Simon Helberg Earned His Black Belt At An Impressively Young Age

Simon Helberg captivated fans across the globe thanks to his portrayal of the dorky — but smooth-talking — Howard Wolowitz on the CBS hit show "The Big Bang Theory." The Caltech aerospace engineer was famous for his lack of a doctorate degree, bowl haircut, snug 1960s-inspired outfits, and his host of geeky talents. This included speaking the "Star Trek" language Klingon and some Sindarin, one of the dialects from "The Lord of the Rings." Wolowitz also played the piano, a skill he often used to impress the ladies.

Wolowitz was a nerd, but he was a cool nerd. Despite playing the character to perfection, Helberg doesn't embrace the title. "I'm not into 'Star Trek' or physics or comic books but I know I might be in the minority," he told The Canadian Press in 2011 (via Global News). The actor did admit that he, like Howard, falls outside the mainstream definition of cool. "I think ultimately everyone has those qualities of feeling a little bit like an outsider or being passionate about something," Helberg noted.

Weighing about 130 pounds and standing at 5 feet 7 inches tall, Helberg boasts the perfect shape to play the socially awkward engineer. "I'm small, so I can wear a lot of the great fitted stuff you find in vintage stores," he told Playboy (via Celeb Heights). "It bears out my theory that smaller people are superior." Despite his small(ish) stature and slender physique, Helberg is actually trained in self-defense — skills that he acquired at an impressively young age.

Simon Helberg is a black belt in karate

Simon Helberg earned his black belt in karate when he was 10 years old, showing that his looks aren't necessarily representative of his fighting abilities. "That's not saying much, to be tougher than I look," he joked in 2016 (via the BBC). Actually, he believes his martial arts achievements sound more impressive than they really are. "I'm a very fast runner, and I know where all the police stations are ... So, yeah, you'd better not mess with me," he quipped.

Helberg doesn't seem to hold his self-defense skills in high regard, but he had high hopes when he signed up for classes as a kid. "I wanted to be Jean-Claude Van Damme," he said on "The Late Late Show with James Corden" in 2016. The martial art did, however, teach him a thing or two. "I'm flexible. I just wanted to do the splits ... So I got to do the splits," he said. Despite his black belt, Helberg never took his karate skills out of the tatami.

In fact, the only time he got into a fight, he drew inspiration from a different sport. "[A guy in my college] put some snow down my shirt and I just instinctually — caveman instinct — came out and I just punched him in the face," he told Under the Radar in October. However, Helberg immediately regretted it. "Instead of being cool and saying, 'That's what you get!' I immediately said, 'Oh my God I'm so sorry!"

Simon Helberg shares a talent with Howard Wolowitz

Actor, martial artist, and pianist: Simon Helberg is a man of many talents. While he doesn't take his karate achievements very seriously, Helberg's music skills are a different story. The actor is actually a trained pianist with decades of experience under his belt. "As a tiny kid with braces in L.A., I played in rock and jazz bands," he told The New Yorker in 2021. As a matter of fact, Helberg originally wanted to be a musician. "I used to pursue the piano until I was 16," he told the BBC.

The 41-year-old took up piano lessons right after mastering his karate skills. "I was 10, which was late. I was, like, washed up," he said on the Today Show. Despite his late start, Helberg became proficient rather fast. "Look at me, I had to get really good so that people wouldn't pay so much attention to the handsome people," he joked. While the California native has made a name for himself as an actor, he never abandoned his love for music. He has even started incorporating his musical skills into his acting jobs.

In the 2016 biopic "Florence Foster Jenkins" featuring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, Helberg portrayed a pianist, a role that offered him ample opportunity to show off his abilities. "I'd never played classical and certainly not opera. Playing accompaniment is a whole other art form," he told the BBC. "And playing with Meryl Streep was something I don't think anyone can really prepare for."