Spending his time training, Norris started to rise in the ranks. He first made big news in June of 1967, when he won his first tournament, beating established opponents such as Skipper Mullins. In the same month, he was declared champion at the S. Henry Cho’s All-American Karate Championship at Madison Square Garden.
His accolades would only increase from there, including holding the Professional Middleweight Karate champion title for six consecutive years. In all his years of competing in martial arts tournaments, Norris only suffered a total of ten losses, a startling number given that he competed for a long time.
He Needed More Skills
Norris got to work as a member of the military police in South Korea. While he was on patrol duty, he found himself unable to control a rowdy drunk at a bar, and he realized he needed better hand-to-hand combat skills. He first joined the base judo team but decided it wasn't for him.
Shortly thereafter, he came upon a dojo practicing Tang Soo Do, the Korean art of empty hand fighting. Despite an injured shoulder Norris joined the dojo and started learning. He also applied himself to the classic art of Tae Kwan Do.
Returning to America
Norris was discharged in 1962, at which point he returned to California. Following the end of his military service, he applied to be a police officer. While he was on the waiting list, however, he opened a martial arts studio and started competing in martial arts competitions.
His first two opponents dropped him to the mat. So did his next three opponents. However, after a few years (1967), he had improved enough to score a couple of victories. During this time, he also started creating his own unique style, which he dubbed the “Chun Kuk Do,” or “Universal Way” form.
While Norris perfected martial arts skills, he worked at the Northrop Corporation, which made jet fighters. As if that wasn't enough to keep him busy, he also opened a chain of karate schools!
A few famous faces took lessons there including Bob Barker, Priscilla Presley, Donny Osmond, Marie Osmond, Chad McQueen, and, most importantly, Steve McQueen. Despite the star power, Norris would end up having to close some of the schools down.
With some of his martial arts studios shutting their doors and the karate world firmly under his thumb (he retired from competition in 1974), Norris was looking for other chances. One of his students and friends, the king of cool Steve McQueen, suggested that Norris try to break into the acting world.
Chuck's acting debut was actually back in 1969, in the Dean Martin film “The Wrecking Crew.” It was the same year he won Karate's triple crown for most tournament wins of the year, and was named Fighter of the Year by “Black Belt” magazine.