Chip Wright, left, and Riley Hackett motion through techniques at Wright’s karate studio in downtown Medford Thursday. After 39 years of running Chip Wright’s Champion Karate, Wright has passed the baton to Hackett. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Chip Wright demonstrates moves in 1988 to a group of karate students, from left, 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 stunt double 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 successor to the Chuck Norris System karate school 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 just up to me to help him along a little bit.”
Wright said Hackett is starting with a stronger mastery than he had when he took the reins from 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” under the Norris martial arts system.
“It’s a big step for our system,” Wright said.
Wright has since gone on to reach the ninth-level black belt. Norris is a 10th-level black belt.
It was only by chance that Wright discovered what would be his calling.
Barrow was a humanities teacher at Crater High School who taught a karate class after school. Wright’s wife, Jakki, told him about the class, and he stuck with the program as Barrow grew the karate school from a Central Point American Legion hall to its tri-level location at 427 E. Main St., Medford, in the late 1970s .
Wright earned his black belt in front of Norris in 1977, then was invited to the Hollywood star’s home the following night. He went on to be Norris’ stunt double in 1980s films that include “GymKata,” “Eye for an Eye,” “Side Kicks,” “Top Dog,” “Forest Ranger,” “The Cutter,” “Missionary Man” and “Walking Tall 2,” plus extensive work on the TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger” between 1993 and 2002, and in 2005.
When shown 1988 and 1993 Mail Tribune photos of Wright, Hackett said they were taken before he was born.
Hackett has been training with Wright for more than 16 years, starting in the martial arts program when he was 8 years old.
“I just knew that I liked doing karate,” Hackett said.
Over time, Hackett started teaching classes, then about five years ago Wright asked him whether he’d be interested in taking over the business when the time was right.
“I said yes,” Hackett said, adding that it’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
The transition kicked up another level this year, and Wright started having Hackett arrive earlier and handling more of the business’ day-to-day operations.
“When you run your own business, you’re your own secretary — and the janitor,” Hackett said.
Hackett said he wants to carry Wright’s legacy, and he is highly motivated to be a resource for the more than 250 students in programs that range from “Little Champs” kids karate programs to women’s self-defense to Krav Maga.
“Continuing the growth of our students is very important to me,” Hackett said.
Wright said he plans to step back gradually as he works to “make sure Riley is successful.”
He’s grateful that he’s able to step back after a nearly four-decade career he’s loved. When he spoke of watching his students progress, he said, “You just can’t put words or value on that.”
“I’ve told people I’ve never had to come to work,” Wright said. “Martial arts is what I love.”
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