How Many Black Belts Does Jean-Claude Van Damme Really Have?

With his splits and spin-kicks, Jean-Claude Van Damme ruled the action movie scene from the late 1980s to mid-1990s. However, as the old millennium gave way to a new one, his star power started to slowly dwindle, in no small part thanks to burned industry bridges: According to the Express, the Muscles from Brussels says he was "on the blacklist in Hollywood for years" after Timecop, thanks to a combination of substance abuse and overly ambitious financial demands.

Still, despite his waning fame and personal problems, there's no denying that the man can kick like few others. But ... are those proper, martial arts kicks, or elaborately choreographed show moves that would be useless in a real fight? What, exactly, is Van Damme's actual status in the world of martial arts? Is he one of those action stars who are actually really terrible fighters, or does he have a selection of black belts hanging in his closet? Let's see how many, if any, black belts Jean-Claude Van Damme really has.

Jean-Claude Van Damme has a black belt in karate

According to Kung Fu Kingdom, Jean-Claude Van Damme indeed belongs in the ranks of action stars with very real black belts. In fact, he has held a legitimate black belt in karate since the age of 18. While it's true that a black belt doesn't automatically translate to great fighting skills, it's worth noting that Van Damme is also an accomplished competitor in semi-contact karate and full-contact kickboxing. And ... crotch punching. He has also dabbled in bodybuilding, and has a Mr. Belgium title to prove it ... which, come to think of it, brings a whole new dimension to the whole Muscles from Brussels thing. 

However, there is one physical art that Van Damme values particularly highly, and that he often refers to when talking about his training: ballet. Yes, Van Damme has five years of ballet training in his resume. He took it up at 16 in order to gain more flexibility, and soon discovered that all those other, ultra-macho things that he practiced were child's play in comparison. "Ballet is an art, but it's also one of the most difficult sports," Van Damme says. "If you can survive a ballet workout, you can survive a workout in any other sport." That's pretty high praise, but then again, we are talking about a man who's so elastic that he uses splits as a go-to fighting move. He probably knows what he's talking about.