In 1955 Spencer Tracy played a one armed stranger who takes on a town full of hoodlums in “Bad day at Black Rock.” While the plot may sound familiar what made the film unique was that Tracy took on his opponents using martial arts. It was the first time audiences had ever seen a proper combat system used in a film. But it would certainly not be the last. Martial arts films have become a genre unto themselves in Hollywood. Beverly Hills martial arts also play an important role in almost any action blockbuster. Here we look at some of the most notable examples of martial arts that featured in movies.
Jason Bourne – Kali
In the Bourne series Matt Damon’s super spy is an unstoppable martial arts machine. This fast paced martial art style originated in the Philippines. It is notable for being very useful when you need to quickly transition from fighting using an empty hand into holding a weapon. Jason Bourne uses this facet of Kali to great effect in the Jason Bourne films. Your see his character often making use of found objects to take down as opponents. Kali also emphasises an extreme form of combat which often involves inflicting critical levels of damage to the person that you are fighting. Just the thing you need when you are evading a government Black Ops team!
The Raid – Pencak Silat
The Indonesian martial arts action film “The Raid” grabbed critical and public attention for its incredible fight choreography. The martial art featured in the film is Pencak Silat a traditional Indonesian combat system. The lead actor in the Raid was Iko Uwais who actually studied the martial art style Pencak Silat since the age of ten. Indonesia is a collection of thousands of different islands, many of which in ancient times had their own kingdom. Silat originated on the battlefield between these kingdoms. It was important not only to defeat your opponent but to defeat them in the most efficient way possible. This was put to great effect in the Raid as Uwais takes on a brutal crime lord and his gang.
Enter The Dragon – Jeet Kune Do
Bruce Lee is unquestionably the most famous martial artist to ever appear on the silver screen. While Bruce Lee would appear in many different Martial arts films “Enter the Dragon” stands apart. The film is often considered the best martial arts film ever made. Not only is an incredibly entertaining it had a huge cultural impact. The film is responsible for starting the kung fu craze. In the film Bruce Lee uses the martial that he had created himself. Known as Jeet Kune Do this hybrid martial art is distinctive for not having a fixed for patent. The underlying philosophy though is to use minimal movement with the maximum impact and at the fastest speed. This is something that Lee put on a great display in the film.
Red Belt – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
In Red Belt martial arts teacher and Brazilian jiu jitsu studio owner Mike Terry is faced with a series of moral dilemmas. Should he compromise his own beliefs to keep his martial arts studio afloat. Terry believes that fighting for money is not honorable and so although he desperately needs prize money he refuses to enter the ring. At the end of the film Terry puts on a stunning display of Brazilian jiu jitsu taking down the reigning jiu jitsu champion. The film shows just how incredibly effective Brazilian jiu jitsu can be when used by someone who knows what they are doing.
Karate Kid – Karate
No list about martial arts in movies would be complete without reference to the film the Karate Kid. The 1984 martial arts drama inspired a generation of western children and teenagers to take up the Japanese martial art karate. It also made famous the phrase “wax on, works off”, killing flies with your chopsticks and a dozen other martial arts tropes. In the film Daniel played by Ralph Macchio learns to overcome bullies and win the girl by studying karate under Mr Miyagi. While more than a little bit cheesy, the Karate Kid is undeniably entertaining and many 80s kids entry point into the martial arts.
The diversity of martial arts means that there is still plenty of rich territory for Hollywood filmmakers to explore. Martial arts with their fast paced, kinetic motions are perfect for the silver screen. We can expect to see martial arts used in ever more innovative ways in the future.