Profile of Jim Kelly

Born: May 5, 1946
Died: June 29, 2013 (Aged 67)
Birth Sign: Taurus
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 175 lbs
Country: Kentucky, U.S.A.

We found a very cool tribute video on YouTube to get you warmed up!

Training Background

  • Jim trained in both Shaolin-Do karate and Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate
  • He went on to win the World Middleweight title in 1971 at the Long Beach International Karate Championships
  • In his later years, he trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with the Gracie brothers in their garage!


Jim Kelly was born in Millersburg, Kentucky. He grew up competing in a variety of sports, including American football and basketball, but got side-tracked or ‘hooked’ as he put it, in favour of karate. He trained hard, and won the World Middleweight Karate Title in 1971. “Everybody thought I was crazy,” Jim recalls. But he persisted, and it was because of this drive that he gained respect relatively quickly in the martial arts world.

Jim moved to L.A. and opened a karate dojo there. His plan was to use the money he gained from it to kick start his acting career, but opportunity presented itself before he had a chance when he was asked to train Calvin Lockhart in karate for his upcoming role in Melinda. Jim was so impressive that he ended up playing the role of Lockhart’s karate instructor in the movie himself! It was this step onto the big screen that initially pushed Jim into the limelight, and landed him the role of ‘Williams’ in the martial arts smash hit Enter the Dragon.

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Although Jim was initially worried about his lack of acting practice, he’d had private lessons with an acting teacher prior to being flown over to Hong Kong. His acting teacher had told him to draw from a professional sports player who he thought emulated the part of Williams the most. Of course, Jim chose Muhammad Ali. Jim felt initially homesick in Hong Kong, but the experience allowed him to get up close and personal with Bruce Lee, probably the greatest martial arts action hero of all time. In interviews, Jim spoke fondly and reverently of Bruce, remembering that he appreciated him most on Enter the Dragon because he respected Jim as a martial artist, and let him have creative say in his fight scene choreography.

When Jim returned from Enter the Dragon, he gained considerable interest in the martial arts and the African American community, where he had become a source of inspiration for young men. This led to a three-movie contract with Warner Brothers: Black Belt Jones, Hot Potato and Golden Needles. In Black Belt Jones, Jim plays a suave, ass-kicking starring role, and gets to really show off his talents in a series of slow motion scenes. The best moment of all is when Jim knocks down several guys in a circle with a series of butterfly kicks!

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During this time, Jim also collaborated with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson in filming Three The Hard Way. In an interview, Jim calls himself, Brown and Williamson the “last three black action heroes.” He tells us that it was an “incredible experience” to make movies with Jim Brown, a hero and role model of his. After One Down, Two to Go in 1982, Jim began to decline scripts. His reasoning behind this was that he didn’t want his fans watching him in films that didn’t represent what he believed.

Jim went onto experiment with creating his own unique style, as well as training with the Gracie brothers in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu when they still taught in garages! Always the athlete, Jim spent the latter part of his years playing and teaching tennis. Sadly, the legend Jim Kelly died aged 67 in 2013.


  • Willy Mays – His childhood hero, a professional baseball player.
  • Jim Brown – Both a professional football player and an actor, it is easy to see why Kelly found him to be such a great influence when he himself flirted with both fields during his career.
  • Mohammad Ali – Jim held him in the highest respect both ‘in the ring and outside the ring’.
  • And of course, Bruce Lee.

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A few classic one liners from Jim Kelly

  • ‘Man you come right out of a comic book!’ – Enter the Dragon
  • ‘Your idea of what’s important and mine are two different things.’ – Black Samurai
  • ‘My mama wanted people to show me respect…’ – Three The Hard Way
  • ‘You know, you ought to write comedies for television!’ – Black Belt Jones
  • ‘When it comes I won’t even notice, I’ll be too busy looking good’ – Enter the Dragon
  • ‘You know, you’re getting to be a real pain in the ass, man!’ – Three The Hard Way


1973Enter the Dragon
1974Black Belt Jones
1974Three The Hard Way
1974Golden Needles
1976Hot Potato
1977Black Samurai
1982One Down, Two to Go

There are two very nice interviews with Jim on YouTube circa 1996.
Part 1

Part 2

Here’s an interesting little clip of Jim at WonderConSF 2010 talking about Enter The Dragon:

Emily Zarza

Although Emily had spent a year learning Shotokan Karate as a teenager, she spent three months at a martial arts school in the Fujian province of China and discovered her passion for kung fu! She practiced White Crane style, returning for a full year to learn Yang and Sun style Tai Chi as well as Ba Gua and Xing Yi Fist, Bai Ji Fist and weapon forms. Emily spends her free time perfecting her Tai Chi and hopes to teach it one day. Her favourite Kung Fu movie is The Grandmaster, but she also loves Kung Fu Panda, and has seen it more times than she would like to admit!

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