Does Willie Nelson Really Have A Black Belt?

The world of entertainment is full of amazing fighters with black belt-level martial arts skills to spare: Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and ... Willie Nelson? Wait, that can't be right. It's true that the Red Headed Stranger is an outlaw country kind of guy, and he has his history of shotgun-themed confrontations, but surely, the only belts the man is interested in are ones that hold a nice pouch for a certain beloved herb ... Or so it would seem. 

According to USA Today, Nelson has been a black belt martial artist since the day before his 81th birthday in 2014. Not just any old black belt, either — his rank is a very respectable 5th Dan black belt in a Korean martial art called GongKwon Yusul. It's worth noting that out of the three kick flick stars mentioned earlier, only Chuck Norris can boast higher belt ranks than that. 

What is Willie Nelson's black belt all about?

It's easy to think that any martial art willing to hand Willie Nelson a high-ranking black belt is the self defense industry's equivalent to a diploma mill. However, according to Black Belt Wiki and the book Taekwondo Superstars, GongKwon Yusul is not one of those systems that involve whatever Steven Seagal tried to convince us he was doing in that 2015 Aikido demonstration where he threw way fitter people around without really even moving. It's a relatively recent hybrid thing that was established by Kang Jun in the 1990s, and it incorporates Jun's favorite strikes, throws and locks from various different styles into a vast, complex arsenal of techniques that GongKwon Yusul focuses on applying in practical situations. While we're not going to compare Willie Nelson to Bruce Lee, it's worth noting that Lee applied a fairly similar philosophy to his famous Jeet Kune Do fighting style.

So, yeah. It turns out that the Red Headed Stranger is indeed a high-ranking master of a martial art that at least aims to be legitimately handy at dropping an opponent on his rear. Not that he really sees it that way, though: While he revealed in 2014 that he had practiced GongKwon Yusul for roughly 20 years, Nelson appear to see it more as a nice way of keeping fit. "It's just good for you physically," he says. "For your lungs. The more you're breathing, exercising, the better you're going to feel." We feel inclined to believe him, if only because we're not about to argue with an elderly country legend who we just found out has the skills to casually twist us into a pretzel.