The martial arts genre has much to offer pop culture enthusiasts. From the beautifully choreographed fight scenes that leave us inspired to go out and learn martial arts, to the eastern aesthetics of comic reliefs. In our search for the Top 20 Martial Artists in Movies and TV Shows, we inspect everything from action movie stars like Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Uma Thurman, to tournament fighters, and Karate sensei.
Many difficult choices were made as to who to include and who to leave out. In needing a one-man/woman wrecking machine to save us all, these are our top picks for the 20 greatest martial artists in movies and TV Shows. Better practice your high kick and work on your Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.
Top 20 Martial Artists in Movies and TV Shows
20/20. Nico Toscani (Above the Law, movie)
Steven Seagal, plays Sergeant Nico Toscani, a policeman for the Chicago Police Department with top training in Aikido. He is a master of unarmed combat, highly skilled with swords, knives, and other forms of combat which enables him to defeat drug dealers/punks with ease.
At an early age, Nico had become interested in martial arts and moved to Japan to study them. When he engages in combat, Nico is extremely effective, powerful, and aggressive. He uses his opponents’ moves against them to a point that he seems unbeatable.
19/20. J.J. McQuade (Lone Wolf McQuade, movie)
Chuck Norris fights his way onto this list as one of the most successful martial artists in movies of the 80s.
Former Marine and a Texas Ranger, J.J. McQuade, prefers to work alone. He lives in a dirty trailer in the middle of nowhere with his pet wolf.
McQuade is a highly-skilled martial artist. As he proves time and time again, battling against Mexican bandits, and horse thieves. But, most of all when he engages in a hand-to-hand fight against Rawley Wilkes, a vicious arms merchant and an expert in martial arts, and defeats him.
18/20. Jake Tyler (Never Back Down, movie)
In his old school, Jake Tyler was a football star player defenseman, famous for being aggressive. However, Jake has eventually kicked off the football team for starting a fight during a game with a player on the opposing team.
Now Jake is an outsider with a reputation for being a quick-tempered brawler. Through a classmate, Jake is introduced to a sport known as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). It’s immediately apparent to Jake that MMA is not street fighting, but rather an art form he wants to master. Under the mentorship of Jean Roque, Jake prepares to compete in the Beatdown, an underground fighting martial arts tournament. Jake makes it to the tournament semifinals.
However after learning that his main opponent and the reigning champion, Ryan McCarthy, has been disqualified in his semifinal match, Jake forfeits, seeing no reason to continue. Ryan confronts him and the two fight outside in the parking lot.
At first, Ryan gains the upper hand, applying a choke on Jake. However, Jake escapes and knocks out Ryan using one of the first combinations Roqua taught him.
17/20. Kurt Sloane (Kickboxer, movie)
As one of the best martial artists, Kurt certainly gets a spot on this list.
Sloane is the cornerman for his older brother Eric Sloane. After Eric was immobilized by the vicious Tong Po, Kurt vows to avenge his brother. Kurt convinces Xian Chow, a locally famous trainer living in a remote area of Thailand, to train him in the art of Muay Thai.
Xian trains Kurt using many primitive methods and focusing on speed, agility, and the ability to protect himself through balance and timely breathing. The fight against Tong Po is conducted the “ancient way”.
Both fighters wrap their hands in hemp rope, which is then coated in resin and dipped in broken glass to make them deadly weapons. Kurt endures a torturous beating by the sadistic Tong Po but eventually defeats him in a vicious fashion.
See relevant: Best Martial Arts Movies Like Bloodsport
16/20. Mr. Miyagi (Karate Kid)
Mr. Miyagi is the teacher, mentor, karate sensei, and father figure of both Daniel LaRusso and Julie Pierce. He is the first leader of Miyagi-Do Karate. A true martial arts master, Mr. Miyagi possesses extraordinary skills.
Primarily a counter-fighter, his ability to read an opponent’s intentions is exceptional. He often waits for his opponent to attack, then dodges with one quick, economical motion that positions him perfectly for a counter. Miyagi never wastes movement; whether on offense or defense, his techniques achieve maximum results with minimum effort. Aside from the standard strikes his Miyagi-Do Karate also incorporates an arsenal of throws and joint manipulation techniques.
Mr. Miyagi’s karate training has also allowed him to achieve practically superhuman feats. Such as splitting a giant wooden beam in half and catching an incoming arrow from an archery master with his bare hand. Due to his age and small size, Mr. Miyagi’s opponents constantly underestimate him, and he uses this to his advantage.
15/ 20. Master Wu (Ninjago, TV series)
Master Wu is the wise, elderly mentor of the ninja and the Master of Creation. He grew up learning the art of the ninja alongside his older brother, Garmadon, who was infected with evil. They fought together as a team against evil for many years. Until Garmadon’s corruption was completed and he was subsequently banished to the Underworld. Like his brother, Lord Garmadon, Wu has the ability to perform Spinjitzu, with his version channeling the power of Creation.
Using the Forbidden Spinjitzu, he becomes much more angry and more dangerous. While his strength increases, he uses energy waves much more. Having many years of training from his father, the First Spinjitzu Master, and combat experience alongside his brother, he is an expert warrior. He is skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and the use of many weapons.
Despite his advanced age, he is proficient enough at combat. He can fight and take on skilled warriors like Morro, the Time Twins, and several Dragon Hunters. While they were out-of-shape, he could defeat all six of his current students at once with ease through pure skill alone.
14/20. Jen Yu (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, movie)
Trained by her murderous mentor Jade Fox in the Wudang martial arts style, young Jen Yu is a skillful and aggressive martial artist. She has even managed to surpass her master’s skills. Her superb combat capabilities were seen when she managed to hold her own against the legendary swordfighter Yu Shu Lien.
She earns the respect of master Li Mu Bai who offers Jen Yu to become his student. As a talented Wudang warrior, Jen Yu can break physical laws, leap over buildings or effortlessly flip over her opponents and still land accurate strikes.
13/20. Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill, movie)
Beatrix Kiddo, aka The Bride, aka Black Mamba, was once a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. After her retirement from her assassination career upon becoming pregnant, Beatrix left the squad to escape the life of an assassin and start a new one for her unborn daughter. However, Beatrix and her fiance were murdered by her former squad members. But Beatrix herself was shot in the head and put into a four-year coma. Once she woke up from her coma, Beatrix plotted her deadly vengeance against all members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. She dreams of killing them all one by one and killing anyone who stood in her way.
Beatrix managed to overpower fellow assassins such as Vernita Green with her bare hands. She held her own against Elle Driver, gaining the upper hand at one point. Under the tutelage of her Chinese master, Pai Mei, she learned Snake Style kung-fu. She added it to two other kung-fu styles she had already mastered (Tiger and Crane). In combat, she is eager to attack the enemy’s weak spots, demonstrating excellent reflexes and accuracy.
See relevant: The Bride vs Jen Yu: Who Is The Ultimate Swordswoman?
12/20. Johnny Cage (Mortal Kombat, 1995 movie)
Jonathan Carlton, aka Johnny Cage, is an action movie star and martial artist. Initially, a struggling Hollywood action movie star who sought to refresh his career, Johnny entered the Mortal Kombat tournament for the sole purpose of displaying his fighting skills and proving himself to skeptical film critics. Eventually, he would become one of the most important defenders of Earthrealm from the threat of a takeover by Outworld.
Despite his air-headed and superficial demeanor, Johnny Cage is a strong and agile warrior. He showed excellent fighting techniques during battles.
After long periods of training with various masters of martial arts, Cage himself has acquired mastery of several fighting styles, such as the famous Karate.
Although Cage is a human being, he possesses superhuman powers. Such as the ability to propel himself forward and increase the strength of his blows.
11/20. Jon Foo (Tekken, movie)
Jon Foo is the son of Jun Kazama, one of the evilest and most ruthless individuals who’ve ever lived on the face of the earth. He received intense training under his grandfather Heihachi Mishima. All in an effort to avenge the loss of his mother by fighting and defeating Ogre, who supposedly killed her.
Jon is a skilled Mishima Style Fighting Karate warrior. The fighting style includes moves like the Electric Wind God Fist, the Dragon Uppercut, and the Flash Punch Combo which is mostly used as a punishing move whenever the opponent’s defense becomes open after his/her attack.
10/20. Chief Inspector Lee (Rush Hour, movies)
Jackie Chan plays Chief Inspector Lee from the Hong Kong Police Force. He is a highly skilled and intuitive Kung Fu fighter and very dutiful and focused in his work. When he engages in combat, his moves are very quick and smooth. He can handle a few opponents at the same time.
It is known that Lee’s father was a legendary cop in Hong Kong. Lee claimed once caught a bullet with his bare hands. Lee is one of the greatest martial artists in movies, which secures his spot squarely in the middle of our list.
9/20. Ip Man (Ip Man, movie)
Portrayed by Donnie Yen, Ip Man is a martial arts Grand Master in the Ip Man film series. His character is based on Yip Man, a master teacher of the Wing Chun Kung Fu style. Noted for being the teacher of Bruce Lee.
Ip Man is considered to be the best martial art master in Foshan China due to his incredible skill in Wing Chun. He tends to be extraordinarily swift in his fighting style, which proves useful.
Although his attacks aren’t very strong and are easily prone to be damaged by heavier and more physically built opponents. Still, he was able to mercilessly defeat ten karateka warriors at once.
8/20. Master Stick (Daredevil, TV series)
Stick is a martial arts master and member of the Chaste, an ancient organization dedicated to fighting in a centuries-old war against an evil ninja clan called the Hand.
He was trained by the Chaste and despite his blindness, he was able to overcome his disability to become a powerful and dangerous warrior. In fact, being born blind helped Stick gain extremely accurate senses through lifelong training. His awareness can be used to perfectly navigate through complex environments and track down people with great ease.
He taught this method to his student Matt Murdock (Daredevil), who is also blind. Using his enhanced senses, Stick is constantly aware of his opponents. Most of the time, Stick uses timing and only needs a minimum amount of movement to dodge or subdue his opponents with lightning-fast reflexes
7/20. Pai Mei (Kill Bill, movies)
Pai Mei is a legendary master of the Bak Mei and Eagle’s Claw styles of kung fu. He was the teacher of Bill, Elle Driver, and Beatrix Kiddo of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Pai Mei’s martial arts skills are beyond human capacity.
He was able to kill 60 Shaolin monks single-handedly. He was the creator of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique and master of The Three Inch Punch.
Pai Mei was able to dodge Beatrix’s furiously swift sword strikes, by balancing himself perfectly on the flat of her blade and effortlessly throwing her sword perfectly onto a rack without looking. He was also able to generate enough force to punch holes in solid wood from only three inches away.
6/20. Master Splinter (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Master Splinter is a mutant rat and a Ninjutsu master, who lives with the loveable green superheroes the Ninja Turtles in the sewers as their Sensei and father figure.
Enhanced by the very Mutagen that transformed him into a sentient humanoid rat, Splinter is physically strong enough to overpower multiple skilled Ninjas. He could even match Shredder armor enhanced strength briefly.
Splinter is an immensely skilled self-taught master of Ninjutsu, his mastery of Ninja Martial arts is extremely high and through it, he is fast enough to attack extremely quickly and keep up with the Shredder’s own speed.
5/20. Master Shifu (Kung Fu Panda)
Master Shifu is the senior master of the Jade Palace and trainer of many kung fu warriors, including Po (the Dragon Warrior), the Furious Five, and Tai Lung. Though small in size, Shifu is a powerhouse, exerting maximum force with minimal effort, exemplified by his signature move, the historical Wuxi Finger Hold, which overpowers an opponent with the touch of a finger.
Shifu’s elusiveness borders on the mystical. He’s capable of appearing where he’s least expected within the blink of an eye.
Possessing the knowledge of many kung fu styles, and being able to use paralyzing nerve strikes that block the chi in an opponent’s body and disable them, Shifu is a force to be reckoned with.
4 / 20. Han Sing (Romeo Must Die, movie)
Near the top of martial artists in movies, is Jet Li.
Hang Sing, is a former police officer. He avenges his little brother, whom he had sworn to his mother to protect. Han is easygoing but not afraid to fight back against someone who attempts to start a fight with him, and almost never loses in a fight. He’s determined to always get up no matter how much he gets injured.
While he is a good guy, Han is not afraid to break rules for meaningful reasons, such as committing vigilantism, however, never depends on weapons, because he doesn’t need them, since no street thugs or even police officers can hold him back, because he is super competent and strategic.
3/20. Chen Zhen (Fist of Fury, 1972 movie)
If we are ranking the greatest movie martial artists only, Bruce Lee is no doubt at the top of this list.
First portrayed by superstar Bruce Lee in the 1972 film Fist of Fury, Chen Zhen is depicted as an apprentice of the martial artist Huo Yuanjia, who founded the Chin Woo School. After Huo Yuanjia dies under dubious circumstances, Chen Zhen discovers that his master was poisoned by their rivals from a Japanese dojo in Hongkou District, Shanghai.
He seeks to bring the murderers to justice and embarks on a quest to avenge Huo Yuanjia and revive his master’s legacy. Chen Zhen is famous for wearing the white Mao suit and his legendary use of nunchaku.
2/20. Monk Gyatso (Avatar: The Last Airbender, TV series)
Monk Gyatso was Avatar Aang’s guardian, mentor, and father figure before the beginning of the Hundred Year War, as well as a member of the Council of Elders.
He was the greatest Airbender in the world during his time. During his youth, Gyatso showed proficiency in the use of Airbender staff, as he was able to windsurf using his glider and perform numerous maneuvers while in the air.
When the Fire Nation besieged the Southern Air Temple, Gyatso used his air-bending abilities to fend off and eliminate numerous Fire Nation assailants, before he was ultimately subdued and killed along with the rest of his people.
1/20. Master Roshi (Dragon Ball, Anime TV series)
A legendary champion of the World Martial Arts Tournament, Master Roshi is among one of the strongest humans in history and the strongest fighter of his generation. Despite his advanced age reducing his natural stamina and endurance while also reducing his peak performance, he makes up for it with super efficiency both physically and mentally able to easily read his opponent’s movements and battle tactics.
His experience and intuition have honed his natural instincts to become fully aware of his surroundings to the point of practically being able to move against threats automatically.
A grandmaster of all martial arts and hand-to-hand combat styles, along with their respective techniques and skills, Roshi is an outstandingly versatile fighter and tactician, able to quickly see through an opponent’s skills and effortlessly change his own methods to best suit the situation.