Celebrities Who Have Trained in Martial Arts and How It Has Helped Them
In the last 60 years, martial arts has exploded in popularity and availability. What used to be either a way of life to devote one’s self to or a closely guarded military secret has become popular recreation for millions of people worldwide. Martial arts levels the playing field for all participants: no matter your background, you will always find the challenge of a lifetime in pursuit of excellence. Perhaps this is the reason so many celebrities are practitioners of martial arts. The physically demanding training and mentally taxing focus required appeals to many of Hollywood’s best and brightest, giving them the edge they need to be at the top of their game. Here are a few celebrities who have devoted themselves to learn the warrior’s way.
Robert Downey Jr.
Perhaps the most famous celebrity to have trained in martial arts is Robert Downey Jr. A fastidious practitioner of Wing Chung—the style Bruce Lee trained in before developing his own—Downey Jr. trains up to six times a week with his teacher Eric Oram. He has discussed his martial arts passion in many interviews, stating, “I can’t tell you how much martial arts has impacted my ability to stay focused.” In addition, teacher Oram recounts Robert Downey Jr.’s battle with substance addiction and the role martial arts had in his recovery. According to some who worked with Downey Jr. in rehab, he was a man who was a “hopeless addict” who never wanted to change, but after beginning his training with Oram, he used the practice to “rewire his mind and body.” Oram stated, “It’s difficult to recognize the Robert that stepped into my academy 12 years ago.” Wing Chung has helped the actor in his career as well, forming some of the basic moves he used in his roles as Sherlock Holmes.
Ed O’Neill, famous for his roles as a father figure in the movie Dutch as well as the father in Married with Kids and Modern Family, is a steadfast practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has trained in the grapple-style art for 26 years, ever since he was 40 years old, learning from some of the best and the brightest, the Gracies. Not only has it kept him in great shape—he still rolls with training partners regularly—but it has also taught him self-control and discipline. Accordingto O’Neill, when he first began training it took a while to adjust to the grappling aspect of the art.He said, “My problem in Jiu-Jitsu when I started was trying to change my thinking. Because my thinking was, ‘Oh, there’s his chin right here, I could just blast him.” Training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu forced O’Neill to slow down and control his movements, using moves and countermoves in a thinking man’s martial art.
Forest Whitaker may not fit the action hero description in his movies, but off-screen he is a formidable karate fighting force. Earning his black belt in the art, Whitaker uses his martial arts training as a great way to stay in shape and as a discipline-building exercise. This discipline has bled over into all aspects of his life. Whitaker has stated, “I think I’ve really learned my first understanding of energy and projection from martial arts.” This has helped him focus in his career and in his relationships as well.
Guy Ritchie, British director of classic films such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch and onetime husband of Madonna, has practiced martial arts throughout his life. When he was younger, he trained in karate, which kept him grounded. Ritchie stated, “Between the ages of18 and 22, karate was the only thing that I turned to religiously. It’s where I got discipline from. Being screamed at and realizing that the only thing you have to fight against is how much of a [wuss] you are. Now I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu five days a week. It’s like chess for wrestlers. And also, it’s good for old men, because you don’t get your nose pressed in or your joints snapped.” Ritchie says his martial arts training has given him wisdom. He used to hang with somewhat unsavory characters, even brawling every now and then, but since then he has learned that brawling is silly. Channeling his energy into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has helped him come to that conclusion.
Courteney Cox and Jennifer Anniston
Television show Friends star Courteney Cox is a long-time practitioner of karate. She trains several times a week, feeling empowered by the practice and loving the strength that it gives her. Initially desiring to train for the benefit of self-defense, Cox became hooked and has been an avid martial artist ever since. She even shared her passion with friend and costar Jennifer Aniston, who now practices martial arts with her husband. Jennifer Aniston moved on to a different form of martial arts known as Budokon, which she enjoys for its cardio and upper body strength benefits.
Known for his hefty husband role in television’s King of Queens, actor Kevin James recently took up Mixed Martial Arts as a project for his movie Here Comes the Boom, where he is a MMA fighter. James trained hard for his role, desiring to be as convincing as possible as well as to get into the character and mindset of his persona. While training, James discovered he really enjoyed training in Mixed Martial Arts—and training with the best of the best. James trained with top MMA fighters, who he says probably took it easy on him but enabled him to give one hundred percent in everything he did. “When we went through the training process, I got in shape,” James said. “I had 14 months of changing my diet, dedicating myself.” Anyone comparing Kevin James’ roles in King of Queens and Paul Blart: Mall Cop with his character in Here Comes the Boom will definitely be able to see the physical benefits training in martial arts had on James.
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