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Good Guys Smoke Cigars

Chuck Norris uses martial arts and profits from his Lone Wolf cigars to help steer kids straight.
Alysse Minkoff
From the Print Edition:
Chuck Norris, Jul/Aug 98

(continued from page 1)

Not content to be a celebrity who says one thing in public and does another thing in private, Norris does not equivocate about his enjoyment of cigars. "I'm not going to hide out in some back room and tell the world that I don't smoke cigars. I'm not going to lie about it. And when I created my cigar line, I did not do it so that I, personally, would make any money. It was a way of generating income for my foundation; all of my portion of the profits goes into Kick Drugs Out of America."

Norris's partner Geller agrees. "I don't think kids look at Chuck Norris and say, 'I'm going to smoke a cigar.' People form whatever habits they form based on whether they like something or not. The world wants to blame everybody else for what they do, and that really disturbs me. The man is a role model and he does a lot of charity work for what he believes in. What does that have to do with smoking a cigar?"

Norris is sitting by the lake at his ranch in Navasota, Texas, on a brilliantly sunny Saturday afternoon as he uncorks a bottle of Pinot Noir, lights a well-aged cigar and shares the story of his life. He was born Carlos Ray Norris, the eldest of three sons, in Ryan, Oklahoma, in 1940. His mother was of Irish and English descent; his father, a Cherokee Indian, deserted the family early in Norris's life. By the time Norris was 10 years old, his family had moved 16 times and he found himself in the unlikely role of caretaker to his two younger brothers, Weiland and Aaron. The experience taught the young Norris about the importance of family. With the strong influence of his mother, he also learned that with determination and persistence, there was no dream that would ever elude his grasp.

Appropriately enough, the man who plays the Lone Star lawman Cordell Walker each week on CBS's "Walker, Texas Ranger" once dreamed of becoming a police officer. Too young to become an officer immediately after high school, Norris spent the next four years in the Air Force, where he joined the military police. He was sent to Korea, where he began martial arts training to further his plans for law enforcement.

"Judo was the thing in the '50s and '60s," he says. "Karate wasn't even a word back then. I enrolled in judo class at Osan Air Force Base in Korea, and two weeks into training, I broke my shoulder."

Ironically, the setback propelled him into a discipline that would eventually change his life. "I had a sling on my arm and I couldn't train, so I went into the village and I kept seeing these heads pop up from behind a knoll. I moseyed up and I saw these Koreans doing these jump-spinning kicks in the air, and I was completely mesmerized. I couldn't believe a human body could do all of those things: jumps, heel kicks and all that. And they looked so mean, I was afraid to go over and ask what they were doing. My judo instructor on the base told me it was called tang soo do. He took me back to the village and introduced me to Mr. Shin, the instructor, and I started training while I still had one arm in a cast. I was training every day and every night, five hours a day, six days a week, and on Sunday, I studied judo. My arm eventually healed, and eventually the name of tang soo do was changed to tae kwan do."

Martial arts was to have many emotional as well as physical benefits for Norris. "By the time I left Korea, I had my black belt in tae kwan do and my brown belt in judo, and an interesting transformation was taking place. When I was growing up, I was a real shy kid. I guess not having a father image, a man to give you that strength of character, contributed to that. Martial arts really changed all that. That's why I'm such an advocate of the martial arts--because it does help you change your life in a positive direction. It helps you to be able to communicate, to be more self-assured, and it raises your self-esteem, which is the most important thing. It instills discipline and respect, which is lacking in many young kids. Discipline was the most important lesson I learned very early on in my martial arts career."

Norris returned home from the service in 1962 and decided to moonlight as a martial arts instructor to earn a little extra money for his family, giving lessons in his parents' backyard. "I married Dianne in 1958, before I went into the service. After I got out, I went to work at Northrop Aviation because our first son, Michael, was on the way." He tried out and passed his exam to enter the police force, but he was unwilling to wait the six months before he could enter the police academy. He decided instead to open up a martial arts school in Torrance, California, quit his job at Northrop and started teaching full time. A year later, he opened up a second school, then a third.

"I decided that the best way to get more students was to become a karate fighter. I entered my first tournament in Salt Lake City, took three of my students in my old, beat-up car--which barely made the trip--and we all fought in the tournament. My three students won and I lost. I drove back to California and they held their trophies. Philosophies are developed through experience, and I was really upset by losing. I said, 'While I may lose again, I'll never lose the same way twice.' That way you don't lose; you gain knowledge. Eventually, you realize that the only time you ever really lose is when you don't learn something from the experience."

Giving up on his dreams was never an option. In 1964, he won the L.A. Open. "I thought, if I could win the L.A. Open, why not the state? So in 1965, I won the state title. Then I thought, why not the national?" Norris proceeded to do just that, capturing the All-American karate title in New York in 1966. That same year, he won the international middleweight championship. In 1967 he won the middleweight division again and won the grand championship by beating the lightweight and heavyweight champions. In 1968 he won the grand championship title again, and he was the number one fighter in the country. "My schools by that time were running pretty well, so I decided to try for the international world middleweight title in New York at Madison Square Garden. I [won and] held that title and went undefeated until my retirement in 1974."

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