I am like a lot of people and love action movies. As you would expect, some of my favourite action movies have some awesome fight scenes. I love the way Jason Bourne takes out the bad guys.
The Matrix had some great fight scenes as do movies like The Raid and that’s before we start to talk about specific stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee. A lot of people start doing martial arts because they have seen some awesome moves in film but that has a negative side as well.
People see these movies and think that if they learn how to do martial arts, they can do moves like that, learn to defend themselves like that and that they can pull off moves just like in the movies. They believe that one day they can do these moves not just in classes but in real life fights as well. I am here to tell you; real life will never look like it does in the movies.
Firstly, the people who do these movies, whether they are actors or stunt people doing the fighting, have usually done some intense training to do these specific moves in this specific sequence. Now they might be fantastic martial artists in real life, but the sequences you see on film are practised and rehearsed again and again and then filmed multiple times so that we get to see the best take of that specific move.
I am a big Star Wars fan and love the lightsaber fight scene between Obi Wan, Qui Gon and Darth Maul. It’s part of why I love doing a sword martial art but if you look at the sequences, most of the time they are aiming for the opponent’s lightsaber and not for the actual opponent. It looks great on film, but that sort of speed, precision and accuracy are not what we should be expecting of ourselves (unless we have the Force).
The scenes are great but they are not realistic and to expect that from yourself as a martial artist is a tough ask. In a demonstration you can work for this sort of perfection but it’s not something you are going to be able to do every time you go on the floor.
Secondly, real life fights are messy and unpredictable and they never go the way you want them to. When teaching a set sequence for self-defence, I often have young students ask me questions like
“What if they punch you here instead?” or “what if they grab you?” or….. The options are endless. You can practise a defence to a punch by moving left and blocking etc. but there is not guarantee in a real life fight that you will move fast enough or that your block will work. It’s never going to look as clean and refined as it does in the movies. Another thing I often see in martial arts classes are students who, during self-defence, miss the first move of the self-defence sequence (they miss the block for instance) and get their partner to start again. I joke that in real life there is no reset. You can’t ask the person attacking you on the street to stop and punch again so you can get the defence right this time. Real life doesn’t work like this. Its messy in a real life fight. Count a win as getting away, not by how well you did that turning kick.
So how should we apply these movies and the inspiration they give us to our martial arts practise? I think you should use martial arts movies as inspiration. Use them as motivation but don’t look at them as expectation. It is the rare unicorn who trains hard enough and often enough to come even close to movie level martial arts practise and in real life things won’t go anywhere near as smoothly. Movies are great to get ideas, or to get us off the couch, but setting these movie fight sequences as a measure of how you want to look as a martial artist isn’t realistic. Set your realistic goals, train hard and remember the goal in a real fight is to get away as safely as possible, not how cool we look doing it.