On Thursday, Chip Wright, left, and Riley Hackett review techniques at Wright’s karate studio in downtown Medford. After 39 years leading Chip Wright’s champion karate, Wright passed the baton to Hackett. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Chip Wright demonstrates moves in 1988 to a group of karate students, left to right, Arley Tree, Michael Burton, Nathan Lake, Joel Hergert and Ross Keaton. [Bob Pennell/Mail Tribune/file photo]
Chip Wright, right, shown in 1993, was once a stunt double for action star Chuck Norris, left. [Mail Tribune/file photo]
A Southern Oregon martial arts master, best known as a stuntman for Hollywood star Chuck Norris, has passed the baton of his karate school to a new generation.
Chip Wright, owner of Chip Wright’s Champion Karate in downtown Medford, has named Riley Hackett as the successor to the Chuck Norris System karate school that Wright has run for 39 years.
Wright described Hackett as not only knowledgeable, personable, and driven enough to run the business, but also “a great martial artist”.
“He knows the whole program,” Wright said. “Now it’s up to me to help him out a bit.”
Wright said Hackett started out with a stronger mastery than he had when he took over the reins of the Southern Oregon school founded by Chuck Norris protege Bob Barrow in 1975.
When Wright took over in June 1983, he was a third-level black belt. Earlier this spring, Hackett was promoted — by Norris himself — to the rank of fifth-level black belt, the first rank considered “master” in Norris’ martial arts system.
“It’s a big step for our system,” Wright said.
Wright has since achieved ninth level black belt. Norris is a level 10 black belt.
It was only by chance that Wright found out what his calling would be.
Barrow was a social studies teacher at Crater High School who taught an after-school karate class. Wright’s wife, Jakki, told him about the class, and he stuck to the program as Barrow expanded the American Legion’s one-hall karate school from Central Point to its three-level location at 427 E. Main St., Medford, in the late 1970s.
Wright earned his black belt ahead of Norris in 1977, then was invited to the Hollywood star the following night. He later doubled as Norris in 1980s films including “GymKata”, “Eye for an Eye”, “Side Kicks”, “Top Dog”, “Forest Ranger”, “The Cutter”, “Missionary Man and “Walking Tall 2”, plus extensive work on the television series “Walker, Texas Ranger” between 1993 and 2002, and in 2005.
When showing photos of Wright from 1988 and 1993 to the Mail Tribune, Hackett said they were taken before he was born.
Hackett has been training with Wright for over 16 years, starting in the martial arts program at age 8.
“I just knew I liked doing karate,” Hackett said.
Over time Hackett started teaching classes, then about five years ago Wright asked him if he would be interested in taking over the business when the time came.
“I said yes,” Hackett said, adding that it’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
The transition hit another level this year, and Wright began bringing Hackett in early and managing more of the company’s day-to-day operations.
“When you run your own business, you’re your own secretary — and janitor,” Hackett said.
Hackett said he wants to continue Wright’s legacy and is highly motivated to be a resource for more than 250 students in programs ranging from “Little Champs” children’s karate programs to women’s self-defense and more. by Krav Maga.
“Continuing the growth of our students is very important to me,” said Hackett.
Wright said he plans to take a step back gradually as he works to “make sure Riley is successful”.
He is grateful to have been able to step back from a career spanning nearly four decades that he loved. When talking about seeing his students progress, he said, “You just can’t put words or value on that.”
“I told people I never had to come to work,” Wright said. “Martial arts is what I love.”
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