Martial Arts Movies

The following movies should be considered part of the training of any quality martial arts program. No, I’m not kidding. Get out of the dojo and do something entertaining. Watching movies requires very little work on your part and can seriously enrich your enjoyment of actual practice. My students used to love when I would quote Karate Kid after a killer workout. Anything you do to make your Taido more fun increases your chances of continuing to practice when you may be tempted to slack off. If you need to slack, run down to the video store and pick up one of these:

The Karate Kid

No joke. This movie is great. It’s entertaining and realistic. Memorize the “mercy is for the weak” speech and understand the subliminal teachings of all martial arts schools. Resist the urge to watch Karate Kid Two or Three, let alone the much-reviled “Next Karate Kid” movie (though the chick was pretty cute). What can you really get out of a Ralph Maccio movie? Well, as opposed to “Crossroads” (in which we witness young Ralph’s journey to adulthood as guided by the pithy wisdom of a middle-aged black man), this movie features young Ralph’s journey to adulthood as guided by the pithy wisdom of a middle-aged Japanese man. Aside from that, they’re about the same – the good guys (who have soul) triumph over the bad guys (who have sold their souls to one devil or another). One’s kind of about karate, and the other’s kind of about the blues. Ok, I give up – watch them both.

Enter the Dragon

This is the ultimate martial arts movie. Sort of. It’s the archetype at least. Bruce made the martial arts cool. Before him, fighters were always big and ugly and mean-looking. Actually, this remains true for the most part. But this movie made fighting sexy in much the same way that Starbucks made it OK to charge $5 for a cup of coffee. Besides that, you need to watch this to understand why “Fistful of Yen” is so damn funny. However, it does lack the yellow jumpsuit from “Game of Death,” not to mention Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Kentucky Fried Movie

Specifically the “Fistful of Yen” portion, but you may as well go on and watch the rest of the movie while you’re at it. Practice hard enough, and you can be just like Big Jim Slade. We are, after all, building a fighting force of Extra-Ordinary Magnitude. Now go back and watch enter the dragon again. Like that? I thought you would. Just be glad you don’t have to watch it in Feel-O-Vision.

The Last Dragon

Also in the comedy department. Learn why my favorite English word is “sho-nuff” and how to attain the elusive glow of a true master. Some great music in this one as well. If you have any doubts that Tybok is a true badass, try catching a bullet with your teeth sometime (or walking around harlem dressed like an extra from “Big Trouble in Little China”).

Big Trouble in Little China

Kurt Russel is the greatest actor of all time. OK, maybe not, but he sure knows how to kick a thousand-year-old Chinese guy’s ass. In addition to providing an unbiased cultural documentary, free of stereotypes, this movie deals with the importance of honoring friendships (especially when your friends owe you money).

Fight Club

All right. So I don’t like admitting that I like this movie because it was so hyped, but it’s unavoidable. I had originally overlooked it as providing any benefit for the Taido students, but I’ve reconsidered a little bit. The thing is, a lot of the stuff that Tyler says is just rehashed psuedo-philosophical crap. But. There is some good stuff there as well. I’ll leave the evaluation to you.

Remo Williams – The Adventure Begins

If you can find it, this movie is absolutely classic in its portrayal of a typical asian martial arts master. Dig the “high-tech”-looking props and sets in some scenes and pay special attention to the secret teachings revealed during Remo’s training – especially lesson number 23, and remember never to break into any place guarded by dobermans unless you know somebody with a prosthesis. Not bad for a guy who got his name off a bed pan.

any Steven Segal movie

OK, honestly, the only thing you’ll really get out of this is the ancient technique of “speaking slowly to sound deep.” Martial arts instructors and other self-important egoists have used this technique for centuries to give the illusion that they are putting great thought behind their words. See how stupid Segal sounds when he does this and never fall for it again.

12 thoughts on “Martial Arts Movies”

  1. Hey Andy, while lurking around KU I stumbled upon your contributions to Ed’s punch/elbow debate. I then stumbled onto Taidoblog, which I find visually appealing and elegantly written. I was originally planning on leaving a comment on your recruitment article, until I happened on your movie recommendations.

    Anybody involved in MA has a list of favorite movies: movies that inspire; movies that instruct; movies that entertain. My list would also include “The Last Dragon” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” Publishing a list of recommendations is only doing half the job, don’t you think? Equally instructive, and perhaps more valuable would be a list of movies to avoid. To this I would add the entire ouvre of Mssrs. Segal, Norris, Wilson (aka the Dragon), and Van Damme as well as any movie containing “Octagon” or “Ninja” in the title.

    I look forward to reading more about your thoughts on Taido.

  2. I love your segal comment. dead on. I say that van damme had 1 good movie: kickboxer. It is actually very good except for the last fight. but up till then great movie.

  3. Of the Karate Kid series, I like Part III the best. The “Quicksilver” method is classic. I would also recommend Fist of Legend and Twin Warriors as two really great Jet Li movies. I would also recommend the following Akira Kurosawa movies: The Seven Samurai; Yojimbo; and Sanjuro (Sanjuro being my personal favorite).

  4. ha! nice, mark.

    “if a man can see, a man can’t fight. if a man can’t stand, a man can’t fight.” i think there was a little more to the quicksilver method, but not much.

    thanks for reminding me of that. i also remember liking the line, “make his knuckles bleed.”

  5. I believe the correct order is:

    If a man can’t stand, he can’t fight.
    If a man can’t breathe, he can’t fight.
    If a man can’t see, he can’t fight.

    What is really scary (to me any way) is that these statements are all pretty much true. I particularly liked the part when Daniel states that you can’t punch people in the face and then Terry says, “Hey that’s not your fault. His face ran into your fist. That means he can’t continue, which means… YOU WIN!!!”

  6. marc – thanks for clearing that up. now i know what to do if i ever end up fighting again. i’m sure the cops will understand when i explain “he attacked my hand with his face.”

    natalie – i never saw that one. it gets added to the list…

  7. I’d like to advertise the 70’s kung fu classic “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”. It’s definitely a must-see for any serious martial artist (and wannabes too!). The plot is simple: a young man escapes the oppressing Manchu government to Shaolin temple, where he trains to become a martial arts master. Then he leaves the temple and rises against the Manchus.

    Why is it so good? First of all, there is the influential training section of the movie. It’s funny, inspiring, and kicks some serious balls. I’m pretty sure Karate Kid took some inspiration of the intense martial art workouts displayed here. Then there are the fight scenes, which are simply great. Gotta love the three-sectional staff work. And in a true Hong Kong style, the fights are not (very) overexaggerated. It’s also satisfying to watch from an artistic perspective. There’s vision, cool filming and camera tricks. And for some odd reason, I seem to find depth in it. Maybe that’s just because I like the film so much. If you had seen it, I think you would too.

  8. @VP_Turpeinen That’s a great recommendation! I saw it a few years ago at a friend’s house, but I’m going to see if I can find it on DVD.

    A real classic.

  9. @AndyFossett Hey Andy, I got one for you. “Shaolin Soccer”. It’s a fun Kung Fu comedy. A group of Misfits practicing Kung Fu get together and form a soccer team and compete in a tournament for cash prize. A little bit of Matrix, Kill Bill and Jackie Chan rolled into one Kickn Movie.

  10. Segal was actually a genuine Aikido black belt. Sure the dialogue in his movies is a little primitive but since when do you watch a martial arts film for the dialogue?

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