In Part 1, I presented some background information on some of the better-
known martial art stars -- Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris and Jet Li -- in an attempt to answer some frequently asked questions I hear about martial art movie and television stars: Are they for real?
What kind of martial arts do they do?
Here's a few more:
* Steven Seagal: From what I have gathered from reading and from conversations, people either think of this aikido master (7th degree black belt) as an impressive martial artist or a joke. I tend to take the middle ground. Videos of him doing demonstrations and his verifiable lineage indicate to me that Seagal is indeed "the real thing." On the other hand, he certainly takes himself too seriously despite having a running style remarkably similar to Phoebe on "Friends."
"Above the Law" (1988), "Hard to Kill" (1990), "Marked for Death" (1990), "Out for Justice" (1991) and "Under Siege" (1992) all had memorable fight choreography.
Beginning with "On Deadly Ground" (1994), however, the focus of his movies shifted from martial arts to environmentalism and other issues. And if box office receipts and video sales are any indication, the masses aren't nearly as interested in hearing his sermons as they were watching his martial arts.
* Jean Claude Van Damme: Known for his splits and French accent, the "Muscles from Brussels" got his big break in the 1988 movie "Bloodsport."
He continued to make martial art films through the '90s but his career soon sputtered as his focus shifted from martial arts to drama.
Van Damme reportedly started martial arts at age 10 in Shotokan karate. He achieved the rank of black belt and reportedly won the European Professional Karate Association's middleweight championship.
He was also active in ballet and bodybuilding.
His martial arts background appears to be legitimate but his kicks look like they have more ballet influence than Shotokan.
* David Carradine: Carradine is best known to people over 40 for his role as Kwai Chang Caine in the '70s television series "Kung Fu" -- a show that was conceived and pitched by Bruce Lee -- and to people under 40 for his role as Bill in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies.
Before playing the role of the wandering Shaolin monk in "Kung Fu," Carradine had no knowledge of or training in the martial arts.
Over the years, however, he has become an avid practitioner of Tai Chi, a slow therapeutic style of kung fu, and has even starred in some instructional Tai Chi videos.
The jury is still out on whether he is considered a real martial artist or not, but at least he is trying.
* Keanu Reeves: I don't think much of his acting ability, but Reeves did manage to earn my respect for his role as Neo in "The Matrix."
After training under the famous fight choreographer Yuen Wo-ping for only four months, Reeves was able to create the illusion on the big screen that he knows kung fu.
So is Reeves a real martial artist? I would say: not yet -- but he could be if he sticks with it.
* Wesley Snipes: His latest appearance in the public eye has been in news reports after being indicted for income tax fraud, but Snipes has impressed many martial artists over the years -- including me -- for working great martial art sequences into in regular action films such as the "Blade" series and "Demolition Man" (1993) with Sylvester Stallone.
After doing a bit of research on Snipes, it appears to me that he started training martial arts at age 12 and has reached the rank of 5th degree black belt. However, I haven't found a definitive answer on what art that rank is in or what art he started in.
Snipes has reportedly studied karate, kung fu and Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that was disguised as dancing for many years.
Another source, however, claims that his primary arts are hapkido and taekwondo which, having seen his beautiful sidekick on the silver screen, is very plausible.
There was even a rumor going around late last year that Snipes would fight in a UFC match.
He may be more focused on acting than martial arts, but in my opinion Snipes is indeed a real martial artist.
* Tony Jaa: Unless you happened to catch his performance in "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior," (2003, but not released in the U.S. until 2005) you probably haven't heard of this guy -- yet.
Jaa has reportedly trained in taekwondo, karate, aikido and gymnastics in addition to muay thai, a kickboxing art from Thailand.
If you are a fan of Jackie Chan, I recommend checking this guy out. While he doesn't have Chan's humor, Tony Jaa's stunts are just impressive, although whether he will be able to keep it up as long as Chan has remains to be seen.
And as for his martial art ability, it certainly looks genuine to me.