Tag Archives: karate

Made in America Samurai

Made in America Samurai Table Resized

Samurai films are all made in Japan, right? Wrong!  Americans have made samurai films as well!  When I was very young I wanted to be Batman when I grew up.  As I grew older, I realized this career choice was silly.  In later years, I wanted to be a samurai.  I lived in an all white middle class suburb and there weren’t a lot of samurai sensi wandering about.  Sure I had studied judo but I knew I needed more skills than that to be a samurai.  Films about samurai filled the gap.  In pre-cable, pre-DVD, pre-internet, pre-everything days, Japanese samurai movies were hard to find and even an American made samurai film was better than nothing.  I never did become a samurai but I did end up moving to Asia and even lived in Japan for a while:


I was reminiscing and surfing the internet I was amazed to find out there was very little on this topic on the internet. The brave, cross-cultural and pioneering American made samurais deserve better!  I write this post to honor their memory!

This article will try to compare made in America samurai with their Japanese counterparts in two areas. First, I am going to focus on the sword fighting scenes since this is a critical aspect of what makes a samurai film a samurai film. If I watch a samurai film then I want great sword scenes as part of the package.  I have dabbled with kendo and kenjutsu.  I did attend some Society for Creative Anachronism sword fighting classes at Michigan State University a hundred years ago. I am aware that cinema sword fighting is about entertainment not authenticity in general.  However, I think part of the entertainment value of samurai sword fighting, as opposed to a kung fu phooey film, or a Hollywood CGI epic, is some attempt to make the viewer have the illusion that they are seeing a real samurai fight or at least this was the case in the older samurai films.

Secondly, a code is what makes a samurai a samurai. Bushido is the code that samurai’s live or rebel against in the case of rōnin.  Without bushido then a samurai is just a guy waving a sword.  Because of bushido, there is a tension between ninjō (compassion) and giri (duty) in most Japanese samurai film and I wonder if made in America samurais have a similar dynamic.Swords provide the external drama of a samurai film.  Bushido provides the internal drama of a samurai film. If the film has samurai in the title but absolutely no samurai elements then I would argue it’s not a samurai film.  For this reason, a film like Samurai Cowboy with no samurai elements is not on the list and also the film is Canadian.  Overall this article will attempt to answer the question, how much impact have  Japanese samurai film conventions had on made in America samurai films?

47 Ronin (2013)

American Samurai 1 - 47 Ronin (2013)

A recent movie that has nothing to do with my teenage memories but perhaps will be a bad memory for future generations. This movie is a confusing mélange of fantasy that almost has nothing to do with the original 47 Ronin story.  The original 47 Ronin is a story about giri not a CGI exercise like this Hollywood version.  Keanu seems to be stuck in this one acting mode these days.  Internal conflict expressed as intense confusion would be the term I would use.  Keanu Reeves is playing Neo with a sword not a samurai!  However, there are giri elements in the movie just poorly expressed and take a back seat to the CGI.  The sword scenes are pure CGI and this was interesting once upon a time but no longer.

American Samurai

American Samurai 2 - American Samurai

This is a low budget film that marks the acting debut of Mark Dacascos. As bad as this film is one cannot say it’s the worst American made samurai film to the heavy competition for this title.The film has mediocre action.  There isn’t much in the way of psychological development of the characters.

Black Samurai

American Samurai 3 - Black Samurai

This is a blaxploitation film that has some pretty good karate action but has the word “samurai” in the title for marketing purposes.  The character development of the hero Jim Kelly is his evolution from being one cool cat to being an even cooler cat in the eyes of the audience.  Still, Jim Kelly is always fun to watch.

You have to love Jim Kelly’s double front kick! Jim Kelly’s trademark was kicking with one leg and then the other while in the air.  The more common flying double front kick is hitting two opponents at the same time which makes more sense from a combat point of view but is less fun to watch.  For all fellow would be samurai I found the following tutorial video:

I guess you can use a lot of the same training methods to do the Jim Kelly kick. I am retired and will skip the entire process.  I did Karate in my twenties no problem.  I tried again at fifty and almost died!

Bushido Blade

American Samurai 4 - Bushido Blade

Laura Gemser is in this film and she has a sword!  Laura Gemser was just about the only SE Asian sexy gal in mainstream, and not so mainstream, Western film for about twenty years and persons of a certain age will remember her fondly.  Why wouldn’t you watch this film!  I couldn’t find an English version of the film on YouTube but I have to say the German version below really grows on you.

There is a good sword fight between Frank Converse, as Captain Lawrence Hawk using a sabre, and a samurai.  Sword fights work even if you don’t understand German which I don’t.  As stated, there really is no such thing a “realistic” sword fight in movies but this scene has zero CGI and wire acrobatics and is a reasonable attempt to imagine how such a fight would play out while being entertaining.  The katana and the sabre are both swords that emphasize slashing but allow for thrusting as well.  I have handled both weapons and the weight is comparable.  A katana is generally held with both hands and a push/pull movement adds to the power of the cut.  However, Miyamoto Musashi did use two swords, one in each hand and was probably the greatest sword’s man in Japanese history.  The sabre’s guard means the sabre is strictly a one handed affair.  A knife, iron gauntlet or even a cloak with weights sewn into the bottom were sometimes used in the other hand.  A person who had used a sabre would not be totally lost using a katana and vice-versa.  There is some discussion between Laura Gemser and Frank Converse as to what being a samurai is all about.

There is even a pretty good verbal critique of kenjutsu compared to military sabre technique by Frank Converse. Actually, Frank just tears into kenjutsu.  I was a little surprised way back then since this was just about the first time I had ever been exposed to the idea that maybe Asian martial arts weren’t just totally superior to Western martial arts.  Someone involved this movie had studied both sword fighting techniques at least a bit and this is reflected in the movie.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

American Samurai 5 - Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai

This offbeat story has a believable hero. Ghost Dog is black man in America that becomes a samurai and the why and how actually make sense.  The whole revenge as origin hero story was old when done with Batman.  The origin story in this movie goes in a different direction.  The choice of the hero is perhaps existential?  The hero has grown up in a world of chaos and the samurai code forces order on his internal chaos.  There is a bit of this existential origin in the Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.  There is not so much a struggle between good and evil but between meaning and meaningless existence.

The movie is funny and poignant at the same time. The fight scenes are believable and interesting.  The hero uses a nice mix of kenjutsu, wing chun and eskrima.  This is a film that operates at various levels and you can watch it more than once and pick up on all sorts of metafictional layers.  The conflict between ninjō and giri permeates the story.  Bushido is dealt with explicitly.  Mafia style gang loyalty is compared directly with bushido and the two are found to be very similar.  The absurdity of a samurai world view in modern America is also dealt with and the answer is that perhaps in a chaotic America some code is needed and bushido is not the worst choice.  One of my favorite American made samurai films.

Hirokin: The Last Samurai

American Samurai 6 - Hirokin The Last Samurai

A collection of sword fights in a Tatooine like landscape with just a thread of a plot to link the sword fights together.  The sword fights aren’t terrible but not all that great either.  The lack of comprehensible dialogue, plot structure and logical consistency means that this is possibly the worst American made samurai film ever in a subgenre that has lots of awful films to compete with.

Kill Bill 1 & Kill Bill 2

American Samurai 7 - Kill Bill 1

American Samurai 8 - Kill Bill 2

I love these films! A giant homage to Japanese samurai films and every other cheesy subgenre produced in Japan and Hollywood since the sixties.  Does such a flurry of homage make the film metafictional?  Uma does talk to the third wall directly in Kill Bill 2 and describes the film as a “’roaring rampage of revenge”. The sword scenes are bloody, fun and over the top!  Uma Thurman is a warrior in this film and you believe it!  Uma Thurman has been betrayed by her clan and now has an obligation as a warrior to kill them and makes a list of who has to be killed.  Uma Thurman hesitates a bit when Copperhead is found to be a mother with a daughter but in the end Uma chooses giri over compassion and kills Copperhead.  The main villain is her ex-lover and mentor Bill. Bill introduces him to a daughter they had but she never knew about.  Maybe Uma will let bygones be bygones and they will raise their daughter together.  No way!  Uma kills Bill but sends him off to die on the beach after her fatal blow, the five point palm-exploding heart technique, with a sad forced smile.  Uma even straightens Bill’s suit before he staggers off to die.  Uma cries afterwards as her newly discovered daughter watches television but she has done her duty.

Red Sun

American Samurai 9 - Red Sun

Cowboys play with samurais. Charles Bronson, Ursula Andress and ToshirōMifune are all top actors that combine to make a cocktail that doesn’t quite work but is fun to drink anyway.  Charles Bronson slowly learns about bushido from Toshirō Mifune and learns to respect Toshirō Mifune and his code.  Not a lot of sword play but what is in the movie is competently done.

Samurai Cop

American Samurai 10 - Samurai Cop 1

American Samurai 11 - Samurai Cop 2

The scene below shows a combination of bad dialogue and bad delivery rarely seen in even a straight to video film. Incredibly, there was a sequel to this film (Samurai Cop 2)!  The samurai cop is not a samurai but a bad actor with a sword.

Samurai Girl

American Samurai 12 - Samurai Girl

Samurai Girl is a made for TV mini-series. Jamie Chung is the very pretty heroine and a lot of fun to watch.  This show is basically a teen drama with a thin samurai veneer.  There does seem to be a lot of girl on girl violence!  There is a seppuku scene but overall bushido elements are ignored.

Samurai Jack

American Samurai 13 - Samurai Jack

Samurai Jack is an immensely popular cartoon series. I would say the best cartoon that the Cartoon Network ever made and I like their cartoons in general.  This show is the winner of many awards. Samurai Jack is probably the best American made samurai cartoon.  Actually, the only American made samurai cartoon but still fantastic.

Saturday Night Live Samurai

American Samurai 14 - Saturday Night Live Samurai John Belushi

This was a series of skits in TV series Saturday Night Live.  John Belushi did several skits in which a samurai is forced to do various pedestrian jobs such as working in a hotel and a delicatessen.  The Belushi version of the samurai does not speak English but uses made up Japanese with lots of guttural sounds and screams that capture the speech patterns of chanbara films.  I have copied Belushi’s mannerisms and have been known to do a comic version of seppuku with a pencil or whatever impromptu prop happens to be around.  These skits are still hilarious now as they were then.


American Samurai 15 - Shōgun

This is a TV miniseries about samurai.   Shōgun had a huge positive influence on how Americans viewed samurai and Japanese culture in general.  I watched every episode in B&W on my TV in Howland House with my girlfriend as the episodes aired.  I can safely say this is the made in America samurai film that really made me curious about Asia.  Yoko Shimada played Mariko and because of her performance, having a Japanese girlfriend someday was put on my bucket list.  Perhaps if I had never seen this series then I would have never moved to Asia.

Silver Samurai

American Samurai 16 - Silver Samurai

The Silver Samurai was not a film but a character in The Wolverine: The Path of a Ronin.  The character is a giant robot unlike the human mutant version in the comic book.  The fight between the Silver Samurai robot and Wolverine is probably the best action scene in a film that has little going for it but action scenes.  Wolverine is arguably an American samurai, a ronin specifically, despite the fact he doesn’t use a sword.

Six-String Samurai

American Samurai 20 - Six-String Samurai

This film had excellent sword action. If there were any bushido elements in this film then I missed them.  This is more an homage to American popular music than to Japanese samurai movies.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

American Samurai 17 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

Ninjas are the natural enemies of the samurai. Why not have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles go back in time and play at being samurais?  This is a silly but amusing film.

The Last Samurai

American Samurai 18 - The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is a very controversial film from a historical point of view. Liberties are taken with historical events.  The heroic samurai of the film may in fact have been petty warlords.

Regardless of the historical debate associated with the film, the scenes in which poor Tom Cruise learns to use the katana with a bokken give the audience a good feel as to how kenjutsu is not kendo!  The bokken is a wooden sword that can be used as a weapon in its own right.  Kendo uses a shinai.  The shinai is a bamboo weapon which actually causes the user to learn bad sword fighting habits due to its lightness compared to the steel of a sword.  A shinai is for practice purposes only and quite useless as a weapon.  Practicing with a bokken is a dangerous affair and the shinai was a safe substitute for the bokken when kendo was created for none samurai. Despite the title of the video below, Tom Cruise is practicing kenjutsu not kendo!

Probably the best American samurai film when it comes to lavishness, large scale battle scenes and high production standards.

The Silent Stranger

American Samurai 19 - The Silent Stranger

In Red Sun cowboys meet samurai.  In this film a spaghetti cowboy meets many samurai.  The sword action is amusing and tons of action.   The hero is a cowboy.  Cowboys don’t have any duty versus compassion dynamic as a rule or do they?


The word samurai is often inserted in the title of made in America samurai films for marketing purposes with little regard to prior Japanese samurai conventions in the area of Japanese style swordsmanship or some nod to bushido. The worst culprits are American Samurai, Black Samurai, Hirokin: The Last Samurai, Samurai Cop and The Silent Stranger.  Interestingly, the better films overall are also the films that deal with Japanese samurai conventions and include: Bushido Blade, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Kill Bill, Red Sun, Samurai Girl, Samurai Jack, Saturday Night Live Samurai, and Shōgun.  I would single out Ghost Dog, Kill Bill, and Samurai Jack as the best films in this category.  Both Ghost Dog and Kill Bill have a metafictional dimension.  In Ghost Dog the metafictional dimension is partly directed towards samurai cinema in Japan.  The Kim Ashida story is unintentionally metafiction. Fiction masquerading as reality!

Hugh Fox III - Alkaveda

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Fox Martial Arts Taxonomy

Martial Arts Taxonomy Table JPEG Resized

This paper will review prior attempts to compare martial arts at the tactical level.  Add a strategic dimension i.e. how are tactics integrated in a fight via larger concepts.  Also, the author will look at the most general dimension of martial arts which is the very goal of the martial art which supersedes any discussion of tactics and strategy.  Finally, the author will create a taxonomy of martial arts which explains the table above.

Bruce Tegner‘s Taxonomy

The earliest attempt to compare both Eastern and Western martial arts systematically was done by Bruce Tegner (1968).  Tegner compared Atemi-Waza, Boxing, Judo, Karate & Kung Fu, Savate and Wrestling in terms of various techniques.  An excellent free guide on the subject is at Wrestling Training. Tegner’s chart on the topic below:

Bruce Tenger’s chart is not exactly a taxonomy since one of the critical aspects of a taxonomy is a hierarchy of elements from specific to general and this is lacking in his system.  Below is an expansion and improvement of Bruce Tegner’s original table taken from the Kuk-Sool website:

The Kul-Sool table is better in three areas than the Tenger chart.  The Kul-Sool table adds many more martial arts, adds many more aspects of martial arts and, via color coding, pointing out the secondary emphasis of the particular martial arts.  This secondary emphasis is very important since this is often ignored in cursory examinations of a martial art.  For example, many would be surprised that Judo does teach some hand striking techniques (atemi) in order to unbalance (kuzushi) the opponent before attempting a throw, at the more advanced level.

Bruce Lee later took the idea of comparing martial arts further and looked at the concept of a synthesis of martial art elements (mixed martial arts).  However, Bruce Lee was more interested in a martial arts synthesis rather than analysis in the form of a taxonomy.  Bruce Lee looked at around twenty martial arts and ‘absorbed what is useful’ rather than doing a point by point analysis of every aspect of the martial art.  Bruce Lee focused on the best techniques of each martial art rather than all techniques of martial arts.  I would argue that a taxonomy can allow for a more systematic synthesis of martial art techniques.  Beyond taxonomy issues, comparison allows us to perhaps mix and match martial arts based on a list of skills.

A common mix is mixing a martial art that is strong in the area of hand strikes with one that is known for kicking techniques.  Taekwondo to some extent is the fusion of Japanese Karate (strong in the area of hand striking techniques) with Korean Taekkyeon (strong in the area of kicking techniques). Another much more common mix and match is to mix a striking system with a wrestling system.  South Korean soldiers learn Taekwondo (striking) and Judo (grappling).  Japanese soldiers combine Karate (striking) with Judo (wrestling).  US soldiers up until recently were taught a system that largely combined boxing (striking) with, once again, Judo (grappling).  This is of course an oversimplification since any military system will add all sorts of combatives from all sorts of sources but maybe 80% of the combatives will come from an indigenous source the soldier is already familiar with rather than start from scratch. The above technique centered approach has limitations since it ignores strategic martial art consideration in favor of only focusing on tactics.


The classic division of tactics and strategy can be applied to martial arts.  How are the individual techniques/tactics integrated within a larger plan?  This is the next step in how a fighter looks at his or her martial art.  The focus is at first on techniques but later the fighter must look at how individual techniques within the martial art must be mixed and matched to achieve the goal of victory even in a mock fight and in that case a mock victory.  The big three strategic concepts are type of stalking system, primary range of defense/offense and prioritization of target areas.

Stalking System

As you approach your opponent do you circle and look for an opening or just get right in there and go for the kill?  Circular styles include many styles of kung fu with Baguazhang as an extreme example of a circular style.  Karate would be at another extreme and the emphasis is on strong linear movements in Karate.

There is a general tendency to associate circular systems with “soft” systems.  Yielding to oncoming force is a soft technique and a circular yield makes sense biomechanically.  Circular systems are also associated with yogic, internal systems that put a lot of emphasis on breathing and “qi” (Chinese) or “ki” (Japanese).  However an emphasis on correct breathing is a technique that may have a historical Chinese association with circular systems but not a logical one.  Wing Chun in particular is a soft system with a linear stalking system.  There is no necessary logical connection between the stalking system and internal systems.  Some Karate systems that have linear stalking also put an emphasis on breathing techniques.

Some martial arts do not really deal with the idea of stalking system directly and leave that up to the individual student.  Stalking can also be opportunistic.  The student may be encouraged to apply different stalking approaches to different opponents.

Primary Range of Defense/Offense

Certain techniques are good for defending at certain ranges.  Grappling techniques work best at short range.  Hand strikes work best at medium range.  Kicks work best at long range.  There are exceptions, the Muay Thai kick that uses the shin as a striking area can be devastating at many ranges.  Aikido takes grappling techniques but uses them at a much longer range than let’s say Judo.  Some martial arts attempt to create confusion by varying range dramatically such as Hapkido.  However, most martial arts have a primary range that they defend and attack from.  Boxing defends and attacks from a medium range. Even Hapkido has a primary range, long range (kicks) and a secondary range, short range (grappling).

A fighter cannot attack both from a short range and long range at the same time due to the laws of physics and must make a decision what the primary range will be.  The one exception would be a counter attacker that allows the other person to decide the range and then counter attacks from that range but that person would probably be an eclectic martial artist rather than a student of a particular martial art.  The opportunistic approach to range can also be seen in other subareas of strategy and some martial arts adopt an overall opportunistic strategic approach.  Combat is fluid both at the micro and macro level.  The division between a doctrinaire strategic approach versus a flexible approach to strategy that is seen when looking at generals is also seen at the martial arts level.

Prioritization of Attack Areas

Humans long ago figured out that certain areas of the body were much more vulnerable than other areas. Overall, striking systems target the head and other targets along the centerline.  Wrestling systems attack the joints.  Some martial arts, like some styles of Eskrima, and the trapping hands of Wing Chun, will target the arms.  Muay Thai boxers do target the legs via repeated kicks to the same leg and the same spot on the leg of the opponent even though the legs are pretty tough and this seems counter intuitive.  Trapping hands is a secondary attack target technique in Wing Chun.   Wing Chun primarily defends and targets the centerline.

Traditional target areas can even be turned into striking areas.  Muay Thai turns the shin, a target area, into a striking area via conditioning.  Martial arts are not easily classified by what target areas they focus on since a target of opportunity system seems to work best.  There may be illegal targets but in general any martial art will teach the practitioner how to attack a range of targets based on opportunity.  Some martial arts, target what are generally illegal targets because of the danger involved.

Martial arts often have rules about not attacking certain areas due to safety concerns even if those areas make sense from a combat point of view.  Eye gouging or any type of controlled practice of attacking the eyes is almost universally forbidden.  The exception would be a few martial arts like Krav Maga that focus on the self-defense aspect of the martial art over any other goal.  One cannot even say that all martial arts have the goal of attacking vulnerable areas of the human body.  Martial arts with the goal of entertainment or health may eschew vulnerable target areas all together and this leads to the third major dimension of this taxonomy.

The Goal of the Martial Art

What is the main goal of the martial art?  Tactical and strategic considerations should be logically subsumed under the goal of the martial art.  Most martial arts have more than one purpose but generally there is a predominant goal.

This division of martial arts by goal is especially dominant in Japanese martial art in which the modern “–do” systems are contrasted with the traditional “-jutsu” arts.  Some prominent examples are Judo versus Jiu-Jitsu, and Kendo versus Kendo Jutsu.  “Do” means way.  Generally a “-do” Japanese martial art has been adapted for modern sensibilities by emphasizing sportive elements of a prior “–jutsu” martial art.  The defense aspects of the “-jutsu” version are deemphasized and techniques that would be dangerous to the practitioners during practice are eliminated.  Tournament rules are added to the ‘-do” system as well as a consistent system of belts.  Kanō Jigorō was the forerunner of this modernization of Jiu-Jitsu into Judo and many of his innovations were followed by other Japanese martial arts.  An extreme example of this –jutsu to –do conversion would be the conversion of Kenjutsu to Kendo in which an actual sword, or even a wooden sword, “bokken”, which is still a potential weapon, is substituted by a far lighter “shinai” made up of strips of bamboo and basically too light to be a real striking weapon compared to even a stick found on the road or a tire iron in the trunk much less the original steel samurai sword that could literally cleave men in half.  Targets such as limbs were made illegal in Kendo which probably would have amused the original samurai to no end since attacking limbs, which are hard to armor or defend, commonly led to victory in actual combat in Kenjutsu.  One of the most dangerous martial arts of Japan was tamed and made into a shadow dance with almost no self-defense applications.  Kendo due to the lightness of the shinai actually teaches the practitioner bad, overly aggressive, habits so that your natural skill with a stick will go down if you practice Kendo!  Below is a list of major goals of martial arts with the best example of a martial art that is dominated by that goal as opposed to other goals.


Wushu taolu would be a good example of a martial art that retains more combative elements that perhaps Peking Opera but nevertheless has the goal of demonstration as part of a show rather than combat effectiveness.  A demonstration style tries to balance combat efficacy and showmanship rather than just emphasizing showmanship.


An entertainment style of kung fu is used in professional Peking Opera is what Jackie Chan studied in Hong Kong originally.  This is kung fu designed to be used in traditional Chinese opera but also looks great in a Hong Kong film.  The emphasis is on show.  Movements will be exaggerated to the point that combat efficacy is sacrificed.  Stunt versions of a martial art would also included in this category.  Actual sword fights are not very exciting compared to their stunt version cousins.  Bruce Lee was notoriously hard to film due to his speed.  Combat techniques often rely on deception which makes it difficult for the uninitiated to understand what happened.  The ghost kick of Wing Chun is very effective in combat but what is actually going on cannot be seen by the casual observer.  The punch camouflages the kick but the casual observer will not understand what is going on.  A flashy jump kick designed to knock riders off horses, not street combat, looks great in a movie but is a terrible idea in a real fight.  The one-inch punch of Wing Chun is another technique which is effective precisely because it isn’t showy.  Choreographing your punch is a bad thing in combat but necessary for entertainment.  If the main goal is entertainment then martial art modification that is flashy but sacrifices combat efficacy is desirable!

Health and Fitness

Modern T’ai chi ch’uan is based on prior versions of T’achi but many combat elements were removed and modified so even the elderly could practice T’achi for health not combat.  Sometimes health is actually sacrificed for combat effectiveness.  Hand conditioning is probably not a good idea for someone who plans to be a brain surgeon.  Dementia pugilistica is a condition associated with blows to the head among boxers.

Historical Recreation

The Society for Creative Anachronism has attempted to recreate medieval swordsmanship due more to a historical rather than combative interest. Some schools of medieval swordsmanship might emphasize combative elements but in general the practicality of carrying a giant long sword to a street fight or a battle zone has to be questioned.  However, if zombies ever do attack I am going to look into this martial art for combative rather historical purposes.  Swords never run out of ammo.  Swords are a lot quieter than guns.  I would rather use a long sword and kept my distance from the disease plagued hands of a zombie than the shorter, lighter Japanese katana.

Self Defense

Krav Maga is a good example of a martial art that totally eschews any other goal than self-defense.  Many techniques such as eye gouging and groin kicking that are banned in more sport oriented martial arts are part of the Krav Maga curriculum.  Fighting multiple opponents armed with various weapons is not an add-on in Krav Maga like it is in most Karate, Judo, and Kung Fu classes but a central part of the curriculum.  Using a rifle like a club is one of the forms taught in Krav Maga and epitomizes the practical combat approach of this martial art.  The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program would be another example of a system that has as its primary goal self-defense.


Aikido would be a good example of a martial art that started with spiritual goals and is still practiced this way by many practitioners.  Morihei Ueshiba created Aikido in order to create a martial art that emphasized spiritual goals.  Later Aikido Yoshinkan was created in order to emphasize the combative side of Aikido.


Boxing does not allow kicks!  Boxing does not allow any sort of hand strikes except those possible with boxing gloves and even what part of the glove you can use is delineated.  The hand strikes are real enough and the conditioning is real enough but all the combative limitations seem to me to have the goal of extending matches.  I live in Thailand and probably watch a Muay Thai match twice a month live and kicks shorten matches dramatically.  The classic Thai kick with the shin is about ten times more likely to deliver a knockout than any sort of boxing punch possible. Boxing looks like a poor cousin of Muay Thai until you realize boxing is a sport with combat origins rather than a combat system per se. Boxers however are notoriously tough street fighters kicks or no kicks since boxing punches are real and it just takes one good punch to win a fight.

Olympic fencing would be a more extreme example of a sport with martial art origins that has totally lost any combative reality whatsoever.   As mentioned, Kendo is another example of a martial art that has sacrificed combative efficacy for tournament purposes but at least Kendo has offensive slashes as well as thrusts.  In Olympic fencing thrusting with the tip is the only technique allowed!

Classifying an art as a tournament art is not a criticism!  Tournaments are fun!  Sport with some combat dimension fits certain people.  In a developed world in which a sedentary life style is the main enemy of health, any sort of sport that works is to be lauded not criticized.  The logical problem happens when practitioners of a sport style think they are learning a system of combat while actually they are learning a sport system with combat roots.

There seems to be a pattern of evolution when it comes to martial arts as well.  There seems to be an historical pattern both in the West and the East in which martial arts begin with a self-defense goal and then move towards a sports goal over time.  I studied Taekwondo in the seventies and again in the nineties and the emphasis had switched within the art as a whole from combat to winning tournaments.  Some training halls don’t even bother to teach forms that use hand strikes such as the spear hand and ridge hand that are not used in tournaments.  If winning tournaments is the goal of the instructor then time spent of none tournament combatives is logically a waste of time.

Looking at the goals of a martial art and matching the goals to the techniques allows us to deal with the issue of the internal logical consistency of a martial art.  If the goal of a martial art is health and this same martial art is poor in the area of self-defense then criticism that the martial art is poor in the area of self-defense is illogical.  Pointing out that scissors aren’t very good for hammering nails is a pointless argument.  Nevertheless martial artists waste a lot of time in discussions that are like the scissors and the hammers debate.  For example, some martial artists state that Modern T’ai chi ch’uan is largely useless in combat since the emphasis on pushing hand lacks the lethality needed to win a fight in the streets.  For the same amount of effort you used to push your opponent, you could have done a double palm strike and taken the opponent out.  This is a baseless argument since the goal of Modern T’ai chi ch’uan is health not self-defense.  However, if you can show the practice of Modern T’ai chi ch’uan actually does not contribute to better health then that argument is worth pursuing.

The addition of a goal section to any taxonomy of martial arts is crucial!  The person picking a martial art should pick the martial art that fits their own goal!  Unless you have some sort of athletic predisposition for certain techniques then the goal should be the most important part of any martial arts taxonomy.  Just as there are primary and secondary techniques in a martial art, there are primary and secondary goals in a martial art.  Judo may emphasize sportive elements at the expense of self-defense but still retains much of its combative origins and could be used in combat unlike for example Olympic fencing which is largely useless for self-defense.


Tenger, B. (1968). Self-defense Nerve Centers and Pressure Points for Karate, Jujitusu and Atemi-Waza. Thor Publishing Company, Ventura, CA.

Hugh Fox III - Sushi

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DC vs. Valiant Universe 9: Magnus, Robot Fighter vs. Karate Kid.

This one is a true doppelganger fight!  Magnus, Robot Figher (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus,_Robot_Fighter) knows super-karate.  The Karate Kid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karate_Kid_%28comics%29) knows super karate.  Both can shatter titanium blocks with a quick karate chop.  Both also live in the future!  Magnus Robot Fighter came first and deserves some credit for this.  Magnus Robot Fighter also has one of the most interesting super hero outfits around.  Matching magenta top and shorts with white boots!  More the sort of outfit you would expect on a go-go dancer rather than a male super hero.  Karate Kid had two outfits and both were pretty bad.  The first one was a dark tan Karate outfit made out of spandex complete with the black belt that was actually brown, I guess to match the rest of the outfit.  The second was some sort of black and white kung fu inspired martial arts outfit.  There was kung fu craze going on at the time.  Karate Kid also knows every martial art of the 30 th century not just on Earth but across the galaxy.  Karate Kid is a member of the Legion of Superheroes and in this universe there is a United Planets.  Magnus lives in a much more insular future were interstellar contact is generally a prelude to alien invasion. The Karate Kid even learned a martial art specially designed to fight aliens like Super Boy. So the Karate Kid has the edge in knowledge of martial arts.


However, Magnus has been fighting robots.  Big robots!  Gigantic robots!  Deadly robots!  Magnus has the edge in combat experience and beats the Karate Kid.  Anyway Magnus has the courage to wear white boots and deserves to win.


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