But Chuck Norris wasn’t always a Martial Artist. Born Charles Ray Norris on March 10, 1940 in Ryan, Oklahoma, he was the eldest of three children. He is half Cherokee Indian (mother’s side) and half Irish (father’s side). His mixed heritage made him the target of being teased as a young boy. His father, a mechanic, bus driver, and truck driver, had drinking issues and was not there for him a lot. His parents divorced when he was 16 and he moved with his mother and brothers to Kansas and eventually Torrance, California. After high school, he joined the US Air Force and became an Air Policeman.
When he was based at Osan Air Base in South Korea, he became exposed to and began training in Tang Soo Do. Starting at the age of 18, he helps to prove that you don’t need to just start Martial Arts as a child in order to still be very successful. After his tour, he returned to California and eventually opened up his own Martial Arts school. In 1964, he began entering martial arts tournaments. In just 4 years, he became the World Professional Middle Weight Karate champion. He held that title until 1974, retiring undefeated. During that time, in 1968, he was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Fighter of the Year.
In 1969, he made his acting debut in the Dean Martin film, The Wrecking Crew, as an uncredited “man in the House of 7 Joys”. A chance meeting with the young Bruce Lee at a martial arts demonstration led to him starring alongside the legend in The Way of the Dragon. The success of this film along with the encouragement of one of his students led him to taking acting classes at MGM. Thus ended his formal tournament life and opened up his career in acting.
While no longer competing in the ring, Chuck Norris did not stop his Martial Arts training. In 1990, he founded the style Chun Kuk Do, “The Universal Way”. The style combines Tan Soo Do with several different fighting styles. This style was also known as “American Tan Soo Do”, “Chuck Norris Karate System”, or the “Chuck Norris System”. In 1997, he received his 8th degree dan in Tae Kwon Do, being the first in the Western hemisphere to ever do so. He’s also studied Shotokan Karate, American Kenpo, Judo, and most recently Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has many famous students, including Steve McQueen, Chad McQueen, Bob Barker, Priscilla Presley, Donnie Osmond, and Marie Osmond.
The most impressive though is that Chuck Norris embodies the term “living Martial Arts”. For all that he has accomplished, he willingly gives a lot back to the community around him. His most rewarding accomplishment is “Kick-Start”, a program intended to keep kids out of trouble by providing them with no cost Martial Arts training. Through training, students build their self-esteem, develop discipline and respect, and get them out of gangs and drugs.