Which Celebs Have Joined the Jiu Jitsu Craze? (Hint: A lot!)


Following in the footsteps of many celebrities who have sung the praises of grappling arts, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was recently photographed winning his first Jiu Jitsu competition as a white belt. As a fellow white belt, I was impressed. Now that even tech billionaires are joining the Jiu Jitsu cult – ahem, sport – I think it’s safe to say that this addictive activity – with a massive cult following – is at peak popularity.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 17: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leads a conversation on free expression at Georgetown University on October 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. The event was hosted by the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy and its Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics). Be it the influence of Joe Rogan, or just a general growing interest, the rise in Jiu Jitsu’s popularity has been epic as of late. Four new schools have opened locally since I began training in 2021, and there were already quite a few. With superstars like Gordon Ryan and John Danaher amassing massive followings, great things seem to be happening for this fun and unusual activity that’s been around since the 1970s but has only recently made it into popular culture.

So what is Jiu Jitsu? Where does it come from?

A brief history of BJJ

Jiu Jitsu is a grappling-based self-defense martial art/sport. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is the kind practiced in the US, was invented in 1917 by Carlos Gracie. Gracie (perhaps the most well-known name in all of BJJ history) adapted it from the Japanese style of Jiu Jitsu, which was introduced to him by Mitsuyo Maeda, an immigrant to Brazil from Japan. Carlos Gracie fathered 21 children, 13 of whom became black belts, which is how it first reached the United States in 1972. One of his sons, Carley Gracie, was invited by US Marines to teach Gracie-style Jiu Jitsu on their base in Virginia. Carley then went on to teach in various states and finally landed in California, where he set up camp in 1979. Eventually other family members joined him in the US, setting up schools all across the country, until eventually the name Gracie became synonymous with the sport of Jiu Jitsu (and, also, controversy — that family has had a lot of drama).

In 1994, IBJFF — the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation — was founded. It now hosts several of the largest and most prestigious competitions for the sport, in addition to Grappling Industries and Fuji, with tournaments scheduled all over the country nearly every weekend for non-professionals who just compete for fun. ADCC, however, is like the Super Bowl of Jiu Jitsu; it’s only held every two years, and features the best of the best in the sport.

The 21st Century

The sport continued to grow in popularity through the early 2000s; more competition series were founded, more schools opened. The last ten years, however, saw a massive jump in gym openings and new students. There are now more than 10,000 Jiu Jitsu schools in America, making it quite the popular martial art. It is a bit of a revolving door, however. 90% of people who start will quit before they get their blue belt; many quit prior to that as well. It’s not an easy skill to learn, and it’s easy to get injured or simply give up.

Celebrities Who Do Jiu Jitsu

LAS VEGAS - JULY 02: Actor, comedian and Ultimate Fighting Championship color commentator Joe Rogan arrives at the official Silver Star Casting Co. pre-party for UFC 116 at Studio 54 inside the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino July 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Joe Rogan

Joe Rogan is probably the most famous and most vocal Jiu Jitsu practitioner around. Not only is he a UFC commentator and a black belt in the sport, he is personal friends with BJJ superstar and ADCC champion Gordon Ryan. He has had many professional Jiu Jitsu competitors and coaches on his hugely popular podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience. Plus, he lives in Austin, where all the big-time grapplers train nowadays.

TABOO, Tom Hardy, 'Episode 4', (Season 1, ep. 104, aired Jan. 28, 2017). Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy made waves back in 2022 when he snuck into a U.K. Jiu Jitsu tournament to compete as a blue belt. He won, too, so he must be pretty good!

MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN, (aka MARRIED WITH CHILDREN), from left: Ed O'Neill, Christina Applegate, 'Kelly Breaks Out', (Season 9, episode 903, aired September 18, 1994), 1987-1997.Ed O’Neill

Married…With Children’s Ed O’Neill is not only a black belt in Jiu Jitsu, but he got his belt from Rorion Gracie, son of BJJ legend Helio Gracie and nephew of BJJ inventor Carlos Gracie!

ALADDIN, director Guy Ritchie, on-set, 2019.Guy Ritchie

Snatch director Guy Ritchie is a black belt under Renzo Gracie, grandson of Carlos Gracie. If you’re noticing a pattern, yes, the Gracies are a pretty big deal around Jiu Jitsu! There are also a lot of them.

FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW, Jason Statham (right), 2019.Jason Statham

Action hero Jason Statham is a purple belt under Renzo Gracie as well!

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 12: Mario Lopez attends the 95th Annual Academy Awards on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California. Mario Lopez

Lopez won a gold medal in the blue belt division at an IBJJF tournament in 2022 and was recently promoted to a purple belt. His wrestling background probably helps his quick ascent!

JIU JITSU, Nicolas Cage, 2020. (Film scene)Nicolas Cage

There are rumors that Nicolas Cage, who starred in the science fiction martial arts film titled Jiu Jitsu pictured above (which, oddly, has very little Jiu Jitsu in it), is a black belt, but this has not been confirmed, so it’s probably not true. Who wouldn’t show that off?

CULVER CITY, CA - APRIL 23: Actor Scott Caan attends Safe Kids Day 2017 at Smashbox Studios on April 23, 2017 in Culver City, California. Scott Caan

Hawaii Five-0 actor Scott Caan is a BJJ black belt, and trains with fellow actor Alex O’Loughlin.


Although he is just a white belt like me, Reeves also spent a lot of time training in Judo, Karate, and Krav Maga before starting Jiu Jitsu, where he is coached by the legendary Machado brothers. They’re not Gracies, but they’re world champions, so he is probably in very good hands.

SPREAD, (film scene) Ashton Kutcher, 2009.Ashton Kutcher

That ’70s Show star Ashton Kutcher will likely join the Celebrity BJJ Black Belt Club sooner rather than later! He is a brown belt under 8th degree black belt Rigan Machado — which, coincidentally, is the association my own gym is under. Machado got his black belt from—you guessed it—a Gracie. Carlos Gracie Jr., to be specific.

DELTA FORCE 2, Chuck Norris (standing front), 1990

Chuck Norris

This is probably not surprising, but this Walker, Texas Ranger star was awarded a black belt by the Machado brothers.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 25: Russell Brand poses for photographs as he arrives to deliver The Reading Agency Lecture at The Institute of Education on November 25, 2014 in London, England. Russell Brand will deliver 'a manifesto on reading' which will be in part personal, sharing his own experience of books and reading while growing up in the UK. Russell Brand

A purple belt and very vocal champion of the sport of Jiu Jitsu, Brand trains under another Gracie-awarded black belt coach, Roger Gracie.

(This is not even the full list of celebrities who roll, and it’s sure to get longer the more awareness is brought to it.)

A copy of Breakfall enjoying Jiu Jitsu class

I’m not a celebrity, but I did write my second novel about a mysterious murder in Chicago in which all the suspects belong to the same close-knit Jiu Jitsu gym. If you like Jiu Jitsu, or spicy domestic thrillers with unusual settings, you can check it out here!