The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time

Martial arts isn’t only huge in Asia, but in the Western countries as well, particularly the United States. There’s a lot of popular martial artists who came from the Americas and carved their own names in the industry. In fact, American martial artists are so good, Hollywood features a lot of them in films and shows. 

We’ve rounded up the ten greatest American martial artists of all time. These individuals are known for their excellent physical strength, self-defense skills, as well as combat skills. Check out the popular names in the martial arts world in this article. 

  • Gina Carano
  • Bruce Lee
  • Chuck Norris
  • Cynthia Rothrock
  • Steven Seagal
  • Michael Jai White
  • Wesley Snipes
  • Billie Blanks
  • Aaron Banks
  • Randy Couture
The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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Gina Carano

Before the name Ronda Rousey boomed, the face of women’s martial arts belonged to Gina Carano. She was part of the first sanctioned women MMA line in Nevada, where she won against Leiticia Pestova. Following this match, Carano’s career skyrocketed. 

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Carano competed in the Strikeforce mixed martial arts (MMA) event in 2006 and won against Elaina Maxwell. She also took part in the female match aired on Showtime and won by unanimous decision against Julie Kedzie. In 2011, she walked away from MMA to pursue a career in Hollywood. 

Despite the short time participating in martial arts and sports events, Carano has carved her name in the industry. 

She now devotes her time to pursuing an acting career and has landed several minor roles on television series and a full-time movie in 2009. Most recently, she had a role in Disney’s Mandalorian but was fired due to controversial statements. 

Bruce Lee

Almost everyone knows the name Bruce Lee, one of the most influential martial artists of the 20th century. He was a Chinese-American martial artist and instructor, actor, director, and philosopher, and the founder of the Jeet Kune Do technique

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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Lee was recognized as the Kung-Fu King, famous for the signature finger-and-thumbs press-ups combined with the iconic flying kicks. He trained in Wing Chun for Wu-style fighting, dancing, and boxing. He has the most lethal defense: known to be fast and hard in the strike zone. 

Before returning to the United States, Lee was a child actor in Hong Kong. Upon his return, he taught traditional martial arts to Hollywood actors, directed action movies, and even acted for major box office films. 

His death triggered a huge following, making him a pop culture icon in the 20th century. 

Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris is definitely on the list of the famous martial artists in the United States. He practices a number of martial arts, including Taekwondo, Jiu-jitsu, Judo, Karate, Chun Kuk do, Tang Soo Do, all of which he has in some degree of black belt.

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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Following his service in the United States Air Force, Norris won martial arts championships and even founded his own discipline called the Chun Kuk Do. For his talents and skills, he was hired to train Hollywood stars for movies and television shows. 

Norris also appeared in films including The Wrecking Crew, Way of the Dragon, Breaker! Breaker!, Good Guys Wear Black, and others. What’s more, he is an author who has published books in martial arts, philosophy, politics, Christianity, and biography. 

Cynthia Rothrock

Before hitting the big screen, Cynthia Rothrock was a martial arts expert and practitioner, with several black belt rankings in Taekwondo, Kung fu, Tang Soo Do, and Karate. In addition, Rothrock was also a high-level competitor in martial arts and earned a string of victories in her career’s early stages. 

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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Rothrock was also the first woman to appear on the cover of martial arts magazines and landed a major role in action-movie genres. Her incredible fighting skills paved the way for her to become an instructor for three Chinese arts called Shaolin Kung Fu, Wushu, and Eagle-claw Kung Fu. 

Her acting career started in 1983 when she was discovered by Golden Harvest. Two years after, she landed her first action movie role in the movie Yes, Madam, alongside Michelle Yeoh, a Malaysian martial artist. This movie made Rothrock popular in Hong Kong, where she filmed seven more films. 

Steven Seagal

When talking about American martial artists, the name Steven Seagal is always brought up. Holding a 7th-dan black belt in Aikido, Karate, Judo, and Kendo, he’s got both skills and talent for performing the traditional practices

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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Seagal was born in Michigan and moved to Japan to practice martial arts. He served as an instructor and eventually became the first-ever foreigner to operate an aikido dojo in Japan. Following this successful venture, Seagal moved back to the United States to do the same profession. 

Because of his popularity as an instructor from Japan, he’s gotten offers to film movies, including 1988’s Above the Law. This was his acting debut and was soon followed by four more successful films. Since then, he has explored other careers as a screenwriter, producer, and musician. 

Michael Jai White

Most known for being one of the first African-Americans to portray a superhero in a major comic book film, Michael Jai White is truly a legend. Born in New York, he started martial arts when he was seven years old. 

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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Now, he’s one of the most respected martial artists, holding seven black belts in Taekwondo, Kobudo, Goju Ryu, Shotokan, Wushu, Tang Soo Do, and Kyokushin. 

White appeared in a number of movies and television series, including a 1995 HBO film Tyson. Two years later, he portrayed the superhero Al Simmons in the movie Spawn, which got him a nomination for the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Best Male Newcomer. 

In addition to acting, he also entered directing with his debut in the Never Back Down 2. Despite his incredible skills and talent, White didn’t pursue a fighting career and never competed in any professional combat sports fight. 

Wesley Snipes

Another martial artist turned actor is Wesley Snipes, who starred in Jungle Forever and New Jack City. He has a 5th-dan black belt in Shotokan Karate and a 2nd-dan black belt in Hapkido. 

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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Snipes began his training when he was 12 and was noticed by Hollywood producers for his sick kickboxing and jiu-jitsu skills. 

Snipes’ roles in U.S. Marshalls, The Fan, Money Train, Passenger 57, and Demolition Man have paved the way for his popularity. He’s even landed major roles for his excellent acting and martial arts skills. 

More than Hapkido and Jiu-jitsu, Snipes has trained under Mestre Jelon Vieira in Kung Fu and kickboxing. For this, his martial arts skills were in-demand, coupled with his amazing acting skills. Directors also praised Snipes for his portrayal of modern age comic book characters. 

Billie Blanks

A lot of people know Billie Blanks as a fitness guru and the creator of Tae Bo, but he’s also a hotshot in martial arts, particularly in Taekwondo. He began training at the age of 12 and became the first Amateur Athletic Union champion to win five times. 

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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When he was 16, Blanks earned a black belt in karate and joined the U.S. team. He helped earn 36 golds in the international competitions before he officially became the captain in 1980. More than this, Blanks has a 7th-degree black belt in Taekwondo and in five other martial arts. 

It was in 1989 when Blanks landed his first acting role in Bloodfist, then in 28 more films. As his career slowed down, he created a new exercise technique called Tae Bo, and his career in the fitness world took off. 

Aaron Banks

In the world of Karate and American martial arts as a whole, the name Aaron Banks is surely respected. His school of mixed martial arts, New York Karate Academy, brought disciplines like Chinese Kung-Fu, Korean’s Moo Duk Kwan, Japanese’s Goju-Ryu karate, judo, and boxing together in one place.

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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His passion for sharing martial arts with the world was demonstrated by his pursuit of organizing shows, tournaments, and demonstrations. Outside of teaching almost 200,000 students at his school, he organized more than 250 martial arts shows and 325 karate tournaments.

He also launched the Oriental World of Self-Defense television show back in 1966, where it was the first of its kind on TV, and introduced martial arts to Americans. Banks and this show were attributed to the rise of Chuck Norris, who gained fame through the show’s monthly competitions. 

Randy Couture

Retired martial artist Randy Couture is considered one of the greatest and most influential MMA fighters across the world. He has six UFC titles across two weight classes. 

The Greatest American Martial Artists of All Time
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Couture’s story is a bit different. A former U.S. Army sergeant for six years, he joined the UFC at the age of 34 and stopped at 48 years old. 

From his UFC career, he landed a number of television and film roles, most notable of which is for the film series The Expendables

These days Couture is focused on a chain of gyms of founded called Xtreme Couture MMA. He also runs a foundation to help wounded veterans. 

Conclusion

Mixed Martial arts are a unique discipline that strengthens the body and mind, along with establishing the right set of skills for self-defense. These events are also considered sports to foster sportsmanship and discipline. 

Famous American martial artists helped to influence a lot of people to try different martial arts practices and events.