The country icon has practiced the Korean system for decades

By Andrea Billups
Updated April 24, 2014 01:00 PM
Credit: Courtesy Master Martial Arts

He’s got some kick! While Willie Nelson may seem to some like a kicked-back, mellow jammer, it turns out the country legend knows his way around the martial arts, studying Kung fu since he first arrived in Nashville decades ago.

Nelson, who turns 81 on Tuesday, is set to receive his fifth-degree black belt in the modern Korean martial art of Gong Kwon Yu Sul in a ceremony he will attend on April 28 in Austin, Texas, officiated by Grand Master Sam Um.

Nelson spoke of his love of martial arts in a 2013 interview with Men’s Health, noting it was fitness heroes Charles Atlas and Bruce Lee who were on his mind over the years as he continued to study and work out.

“It’s a good form of exercise, especially as you get older,” the prolific singer-songwriter said. “I went through school playing all kinds of sports. I played shortstop, I ran track. I played football. I was a pole vaulter.”

Later, as the Abbott, Texas, native began to focus on a music career in earnest, he turned to martial arts to stay fit while in Nashville, continuing to work out on his tour bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, while on the road.

“We used to offer Kung fu lessons to the kids in town,” Nelson told Men’s Health of his devotion. “It’s good for you.”

Showing no signs of slowing down creatively, Nelson, a father of seven, is set to release a new studio album this summer, produced by Buddy Cannon. He also plans to kick off a summer tour next month as a co-headliner with Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas.