By Brad Dison
Carlos was a shy and reserved kid. He was so shy that when a teacher called on him in class, he would rather take a poor grade than take the chance of embarrassing himself in front of the class. When Carlos was about eight years old, he and his family moved to Miami, Arizona. Carlos was the only blond-haired, blue-eyed child in the school. Most of the students were Native Americans.
Bobby, a Native American, was the class bully. He was the same age as Carlos, but he was much larger. Carlos’s shyness made him the perfect target for bullying. Bobby chased Carlos home every day. Fortunately, Carlos was a faster runner than Bobby. One day, Bobby broke one of the desks in their classroom. The teacher blamed Carlos and threatened to paddle him unless he confessed. Carlos knew Bobby had broken the desk, but he would rather have taken the punishment than to draw more harassment from Bobby. As the teacher was leading Carlos out into the hall for his punishment, a brave student exposed the real culprit, Bobby. It was he who received the punishment. Although Carlos had escaped punishment from the teacher, he fully expected to receive some sort of punishment from Bobby.
Every day, Bobby chased Carlos from school, past the gas station next to Carlos’s home, and only broke off the chase once Carlos was safely inside. One day, as Bobby chased Carlos home, the owner of the gas station stopped Carlos. Bobby waited for his chance to resume the chase. Jack, the owner of the gas station, told Carlos that it was time for him to fight Bobby. Carlos replied that Bobby was too big for him to fight. Jack convinced Carlos that he had to stand up to Bobby or he would never stop bullying him. Bobby, anxious to resume the chase, was surprised when Carlos ran toward him. Carlos and Bobby wrestled and rolled around in the dirt. Carlos was losing until he grabbed one of Bobby’s fingers and bent it backward. Tears streamed from Bobby’s face. Carlos asked Bobby if he would give up, to which Bobby nodded. Carlos released Bobby’s finger. Bobby had no intention of letting Carlos win. He tackled Carlos and the fight resumed. Carlos grabbed the same finger and bent it backwards again. Bobby screamed and cried again. Carlos bent Bobby’s finger even farther than before and Bobby promised to give up. This time he meant it. Bobby never chased Carlos again and even became friends. Carlos learned an important lesson from his confrontation with Bobby that helped him throughout his life. He learned that fear can often be overcome by facing it.
In high school, Carlos was not academically inclined, but he enjoyed competing in sports. His goal was to become a police officer. He was intrigued by, as he envisioned it, the good guys versus the bad guys. He was captivated by the excitement and action that police work would offer. Carlos decided that his best shot at becoming a police officer was to join the Air Force and work as a military policeman.
In August of 1958, two months after graduating from high school, Carlos enlisted and became a military policeman, all according to his plan. Although the Korean War had ended, tensions between North and South Korea still ran high. Carlos was transferred to Osan, Korea. Soldiers at Osan Air Base had just three ways to spend their spare time; drinking alcohol, enrolling in academic classes, or studying martial arts. Carlos was not interested in alcohol or academic classes, so he focused on martial arts. He studied judo and a Korean style of karate called tang soo do. Carlos practiced for hours each day and eventually earned a black belt in tang soo do and a third-degree brown belt in judo. Carlos was certain that these skills would help him land a job with the police.
In the early 1960s, the Air Force transferred Carlos to Riverside, California. In his free time, Carlos competed in karate matches. Carlos won match after match. Pretty soon, he was teaching the karate club at the Air Force base. After four years in the Air Force, Carlos had the option to reenlist. Although he enjoyed his time in the military, Carlos was ready to go to work for the Los Angeles Police Department. LAPD, however, was not ready for Carlos. There were no job openings and there was a six-month waiting list for applicants.
Carlos decided to teach karate as a way to make some money until there was an opening at the police department. To attract more students, Carlos continued competing in karate matches. With each tournament win, the number of students grew. Pretty soon, Carlos owned several karate schools in and around Los Angeles. He kept winning tournaments and became the title six-time undefeated World Professional Middleweight Karate Champion.
Living in Los Angeles, his reputation as a karate champion garnered the attention of Hollywood movie stars who needed karate training for their film roles. He gave private karate lessons to actors and actresses such as Steve McQueen, Bob Barker, Priscilla Presley, and the Osmond family. It was Steve McQueen who encouraged Carlos to begin acting. In his first role, he played a bad guy with a single speaking line in the Dean Martin film The Wrecking Crew. He played Bruce Lee’s nemesis in Way of the Dragon. So far, Carlos has appeared in more than 40 films and television productions, but only his family and close friends call him by his real name, which is Carlos.
Back in 1958, when Carlos was at boot camp in Lackland, Texas, one of the guys in his barracks pointed out that it was odd that he was named Carlos although he was not Hispanic. He asked what Carlos meant in English. Carlos answered that it was equivalent to Charles. “Good,” the soldier said with a smile, “We’ll call you Chuck. Chuck Norris.”
Source: Norris, chuck. Against All Odds. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004.
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