List of Martial Arts Movie Actors Worth Knowing

Who didn't love watching Chuck Norris defeat entire armies of Vietnamese soldiers back in the day? What guy out there didn't get a little pumped when Jet Li proved to be a worthy adversary against both Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon 4?

Not to mention those Jean Claude Van Damme spinning 360-degree maneuvers, ridiculous high kicks, etc. Yep, martial arts movie actors are a different breed. You simply know that when any of the soon-to-be-mentioned actors are in a flick, that means the edge of your seat action and fight scenes.

Here is a list of some of the more popular martial arts movie actors for your reading pleasure.

Jackie Chan

The Karate Kid Red Carpet Arrivals
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Chan's parents didn't have a lot of money and therefore enrolled him in the Chinese Opera Institute at the age of seven in order to give him a better life. There he learned many of the high-flying martial arts driven stunts he'd come to be known for.

By the time he made his American film debut in Rumble in the Bronx in 1995, his parent's dream of a better life for their son had come true. However, Chan's starring role alongside Chris Tucker in Rush Hour truly brought an already amazing film career in the east to new heights in the west.

Tony Jaa

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Jaa is different than most of the martial arts movie actors on this list because of his base art. You see, Jaa comes from a Muay Thai/Muay Boran background, which is a stark contrast from the kung fu/karate/Tae Kwon Do backgrounds you'll see from most action stars. 

Regardless, his breakthrough role came in Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior in 2003. The former stuntman continues to amaze fans with his ability to pull off things on camera that most only dream of.

Bruce Lee

On the set of 'Enter the Dragon'
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Lee’s influence on martial arts is still quite evident years after his death via the Jeet Kune Do martial arts style that he formalized. His martial arts films including Fists of Fury, The Chinese Connection, and Way of the Dragon are also very popular beyond his death. Lee was simply one of the most influential martial arts movie actors ever.

Jet Li

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Li is a former martial arts champion that claimed 15 gold medals at Chinese wushu championships. He made his American film debut in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), where his amazing speed and fluent martial arts moves thrilled fans everywhere. The fact is, Li doesn't tend to talk much in his American movies. Then again, he doesn't have to.

Chuck Norris

On the set of 'Meng Long Guo Jiang'
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Norris began his martial arts training in Tang Soo Do, a Korean style, and eventually became a karate champion. American movie audiences first truly took notice of him when he appeared as Bruce Lee's enemy in Way of the Dragon. However, it was his starring role in the Missing in Action series of movies that compelled his popularity to new heights.

Steven Seagal

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Seagal is an aikido black belt that is considered to be the first foreigner to operate a dojo in Japan. He made his acting debut in the 1988 film Above the Law and appeared in several box office hits from there on. Seagal is somewhat unique as a martial arts movie actor in that his martial arts style, aikido, does not stress strikes as much as throws and joint locks.

Jean Claude Van Damme

Actor Jean-Claude Van Damme at Gym
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Van Damme is a Shotokan karate black belt with amazing flexibility. He achieved his first starring role in the movie Bloodsport in 1988, a film that captured the imaginations of martial arts movie fans everywhere. Van Damme's spinning kicks and splits serve as his defining moves on the screen.

Donnie Yen

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Yen grew up surrounded by the martial arts, as his mother is a grandmaster that taught him both wushu and tai chi.  Beyond his martial arts movie acting credits, Yen is also an accomplished choreographer and director.