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'Master' Willie Nelson earns 5th-degree black belt


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Some advice for when Willie Nelson slides off his sneakers personalized with the word "Texas": Don't mess with him.

The country music icon who turns 81 this week received his fifth-degree black belt in the martial art of Gong Kwon Yu Sul on Monday night, parking his tour bus outside the Austin studio of his instructor who began teaching him two decades ago.

Nelson didn't show off his chops but Grand Master Sam Um assured a packed room that the "Red Headed Stranger" could hold his own against anyone. As is typically the case wherever Nelson goes, other celebrities were close: this time Austin resident Lance Armstrong tiptoed past parents of other students to see his fellow Texan honored.

"Honestly, I was surprised to be getting this degree," Nelson said on his bus before the ceremony. "I don't know what else is out there. I never thought about anything beyond second-degree black belt."

Nelson's birthday is Wednesday - though he's claimed before that the date is really April 29, a day earlier. He said a doctor gave him a clean bill of health earlier Monday during an annual exam.

The singer gives martial arts a lot of credit for that. Although off stage he's more famously known for more mellow interests - like smoking pot - Nelson said he stays physical whenever possible. He's also a runner and avid bike rider.

"I'm pretty healthy at 81. I think a lot of it has to do with the exercise that you do," Nelson said. "I think martial arts is one of the best exercises you can do. Mentally, spiritually, physically, everything. I'm sure that's helped."

Nelson cinched his black belt - personalized with his name - around a black robe and wore his signature braids behind his head. It was a more low-key affair than usual for the lionized singer: Just this past weekend, Oscar winner and fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey inducted Nelson into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame at a blowout concert.

When Nelson initially showed up to his studio, Um said he worried about the musician's heart because of his age. Then the instructor got a glimpse of his lifestyle over the next 20 years.

"He has more stamina than I do," Um said.


Join the discussion

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hell6man April 30 2014 at 2:31 PM

rock on master willie and congratulations on everything!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
GUNSLINGER April 30 2014 at 8:34 AM

Been there, done that, now I just carry a gun!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flag Reply +10 rate up
3 replies
Jeb May 01 2014 at 5:51 PM

You believe this BS 'bout ole Willy, you been kicked in the head once too often.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
SUNFLOWERgirl Jeb May 01 2014 at 10:58 PM

Sorry, never been kicked in the head, ever. Willy Nelson has helped Wicked Wendy fund raise. Believe it or not. Here is a link to prove it:


Flag Reply 0 rate up
thekoshersissy April 30 2014 at 1:32 PM

I love you Willie...but that better not be a weave braid. It looks thick compare to the rest of your doo.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
ronald1216 May 02 2014 at 2:07 AM

all those belts by law have to be taken away from him for miss using his abilities.and placed in a jail cell without him.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
rohrscheibcroh April 30 2014 at 8:09 PM


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1 reply
ROBERT rohrscheibcroh May 01 2014 at 10:35 PM

Yeah. He is a fraud.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
johnria April 30 2014 at 4:25 PM

I am sure he was considered a master prior to receiving the fifth grade. These honors are not given for performances on the mat. They are usually given for contributions to the sport in the form of promoting or writing a book about the sport. I met a Japanese man one time who held a fifth Dan in judo. He was very old. Somewhere in his eighties.

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spdy65 April 30 2014 at 2:53 PM

Happy Birthday Willie!

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emam545 April 30 2014 at 6:39 PM

Congrats Willie, now go kick the governments *ss.

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C Redden April 30 2014 at 2:55 PM

WAY to go willie not many of us have this....

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