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вторник, 21 июля 2009 г.

Martial Arts Movies

The general public's knowledge and impressions about martial arts have been formed by movies at least until very recently. First it was Bruce Lee then Chuck Norris, then Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. My personal favourite has always been Jet Li. He is clearly a very athletic martial artist and visually very exciting to watch. He displays his amazing kung fu and it really is fun to watch despite the numerous special effects they have these days. You could literally watch for an hour and a half, a small ordinary looking Chinese guy massacre hundreds of people in unarmed and even sometimes armed combat and actually really enjoy it.

My favourite Jet Li movies

1. Kiss of the Dragon (2001) - best all round movie and I think one of my favourite movies generally.

2. Fearless (2006) - the fights are incredible all I can say.

3. The Fist of Legend (1994) - many classic fights from back when Jet Li was younger and starred in movies made in China.

4. The One (2001) - almost comical but still very enjoyable to watch.

5. Lethan Weapon 4 (1998) - Jet Li plays only a relatively small part as the vilain and dies in the end but its just a great movie.

I think one could divide the movies into essentially two categories. The first is movies with an asian martial artist (mainly Chinese) being the hero. Under this category I include both films made for asian audiences (like those Chinese movies) and films made for the western audiences, mainly in Hollywood. Jet Li, Jackie Chan and probably a bunch of other guys were stars in China and then moved on to star in western films. Typically the stars of the east don't talk much in hollywood movies. The reason being is english is not their first language, so acting is reduced to a minimum and the number of lines they have is limited. This is basically like Arnold Schwarzenegger and his career where he almost never speaks in his first movies and that gradually changes as he becomes a Hollywood mega-star.

The second category is movies made in the west by western actors. This category includes actors like Wesley Snipes, Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme movies. Actually I would add a bunch of others like Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) for example since after all boxing is a martial art not just a sport. All of these guys have western values but also they vary greatly in terms of their martial arts abilities.

On the one hand you have Sylvester Stallone who has no martial arts background (as far as I am aware of) who played the champion boxer Rocky Balboa. On the other hand you really have very capable martial artists like Chuck Norris who have a lifetime of accomplishments in the martial arts world. Some, like Jackie Chan were not originally involved in martial arts at all (dancing was his background) but became martial arts stars that everybody recognize today. It is understandable why it is the case. Martial arts and making movies are very different. They are completely different skill-sets. Fedor is an example. He tried a movie career but saw that this was not what he is really good at. He is good at fighting while doing martial arts films is also about being charming and about being liked by the audience. For movies you have to be able to draw the attention of the audience with sharp lines, jokes or whatever, which is what Bruce Willis and Jason Statham can do only too well. You have to be able to speak with one accent or be funny and it takes a lot of actor skill and talent to do this. The martial arts side they catch up on with good instruction from professionals.

Take-up of martial arts

The popularity of martial arts after martial arts movies became mainstream increased dramatically. People went in to learn Karate or Kung Fu because they saw this or that guy in a movie and thought that "Hey, I want to learn that". And you certainly can't blame anybody for it. Martial arts movies became popular more than thirty years ago and remain very popular with Hollywood producers as they often don't require much invention, are focused around a single hero and have a wide appeal. This is exactly what makes a sound business model for the studios of course.

So many martial arts proliferated. Kung Fu exponents like Bruce Lee and Jet Li made their art popular over a period of two decades in the west. Karate was also driven by movies with a series of films culminating in the 1980s by the Karate Kid franchise which earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. Some of the things that action-heroes performed in the movies even to the uneducated was completely unrealistic.

One martial arts legend, Bruce Lee was clearly different from many others. He was clearly a legend of his time, delivering incredible martial arts performance on camera when visual effects technology was not yet available. The martial arts classic film "Enter the Dragon" where Bruce Lee stars as a fighter invited to strange island where a martial arts competition is held, clearly shows him in the initial scene fighting with MMA (or very close to it) gloves using a mixed style of striking and grappling. He was clearly ahead of his time and is today regarded as the martial artist that was ahead of his time despite the fact that at the time he did not have much grappling prowess.

People went and continue to go to their local martial arts schools and hope to become like the heroes in the movies. When they got their they were very surprised to find out that really you have to spend many years and even a lot of what you learn especially in some martial arts really does not work in real life.

Aikido was one of the latest "movie-martial arts" which grew in popularity with Steven Seagal's character and filmography. His visually impressive aikido skills coupled with an action-hero personally made him a superstar and aikido an exciting new martial art for the western public. Aikido, a japanese martial art founded by Morehei Ueshiba is one of the most popular martial arts today as a result and considered by some to be highly effective in self-defense.

Judo was kind of the odd one out. Judo was always pushed as a sport rather than a self-defense focused martial art. It proliferated more as a result of being included in the Olympic Games and due to natural popularity and obvious effectiveness. I don't think there was really a movie that affected this martial art in the same way movies influenced aikido, karate and kungfu. Judo as the grappling art was obviously less popular than striking arts for the purposes of the movie-business.

The other well-known but less popular art that has the same fate is Taekwondo, the Korean striking martial art and sport that was also included in the Olympics in 1980. This martial art never reached the level of popularity as the others and as far as I am aware the International Olympic Committee is now considering removing it from the list of Olympic sports and I suspect due to the fact that it is no popular and interesting to watch. (despite it being undoubtedly one of the more effective striking martial arts)

The other less well-known martial arts like Sambo (popular in Russia but nearly unknown elsewhere), Capoeira in Brazil and others didn't really get much attention at all in fact. So many different martial arts styles exist in fact. Karate alone has more than a dozen different styles and so does Aikido and traditional japanese jiu jitsu.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - the dawn of the new era

Brazilian jiu jitsu I think is the next chapter in the world martials arts history. They did not become popular and famous due to film however. They got famous by competing in televised, no rules competitions and primarily UFC. And by "they" I mean the Gracie family and brazilian jiu jitsu exponents.

Royce Gracie did more for brazilian jiu jitsu than probably anybody because he was in the right place (UFC 1) and at the right time. The UFC itself did the rest by becoming a huge organization in the US and promoting it's brand to now a significant percentage of the households in America.

By defeating each of his opponents, who were indeed bigger and stronger than him he drew the attention of many many people just at the right time that brazilian jiu jitsu (or as they would say gracie jiu jitsu) is an extremely effective martial art that can give a smaller guy an advantage in fight against a guy that is bigger and stronger. Royce demonstrated with his jiu jitsu the importance of having solid knowledge of groundfighting and grappling but it is evident that fighters of other grappling styles like Sambo, Catch Wrestling and Judo, with adequate preparation would have done well too.

Jiu jitsu like Judo I would also say is not visually exciting especially for people who are not knowledgeable in the grappling side of martial arts. I don't really see this martial art becoming part of the movie production business. Most people just don't understand what is going on. Some basic concepts can be easily explained but watching the Mundials is kind of boring for people who never heard of bjj or judo. They just don't understand what is going on and why this should be interesting.

I certainly look forward to watching Redbelt (2008), the first movie to show realistic martial arts and jiu jitsu in particular but I don't there will ever be a day when people will be as excited about bjj as they are about kung fu movies with Jet Li destroying a huge number of guys with chop-sticks.

Mixed Martial Arts however, the new name of the new sport born in the UFC and in Japanese promotions like Pride and Rings is visually exciting and appeals to many different people.

As a result, the first wave of incredible growth of the number of brazilian jiu jitsu clubs in the USA has been followed by a wave of new MMA clubs, something that has been driven by MMA going mainstream. This is something the UFC officials, like Dana White have commented on including in the last event, UFC 100. UFCs revenues are now exceeding boxing revenues in the United States i.e. ~$300M last year I understand, an impressive figure that will inevitably grow even more. It is easy to see why.

Just watch a decent MMA fight. No two fights are the same and there are so many possibilities. The number of techniques ranges in the hundreds and even thousands. As Dana White, UFC president put it, a crowd of people will turn away from watching basketball and soccer, and would go and watch a fight if it is happening nearby. Mixed Martial Arts are clearly the future with the potential to be as popular as the biggest sports today and movies will also come as popularity grows I believe.


UFC has also proven how effective wrestling is as a martial art. For most, Greco-Roman wrestling in particular is a very strange sport that nobody understands that is part of the Olympics.

The shear number of successful MMA fighters who have transitioned into MMA from wrestling (and I don't mean WWE, the fake wrestling that for some reason I don't understand is also popular) is enormous. Matt Hughes, Randy Couture, Quinton Jackson, Mark Coleman and so many others. Brock Lesnar the current heavyweight champion of UFC has also many wrestling titles.

College wrestling has always been popular in America but I think this art will continue to develop and will grow even more as a result of its success in MMA.

2 комментария:

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