Biography and Profile of Tony Jaa

Tony Jaa
Jason LaVeris / Contributor

Tony Jaa is not just a martial arts movie actor. The man is also a very impressive martial artist with a ton of credentials. Check out his story below.

Tony Jaa's Birthday and Early Life

Tony Jaa was born Panom Yeerum on February 5, 1976, in Surin province, Isaan, Thailand. Later, he changed his name to Tatchakorn Yeerum, though he is better known by his nicknames Tony Jaa in the west and Jaa Panom in Thailand.

Martial Arts Background

Jaa's father was a Muay Thai boxer, which prompted his first lessons by the age of 10 in the art. The arts became so important to him that at one point he threatened to kill himself if his father did not take him to Khon Kaen to practice martial arts with Panna Rithikrai, a martial arts stunt choreographer. By the age of 15, Panna became his martial arts master.

When Jaa turned 21, Panna advised him to begin studying at the University of Mahamarakam (Maha Sarakhma Physical Education College). Mahamarakam specializes in sports sciences, which allowed Jaa to be introduced to other styles (judo, aikido, Tae Kwon Do).

Tony Jaa's Athletic Background

While at the National Physical Education College, Jaa was highly successful at the long jump, high jump, gymnastics, and sword-fighting. In fact, he won their version of gold medals in these events, in some cases taking home such accolades home in consecutive years.

In other words, Jaa was successful in many athletic endeavors, not just the arts.

Early Film Career

Jaa started his film career as a stuntman on Panna's team, "Muay Thai Stunt." He appeared in several films as such. One of his early breakthroughs came as a double for Sammo Hung during a commercial for an energy drink, which required him to grab onto an elephant's tusks and somersault onto its back.

After a significant amount of training in Muay Boran, a precursor to Muay Thai, Panna and Jaa put together a short film concerning it with Grandmaster Mark Harris's assistance that caught the eye of producer-director Prachya Pinkaew.

This led to Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior in 2003, Jaa's breakthrough leading role.

Ong Bak - Thai Warrior

Jaa's breakthrough role came as a young martial artist tasked with the job of going to the city and finding a sacred statue that was stolen. Along the way, he took on various members of the underworld to retrieve it. In sum, his ability to do the death-defying stunts normally reserved for special effects, helped Jaa make a big name for himself.

More On Jaa's Film Career

Jaa's second film, Tom Yum Goong, was released in Asia in August 2005 and was renamed The Protector in the U.S. the following year. Jaa has also furthered the Ong Bak series as both an actor and director.

Personal Life

Jaa is a Buddhist who goes to temple every day. He has three siblings, two girls and one boy. He is the third child of the family. On May 28, 2010, he literally became a Buddhist monk. Jaa did so at a Buddhist temple in Surin, Thailand.  

3 Things You May Not Know About Tony Jaa

  1. Jaa has two pet elephants.
  2. It is said that he fought five times in the ring during Muay Thai training camp and won all five times.
  3. He owns the record for the biggest Muay Thai training session, with 1,000 people in attendance (Hong Kong, July 2005).