These individuals don’t need much of an introduction, as their exploits on film tend to speak loudly enough for all to hear. Throughout the past two decades, if not more, these individuals have shown the kind of hard-hitting and acrobatic styles that have left viewers entertained and absolutely mystified as to how any human being could achieve such mastery over their own body.
Taking into account the inclusion of Hollywood film magic, it’s still amazing to see the level of skill and training that each of these individuals has been able to put into their craft. The level of intensity they bring to the big screen has been and still is an inspiration to many and part of the reason why YouTube and Netflix are still relevant when it comes to entertaining, hard-hitting action films. So with that being said, here are the top ten best martial artist alive in 2018.
10. Chuck Norris
You might wonder why Chuck Norris isn’t at the top five on this list, and you might be expecting a written apology to the man since he’s been featured in so many entertaining memes as of late. There’s no doubt that Norris is a bonafide martial artists with enough pull to do most anything he wants. The only reason why he falls this far down the list is simple, he’s still alive, but he’s getting up there. Fans of Chuck Norris in his heyday remember films such as “Missing in Action” and “The Delta Force” when he was a force of nature to be reckoned with. Even in films alongside the legend, Bruce Lee, Norris was an absolute animal when it came to action sequences. Chuck Norris is a living legend to be certain, but is becoming more of an oldie than a goodie these days.
9. Michael Jai White
If not for his lack of depth in acting, White might actually be able to be called one of the most underrated actors of his time. His martial arts skills are impressive but don’t have a lot of range. Whereas other martial artists on this list can mix up their styles from time to time, White tends to stick to the same kicks and punches with each character he portrays, and seems to have a hard time toning it down to play a different character. While he normally plays roles that are suited to his character and fighting style, he’s not much in the way of acting despite his obvious draw as either a diabolical villain or a hard-hitting hero.
8. Dolph Lundgren
Unless you knew enough about his upbringing and his earlier days, most fans wouldn’t have ever realized that Dolph Lundgren does in fact possess an impressive martial arts background. This could be because he doesn’t readily employ any of this knowledge in most of his movies. In one of his latest films, “The Expendables” he is seen more as a bruiser and a bully rather than someone who knows anything about the finer points of fighting. In fact, if you go back in time to look at one of his more notable appearances in “Rocky IV” you might recall him better as the savage, hard-hitting Ivan Drago, a man who gladly beat you to death with his fists rather than use any sort of technical moves to subdue his opponents.
7. Jean-Claude Van Damme
Much like Dolph Lundgren and several others, Van Damme was subjected to an era that saw his martial arts background heavily questioned and even doubted by many. Perhaps it was the trend in Hollywood to build up the talent more than was needed, or maybe it was the over-saturation of action films at the time, but the reputation of many martial artists suffered during this time. In the past several years however Van Damme has been quietly mounting a comeback of sorts by producing straight to DVD movies that have kept him relevant in Hollywood and have allowed him to continue to showcase his talents. One of his latest films to hit the shelves is almost a reboot of his original film “Kickboxer”.
6. Steven Seagal
Yet another example of the oversaturation of the action film market, Seagal was in many people’s minds the real deal when all others were being questioned. His simple but effective movements mystified viewers and left them thinking that he was far more realistic in his approach. This could have been because he was far less flashy and didn’t pander to viewer, getting the job done with less force and show but still managing the same effect. In any case, Seagal has in recent years gone the same route as Van Damme, starring in movies that have gone straight to DVD. He has even attempted to star in his own reality show, Steven Seagal: Lawman, which was widely criticized upon its merest mention.
5. Jason Statham
Despite his likeability and his obvious skill when it comes to the martial arts, Statham has proven to be more of a one-trick pony during the course of his many movies. The consummate loner, the man who has a past, the one person in all the world who is an absolute animal when it comes to a fight and doesn’t stick his neck out as a rule for anyone. That kind of describes his characters throughout most of his films. He’s entertaining, he’s witty enough, and obviously women go nuts when he takes his shirt off, but otherwise his hard-hitting abilities and his simple but useful dialogue are about all that put him this far up on the list of top ten best martial artist alive in 2018.
4. Tony Jaa
Tony Jaa jumped onto the action film scene much as he jumps onto the shoulders of his onscreen enemies. He grew to be a hot commodity very quickly but found that fame was a very fickle thing as his numbers began to decline even quicker. There’s no doubting his skill, as he has faced some of the most engaging but underrated movie villains throughout his career. The main problem is that he has little staying power, meaning his name and his ability is about all he has. His acting skill has yet to match up with his ability, which is considerable and yet cannot drive an hour and a half-long movie. It’s not really hard to figure why many people fast forward past the rest of the movie just to watch him fight.
3. Jackie Chan
In a word, Jackie Chan is epic. Despite not being number one on this list he is without a doubt the man that can do it all. His legendary martial arts are only accentuated by his ability to inject comedy and drama in equal amounts into his films. Add to that the fact that he takes a great deal of risk on his own shoulders when performing stunts and it’s hard to deny that the man can do it all. Despite all the injuries he’s suffered during his long and storied movie career he has become one of the absolute favorite actors of all time, not just because of his highly entertaining and engaging martial arts, but because the man is an artist and is just downright funny.
2. Jet Li
When this guy made his big American debut in “Lethal Weapon 4” alongside Danny Glover and Mel Gibson it was more than enough to blow most everyone away. His moves were too quick to follow, his acting was good enough for the character he played, and overall, he was just awesome. As time has gone on he’s taken on some roles that were less than adequate for his budding acting ability and were geared more towards his martial arts abilities, but all in all Li has grown as an actor. Considering that he’s been a gold medallist in the Chinese wushu championships since the age of 11, it’s not hard to imagine just why this guy is so good.
1. Donnie Yen
This is another individual that was trained from a young age and blossomed into the individual he is now. The action genre has been good to Yen, but the drama aspect has also allowed him to expand his acting talent as he has played the titular character of Ip Man in three different movies. While the account of the actual historical figure is different from Yen’s portrayal, he still manages to breathe enough life into the stylised character that people have had to look up the actual character to see just how loyal the portrayal might have been.
So, these above are the top ten best martial artist alive in 2018. There have been many greats throughout the decades that have studied and practised the martial arts, but almost always in the past several decades those greats have made their way towards Hollywood in some capacity. Likely there are many more highly skilled individuals that were not listed, but those given the most attention are generally those who get noticed. For all those who did not make the list however, there is little more than admiration for the level of dedication that such adherence to the martial arts requires.