Chip Wright (left) and Riley Hackett practice their skills at Wright’s karate studio in downtown Medford on Thursday. After running Chip Wright’s karate champion for 39 years, Wright passed the baton to Hackett. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Chip Wright demonstrates moves to a group of karate students in 1988, from 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 known for his stunt doubles for Hollywood star Chuck Norris has passed the baton of his karate school to a new generation.
Chip Wright, owner of Champion Karate at Chip Wright in downtown Medford, has named Riley Hackett as the successor to Wright’s 39-year Chuck Norris System Karate School.
Wright described Hackett as not only knowledgeable, personable, and motivated enough to run the business, but also “a great martial artist.”
“He knew the whole plan,” Wright said. “I just need me to help him a little bit now.”
Wright said Hackett started off with more mastery than when he took office in 1975 from the Southern Oregon School founded by Chuck Norris’ protégé Bob Barrow.
When Wright took office in June 1983, he was a third-level black belt. Earlier this spring, Hackett was promoted to a fifth-level black belt by Norris himself, the first level considered a “master” under Norris’ martial arts system.
“This is a big step for our system,” Wright said.
After that, Wright went on to achieve a ninth black belt. Norris is a 10th-level black belt.
Wright only stumbled upon his mission.
Barrow is a humanities teacher at Crater High School and teaches karate classes after school. Wright’s wife Jakki told him about the class, and he stuck with the project as Barrow grew the karate school from a midpoint American Legion hall to a three-story location at 427 East Medford Avenue in the late 1970s.
Wright earned a black belt in front of Norris in 1977 before being invited to the Hollywood star’s home the following night. He went on to serve as Norris’ stunt double in 1980’s films including “GymKata”, “An Eye for an Eye”, “Side Kicks”, “Top Dog”, “Forest Ranger”, “The Cutter”, ” Missionary Man” and “Walking Tall 2”, as well as extensive work on the TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger” from 1993 to 2002 and 2005.
When shown Wright’s Mail Tribune photos from 1988 and 1993, Hackett said they were taken before he was born.
Hackett has been training with Wright for more than 16 years, starting his martial arts program when he was 8 years old.
“I just know I love doing karate,” Hackett said.
Over time, Hackett began teaching, and about five years ago, Wright asked him if he was interested in taking over the company in due course.
“I said yes,” Hackett said, adding that it’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
This year’s transition took it to another level, with Wright starting to have Hackett arrive early and handle more of the day-to-day operations of the business.
“When you’re running your own business, you’re your own secretary—and your janitor,” Hackett said.
Hackett said he wanted to carry on Wright’s legacy, and he was very motivated to be a resource for the more than 250 students whose programs ranged from the “Little Champion” children’s karate program 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 take a gradual step back to “ensure Riley’s success.”
He’s grateful he was able to take a step back from a nearly four-decade career he loved. When he talks about watching his students progress, he says, “You just can’t judge it in words or values.”
“I tell people I never need to come to work,” Wright said. “I like martial arts.”
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