When we hear martial arts, we immediately relate it to Chinese martial arts. We consciously start thinking about angry, screaming Asian fighters with acrobatic moves who have no problem to deal with a crowd of attackers.
The first names which burst into our minds are Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and the mystical Shao Lin temple-all legendary.
The majority of people consider Asia or sometimes even China as the birthplace of all the martial arts which is not true at 100 percent.
The history is not clear when it comes to the origins of the martial arts as they were continuously thriving during the centuries.
However, no one can deny that many of the popular martial art forms come from the Asian region-kung fu and karate for instance.
Because of the huge fame of the belief that martial arts evolved from China and for the sake of convenience, we will put all Asian martial arts actors under a common denominator- the Chinese martial arts denominator.
Undoubtedly the most popular Asian name among the martial arts actors is Lee Jun-Fan, a.k.a. Bruce Lee.
Nevertheless, he was surprisingly born in U.S.A. so he entitles another list. Check here.
1. Jackie Chan (1954)
A pioneer, a star, an icon, a living legend- this is Chan Kong-sang also known artistically as Jackie Chan.
On 12 November 2016, Chan was awarded the most prestigious award in the movie industry- an honorary Oscar for his extraordinary achievements in the seventh art.
During his acceptance speech he admitted that when he was looking at the golden statue in Sylvester Stallone’s house 23 years ago, he wished one day to own one too.
Now that his dream came true, we can all agree that the honorary statue went to the right man.
With more than 150 films behind his back, Jackie is known to perform alone all of his stunts. It is a curious fact that he even holds a Guinness world record for performing more stunts in a movie than any other human being.
In his movies, he often uses improvised weapons such as jackets, umbrellas, tables and in general any item that comes in front of him and that can hurt his opponents.
Jackie Chan is a highly trained martial artist who holds a black belt in hapkido. He also practices karate, judo, taekwondo and Jeet Kune Do.
Chan gained international fame as well as an impressive fortune for his role in “Rush hour” (1998) starring along with the comedian Chris Tucker.
If you are a fan of the “Rush Hour” franchise, hold on because another sequel was recently announced to hit the theaters in near future. Both stars Chan and Tucker will resume their roles in the successful action comedy flick.
If you want to see the ‘raw’, early version of Jackie Chan, the one which relates more to the angry screaming Asian fighter with the acrobatic moves, I suggest you check out “ The Drunken Master” (1978) and “Spiritual Kung fu” (1978). Both movies are hilarious.
2. Li Lianjie (1963)
This name sounds unfamiliar to you? Wait until you see it written in Chinese then!
The man behind this name is widely known as Jet Li– his stage nickname.
Born in Beijing, Jet has established himself as one of the most recognizable martial artists among the Asian action stars.
This short, kindly looking man is a ferocious fighter and retired Wushu champion.
When he won the first place in the Chinese Wushu championship he was only twelve years old and his opponents were in their late twenties. What is interesting is the prize of the tournament- a trip to Washington D.C. and meet and greet session with the president Richard Nixon.
Master in Wushu, Li is highly trained in several deadly Northern Shaolin martial art forms.
His name became critically acclaimed worldwide for his roles in such spectacular action motion pictures like “Hero” (2002), “Romeo Must Die” (2000) and “Kiss of the Dragon” (2001).
Jet was also honored by Sylvester Stallone to star in his famous “Expendables” franchise along with fellow martial arts stars as Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Scott Adkins and many other known action heroes.
Again, if you want to check out the early and raw version of Jet Li, then you should not miss “The Shaolin Temple” series and “Fist of Legend” (1994).
3. Yen Ji-Dan, a.k.a. Donnie Yen (1963)
Are you a fan of “Star Wars”? And are you a fan of Yen Ji-Dan?
If so, you will be lucky enough to find yourself in a “two rabbits with one bullet” situation because Yen stars in the latest Star Wars spin-off- “Rogue One- A Star Wars Story”. The first reactions are more than positive.
According to his fellow martial artist and friend Scott Adkins, Yen is the best kicker in the world.
Jackie Chan and Jet Li consider him as the fastest and most efficient martial artist alive. And there is a reason for that.
Donnie is one of Hong Kong’s best-known action stars. He is highly skilled in many martial art forms such as Wing Chun, Wushu, Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Karate, Hapkido and several others. You got the idea-he knows how to defend himself.
His martial arts choreography is creative, intense, realistic and spectacular. It is just a pleasure to watch him kick ass.
Donnie is constantly taking credit for popularizing the Wing Chun techniques across the globe with the “Ip Man” franchise.
In the latest sequel from 2015 his on-screen nemesis is the boxing legend Mike Tyson. The movie is terrific and includes some awesome fight scenes between Donnie and “The Iron Mike”.
Some of his most remarkable films are: “Flash Point” (2007), “Dragon” (2011) and of course the “Ip man” trilogy.
Here is the good news– the fourth installment of the “Ip Man” action chef d’oeuvre is coming in 2018 again with Donnie Yen as the legendary Wing Chun master and teacher of Bruce Lee.
You may not know, but Donnie participates in the most intense action scenes in movie classics like “Blade 2”, “Hero” and the funny action movie “Highlander: Endgame” (2000).
His huge martial arts talent, as well as his on-screen charisma, are gaining him more and more roles in Hollywood box-office hits.
We already mentioned his role in the latest “Star Wars” spinoff which is spectacular by the way, but in 2017 Donnie Yen will be the other famous name in “XXX: Return of Xander Cage” next to Vin Diesel.
Bring it, Donnie!
4. Japanom Yeerum, a.k.a. Tony Jaa (1976)
Tony Jaa is the second youngest name in the list and probably the most famous one in the modern martial arts cinema stage.
Originally a stuntman, this amazing Thai man gained international fame in the “Ong Bak” trilogy.
It wouldn’t be exaggerated if we say that his name is already legendary in the world of stunts and martial arts.
The action scenes involving Tony are always superbly choreographed and spectacular to watch. He doesn’t use any wires or CGI effects at all. Every fight scene you see on screen, every move he makes is real.
His training plan is super hard and includes up to 14 hours per day of practicing Muay Thai, Tae kwon do, gymnastics and swordplay. He also holds black belts in Tae Kwon Do and Wushu.
His stunning skills were quickly noticed in Hollywood and that is why we enjoyed watching him fights against Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in the latest “Fast and Furious” movie from 2015.
He also made a noticeable appearance in the “Never Back Down: No Surrender” (2016) sports action drama along with Michael Jai White.
As a finale, another breaking news, folks- we are impatiently looking forward seeing Tony Jaa kicking ass with Vin Diesel and Donnie Yen in the upcoming sequel to the “XXX” (2002) action gem- “XXX: The Return of Xander Cage” (2017).
Bring it, Tony!
5. Iko Uwais (1983)
Now, hold on because I’m going to make a judgmental and bold statement: “The Raid 2: Berandal” (2014) is the best action movie in the past 15 years and probably one of the best action movies ever made.
A huge credit for that has the amazing Indonesian actor in the leading role- Iko Uwais- probably the most trending name in the modern martial arts movie scene.
If you haven’t heard his name until now, there may be two main reasons for that- he is young and by the time of this article he has only six movies behind his back.
A rising action star with bright future, Iko’s unbelievable talent was noticed by director Gareth Evans who gave him the leading role in his modern action classics “Raid: Redemption” (2011) and the followed sequel “Raid: Berandal” (2104).
Uwais made some memorable short appearances in “Man of Tai Chi” (2013) directed by Keanu Reeves and also in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015). Not bad at all for a newbie.
A former soccer player, Iko is highly trained in an ancient Indonesian martial art form known as Silat. In 2005 he became a national champion.
We are eager to watch every movie starring Iko in the future because the boy got talent.
Would you cross out some of the names in the list and include another one instead?
I will be more than happy to discuss it in the comments section below. So don’t be afraid and comment.