Officially, Batman knows 127 styles of martial arts and puts them all to good effect in the movies. He can also bend rifle barrels with one hand, hang-glide around cities using his cape and drive his car on the roof. What’s our point?
Batman’s “martial arts” are as make-believe as the rest of his adventures. In the real world, martial arts don’t have much connection to the flashy and spectacular punch-ups of games, movies and TV shows. Here’s why.
Is TV Martial Arts Realistic?
The most famous form of movie martial arts is Kung Fu. Stars like Bruce Lee and Jet Li, can be seen taking out baddies with fly kicks, catching arrows out of the air, punching through walls and tangling their assailants up in blinding fast locks and holds.
Guess what? None of it is real. In fact, the term ‘Kung Fu’ doesn’t even specifically refer to martial arts. Any skill gained through practice and hard work can be called ‘Kung Fu’ – including gardening and maths.
When the term is used for martial arts, it refers to a family of several hundred Chinese styles. This means Kung Fu includes everything from the non-contact meditations of Tai Chi through to styles that stop an attacker so safely and quickly that they don’t make for an interesting movie fight scene.
The leaping and acrobatic styles fall somewhere in the middle. They’re great fun, excellent as sports and good for fitness, but not meant for actually dealing with threats on the street.
Martial Arts in TV and Movies: The Karate Kid
For a Japanese martial art developed by 14th Century bureaucrats, Karate has today really taken on a life of its own. While there are far fewer Karate movies than Kung Fu movies, The Karate Kid and its four sequels have made the style quite popular.
These movies all follow a similar sort of plot: an untrained young man or woman works one-to-one with a Karate master who teaches them over an extended period of time.
The films reach their climax in fights in which the main character (who has by now learned honour and discipline) faces off with other young people (usually part of an official academy) whose trainers order them to fight dishonourably and injure the main character.
In reality, Karate competitions – especially youth competitions – are run by strict safety rules and use a lot of safety gear. In a real competition, the climactic events of the Karate Kid movies would have resulted in the bouts being instantly stopped and the misbehaving participants summarily disqualified.
The unethical coaches who gave the orders would be permanently banned from the sport and probably face criminal charges.
Is “Drunken” Kung-Fu Just made up?
Drunk-style Kung Fu regularly pops up in anime and video games. It’s usually pretty funny: a character downs a few shots of alcohol and then reels about beating up bad guys before passing out themselves.
While drunk Kung Fu – also called Zui Quan – actually exists, there aren’t many modern practitioners. And they always practice their art – which is often more of a dance than a fighting style – completely sober. They only mimic the lurching movements of a drunk person as a diversionary tactic.
The result is they appear to be off balance and uncoordinated, but these are actually carefully practiced movements intended to make them both hard to attack and hard to predict.
To be honest, it does look like a lot of fun, but it is very uncommon and should be thought of more as a curiosity than something you can pursue in your local martial arts academy.
A combat sport from Thailand, Muay Thai uses a lot of striking and clinching. It became popular outside Thailand in the 1990s and the first Muay Thai movies to reach the west followed soon after. The big crossover came in 2003 with Ong Bak, starring Tony Jaa.
Some things about Muay Thai shown in these movies are true: leading practitioners are usually slim, fast and fit and wear loose, brightly coloured shorts. However, the Muay Thai fighting in these films has little resemblance to the real sport of Muay Thai.
While it is true that Muay Thai uses more knees than almost any other style, it far from the ultimate technique it is often portrayed as – just as the haymaker punch in boxing rarely ends a bout.
The knee is, rather, a central part of Muay Thai and, as a close-in technique, will be used in various ways many times per bout. Sometimes, something resembling Tony Jaa’s leaping knee strikes will appear in a bout, but it’s not common. His more outlandish moves – such as knee drops and double elbow strikes – are pure cinema fantasy.
Boxing in Movies
Boxing movies are a genre all by themselves. Unlike the case with the other martial arts on this list, Boxing films almost always revolve around the sport itself, rather than, say, a street brawl. Still, Boxing movies are quite unrealistic.
Most movie Boxing matches are simple affairs where sheer grit and toughness triumph against overwhelming odds. The action will be clear and easy to follow, the fighters will stay close to each other and throw punches non-stop.
Real life boxing is a subtle and highly technical sport. Many punches may be thrown, but most don’t hit home (most glance off or are blocked). Also unlike the movies, much of a bout is given over to the boxers manoeuvring around the ring or smothering each-others attacks with clinches. Often, matches unfold at a leisurely pace.
Yes, there really have been boxers who, like Rocky, simply outlast their opponents by withstanding blow after blow, but the tactic rarely works and serves no purpose whatsoever for those taking Boxing classes to improve fitness.
Real Life Martial Arts in Perth
We’ve only looked at the real-world realities of 5 of Batman’s martial arts arsenal, but you should be able to see a pattern here.
Movies, TV shows, comics and games all misrepresent or exaggerate what martial arts are and what they can do. It makes for more exciting stories. Stories where the goodies and baddies are obvious, where violence does solve problems and fights are frequent and predictable.
In the real world, the most effective self-defence techniques are de-escalation, leaving the situation and calling for help.
Similarly, other than the squabbles of childhood, most people will never get into a fight. They know that good and bad aren’t clear cut and that violence never fixes things.
So, why do people all around Perth still practice martial arts? Easy! Fitness, confidence, balance, flexibility, mindfulness, self-discipline and, most of all, fun!