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5 Action Stars from the 1980s & 1990s with Legitimate Martial Arts Backgrounds

Ranging from proficient to world calibre, these five stars were the real deal.

1.) Patrick Swayze - Much is made of his ballet dancer background, and it is by far the most impressive accomplishment on his pre-fame resume. Swayze danced with the Joffrey Ballet before a knee injury cut short his career. However, Swayze grew up struggling with his temper and turned to martial arts for self-mastery. He practiced wushu, taekwondo, aikido, and judo over the years. These skills that would serve him well once destiny called and he answered, agreeing to star in a little film called Road House. Now, there are as many reasons to dismiss Road House as there are stars in the sky, but let it be known that the players left it all out on the field. During the climactic fight sequence, Swayze suffered broken ribs and his opponent a broken orbital bone but they just kept going. Legendary stunt coordinator Benny “The Jet” Urquidez was proud of his star pupil Patrick Swayze—by the time The Jet had Swayze on set he could routinely kick a cigarette out of his trainer’s mouth.

2.) Dolph Lundgren - Just as Swayze is better known for his ballet, Lundgren is widely known as the action star who is also a genius. (Dude got a Fulbright scholarship to M.I.T., not exactly a lightweight, as Walter Sobchak might say.) In addition to being a brilliant chemical engineer, an accomplished musician, a member of Warhol’s Factory, and a living mannequin, Lundgren has excelled in martial arts. He began in judo at 16, but switched to karate a year later. Initially he studied Goju-ryu, but quickly moved on to Kyokushinkai. While serving in the Swedish Marine Corps, Lundgren, a green belt, was elected to represent the Swedish Marines at the World Championships in Tokyo. He borrowed someone’s brown belt in order to compete. Did he becomes world champion? No, but he got incredibly close, knocking out his first two opponents and then lining up against the overwhelming favorite, a second-degree black belt, in an epic contest that went to extended rounds. The favorite was awarded the win, but it was controversial, with many believing the judges’ decision was political. Lundgren went on to nab British, European, and Australian championships, was offered a lucrative boxing contract he turned down, and would have competed at Worlds again had other forms of success not gotten in the way. He is now a 3rd Dan, an honor he earned in part by fighting 20 opponents in succession without a break. Other than all that he’s led a pretty normal life.


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