The real story behind Willie Nelson’s martial arts training

While you’re certainly familiar with some of Willie Nelson’s songs, you might not know that the legendary singer-songwriter is a formidable opponent when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. Before you get a roundhouse kick in the face, it’s important to examine Nelson’s impressive resume. He released his 72nd studio album, A Beautiful Time, in 2022, featuring a mix of original jams and covers of classic artists like the Beatles and Leonard Cohen, per New Releases Now. Just a year earlier, Nelson released two more albums, as well as an album of Frank Sinatra covers called That’s Life, which earned him a Grammy nomination. Additionally, he celebrated his 89th birthday on April 29, according to Rolling Stone. Outside of music, he’s an entrepreneur with a company dedicated to cannabis-related paraphernalia called Willie’s Reserve and a CBD brand called Willie’s Remedy.

Nelson is also an author and published his memoir, Me and Paul, in October. Writing about his many passions, he explained, “I’m at the age where I’ve long since stopped messing around and started focusing on the important things” (via the Los Angeles Times). For Nelson, that includes staying healthy and active. “I think martial arts is one of the best exercises you can do. Mentally, spiritually, physically, everything. I’m sure that helped,” Nelson told the BBC of his impressive staying power. So the marijuana-loving country rebel developed hands that could be registered as weapons.

Call him Kung Fu Willie

Willie Nelson loves to stay active and that includes playing golf. While an injury during lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic kept him from swinging clubs, he’s been keeping up with martial arts. According to his friend and neighbor in Hawaii, Woody Harrelson, one of Nelson’s secrets to longevity is engaging in fun hobbies. “He’s always playing — he hasn’t lost his kid juice. He’s constantly strumming the guitar, playing a song or playing a game, and even in conversation, he’s like a really playful kid who thankfully never grew up,” Harrelson told the Wall Street Journal.

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Nelson first became interested in martial arts when he was a boy and ordered self-defense books that he saw advertised in the Batman and Superman comics, which he used to read. “Because I had to fight a lot – and I liked that – I wanted to be good at it. I was given all the books on jujitsu and judo, which were the major martial arts of the day,” Nelson wrote in Willie: An Autobiography.” As he got older, Nelson enrolled in “kung fu classes, where I learned letting things slide instead of trying to play macho. Kung fu taught me patience. I learned that I didn’t have to jump to get into fights.” boxed and wrestled.” Growing up, I loved Charles Atlas, Bruce Lee and kung fu,” Nelson told The Telegraph of his fitness idols.

Willie Nelson received impressive awards

During a 2014 ceremony in Austin, Texas, Willie Nelson received a fifth-degree black belt in martial arts. His specialty is a Korean version called Gongkwon Yusul, which Nelson practiced for more than 20 years – a number that impressed both Nelson and his instructor, Sam Um. Um recalled that Nelson was too old to practice, as the singer wanted to start training when he was around 60. As for Nelson, he “never thought of anything but a second degree black belt” and yet in the week of his 81st birthday he earned his fifth degree honors, according to the BBC. At the ceremony, Um admitted that Nelson impressively “has more stamina than I do”. In addition to Gongkwon Yusul, Nelson also trained in taekwondo while living in Nashville, Tennessee. By the time he was 78, he was earning his second-degree black belt in Olympic sport, Nelson told The Telegraph. With the success, Nelson joined other celebrities like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Steven Seagal, both of whom hold black belts in some form of martial arts (via TheThings).

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Nelson appeared to have no intention of giving up martial arts after receiving his black belts. “I’m still doing it more often than ever,” he told Slate in 2020. “One thing it gives you is a little bit of confidence that you don’t have to worry a lot because you’re able, deal with every situation. Not being afraid is a pretty good thing,” he explained.