Surely, almost everybody who saw Michael Jai White for the first time thought he was just a simple actor. Yes he has had a lot of action movies but stereotype would tell us (especially those who are not action movie addicts) that he maybe a body builder, but not a martial artist.
Those who take time to know about White and read his biography would be surprised to find out that he is a black belt in numerous martial arts styles. He started training at the age of eight and earned his first black belt when he was twelve. These fighting styles are Shotokan, ITF Tae Kwon Do, WTF Tae Kwon Do, Kobudo, Goju Ryu, Tang Soo Do, Kyokushin, and his most recent black belt (October 11, 2013), the Superfoot system. Moreover, he is now the head of World Oyama Karate. In his over 20 years of experience, he got the chance to train privately with action personalities such as Bill Wallace, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Joe Lewis, Jean Claude Van Damme, and many more.
The reason why he started learning martial arts is not revealed in most articles, but perhaps it has something to do with his world growing up. Though he was born in Brooklyn, New York, he lived life in the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut starting in his teens. As most people already know, Bridgeport is one of the country’s cities with highest crime rates and is also close to Westport which is the exact opposite of the former city – it has one of the highest per-capita income levels in the country. This fact exposed and probably influenced the young White to the differing aspects of both worlds. In school, he would usually hang out with the not-so-popular geeks but he himself would carry a street kid character. He hates bullies and would always offer up a fight if he meets one, which gave him the reputation as the most feared street fighter in town.
At the age of 14 he was often mistaken by people as a big man (who no one would really want to mess with) as he showed the characteristics of an adult – already reaching his maximum six feet height, having facial hair and a low voice, and even living independently. He provided for himself by teaching Karate at the local YMCA, dancing in contests, and competing in tournaments.
When he graduated high school he entered college without really knowing what he wants to do for the rest of his life therefore enrolling in different courses and universities, one after the other. One thing remained constant however – he made sure he enrolled in an acting class though he never really thought about it as a serious career.
After school he discovered that he was indeed inclined to protect and guide younger people, this time finding himself teaching emotionally disturbed junior high school students. He did this for three years and says that this is his proudest achievement.
Eventually he started to pursue his calling to acting, auditioning in Manhattan whenever he gets the chance. He started in the industry through theatre roles, commercials, and playing small roles in soaps. It was difficult for him to decide to focus on acting at first but with the moral support of his students, he did so.
His big break came when he played Mike Tyson in the 1995 HBO film Tyson. After that he got the title of being the first African American to star as a major comic book hero in a major motion picture by portraying Al Simmons in Spawn (1997).
The 46-year old acts not because he loves acting. He has the conscious purpose of using the art to continue guiding and teaching people of the truth in life and good values. He hopes to inspire people by appearing in TV’s and big screens while expressing himself whose character has been moulded by martial arts. Quoting him, “I am a Martial Artist, first.” He also directed a movie that he starred in – Never Back Down part 2