Six years ago he was just a frail 5-year-old who was at the top of every neighborhood bully's list. "It was kinda hard not to get picked on," he remembers. These days, nobody pushes Phillip Paley around.

Phillip, now 11, is a black belt in karate. He earned his rating two years ago, becoming one of the two youngest Americans to do so, and since then he has kicked and chopped his way through more than 15 tournaments, placing first in most of them despite his slight 50-inch-tall, 55-pound frame.

The son of a wealthy plastic surgeon, Phillip was so short when he began karate that he couldn't jump high enough to kick the practice bag. Gradually he improved, taking on bigger and bigger opponents, until one day he toppled his six-foot instructor.

Now teaching his own karate class for children, Phillip has become something of a legend in his hometown of Encino, Calif. But he shrugs off his celebrity philosophically. "If you do something famous, you become somebody famous," he says.

Phillip's lethal kicks have landed him several lucrative TV jobs, including the role of Cha-Ka the monkey this summer on NBC's Land of the Lost. But being a pint-sized karate star has its drawbacks, and Phillip constantly finds himself sidestepping challenges from foolish boys who want to see just how tough he is. "I only fight," he wisely says, "if someone does something bad—to my brother, sister or me."