Chuck Norris has starred in almost three dozen action films and many television shows. A veteran airman first class, he rose to fame in Return of the Dragon. Given his distinguished career, many people ask: what martial arts does Chuck Norris know?
Chuck Norris knows five conventional martial arts styles: karate, tang soo do, taekwondo, judo, and jiu-jitsu. He has also developed a style known as chun kuk do or the Chuck Norris System. Chun kuk do is a hybrid martial art form.
In this article, I separate fact from fiction and memes about Chuck Norris’ martial arts career.
How Many Martial Arts Does Chuck Norris Know?
In 1958, Chuck Norris attended a boot camp at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Everyone knew him by his real name then, Carlos Ray Norris. Carlos is a Spanish name equivalent to Charles, so a Hispanic mate called him by the usual nickname of Charles, Chuck.
Chuck Norris became an air policeman and served at the Osan Air Base, South Korea. He learned about and trained in taekwondo during his stint in the Republic of Korea. Martial arts training was customary for both Korean and American officers serving at Osan.
Although Chuck Norris learned taekwondo first, he gained nationwide and global recognition with karate. In 1968, he won his first ever middleweight World Karate Championship. He was undefeated for six years until he retired from professional championships in 1974.
For those unfamiliar with these two martial arts, karate originated in Japan, and taekwondo is Korean. Also, karate involves more attacks and defenses using hands, whereas ancient taekwondo focuses on kicks and leg movements.
Tang Soo Do
You’re probably wondering how and when Chuck Norris went from taekwondo training at Osan to the World Karate Championship. Well, the answer lies in tang soo do and the last Japanese occupation of Korea in the 20th century.
The Japanese banned all forms of ancient martial arts in Korea during their imperial rule from 1910 to 1945. During these years, the Korean masters of the ancient martial arts blended their styles with Japanese karate. These adaptations created a new form of martial arts, tang soo do.
What we know as taekwondo today is based on the ancient martial arts style of taekkyon and subak, among others. Similarly, tang soo do’s foundation is Korean taekwondo and Japanese karate. Thus, Chuck Norris learned the three forms from various teachers at the Osan Air Base.
Many Korean martial arts experts with black belts trained the young military officers at Osan. Chuck Norris and his colleagues trained under Grandmaster Mun. However, Chuck’s primary instructor was the legendary Jae Chul Shin.
Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin founded the Tang Soo Do Association in the United States in 1968. Later, he founded the worldwide Tang Soo Do organization, thus effectively globalizing the Korean Soo Bahk Do Association.
Chuck Norris learned everything from the Grandmasters Jae Chul Shin and Do Sik Mun, among other Korean teachers. Chuck and Shin’s friendship lasted a lifetime, and they were in contact until the latter’s demise in 2012.
Reportedly, Grandmaster Do Sik Mun fondly remembers Norris’ enthusiasm and passion for martial arts during his posting at Osan. Hence, it’s no surprise that Chuck went on to win many championships and invented a martial arts style.
Judo and Jiu Jitsu
Chuck Norris knows the Japanese grappling martial arts styles judo and jiu-jitsu. He’s also one of the strongest advocates of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Many credit him for the contemporary popularity of the martial art in the United States.
The Machado Brothers trained Chuck Norris in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when he already had a black belt in judo. Speaking to Joe Rogan once, Jean-Jacques Machado said that Chuck helped them set up their first jiu-jitsu studio.
Is Chuck Norris a Martial Arts Expert?
Chuck Norris is a martial arts expert and a former world karate champion. He’s also an American tang soo do and taekwondo grandmaster. He has several black belts in karate (5th degree), jiu-jitsu (3rd degree), and judo (1st degree).
Chuck Norris is the founder of the National Tang Soo Do Congress and United Fighting Arts. He has nine black belts in tang soo do and eight in taekwondo. Plus, he was the first western martial arts expert to become a taekwondo grandmaster.
Chuck Norris was the first martial arts expert in the Black Belt Hall of Fame. The legendary Joe Lewis fought Chuck Norris four times and lost three of those. However, the two weren’t in the same fighting category in championships, as Joe Lewis was a heavyweight.
Here’s the 1969 fight between Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis:
Chuck Norris’ Martial Arts Career
Chuck Norris won a World Karate Championship as a middleweight fighter in 1968. He defended his title until 1974, when he retired from professional karate championships.
His status as a tang soo do grandmaster isn’t in dispute. What’s more, Chuck Norris has one black belt in judo. His stints with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu go back decades since his association with the Gracie family. Also, his third degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a relatively recent accomplishment.
The facts begin to merge with some fiction when we look at Chuck’s career in other martial arts styles. For instance, there’s little authoritative information about the various black belts he won in taekwondo.
Did Chuck Norris Fight Bruce Lee?
Chuck Norris did fight Bruce Lee on film, but there is no evidence of a real contest in any championship. The two sparred and trained together. And according to some people, they fought off-camera during the shoot of the Return of the Dragon.
Bruce Lee didn’t fight in any professional karate championship or martial arts competition. So, there was no real fight between the two. Also, Chuck Norris was the reigning world champion in karate throughout the shooting and subsequent release of the film.
Reportedly, Chuck asked Lee about the reel fight and who would win. Lee said it would be him. Chuck chuckled and asked if Lee wanted to defeat the world karate champion. Lee said that as the movie star and hero, he had to kill the world karate champion in the film.
Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris in a Real Fight
We don’t know who would have won if Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris had had a real fight. However, some people tend to bet in favor of Chuck Norris as he was a professional martial arts champion with numerous wins in real fights.
Sam Spira who grew up in that era and has seen the legends spar believes Chuck would have won against Lee in a real fight.
Here’s Sam Spira and his take on Chuck Norris vs. Bruce Lee:
What Martial Arts Does Chuck Norris Teach?
Chuck Norris teaches a hybrid martial arts style called chun kuk do. Also known as the Chuck Norris System, chun kuk do combines tang soo do, karate, and other martial arts. It is a holistic fighting approach, not a random combo of different types.
- Self defense
Chuck’s skills and knowledge of various styles are the foundation of chun kuk do.
The Chuck Norris System or Chun Kuk Do
Chuck Norris created chun kuk do in the 70s, but it was not recognized until 1990. In 2015, the United Fighting Arts Federation (UFAF) rebranded the style as the Chuck Norris System (CNS). Today, chun kuk do or CNS is taught in various UFAF schools by certified instructors.
The Chuck Norris System awards the following belts based on rank:
- Red with Black Stripe
Like other martial arts styles, it has 10 levels of black belts. Currently, there are only three chun kuk do grandmasters with a 10th degree black belt:
- Chuck Norris
- Aaron Norris
- Ken Gallacher
There are UFAF schools and certified instructors in several states in the US. Also, the UFAF has a presence in Mexico and is presently expanding worldwide. You can check out their school locator if you wish to train in chun kuk do.
Now you’re fully familiar with what martial arts does Chuck Norris know. His martial arts career was remarkable even before he became a movie star. He has been an ardent supporter of various martial arts styles, not just chun kuk do.