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Torakan Karate-Do

Karate Essence - Martial Arts and or Martial Artists in the Movies

Martial Arts and or Martial Artists in the Movies

I have deliberately made the title a little ambiguous to encompass some of the movies that I consider to be excellent martial arts movies which impressed me when I first saw them; as it turned out, some of those actors were not martial artists when the movie was first conceived.

I know that there will be those among you who will say, “What about so-and-so?” or “What about such-and-such a movie?” Let me just say here that, there are quite literally hundreds of martial artist/movie stars and movies… and in this article I have a small window of opportunity to highlight just a few of them. I have chosen those movies and actors that made the most impact upon me at the time; my apologies to those with different viewing experiences.

Table of Contents

Ø ‘The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple’ was the very first martial arts movie, released in 1928.

Ø ‘Billy Jack’ was the first martial arts movie I saw, released in 1971; I was impressed.

Ø ‘Enter the Dragon’ had me spellbound, released in 1973.

Ø ‘Lone Wolf McQuade’, released in 1983, established Chuck Norris as the number 1 martial arts/action superstar of the time.

Ø 'Showdown in Little Tokyo, 1991, Starring Dolph Lundgren & Brandon Lee.

Ø ‘Rapid Fire’, Starring Brandon Lee, released in 1992, was an excellent vehicle to display both his martial arts talents and acting chops.

Ø ‘Hard Target’, released in 1993, was one of Jean Claude Van Damme’s best earlier movies.

Ø ‘Rumble in the Bronx’, starring in this 1995 release is Jackie Chan at his best, and his best is really good.

Ø ‘Blade’, released in 1998, Wesley Snipes displays his excellent martial form.

Ø ‘Kiss of the Dragon’, starring the irrepressible Jet Li in this 2001 classic.

Ø ‘The Bourne Identity’, 2002, Matt Damon, a brilliant actor, captures the very essence of Jason Bourne, super badass.

Ø ‘Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior’, released in 2003, if you haven’t seen this movie, you should… definitely worth seeing. Tony Jaa is outstanding.

Ø ‘Black Belt’, is a Japanese film released in 2007, featuring Tatsuya Naka.

Ø ‘Blood and Bone’, released in 2009, starring Michael Jai White, one of my favourite, current actor/martial artists.

Ø ‘Jack Reacher’, a 2012 movie release, based on Lee Child’s 2005 Jack Reacher novel, ‘One Shot’, and starring Tom Cruise.

Ø ‘John Wick’, a former hitman, is forced back into the criminal underworld he had previously abandoned. This is a 2014 release starring Keanu Reeves.

‘The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple’

The first ever martial arts film was a Chinese film released in 1928, ‘The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple’ (also translated as "The Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery") is a lost, Chinese silent film serial, directed by Zhang Shichuan, who is widely considered to be the founding father of Chinese cinema; and starring Hu Die. The film is adapted from the novel ‘The Tale of the Extraordinary Swordsman’.

The Mingxing Film Company production of ‘The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple’ is among the longest films ever produced. The film was such a success that the studio made 17 sequels of the same name. It started a craze for martial arts films; however, it also attracted criticism from the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) when children neglected their schoolwork to study martial arts. The film series eventually led the Chinese Nationalist Party to ban films of all historical martial heroes (Wuxia) by the early 1930s; Wuxia was thought to incite anarchy and rebellion. The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple was released in 18 feature-length parts between 1928 and 1931; however, sadly, no copies have survived. I have chosen to highlight this particular film because it was the very first of the genre.

As I have already said, no footage of the aforementioned movie, ‘The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple’, survived; and so I have added here a link to a 1965 remake of that movie entitled, Temple of the Red Lotus’, Starring: Ping Chin, Jimmy Wang Yu, Bo-Bo Fung.

‘Billy Jack’

Thomas Robert Laughlin Jr (August 10, 1931 – December 12, 2013) was an American actor, director, screenwriter, author, educator, and activist. Billy Jack is a 1971 American, independent, action drama film, the second of four films centering on a character of the same name which began with the movie The Born Losers (1967), played by Tom Laughlin, who directed and co-wrote the script.

I had served for five years in the British Parachute Regiment, where I had been part of a close quarter combat display team, and where I had boxed for several years, but I had not yet become involved in Karate when I saw my first genuine martial arts movie; and by that I mean a movie with martial arts as its main theme. ‘Billy Jack’ was that movie.

Filming began in Prescott, Arizona, in the fall of 1969, but the movie was not completed until 1971.

Tom Laughlin had no martial arts training before he started training for the movie. He became a private student of Hapkido Master Bong Soo Han in late 1968 and continued studying and training with Master Bong Soo Han during the consequent filming of ‘Billy Jack’ and throughout ‘The Trial of Billy Jack’ (1974) and ‘Billy Jack Goes to Washington’ (1977). He began a fifth film, ‘The Return of Billy Jack’, in which he started in the mid-1980s but unfortunately the film was never finished.

Reportedly, ‘Billy Jack’ was one of Elvis Presley's favourite films. I understand why, it certainly inspired me; soon thereafter, Karate-Do became my path.

‘Enter the Dragon’

Born Lee Jun-fan (November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973), better known as Bruce Lee, was a Hong Kong and American martial artist and actor. ‘Enter the Dragon’, released after Bruce Lee’s untimely death in 1973, became a profound influence on my martial path.

The founder of Jeet Kun Do, a hybrid martial arts philosophy drawing from different combat disciplines, is often credited with paving the way for modern mixed martial arts (MMA). Bruce Lee is considered by critics, media, and other martial artists to be the most influential martial artist of all time and a pop culture icon of the 20th century, who bridged the gap between East and West.

Born in San Francisco and raised in British Hong Kong, Bruce was introduced to the Hong Kong film industry, as a child actor by his father, and became a child star in the Hong Kong cinema – almost the Macaulay Culkin of his day.

Bruce’s early martial arts experience included Wing Chun (training under Yip Man), Tai Chi, and boxing (winning a Hong Kong boxing tournament); and was supplemented by frequent street fighting. In fact, street fighting and street gangs were part of Bruce’s reason for moving to Seattle in 1959. In 1961, he enrolled in the University of Washington. Bruce aspired to having a career in acting but during his university time he began teaching martial arts and drew significant attention at the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships of California while demonstrating his prowess.

After a leading role in ‘The Green Hornet’, a television show, and then two feature length Hong Kong martial arts films, that were simply so popular and profitable to ignore, Warner Brothers offered Bruce a starring role in ‘Enter the Dragon’; he also worked behind the scenes as co-producer. Bruce Lee was Hollywood's first martial arts super star.

My martial journey had begun some years earlier but, as I watched ‘Enter the Dragon’, it was as though I was watching martial arts for the first time. In those days, 1973, in the movie theatres, or ‘picture houses’ as they were known in the UK, there was generally two feature films, as well as news segments and trailers (promotions of upcoming movies). I was so captivated by Bruce Lee that I sat through two sittings of ‘Enter the Dragon’. There is no doubt that Bruce Lee was the biggest, single influence on my martial path.

‘Lone Wolf McQuade’

J.J. McQuade, a former Marine and a Texas Ranger prefers to work alone. He carries a large .44 Magnum revolver for a duty sidearm, lives in an old, run-down house in the middle of nowhere and has a pet wolf. Chuck Norris stars in the 1983 release of ‘Lone Wolf McQuade.’

Chuck Norris, born in 1940, joined the United States Air Force as an Air Policeman (AP) in 1958 and was sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea. It was there that he acquired the nickname "Chuck" and began his training in Tang Soo Do. When he returned to the United States and was discharged from the forces, in 1962, Chuck opened a martial arts studio and proceeded to participate in martial arts competitions.

At the Madison Square Garden, in 1967, Chuck won the 1967 All-American Karate Championship tournament. In 1968 he won the World Professional Middleweight, Full Contact, Karate championship title, which he then held for six consecutive years until retiring undefeated. While competing, Chuck met Bruce Lee, who at the time was known for his part in the TV series ‘The Green Hornet’. They developed a friendship, as well as a training and working relationship.

Bruce invited his friend to play the part of his nemesis in ‘The Way of the Dragon’, which subsequently broke Bruce’s previous Hong Kong record, previously set with ‘Fists of Fury’ and ‘The Big Boss’. Chuck went on to forge a career as a world renowned, action movie star and martial arts superstar, with too many movies to mention here, but the movie that sticks out in my mind, for several reasons, was ‘Lone Wolf McQuade’.

By the time ‘Lone Wolf McQuade’ was released in 1983, co-starring David Carradine (star of the hit TV show, Kung Fu), I was an established 3rd Dan karateka, with a respectable fight career of my own.

‘Showdown in Little Tokyo’

Showdown in Little Tokyo was a 1991 ‘Warner Brothers’ film starring Dolph Lundgren and co-starring, in his debut American film role, was Brandon Lee.

Hans "Dolph" Lundgren, born 3 November 1957, is a Swedish actor, filmmaker and martial artist. His breakthrough came in 1985, when he starred in Rocky IV as the Soviet boxer Ivan Drago. Since then, Dolph has starred in more than 80 films, most of them in the action genre.

During the early 80s, while attending various universities (including the University of Sydney) Dolph worked as a bouncer, before becoming Grace Jones’s bodyguard; and, after receiving his Master’s degree in chemical engineering, in 1982, Dolph received a Fulbright scholarship to MIT and moved to Boston.

Dolph was the European full contact Kyokushin Karate champion, 1980–81, and, still training to this day, he holds the rank of 4th Dan Blackbelt in Kyokushin karate.

I have a couple of reasons for this choice; firstly, I like Dolph Lundgren, and I think he is a physically impressive individual. He has of course taken part in a virtual plethora of movies; and, although I wouldn’t call him an outstanding actor, he does have a strong on-screen presence. His martial arts technique, both on and off screen, is typically Kyokushin: very strong and straight forward, as seen here in ‘Showdown in Little Tokyo’, one of his first movies. Also, I had the good fortune to have met him once when he was living in Sydney. Our meeting was brief, a purely informal introduction by a mutual acquaintance. We were both new to Australia (Dolph was from Sweden, while I was from Scotland) and we spoke for a few moments only. I heard soon after, via that mutual acquaintance, that he had gone to America.

‘Rapid Fire’

Rapid Fire, starring Brandon Lee (yes, Bruce Lee’s son), was released in the United States on August 21, 1992. Brandon Bruce Lee (February 1, 1965 – March 31, 1993) was an actor and martial artist, establishing himself as a rising action star in the early 1990s.

The son of martial artist and film star Bruce Lee, Brandon followed in his father's footsteps. As for Brandon’s martial arts prowess… he was trained in Kung Fu by his father (the late, great, Bruce Lee), from when he was able to walk; actually, more specifically, Jeet Kun Do. Jeet Kun Do, or ‘The Way of the Intercepting Fist’ is a style and philosophy that is an amalgam of offensive, defensive and evasive manoeuvres derived from elements of Boxing, Muay Thai, Shoot Wrestling, Filipino Martial Arts and Jujutsu; all fairly evident in Brandon’s style of fighting. Following Bruce’s passing, Brandon continued training under Bruce’s senior students, Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo.

Brandon studied acting at Emerson College and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, and began his career with leading roles in the Hong Kong action movie ‘Legacy of Rage’, in1986, and then ‘Laser Mission’, in 1989. He co-starred with Dolph Lundgren in the Warner Bros movie ‘Showdown in Little Tokyo’ in 1991, which later became a cult film. Following this, he played the lead in ‘Rapid Fire’, produced by 20th Century Fox in 1992. The following year, in 1993, Brandon was offered the leading role in ‘The Crow’; he had filmed nearly all of his scenes when, tragically, he was fatally wounded on set by a prop gun. Posthumously, Brandon Lee received praise for his performance in ‘The Crow’. His career has drawn parallels with his father’s, both of them having died young prior to the release of their breakthrough films.

Personally, while I did enjoy ‘The Crow’, appreciating the dark, noir style, I found that ‘Rapid Fire’ was wholly entertaining, and a perfect vehicle for Brandon Lee’s talents, as a martial artist and actor. It stands up well, even after 31 years.

‘Hard Target’

‘Hard Target’ is a 1993 American action film directed by Hong Kong film director John Woo in his U.S. debut. The film stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Chance Boudreaux, an out-of-work, homeless, Cajun merchant seaman and former United States ‘Force Recon’ Marine.

Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg, born 18 October 1960, known professionally as Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD), is a Belgian martial artist, actor, filmmaker, and fight choreographer. Born and raised in Brussels, Belgium; at the age of ten his father enrolled him in a Shotokan Karate School. With the desire of becoming an actor, he moved to the United States in 1982, where he did odd jobs and worked on several films, until he got his break as the lead in the martial arts film Bloodsport in 1988. He became a popular action film star with a virtual torrent of action movies, one of those being ‘Hard Target, in 1993. After a hiatus of more than a decade, from the 1996 to 2008 Van Damme returned to the screen and – as a better actor I feel – re-established himself.

Jean-Claude Van Damme began his martial arts at an early age, and also studied ballet for five years. He competed initially on the tournament scene, and was a member of the Belgium Karate Team when it won the European Karate Championship in 1979. He then began training and competing in Kickboxing; therefore, developing his fighting skills in both Shotokan karate and Kickboxing. He began weight training to improve his physique, which eventually led to a Mr Belgium bodybuilding title. Later, to further improve his fighting skills, he took up both Taekwondo and Muay Thai.

Jean-Claude Van Damme was an iconic figure in the late 80s and early 90s and I thought that he should get a mention here. I also share a couple of affinitive points with Jean-Claude: we began Shotokan Karate in about the same year; although, I was in my twenties and he was ten years younger. When he was competing, and part of the Belgium Karate Team, I was competing and part of the Karate Union of Scotland Team.

Many years later, just after the production of ‘Hard Target’, and shortly before its release, I stepped up, at 42 years of age and after seven years retirement, to fight in a friendly match, representing ISKA Australia, against a USA visiting team, and my opponent was ISKA World Heavyweight Champion, Tony ‘Satch’ Williams. ‘Satch’ was ISKA, USA and World, Champion during the 1980s and 90s, and was in several martial arts movies during that period, including the Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, and was a personal friend and training partner of Van Damme. Also, in my opinion, ‘Hard Target’ was probably one of the better early Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.

‘Rumble in the Bronx’

Rumble in the Bronx is a 1995 American-Hong Kong martial arts film starring Jackie Chan.

Jackie Chan, born 7 April 1954, actor, filmmaker, martial artist, and stuntman is known for his slapstick, acrobatic fighting style, comic timing, and innovative stunts, which he typically performs himself. Jackie has been acting since the 1960s, performing in more than 150 films. He is one of the most popular action film stars of all time. He is one of the most recognisable and influential film personalities in the world, with a widespread global following in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres. He has received ‘fame stars’ on Hong Kong’s Avenue of Stars and Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Jackie is also a globally known philanthropist and has been named one of the top 10 most charitable celebrities by Forbes magazine. In 2015, Forbes estimated his net worth to be $350 million, and as of 2016, he was the second-highest-paid actor in the world.

The dangerous nature of his stunts makes it difficult to get insurance, especially in the United States where his stunt work is contractually limited. Jackie holds the Guinness World Record for ‘Most Stunts by a Living Actor’, and emphasises that ‘no insurance company will underwrite his productions, in which he performs all his own stunts’.

Over the years, he has dislocated his pelvis and broken fingers, toes, nose, both cheekbones, hips, sternum, neck, ankle, and ribs. Promotional materials for Rumble in the Bronx emphasised that he performed all of the stunts, and one version of the movie poster even diagrammed his many injuries.

Jackie trained in martial arts and acrobatics for a decade in his youth. When he entered the film industry, he learned Hapkido and attained his black belt; he has also trained in Karate, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, and Jeet Kun Do.

My reasons for choosing this martial artist/actor and this particular movie, ‘Rumble in the Bronx’, are quite simple: Jackie Chan is one of the most iconic martial artist/actors of all time, and in this film we get to see him get it on, not once but twice, with one of the most iconic fighters of all time, Benny ‘the Jet’ Urquidez.


Before staring in ‘Blade’ – in 1998, as the half vampire, vampire hunter/exterminator, Blade – Wesley Snipes had already had a stellar acting career.

Wesley Trent Snipes, born July 31, 1962, is an American actor. He appeared in many major films, including ‘Major League’ (1989), ‘New Jack City’ (1991), ‘Jungle Fever’ (1991), 'White Men Can't Jump' (1992), 'Passenger 57' (1992), 'Rising Sun' (1993), ‘Demolition Man’ (1993), ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar’ (1995), ‘U.S. Marshals’ (1998), ‘The Expendables 3’ (2014), and the ‘Blade’ trilogy (1998–2004), to name just a few of the many.

Wesley began training in the martial arts when he was 12 years old. He has a 5th degree black belt in Shotokan karate and a 2nd degree black belt in Hapkido. He has also trained in Capoeira and in a number of other disciplines including Kung Fu at the USA Shaolin Temple, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Kickboxing.

I have chosen to highlight Wesley Snipes and Blade in particular for several reasons, not least because the martial disciplines that Wesley has chosen to study and the grades he has achieved are fairly close to my own. As well as being a superb actor, Wesley Snipes is clearly an outstanding martial artist of long standing.

'Kiss of the Dragon'

Kiss of the Dragon is a 2001 French-American action film directed by Chris Nahon, written and produced by French filmmaker Luc Besson, and starring an international cast of Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, and Tchéky Karyo.

Jet purposefully wanted to take a realistic approach to the fight scenes, and forgo the CGI and wire work that had been popularized by films such as Charlie’s Angels and The Matrix. Jet Li, whose movies have been entertaining fans globally for over four decades, is credited for making Wushu famous in Hong Kong cinema and beyond.

Born on 26 April 1963 in Beijing and a naturalised Singaporean citizen since 2009, the Chinese actor started practising Wushu at the age of eight at Beijing Sports and Exercise School. By the time he was 11 years old, he had represented China internationally at Wushu competitions and, while still in his teens, he won the men’s gold medal at the national championships five consecutive times. He is a master of several styles of Wushu, especially Chángquán (Northern Longfist Style) and Fānziquán (Tumbling Fist). He has also studied other arts including Baguazhang (Eight Trigram Palm), Taijiquan (Supreme Ultimate Fist), Xing Yi Quan (Shape Intent Fist), Zui Quan (Drunken Fist), Ying Zhao Quan (Eagle Claw Fist) and Tanglangquan (Praying Mantis Fist). Jet has also mastered Wushu's main weapons: the Sanjiegun (Three Section Staff), Gùn, Dao (Broadsword), and Jian (Straight Sword).

Before he turned 20, Jet Li achieved success in Hong Kong cinema with his debut feature Shaolin Temple. In the following two decades, he continued to amaze audiences with his exceptional display of martial arts and was regarded, along with the legendary Jackie Chan, as the best in the business. Unlike Jackie, most of whose films are more comedic, most of Jet’s movies have a serious tone – not unlike the late great Bruce Lee.

I chose this martial artist/actor for his outstanding martial arts skills and ‘Kiss of the Dragon’ for its entertainment value and because it displays Jet Li’s superb abilities so well.

‘The Transporter’

Jason Statham starred in this 2002 release. In 2012 a BBC News report estimated that his ten-year film career as an action star to date (2002 to 2012) had yielded over one billion dollars in the box office, making him one of the industry's most bankable stars. He was signed on to reprise his role as Lee Christmas in The Expendables 2 in 2012. Jason has been in too many movies to mention each one here but suffice to say he has appeared in over 40 action movies since his debut in ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, in 1998.

Jason Statham’s martial arts are a mixed bag of tricks; involved from an early age in Karate, Kickboxing, Wing Chun Kung Fu, and Taekwondo while he was working market stalls with his father. However, as a member of the British national diving team for 12 years, competing at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, his time was divided considerably. He was also a talented football (soccer) player. Nonetheless, his martial arts training never missed a beat; he just never really zeroed in on one discipline or got into grading in a big way.

Because of his martial arts and athletic (diving) background, Jason performs a large majority of his stunt work in his action films which feature many different martial arts. Within this mix, Jason’s main martial art style is Kyokushin Karate, an aggressive style featuring close-range fighting, head kicks, and direct punches. Jason’s MMA style also includes Wing Chun, Taekwondo, Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Capoeira, Eskrima, and Hapkido.

My reason for choosing this actor/martial artist and this film is simple enough; I had not heard any of the usual jive about the movie before seeing it and didn’t really expect much from ‘The Transporter’ and was pleasantly surprised by it and Jason’s performance in it. It, and he, made an impression on me.

‘The Bourne Identity’

Matt Damon starred in the 2002 production of ‘The Bourne Identity’. Matthew Paige Damon, born October 8, 1970, is an American actor, film producer, and screenwriter. Ranked among Forbes' most bankable stars, the films in which he has appeared have collectively earned over $3.88 billion at the North American box office, making him one of the highest-grossing actors of all time. He has received various awards and nominations, including an Academy Award and two Golden Globe Awards, in addition to nominations for three British Academy Film Awards and seven Primetime Emmy Awards.

Matt began his martial art training in Kali/Arnis in 2001, only six months before filming for ‘The Bourne Identity’ began, but admits that, once he began, the training was a fulltime thing. When asked, in an interview with ABS-CBN News' Marie Lozano, “Why was the Filipino martial art of Kali/Arnis picked in particular for the Bourne character?” He revealed …

"Some martial artists came in and did a demonstration. Suddenly they started doing this thing that was so cool. It looked like exactly what we wanted, which was really destructive, really close but economic… it was everything we wanted in Bourne’s style; really bad ass!" Matt opened up about his experience learning the art of Kali and how he incorporated it, along with a mix of other fighting styles, into his super spy character, Jason Bourne.

I chose this movie because, not expecting a lot from it (I had read the book and wasn’t really captivated) I was nicely surprised and suitably impressed, with ‘The Bourne Identity’ of course but, more with Matt Damon’s portrayal of the character and his thoroughly believable skills. In fact, my first comment was, “I didn’t know that Matt Damon was a martial artist.” He is of course an excellent actor and was able to perform the choreographed fight scenes with brilliance.

‘Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior’

In 2003, virtually unknown to western audiences, Tony Jaa starred in the non-English speaking film release, ‘Ong Bak’, to worldwide acclaim. Tatchakorn Yeerum, formerly Phanom Yeerum, born 5 February 1976, better known internationally as Tony Jaa, is a Thai martial artist, actor, action choreographer, stuntman, director, and traceur. His films include Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003), Tom-Yum-Goong (2005), Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (2008), Furious 7 (2015) and SPL II: A Time for Consequences (2015), to name but a few.

In his youth, Tony watched films by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li at temple fairs, which inspired him to learn martial arts. He practiced the techniques in his father's rice paddy. "What they (Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li) did was so beautiful, so heroic that I wanted to do it too," Tony told Time Magazine in a 2004 interview. "I practiced until I could do the move exactly as I had seen the masters do it.” Tony began training in Muay Thai at his local temple at age 10. By 15, he was a protégé of stuntman and action film director Panna Rittikrai.

Ong Bak was considered to be Tony Jaa’s breakthrough film and, even though it was a Thai language movie, he was praised by critics for his performance and widely acclaimed as being the next martial arts superstar.

I had never heard of Ong Bak or Tony Jaa. I saw the film advertised on a movie theatre and had a couple of hours to kill. I was blown away by Tony Jaa’s obvious talent. Also, to my surprise, Nick Kara, an Australian champion Kickboxer and someone I knew personally, played the part of, ‘Big Bear’, one of Tony Jaa’s antagonists. Ong Bak is definitely worth seeing.

‘Black Belt’

Black Belt (2007), Kuro-obi (黒帯) in Japan, is a Japanese film directed by Shunichi Nagasaki. It focuses mainly on the martial art of Karate. It is notable for excluding the usual exaggerations of the genre. The lead roles were played by Karate experts, and no special effects were used. Tatsuya Naka, born May 29 1964 in Tokyo, is Taikan, one of the three main protagonists. Tatsuya Naka also starred in ‘High Kick Girl!’ and ‘Karate Girl.’

Naka Sensei is a 7th Dan Shotokan, full-time instructor for the Japan Karate Association. Naka started karate in his first year of junior high school. He attended Takushoku University, and became the ‘All Japan Champion’ in 1992 and was a successful competitor for about ten years, before turning his full focus to teaching Budō Karate. Tatsuya Naka has a very open mind when it comes to the martial arts and has travelled to Okinawa and China, and trained with Kempo masters in Okinawa and Kung Fu masters in the Shaolin Temple.

My reason for including this movie and this Martial Artist/actor is that it and he has a down to earth approach to the martial arts and what works in reality. ‘Black Belt’, as previously stated, is notable for excluding the usual exaggerations of the genre. The lead roles are played by serious fulltime karateka and no special effects were used; so don’t expect Tony Jaa type fights. Also, Shotokan is my first love.

‘Flash Point’

Flash Point, starring Donnie Yen, was released in Hong Kong on 26 July 2007 and in China on 9 August 2007. It also premiered at the "Midnight Madness" program of the 2007 ‘Toronto International Film Festival’. Flash Point was later given a limited theatrical release in North America on 14 March 2008, before being released on DVD by The Weinstein Company as part of Dragon Dynasty's collection of films.

Yen Chi Tan (Donnie Yen), born 27 July 1963, is a Hong Kong actor, martial artist, action director and politician. Regarded as one of Hong Kong's top action stars, Donnie is widely credited for bringing mixed martial arts (MMA) into mainstream Asian cinema by choreographing MMA in many of his films since the early 2000s. The first Chinese UFC champion, Zhang Weili, stated that Donnie's films introduced her to MMA.

Donnie displays skills in a multitude of martial arts; he is well versed in Tai Chi, Boxing, Kickboxing, Jeet Kun Do, Hapkido, Mixed martial arts, Taekwondo, Karate, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Hung Ga, Sanda, Judo, Wing Chun, and Wushu. One of the most popular film stars in Asia of the early 2000s, Donnie is consistently one of the highest-paid actors in Asia. He earned $28.4 US million from four films and six advertisements in 2013. He is also credited by many for the popularisation of Wing Chun in China by his portrayal of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man in the Ip Man film series.

Donnie’s mother, Bow-Sim Mark, is a Kung Fu Style Wudangquan internal martial arts and Tai Chi grandmaster. When he was two years old, his family moved to Hong Kong and then to the United States, settling in Boston, when he was 11. He attended Newton North High School.

At a young age, under the influence of his mother, Donnie developed an interest in martial arts and began experimenting with various styles, including Tai Chi and other traditional Chinese martial arts. At age 16, he began practising Wushu after his parents sent him to Beijing to train with the Beijing Wushu Team.

Again, my motivations for presenting this martial artist/actor and this movie are fairly self-explanatory. Although Donnie’s later movies are quite brilliant (particularly his portrayal of Ip Man) I feel that Flash Point allows us to see a wider range of Donnie Yen’s martial talents.

‘Blood and Bone’

Michael Jai White stars as Isaiah Bone in this 2009 classic. Born November 10, 1964, he is an American actor, director and martial artist; he was the first African American to portray a major comic book superhero in a major motion picture, starring as Al Simmons, the protagonist in the 1997 film Spawn. From 1989 to the present day, 36 years, Michael has appeared in 80 movies, most of them action movies and many of them in starring roles. Michael Jai White is a truly prolific actor.

Michael Jai White is also a prolific martial artist, trained in nine different disciplines: Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Taekwondo, Kobudō, Tang-Soo-Do, Wushu, Jujutsu, Kyokushin and Boxing. He began training in the martial arts at the age of four in Jujutsu, and next took up Shotokan, before moving on to other styles later; he holds Dan (Blackbelt) rankings in Kyokushin, Goju-Ryu, Shotokan, Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do, Kobudō, and Wushu.

My reasons for choosing this actor and this movie are simple, his quality work: he is a good actor and an excellent, impressive, martial artists; and the film, ‘Blood and Bone’, Directed by Ben Ramsey, is well put together, designed specifically to showcase Michael Jai White’s talents.

‘Jack Reacher’

‘Jack Reacher’ was a 2012 movie release, based on Lee Child’s 2005 Jack Reacher novel, ‘One Shot’. Physically, the 6’5” character in the book could not be any different from the 5’7” Tom Cruise; however, Tom created his own unique version of Jack Reacher. Tom Cruise really needs no introduction here; anyone who hasn’t heard of him, quite simply, hasn’t been alive for the last 40 odd years. Love him or hate him, there is no denying that he is one of the most talented, fearless, professionals in the movie industry.

It is a well-known fact in the industry that Tom Cruise insists on doing most of his stunts himself. This does make him a total badass who isn’t afraid to get a little scraped up or even break a bone every now and then.

While filming for Mission Impossible 6, ‘Fallout’, he had to leap from one rooftop to another, during which he broke his ankle. Any sane person would be overcome with pain and get to the ER immediately, but not Tom. He continued on to finish the scene in one single take, with an unscripted limp; completing the mission like a real-life super spy.

Tom Cruise has not followed any ‘formal’ martial discipline to grade in et cetera, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of dishing it out if confronted with a threat. While in Glenridge High School he was an Inter-State wrestler; and while preparing for the filming of the various fight scenes throughout his prolific movies he goes through months at a time of gruelling fight training sessions, every single day. With more than three decades of fight training under his belt, and the assistance of martial arts expert and Jiu-Jitsu pro Robb Alonzo to prepare him I’d say he is pretty well versed in the martial arts. Robb, who is also a stunt coordinator and works with Tom in almost every movie, designed the fight training for Jack Reacher.

The fighting style and techniques employed by Robb for the training is called the Keysi fighting method or KFM, which is a martial art of Spanish gypsy origin. The Keysi method utilizes defensive ‘covering’ techniques in an offensive manner. Basically, the arms are kept in the covering position while being used to land strikes. Essentially, Keysi is an ‘instinctive’ and ‘low-grounded’ style, focusing on extreme close quarter combat and a ‘360-degree approach’ which focuses on defending against numerous attackers from various positions like kneeling and lying down, et cetera. In some ways, this method is quite similar to Krav Maga as it aims to target an attacker’s weak points such as kidneys, throat, and solar plexus or, as Tom prefers, the testes. This is the same style of fighting that Tom has trained in since Mission Impossible 3.

The motivating factors for choosing this movie and this actor are not hard to work out; Tom Cruise’s charisma and unparalleled acting chops, together with his perfectionist attitude to everything that he does makes this portrayal of the character, ‘Jack Reacher’ and his thoroughly believable skills, brilliantly entertaining.

‘John Wick’

John Wick is the first in a series of neo noir films, about a legendary hitman, John Wick, who is lured out of retirement. Starring Keanu Reeves, this is a 2014 American action thriller directed by Chad Stahelski and written by Derek Kolstad.

Keanu Charles Reeve, born September 2 1964 in Beirut and raised in Toronto, is a Canadian actor. Keanu began acting in theatre productions and in television films before making his feature film debut in ‘Youngblood’, 1986. He had his breakthrough role in the science fiction comedy ‘Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure’, 1989, and reprised that role in its sequels. Keanu was then praised for several dramatic roles and in particular, ‘My Own Private Idaho, before establishing himself as an action hero with leading roles in ‘Point Break’, 1991, and Speed, 1994. There followed too many successful performances to go into here; however, his role in ‘The Matrix’ science fiction series, playing the lead, Neo, thrust him into greater stardom.

In addition to acting, in 2013 Keanu directed the film ‘Man of Tai Chi’; he also plays bass guitar for the band Dogstar, and pursues other endeavours such as writing and philanthropy. However, there is little doubt that playing the titular assassin in the ‘John Wick’ film series, beginning in 2014, put him in the position, that, in 2022, ‘Time’ magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Keanu Reeves began his martial arts training in Kung Fu in the early 1990s, in preparation for his role in the Matrix. Since then, Keanu has trained in many martial arts to help him perform more effectively in his acting roles. Having training in Judo, Karate, Jujutsu, Kung Fu, Aikido, and Krav Maga, he then enrolled in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes with the Machado brothers while preparing for the ‘John Wick’ films. Like many actor/martial artists, he has done a lot of training with some of the best in the world but, because of his acting commitments, hasn’t focussed much on gradings, just on performance. Despite being awarded a Blackbelt in Judo – modest guy that he is – he insists that he only knows movie martial arts stuff.

My reasons for choosing this Actor/Martial Artist, Keanu Reeves, and this movie, ‘John Wick’, are manifold. I like Keanu; he is a consummate professional, a genuinely nice person, and the most humble individual you could ever wish to meet. And ‘John Wick’ is the perfect vehicle for him to portray the most dangerous ‘Bad Ass’ that this consummate professional and nice guy could dream himself to be.


In conclusion – now, you didn’t think that I would post an article without at least making some kind of philosophical point, did you? – I would just like to point out that a fairly major difference from the action movies that were made when I was growing up – compared to most action movies made today – is that most of today’s action movies contain some kind of martial arts depiction.

Until I saw ‘Billy Jack’, most fight scenes I had seen in the movies were fairly stereo type, telegraphed and predictable. This of course was not a reflection of real-life fight scenarios at all which, on the whole, were pretty messy. Although, having said that, the fight scenes in today’s films sometimes seem, to me, telegraphed and predictable too. Consequently, the only real difference is the public’s idea and, therefore, vision of what a skilled fighter might be able to pull off.

Throughout most of the first fifty years my life, it seems, I was never far from physical conflict. When I actually analyse it, as I have done for my upcoming book, ‘A Budōka Odyssey’, I find that, with a view to dispelling the fear, I would constantly confront the danger. Consequently, my martial arts became part of the tools I utilised on my lifelong Budōka odyssey. The point that I am making hear is that, through constant physical conflict – testing what is real and what is fluff – I know the difference; and most of the difference (in the mess of a real-life scenario) is the ultimate will, not just to endure, but to be invincible. No matter what it takes.


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