2:15 Van Damme laying down the moves
At the age of 12, Van Damme joined the Centre National De Karate (National Center of Karate) under the guidance of Claude Goetz in France. Van Damme trained for four years and he earned a spot in the Belgian Karate Team.
Jean-Claude made his debut in 1976, at the age of 16. Competing under his birth name of Jean Claude Van Varenberg, Jean-Claude was staggered by a round-house kick thrown by Toon Van Oostrum in Brussels, Belgium. Van Damme was badly stunned, but came back to knock out Van Oostrum moments later.
In 1977, at the WAKO Open International in Belgium, Jean-Claude lost a decision to fellow team mate Patrick Teugels. The experience left an impact on Claude Goetz and he felt that Jean-Claude needed more training before competing again.
After six months of intense training and sparring, Master Goetz decided to unleash his prized pupil on the European Full-Contact scene. Jean-Claude won his first tournament by scoring three knockout victories in one evening. However, in a 1978 match for the Belgium lightweight title, he again lost a decision to Patrick Teugels. Once again, the loss left an impact on Claude Goetz and a few months later at Iseghem, Belgium, Van Damme came back and knocked out Emile Leibman in the first round. In 1979, Jean-Claude and the Belgium Team became European Team Champions.
Next, Jean-Claude faced Sherman Bergman, a kick-boxer from Florida, USA with a long string of knockout victories. For the only time in his career, Jean-Claude was knocked to the canvas after absorbing a powerful left hook. However, Jean-Claude climbed off the canvas and with a perfectly timed ax-kick, knocked Bergman out cold in 59 seconds of the first round. Van Damme ended 1979 with a stoppage of Gilberto (Gil) Diaz in one round.
In 1980, Jean-Claude Van Damme defeated former Great Britain karate champion Michael J. Heming. Next, Van Damme scored a knockout over France's Georges Verlugels in two rounds. After these victories, Jean-Claude caught the attention of the European martial arts community. Professional Karate Magazine publisher and editor Mike Anders, and multiple European champion Geet Lemmens tabbed Jean-Claude Van Damme as an upcoming prospect. However, Jean-Claude's ambitions now focused in the direction of acting.
Van Damme ended his fight career at the Forest National in Brussels. He knocked Patrick Teugels down and scored a first round technical knockout victory. Teugels suffered a nose injury and was unable to continue.
Following the victory, Van Damme retired from martial arts competition. However, Van Damme made a comeback in 1981. In his first match he knocked out Henk Besselman of Holland in one round, and at the 1st Journee Des Arts Martiaux, Van Damme knocked out Lenny Leikman in 3 rounds. His final fight record was 20–2 (20 Knockouts), with all wins being knockouts and his two losses being by decision.
Van Damme will make a return to fighting and is scheduled to fight former boxing Olympic gold-medalist Somluck Kamsing in April 2011. Various reports have named Las Vegas, USA, Macau and Russia as locations for the bout. The winner of that match will face current world champion Jeffrey "The Squasher" Sun. At the prospect of being the first man over the age of 50 to fight professionally, Jean-Claude Van Damme stated that "it's kind of dangerous, but life is short.
Van Damme was born in Sint-Agatha-Berchem (Brussels), Belgium, the son of Eliana and Eugène Van Varenberg, who was an accountant and owned a flower shop. He began martial arts at the age of ten, enrolled by his father in a Shotokan karate school. His styles consist of kickboxing, Shotokan karate, Muay Thai, and Taekwondo. He eventually earned his black belt in karate. He started lifting weights to improve his physique, which eventually led to a Mr. Belgium bodybuilding title.