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World Renowned Martial Artist Pursues Career as Military Doctor

Jackson Rudolph at a competition, yelling while holding a bo staff.

By Vivian Mason

Watching world-ranked Army 2nd Lt. Jackson Rudolph performing his show-stopping “bo staff” routine is nothing short of dazzling. His lightning speed, powerful strikes, spectacular hand work, precision spins, and that searing intensity in his eyes are all reasons why his performances attract international attention. Rudolph’s precision and meticulous training serve him in even greater ways as he works to become a physician through the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU).

A new first-year medical student, Rudolph has always known he wanted to be a doctor. His maternal grandfather battled Alzheimer’s, his paternal grandfather suffered twelve strokes and had Lewy body dementia, and one of his teammates, a major source of inspiration for Rudolph, succumbed to an eight-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). For Rudolph, the decision to study medicine is a personal choice to do as much as he can for those in need.

So how did this Stanford University graduate and world-champion martial arts expert end up at USU? It’s simple, according to Jackson. He explains that it’s not only an honor to serve our nation’s heroes as a physician, but that the world class education and experiences gained from USU’s knowledgeable faculty would be his best bet for achieving his goal of becoming one of the best surgeons in the world - an intensity and vision he brings to all of his achievements.

Jackson Rudolph with a bo staff at a competition.
Jackson executing his routine during his title defense at the 2021
ISKA U.S. Open. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Century Martial Arts)

Long before medicine, however, Jackson first found himself intent on being the best while attending martial arts training at age 6 in Paducah, Kentucky, where he won a two-week introductory course to a local martial arts program. Little did he know, martial arts would stay a major part of his life in the many years to come.

“I’ve been hooked ever since,” Rudolph explains. “As a little kid, I was always very self-confident. I always believed in myself. I think that you really need to be able to trust in yourself to a point where you don’t think there’s any possible way that your belief can fail you. Coming up, it wasn’t always easy, but I had to believe in my ability to accomplish what I set out to do. I’ve always seen myself as a champion.”

Rudolph started out working with the four major martial arts weapons -- nunchaku, kama, escrima, and sword -- before becoming enamored with the bo staff. 

“I’ve grown to love the bo,” Rudolph says, “and the creativity you can have with it. You can spin it, you can roll it around your body, you can strike with it, and you can show speed and power. The possibilities are unlimited.” 

The bo staff is a martial arts weapon that resembles a stick and is typically as tall as the user -- in Jackson’s case about six feet. The weapon is used for striking, blocking, swinging, and parrying in traditional martial arts, but complex manipulations and tricks can be added for performance purposes. Jackson has been training with it, perfecting his technique, and creating tricks for more than 16 years. He is world renowned for his weapons innovation with the bo staff and also for a style he developed consisting of quick releases and manipulations combined with power and technical precision, which he teaches in the online program he developed in coordination with the Martial Arts Industry Association. 

“I didn’t learn any of the tricks until I got all of the basics down first,” he admits. “It took about a year, and all I did was perform the basics over and over and over again.” 

Nearly all of the techniques he executes with the bo are tricks that he engineered himself. 

Rudolph adds, “I always try to take a trick to the next level, whether it’s the triple spin that I do in the opening section of my routine or catching the bo with only a finger. I don’t merely do something difficult. I want to go beyond what anyone else has done.” 

To him, the art of performance is just as important as practice, training, and competition.

At the first U.S. Open Karate Championship that Rudolph attended, he sat in the back row watching all of the great champions in the sport (primarily a prominent team with a 30-year history), competing, and winning. He told his father that one day, “[he was] going to be on that stage, on that team, and [he was] going to win the U.S. Open.” Four years later, he won his first ISKA (International Sport Karate Association) U.S. Open title. Six years after he made that promise to his dad, he won an ISKA U.S. Open title as a member of that team. By age 12, he was competing alongside world champions and beating them regularly.

Jackson Rudolph in a mountainous terrain with his bo staff.
Jackson Rudolph decided to attend USU to become "one of the best surgeons in the world," noting that the world class education and experiences gained
from USU's knowledgeable faculty would be his best bet for achieving his goal. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Jackson Rudolph)

Today, Rudolph is a fourth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a first-degree black belt in the Chuck Norris System, and still remains a member of that same prominent team. He’s won a total of 60 world titles in forms and weapons from the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA), the ISKA, and the World Kickboxing Association. Jackson’s a 10-time ISKA U.S. Open World Champion in weapons, a seven-time Warrior Cup Champion in weapons, a six-time Diamond Ring weapons champion, and a member of the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame. 

He admits that the best thing about martial arts are the life skills that you can learn: persistence, drive, determination, commitment, discipline, a good work ethic, and respect for others. Jackson enjoys teaching those principles to others, and finds those skills essential in his studies at USU. He’s been teaching and coaching for more than nine years, starting at age 14. Currently, he conducts seminars, master classes, and private lessons all over the world, including courses on his specific weapons training system that he teaches to both students and instructors. 

Jackson also writes articles for various magazines and has a podcast show. He’s co-founder of a online training program in partnership a major martial arts magazine, and his own line of merchandise.  There are hundreds of online videos of him in action, and he still plans on competing and coaching while in medical school. Currently, he holds the most male U.S. Open weapons titles in ISKA history, and his style is often imitated by younger competitors. Because of his incredibly difficult bo staff tricks, ESPN nicknamed him “The Magician.” 

“Any goal that you can set, you can believe in it strongly enough to help yourself achieve it,” Rudolph explains. “Only focus on the positive and that will allow you to achieve. Never lose sight of your goal.”

For a while, Rudolph will be living a double life with school and martial arts. However, he notes that USU is the kind of school that encourages him to pursue other dreams, and that, during the application process, USU was the only school that seemed to offer that flexibility. 

“What I’m going to really try and do is make sure that every day I wake up knowing exactly what my plan is going to be because I’m passionate about every single thing I do,” Rudolph says. “My dad taught me that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life, and I live by that. I know that my days will be full and busy, but I really look forward to the challenge of it all.”