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Jean-Claude Van Damme - martial artist and actor

Jean-Claude Van Damme (born Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg in Sint-Agatha-Berchem, in the Brussels-Capital Region, on October 18, 1960), is a Belgian-born martial artist and actor who is best known for his large catalogue of action movies. His Belgian background gave rise to the nickname "The Muscles from Brussels". Van Damme has been called the "King Of The Belgians" due to his international superstardom.

Early life
Van Damme began martial arts at the age of 10, enrolled by his father in a shotokan karate school.[1] He eventually earned his black belt in karate,[2] later winning the European Professional Karate Association's middleweight championship[1] (although he has claimed that he was "twice world champion"[3]). He also started lifting weights to improve his physique, which eventually led to a Mr. Belgium bodybuilding title.[4] At the age of 16 he took up ballet, which he studied for five years. He says of ballet that it "is an art, but it’s also one of the most difficult sports. If you can survive a ballet workout, you can survive a workout in any other sport." At the age of 18, Van Damme opened up the California Gym in Brussels, which one article claimed brought in $15,000 a month.[5] Van Damme was first seen on screen in the French-made Rue Barbare, released in 1984, followed in the same year with Monaco Forever, where he was credited as 'Gay Karate Man'. This gave Van Damme the impetus to give up his profitable fitness business in favor of acting. He left for America in the early 1980s (having first tried Hong Kong), initially sleeping in a rented car and doing odd jobs until he broke into film. Van Damme has studied Taekwondo and Muay Thai, along with Shotokan Karate. In 1996 or 1997, according to Sylvester Stallone, Van Damme almost came to blows with Steven Seagal at Stallone's party. Stallone explained: "I remember one time at my home in Miami, I think it was in 1996 or 1997, Jean Claude Van Damme was there with Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Arnie, Shaquille O'Neal, Don Johnson and Madonna. It was a heck of a party. Van Damme was tired of Seagal saying he could kick his ass and went right up to him and offered him the chance to step outside so he could wipe the floor with him, or should I say wipe the backyard with him. Seagal made some excuse and left."

Early films

He appeared as an extra in Breakin during one of the breakdance scenes. In 1985, he played Ivan Krushensky in No Retreat, No Surrender, which starred Kurt McKinney in the starring role. The director of the film, Patrick Passis, was a close friend.  Van Damme was scheduled to play the part of the camouflaged extraterrestrial monster in the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Predator, but wearing the heavy alien costume in the jungle was too difficult, and Van Damme, unhappy with his role, left the production. How he left the picture is disputed: some sources say he quit,[citation needed] others say he was replaced when the character was revised. Van Damme claims he intentionally got fired so he could move on to other movies. Van Damme's breakthrough role came in Bloodsport, a film that earned him a nomination as "Worst New Star" in the 1988 Golden Raspberry Awards. The critics were unimpressed, but Bloodsport proved to be Van Damme's stepping stone to more lucrative roles. The movie became a cult classic and is seen as one of the major contributors to the rise in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts. Van Damme became well known for his ability to do full splits while performing stunts, and his better than average flexibility, even for a martial arts practitioner. Many of his movies feature scenes showcasing him performing such splits.

Mainstream movies
Van Damme worked his way up to Hollywood mainstream in the 1990s, often working with acclaimed foreign directors. Notable movies include Kickboxer (1989), Double Impact (1991), Universal Soldier (1992), Nowhere to Run (1993), Hard Target (1993),Sudden Death (1995) and his most critically acclaimed work, Timecop (1994). Many of these roles included doppelgänger or Lazarus themes involving Van Damme's characters, an aspect unusual for the action movie genre.

Later career
By the end of the 1990s, Van Damme's high-profile career had faded but he continues to star in smaller, often direct-to-video movies. One of the main reasons for the downfall was his film Double Team which co-starred Dennis Rodman.[citation needed] After that Van Damme's films began to tank at the box office. Knock Off and Legionnaire were two of these unsuccessful films. He tried to jump start his falling career by doing a sequel to one of his more successful films, Universal Soldier. Universal Soldier: The Return did not do well at the box office or with his fans. After the failure of Universal Soldier: The Return, he started to star in direct to video films, such as Replicant and Derailed. His movies have earned over $1 billion worldwide, earning him a place in the action movie world along with others like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2007 he stars in the gritty thriller Until Death. In 1998, Van Damme and his former bodyguard Chuck Zito was involved in a fist-fight at a New York strip-tease bar called Scores. The event became notorious in the news and a scandal for Van Damme.