Dolph Lundgren

I discovered martial arts, first Judo and then Karate, and I became quite good at it, because I had something to prove. And more than anything, I needed to feel safe.

Dolph Lundgren

Many people know Dolph Lundgren as a successful movie star, who has appeared in more than 40 films, including the likes of Rocky IV, Universal Soldier, and The Expendables. However, he is first and foremost, a martial artist. He has been a Kyokushin practitioner for many years. He is a former European Karate Champion.

Hans Dolph Lundgren was born on 3 November 1957. He was the second of four children, having an older brother and two younger sisters. His father, Karl, was an economist, and engineer who worked for the Swedish government. His mother Brigitta was a language teacher.

Being from an academic family, Dolph Lundgren excelled at school. He would eventually follow his father and brother into the engineering field.

However, growing up Lundgren suffered from many allergies. This made him ill and left him weak and made participating in sports difficult. Unfortunately, this led to a difficult relationship with his father. He has alleged that his father was physically violent and abusive and labelled, his youngest son a loser. This did not stop Lundgren from loving his father and wanting to prove him wrong.

Partly because of his difficult relationship with his father, Lundgren went to live with his grandparents in 1970, when he was 13.

Lundgren began to flourish while living with his grandparents. He loved playing ice hockey. In 1973, at age 16, he began practising Judo. He did it for around six months, not really finding it to his liking.

In 1974 Lundgren and began practising Goju–Ryu Karate for around six months. He later switched styles to Kyokushin Karate.

Around 1975, Lundgren returned to Stockholm to attend university. It was during this time that he met Brian Fitkin who had arrived in Sweden from England.

Fitkin was a 4th Dan Kyokushin practitioner who had trained under Steve Arneil and Mas Oyama. In 1973, Black Belt Magazine named him one of the “Top 10 European Karatemen“.

Fitkin started teaching at Stockholm’s Karate Kai club in 1974. Lundgren started training under Fitkin who became a role model to him, and in years to come would become a close friend. Fitkin helped him face many of his insecurities.

In 1975 Lundgren received a scholarship to study Chemical Engineering in the United States. He studied at Clemson University and later at Washington State University.

Lundgren began competing in 1976 at WKF (Worlds Karate Federation) style tournaments. However, he lost his first four out of five fights.

In 1977 Lundgren returned from the United States and resumed his training with Brian Fitkin. He also started his mandatory military service.

Lundgren became Swedish Kyokushin Champion in 1979. He was selected to compete at the 2nd World Open Tournament in Tokyo, Japan for Sweden.

At the time of the World Open Tournament, Lundgren was a green belt. He had to borrow a brown belt so that he could compete. He was named Captain of the Swedish Team. He had a very good tournament. With his knockouts of his first two opponents by knee kicks to the face, the Tokyo crowd began to pay attention to this unknown fighter.

Lundgren faced 2nd Dan Makoto Nakamura in his next fight. Nakamura was the overwhelming favourite to win the tournament. However, the bout went the distance and had two further extensions. Nakamura was awarded a controversial decision and went on to win the tournament.

In 1980 Lundgren retained his Swedish Kyokushin title. He also won the heavyweight title at the BKK British Open.

Lundgren was graded to 1st Dan by Brian Fishkin in 1981. That year he became the European Heavyweight Champion at the BKK British Open which served as the official European Championships. He retained his European title the following year.

In 1982 Lundgren travelled to Sydney, Australia, to study for a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering at Sydney University, on a one-year scholarship. He had previously qualified from the Royal Institute of Technology with a Degree in Chemical Engineering.

At Sydney University Lundgren started a Kyokushin Karate club. He also mainly trained with John Taylor and Nik Cujic. Taylor was the highest-ranked Kyokushin practitioner in Australia at the time.

While in Australia Lundgren became the Australian Open Champion at the Australian Kyokushinkai Full-Contact Karate Tournament held at Geelong, Australia. He defeated Michael Majewski and Wayne Smith on his way to winning in the title.

As a student, Lundgren supplemented his income by working as a bouncer at several nightclubs. He also provided security for music acts visiting Sydney. During this time he met model and singer Grace Jones. This meeting would change the rest of his life.

In 1983 Lundgren stopped off in Japan, on his way back to Sweden. He took the opportunity to train with Mas Oyama.

Lundgren had started dating Grace Jones and in 1983 moved with her to New York. He had received a Fulbright Scholarship to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston to study Chemical Engineering. However, he decided to give up his scholarship to study acting at the Warren Robertson Theatre Workshop in New York. His father was not pleased. This also put an end to his competitive career, as he wanted to concentrate on establishing an acting career.

In New York, Lundgren continued his Karate training with Tadashi Nakamura, and Shigeru Oyama, who were both direct students of Mas Oyama. He would also travel to Sweden every year to attend and help teach at a karate summer camp.

To supplement his income, Lundgren worked as a bouncer alongside fellow actor Chazz Palminteri at the popular Limelight nightclub in Manhattan.

Lundgren’s first acting credit came in 1985. He had visited Grace Jones on the set of the James Bond movie, A View To A Kill. He was asked to try out for a small part as a henchman in the film.

Lundgren’s breakthrough role came in 1985 when he was cast as Ivan Drago in the film Rocky IV. During filming, he hit co-star Sylvester Stallone so hard that Stallone ended up in intensive care. Stallone wanted the fight scenes in the movie to appear more realistic and asked Lundgren to hit him harder.

By 1989 Lundgren had found acting success in Hollywood. In 1989 he starred in the film, The Punisher. Kyokushin legend, Kenji Yamaki also appeared in the film.

Through the late 1980s and 1990s Lundgren’s profile as an action movie star grew. He appeared in many blockbusters. He maintained his Karate training, with Brian Fitkin helping him prepare for many of these roles.

In 1994 Lundgren married Annette Qviberg a fashion stylist and jewellery designer. The couple moved to Marbella, Spain. They eventually had two daughters, Ida and Greta.

In Marbella Lundgren frequently trained at the dojo of Gustavo Adolfo Reque Cereijo, when time permitted. He also worked with the Spanish Kyokushin Federation.

In 1996 Lundgren was selected by the United States Olympic Committee to serve as the Team Leader of the 1996 US Olympic pentathlon team. He had starred in the film Pentathlon, and this had convinced the committee of his suitability. His duties included providing administrative duties for the US team.

Lundgren returned to Stockholm, in 1998, where he took his 3rd Dan examination. The grading consisted of a 20-man kumite challenge and a three-hour technical examination.

In 2004, Lundgren made his debut as a movie director in the film, The Defender, in which he also starred.

In 2007 Lundgren accepted an exhibition boxing match which appeared on Russian television. His opponent was Oleg Taktarov, a former UFC competitor. Lundgren was 47 at the time. He lost the five-round match by decision.

It was reported in May 2009 that three masked burglars had broken into Lundgren’s home while he was away. They had tied up and threatened his wife. However, they fled when they saw a family photo and realised who they were burgling.

Lundgren and Fitkin were invited to give a demonstration at the 2011 World Championships.

In April 2017 Lundgren underwent a double hip replacement. The surgery was a success. The following year he reprised his role as Ivan Drago in the film, Creed II, opposite Sylvester Stallone.

On 3 July 2019, the 11th Annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards was held at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Lundgren was the guest host of the event.

In 2020 the 2nd edition of “The Budo Karate of Mas Oyama” was published. The book was written by Cameron Quinn. Lundgren wrote the forward for the book.

Lundgren was promoted to 4th Dan by Brian Fitkin in 2020.

Dolph Lundgren currently lives in Los Angeles. He separated from his wife some years earlier. Karate has remained an important part of his life. During his Hollywood career, it has helped keep him grounded and balanced.

A very intelligent man, Lundgren is said to have an IQ of 160. He speaks six languages, English, Swedish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. He is also an accomplished musician, playing the drums.

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  1. Patrick, Namaste.. he is a great example, as are all you warriors, of what heights you we may achieve, in the pursuit of protecting, our ‘inner child’.

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