Michael Jai White: Martial Arts Known (Belts, Fighting Style)

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Are you wondering what martial arts Michael Jai White knows and what his fighting style is?

In this article, we’ll look at Michael Jai White’s martial arts, Michael Jai White’s black belts, Michael Jai White’s fighting style, and his links to the UFC.

Michael Jai White: Martial Arts Known

Michael Jai White knows and is proficient in 12 martial arts. They are Japanese and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kyokushin, goju ryu, and shotokan karate, boxing, taekwondo (ITF and WTF), Tang Soo Do, Okinawan kobudo, wushu, the Superfoot System, and MMA (mixed martial arts).

While the information on what ages he learned each martial art is limited, let’s take a closer look at each of Michael Jai White’s martial arts and try to piece together an order.

We’ll also look at who he trained under, what age he trained in each martial art, and his background in each.

1. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu

Born on November 10, 1967, the first martial art Michael Jai White learned was Japanese jiu-jitsu at 7 years old in 1974.

His parents took him to classes because they believed it would help him with self-defense in school and on the streets of Brooklyn, New York.

Japanese jiu-jitsu was a martial art learned by the samurai as a supplemental skill to swordsmanship. It focuses on standing grappling, joint locks, throws, and chokes in order to immobilize an opponent as fast as possible.

Both judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu were derived from Japanese jiu-jitsu.

Michael Jai White only learned Japanese jiu-jitsu for less than a year so he never became fully skilled in the martial art.

2. Shotokan Karate

At 8 years old, Michael Jai White started shotokan karate after his family relocated to Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Shotokan is a style of karate focusing on speed, powerful and direct striking, wide and deep stances to generate maximum explosiveness, and the ability to deliver damage while avoiding damage with evasiveness.

Shotokan is known for its precision and efficiency in everything it does, as well as its focus on perfecting technique and form in strikes and movements.

Michael Jai White started competing in adult karate tournaments at the age of 15 and has famously trained with Tsutomu Oshima, the head of shotokan.

He competed in many karate tournaments while attending Southern Connecticut and UConn colleges, winning 26 titles including New England Grand Champion, North American Open, and U.S. Open.

He released a video on Youtube of himself competing in a shotokan tournament at the age of 19 in 1987.

In the video, he can be seen point-fighting with a wide stance and using a lot of side kicks to the opponent’s stomach. He never punches and occasionally uses a hook kick (Ura Mawashi Geri).

Michael Jai White has a black belt in shotokan karate and must have earned it between the age of 14 and 19 as he’s wearing a black belt in the video.

Here’s the video:

3. Kyokushin Karate

Shortly after starting shotokan karate, Michael Jai White also picked up kyokushin karate, which translates to ‘Ultimate Truth’.

Kyokushin karate is a fighting style focusing on full-contact sparring with minimal safety gear. It’s the most aggressive style of karate where strength, power, and endurance are emphasized to achieve knockouts and knockdowns.

He started his training under Shigeru Oyama, a New York instructor for 50 years who learned kyokushin from its founder, Mas Oyama.

Michael Jai White spent most of his kyokushin learning at Victory Dojo in Burbank, California – the school he now calls home and has taught at for many years as a way to give back.

Michael Jai White fell in love with kyokushin karate and it became the first martial art he earned his first black belt, at the age of 13. 

This love saw him spend a lot of his time throughout his teenage years fighting in tournaments and also teaching kyokushin karate.

Kyokushin karate became the martial art Michael Jai White preferred most and the foundation of his techniques and fighting style. This is because of its emphasis on tough sparring and its transferability to self-defense.

He’s notably trained with Bobby Lowe, an 8th dan kyokushin karateka, and Shokei Matsui, the current head of the International Karate Organization Kyokushin-kaikan.

4. Goju Ryu Karate

Michael Jai White studied goju ryu karate under Master Eddie Morales and earned a black belt in the martial art.

Goju ryu karate uses linear stances and point-based sparring, as well as explosive counter-strikes and movements.

Defensively, it uses soft and circular blocks and overall it uses both hard and soft techniques for close-distance fighting, to deliver what it believes to be a harmonious balance similar to the Yin-Yang concept.

5. Okinawan Kubudo

While the exact date has never been revealed by Michael Jai White, his kubudo training has led to him mastering 9 traditional martial arts weapons such as nunchucks and the bo staff.

Michael Jai White’s martial art skills in kubudo first became evident in the 1989 movie, Toxic Avenger II (his movie debut).

In this movie, MJW plays a small role and uses nunchucks in a fight scene with some kind of monster. This means Michael Jai White’s kubudo training likely started in 1987 at the age of 20 or before.

Here’s the scene:

He also uses nunchucks in one of his best movies, Black Dynamite (2009). In Black Dynamite, MJW is well-versed with nunchucks and uses them to defeat multiple opponents at once.

He’s notably trained with Fumio Demura, a legendary kobudoka who taught MJW most of what he knows.

6. Boxing

At 28 years old, Michael Jai White starred as Mike Tyson in the 1995 movie, Tyson. This means Michael Jai White likely started boxing around 1993 when he knew he had the role and would soon be filming.

To prepare, he performed extensive boxing training to mimic Mike Tyson’s explosive, powerful, and accurate style of iconic boxing.

Mike Tyson labeled the film as not so great but said Michael Jai White’s performance was brilliant.

He also has a famous 2010 video on Youtube where he’s teaching Kimbo Slice how to throw nontelegraphed punches.

In the video, he says he’s trained with a lot of top boxers, and that boxers are taught how to throw a flawed punch. He teaches Kimbo Slice to throw direct jabs without moving the shoulder or telegraphing with any other movement.

At the age of 43, the fact he’s teaching Kimbo Slice, a professional MMA fighter who’s just been on The Ultimate Fighter and who makes his UFC debut 3 months after the video was posted, shows how Michael Jai White’s a great boxer who understands technique and can teach it.

He’s also said he believes he would win in an exhibition boxing match against Mike Tyson because he’s sparred with famous boxers throughout his life, such as Lamon Brewster and Joe Lewis.

7. Taekwondo

Michael Jai White’s a black belt in both WTF and ITF taekwondo as they have distinct curricula, techniques, and grading systems.

And while he’s never revealed the age he started taekwondo, it’s likely to have been around 1997 when he was 30 years old, before his role in the 1999 movie, Universal Solider: The Return.

In the movie, Michael Jae White plays SETH, and in his fight scene against Claude Van Damme, he uses many flashy taekwondo kicking techniques and a very limited amount of punches.

He uses a jumping spinning crescent kick, spinning wheel kicks, jumping roundhouse kicks, hook kicks, front kicks, and multiple roundhouse kicks without putting his foot down – even disarming Van Damme with kicks.

Overall, he predominately uses kicks in this scene, which indicates Michael Jai White learned taekwondo before the movie. Taekwondo has a heavy emphasis on kicking and uses punches as a backup.

Learning taekwondo after karate would’ve been the next logical step for Michael Jai White’s martial arts journey, as the kicks look epic and work brilliantly in movies (this is why Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan also learned taekwondo).

8. Tang Soo Do

Michael Jai White has never revealed any information about his martial arts training in Tang Soo Do. The only information known is he’s a black belt in Tang Soo Do.

Tang Soo Do is a South Korean martial art based on shotokan karate and is seen as a middle ground between taekwondo and karate.

It has a more balanced approach between punches and kicks than shotokan and also a higher and narrower stance.

Not only striking, but Tang Soo Do also incorporates practical self-defense techniques and therefore teaches joint locks, throws, and pressure point strikes – all useful skills for the big screen.

9. Wushu

Michael Jai White has said he’s had years of wushu training and how he’s trained for many of those years under Eric Chen, American wushu team head coach and stunt coordinator for many well-known movies.

While wushu is a generic term for all Chinese martial arts, wushu can also refer to wushu-taolu, the demonstration of techniques and forms (taolu). 

Wushu-taolu performers also learn how to use and perform with several kung-fu weapons, which would’ve aided Michael Jai White’s kubudo training and knowledge.

On his Youtube channel, Michael Jai White has claimed wushu is the hardest of all martial art styles. He says it takes a lifetime to perfect wushu demonstration, and those who can perform it can likely perform almost anything.

While his wushu skills are evident in some of his movies, the best example is a short film he produced called Invictus.

Here’s Invictus, showing Michael Jai White’s karate and wushu-taolu abilities. He also shows his proficiency with nunchucks toward the end of the performance.

10. MMA (UFC)

Michael Jai White’s a very experienced mixed martial artist due to his experience in many martial arts and his acting in several MMA movies.

His first MMA movie was Undisputed II: Last Man Standing in 2006, which means he likely started MMA training around 2004.

He also acted in Blood and Bone (2009), Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011), and Never Back Down: No Surrender (2016), with all 4 being MMA-specific movies.

Also, while shooting his movie ‘Commando’ (2022) in 2020, Michael Jai White trained and sparred with the greatest MMA/UFC fighter of all time, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.

He’s notably been at the UFC Performance Institute to train with Francis Ngannou and has also sparred/trained with Kimbo Slice, Mike Bisping, Quinton Jackson, Uriah Hall, Donald Cerrone, Josh Barnett, Ben Saunders, Maurice Smith, Glover Teixeira, and Lyoto Machida.

Michael Jai White’s a big believer in MMA and has said on his Youtube channel, people should go into MMA if they want to be proficient in self-defense.

He’s also trained and worked with Alan Jouban, a retired UFC fighter who helps/helped Michael Jai White with his Youtube channel.

As he’s trained in MMA, it’s highly likely Michael Jai White also has some skill in wrestling and judo, two essential grappling arts for MMA.

11. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

There’s zero information on Michael Jai White’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu training.

However, he would’ve trained Bjj during his MMA training as it’s an integral art for understanding and success and was used a lot during his MMA movies mentioned above.

In 2017, Michael Jai White also answered on Twitter how Japanese jiu-jitsu was his first martial art and that he trains in Brazilian jiu-jitsu from time to time.

12. Superfoot System

In 2013, Michael Jai White earned his 9th black belt, in the Superfoot System developed by Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace. Wallace was an undefeated professional kickboxing champion known for his skill in using high-speed leg kicks.

A proficient practitioner in the Superfoot System has a dominant leg they use for multiple rapid-fire kicks without putting the foot down – normally the lead leg. The Superfoot System also emphasizes speed, flexibility, and balance. 

After earning black belts in the various karate martial arts he knows, Michael Jai White likely moved onto the Superfoot System in the 2000s and quickly learned what he needed.

He’s unlikely to have learned much more than he already knew after his time spent training in karate and taekwondo styles for many years, but Michael Jai White loves to learn new things and share knowledge/techniques.

Bill Wallace was simply another very skilled fighter who Michael Jai White wanted to spar with and learn from.

Michael Jai White’s Black Belts/Martial Arts Belts

As of 2023, Michael Jai White has 9 martial art black belts. While the exact order is unknown, he’s likely to have earned the black belts in this order:

1. Kyokushin Karate – confirmed first black belt at 13 years old in 1980

2. Shotokan Karate

3. Goju Ryu Karate

4. Okinawan Kubudo

5. ITF Taekwondo

6. WTF Taekwondo

7. Tang Soo Do

8. Wushu

9. Superfoot System – the last black belt he achieved in 2013

What Is Michael Jai White’s Fighting Style?

In his movies, Michael Jai White’s fighting style can only be described as mixed martial arts (MMA). 

He’s trained in at least 12 martial arts and has 9 black belts, and he uses different techniques and strengths from each when fighting in his movies.

He famously said, “Don’t shun any style, because every style has something to offer”. Much like Bruce Lee, he borrows from every martial art he knows and casts away what is useless depending on each situation.

And while Michael Jai White’s martial art style must be considered MMA, his fighting style’s heavily influenced by and based around karate, complemented with elements from other striking martial arts like taekwondo.

Outside of his movies, Michael Jai White’s fighting style is karate based, as it’s the only martial art he’s competed/fought in.

Michael Jae White UFC

People have wondered, if Michael Jai White is as skillful as his experience, movies, and he himself suggests he is, why hasn’t he fought in the UFC?

In a Youtube interview with VLAD TV in May 2020, Michael Jai White said, “So when people ask, well how come you didn’t want to fight for the UFC? 

Because I want to take care of my family. I don’t want to be absolutely broke in 2 years. Not saying they all do, but the majority.’

Before this, he was also talking about how people who don’t watch the UFC don’t know these fighters after they retire, and how the next chapter in their life doesn’t look so good.

He spoke of the money compared to what boxers make, labeling it ‘no comparison’.

For Michael Jai White, not only do the above factors deter him from fighting in the UFC or MMA, but he trains because he loves the physical and mental growth martial arts provide. He doesn’t train in martial arts to fight.

He also talks about the injuries UFC/MMA fighters face throughout their careers and the constant surgeries they have. They briefly touch on the stigma regarding how some MMA fighters get arrested and sent to prison.

Overall, he says the UFC and MMA lifestyle is not something he wants because he believes the negatives far outweigh the positives.

Others have suggested Michael Jai White hasn’t fought in the UFC or other top MMA promotions because losses would ruin his image and therefore his movie career.

Can Michael Jai White Fight In Real Life?

With his karate tournament experience and titles won, along with his 48 years of martial arts experience, Michael Jai White can definitely fight in real life in a professional MMA setting against those of a similar age (55) and weight (230 lbs – MMA heavyweights are 220 to 265 lbs).

He can also fight in self-defense, especially against untrained and even skilled martial artists with years of experience.

Not only his experience, but Michael Jai White is also a very skilled striker with perfect technique, refined over years of dedication to the striking arts of taekwondo and the karate styles of shotokan, kyokushin, and goju ryu.

He’s also extremely strong for his age range, having very low body fat and maintaining high levels of muscle mass. 

He’s also very fast for his weight and has likely developed a high fight IQ due to the years of sparring against highly skilled martial artists from many arts (boxing, MMA, karate, taekwondo).

Lastly, due to not having fought professionally, he has the advantage of being free of major injuries and surgeries. This is helped by his dedication to flexibility, balance, rest, cardiovascular endurance, and proper nutrition.

It’s highly likely he would lose in an MMA fight to former professional MMA fighters of the same weight and age, but this isn’t a surprise. 

Professional MMA fighters are trained killers and Michael Jai White doesn’t have the fight experience of having to dig deep mentally while hurt to continue pushing through and win.

However, Michael Jai White could definitely give them a good fight and would likely win a fight against a large majority of non-professional MMA fighters in self-defense and professional settings.

The Bottom Line

Michael Jai White is a legitimate martial artist proficient in many different martial arts, 12 in total. He also has 9 black belts and has been training in martial arts for the past 48 years since he was 7 years old.

As he’s proficient in 12 martial arts, Michael Jai White’s fighting style must be considered MMA as he uses techniques from every martial art he knows depending on the situation he’s in.

And while his fighting style is MMA, his fighting style within MMA would be as a striker, due to his focus on striking martial arts such as karate, taekwondo, and Tang Soo Do.

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