Aaron Banks Died at 85

Aaron Banks, who helped launch Chuck Norris to stardom, died at 85

Chuck Norris, Maurice Elmalem and Aaron BanksAaron Banks died in his sleep on May 2, 2013, according to Maurice Elmalem, his friend and former martial arts student. He organized martial arts tournaments in the city and ran a studio in midtown for decades.

By Ginger Adams Otis / New York Daily News ~ Aaron Banks, the Bronx-born martial arts master who helped make Chuck Norris a household name, died last week at age 85.

Banks passed away in his sleep of natural causes May 2, said his friend and former student Maurice Elmalem.

Aaron Banks and Chuck Norris
Aaron Banks (left) helped launch Chuck Norris into the spotlight with his martial arts tournaments.

“I am trying to find his son, who had moved to California, and let his friends know. He had friends all over the world,” said Elmalem, also a well-known figure in the martial arts world.

Aaron Banks and Friends
Aaron Banks (far right) was once at the center of the martial arts community in New York City, organizing international tournaments and operating a midtown studio.

Banks grew up in the Depression-era Bronx and tried his hand at acting, singing and Broadway plays before finding his calling as a martial arts guru. He dedicated himself to studying the ancient form of self-defense and soon became a master teacher, Elmalem said.

Aaron Banks
Aaron Banks
Aaron Banks
Aaron Banks

He earned a black belt in 1962, and a year later organized a karate demonstration at Manhattan’s 41st Street Theater. Response was so great that Banks went on to host an East Coast vs. West Coast Competition in 1967, featuring a laconic young fighter named Chuck Norris.

Norris returned in 1968 to compete at Banks’ First Professional Karate Championship, which he won two yeas in a row.

Oriental World of Martial Arts
Chuck Norris won the Aaron Banks tournament two years in a row before he became known for action star dominance.

Banks set up his own martial arts studio in midtown, which ran for decades, and continued to organize karate contests around the U.S. and Europe.
He never made good on his dream to become a famous actor but did land a few bit parts in films now and again. Banks was also tapped to choreograph many fight scenes for martial arts flicks in the 1970s and ‘80s.

He once famously shattered 58 boards in 60 seconds in 1982 on the “Mike Douglas Show” and appeared in “Boulevard Warriors,” a documentary to be released this year about the rise of martial arts in the city.