between Hargitay, a long-time fan favorite, and her on-screen character is thinner than you might think.
Sean Connery, International Man of Martial Arts
The original James Bond was a longtime practitioner of karate, earning a first degree black belt in Kyokushin. Rumor has it that he angrily broke his instructor’s wrist after the instructor broke his. However, to separate fact from fiction, his instructor, the young Steven Seagal, was actually teaching him aikido in preparation for 1983’s Never Say Never Again. It turns out Seagal really did break his wrist, but Connery didn’t realize it until years later.
Madonna gets her black belt
The notoriously fit singer took up karate thanks to encouragement from her then-husband, Guy Ritchie. Her daughter, Lourdes also took classes, so it was a full family affair. Madonna trained in Shotokan Karate, eventually nabbing herself a black belt. Between dance, barre, yoga, boxing, and martial arts, this talented entertainer has plenty of ways to keep herself in tip-top shape.
Elon Musk: from bullied to better than you (at everything)
The tech entrepreneur known for his visionary companies like Tesla and SpaceX has a little-known background in karate. Musk has shared that as the youngest and smallest kid in his class, he was relentlessly bullied from grade school through high school. However, he learned how to defend himself in high school by training in karate, judo, and wrestling. By 16, the significantly taller and better trained Musk no longer had an issue with those bullies. For multiple reasons, we all know who got the last laugh there.
Christian Slater gets his street cred from karate
Slater rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s for iconic film roles like Heathers. He has since received acclaim for his performance not only on the silver screen, but also on USA’s Mr. Robot. The actor has studied kempo karate, earning himself a green belt with a brown stripe. Slater said in a Washington Post interview, “I was playing tough guys and it was embarrassing that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. So I thought I’d pick up some tips. I worked my way up through the ranks.” He’s also shared that karate helped him overcome a lifelong feeling of inadequacy due to his short stature.
David Lee Roth: legitimate martial arts master
Van Halen’s frontman is famous for his on-stage antics combining kicks, split jumps, and other high-flying moves, but there’s more discipline behind all of those tricks than you might think. Diamond Dave has been studying martial arts since he was 12 (his first martial arts lesson was at a Buddhist temple in his hometown of Pasadena), and he grew up next door to a neighbor who taught kendo. Roth has earned belts in Kung Fu, Jeet Kune Do, and Karate, and has practiced sword-fighting for decades. So what we’re basically saying is, he’s pretty hardcore. If all this information is music to your ears, please enjoy the fan-made Ultimate David Lee Roth Karate Kick Compilation.
D’Brickashaw Ferguson: when the NFL is not enough
The former offensive tackle of the New York Jets was a huge asset on the field for his 10-year career, making 160 consecutive starts and never missing a game. We’re guessing that Ferguson naturally had plenty of discipline, but his extensive training in martial arts didn’t hurt, which the three-time Pro Bowler has said himself. He earned a black belt in Shotokan karate and a brown belt in taekwondo, which at 6’6” and 315 pounds, is quite an impressive accomplishment. His father, who is a karate instructor, must be proud.
Devon Aoki: from modeling to Mae geri
Moving away from the NFL and onto the catwalk, Devon Aoki is a supermodel and actress who has appeared in ad campaigns for Chanel, YSL, L’Oreal, and many more. Her film credits include 2 Fast 2 Furious and Sin City. She trained in American Hapkido Karate, ultimately earning a black belt, and also received an honorary black belt from the World Tukong Martial Arts Federation. Aoki may have some natural ability for the fighting arts from her father, who was an Olympic wrestler.
Elvis a.k.a. Mr. Tiger
The King was a vocal advocate of karate since discovering it during his time in the military in the late 1950s. He trained under many different masters, including Tetsugio Murakami, who helped pioneer Shotokan in Europe, and Ed Parker, the Father of American Kenpo karate. Elvis received his black belt in 1960, and subsequently trained under Master Kang Rhee in Memphis in the 70s, reaching a 7th degree black belt during that time and beginning to teach. He was known among the other students as Mr. Tiger. On September 16, 1974, Master Kang Rhee presented him with his 8th degree black belt in a private ceremony. This was the highest rank that he reached before his death in 1977. Long live the King! Oss!