Ah, martial arts. These two words alone conjure a myriad of images. From the old, wise sensei teaching his students secret techniques, to the tough practitioners who turn their bodies into lethal weapons through rigorous training: everyone has his own image of the martial traditions in his mind. Martial arts are a by now a staple of fantasy fiction, and have been portrayed in different ways in the media. I grew up with mutant turtles trained in ninjitsu, and cartoons these days teach kids that martial arts give you the power to bend the four classic elements.
Of course, most of these portrayals have almost nothing to do with the real deal. The martial arts of our world, while often steeped in tradition, are anything but supernatural. Yes, to master them, one most devote much time to them, but seldom do they involve spiritual journeys and fighting demons from beyond. Two years ago, I started to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and so far, it hasn’t given me any superpowers (unless you consider a healthy lifestyle one). However, I’m a sucker for supernatural martial arts, and in this post, I want to share my top 3 portrayals of martial arts in fiction with you. So don your gi, sit down in the lotus position, and read this countdown patiently, grasshopper!
Number 3: Jade Empire
BioWare has this special touch when it comes to making great RPG’s. While recent titles received quite some critique, the older games are true pieces of art. One of these is Jade Empire, an epic RPG set in a medieval Chinese setting, where the fist and wicked sorcery rule the land. Characters in this game learn supernatural martial arts, to fight against the evil that threatens the land.
While the premise is identical to the hundred of Chinese action movies you can find in the discount bin of your favourite DVD shop, what made this game stand out was its fluent and impressive combat system. Shifting from one style to another was fluent and easy, giving combat a really dynamic twist. Additionally, the styles your character could acquire were really distinctive and creative. Each style had their own cool animations, and all of them really fitted into the setting. It was delightful to simply see your character pulling off those moves, and I will forever remember it as the single RPG that made martial arts look rad!
Number 2: Tekken 3
Back when I was a little Chindividual, Tekken 3 was one of my favourite PS1 games. While I never mastered the depth of it, it was good enough to vent your aggressions and to beat up your big brother in some way. Each character had his own distinct style, and they all played different. From the half-demonic Jin to the kung-fu cop Law, Tekken 3 even offered you a chance to play a fighting wooden puppet. Most of the martial arts portrayed in this game was actually pretty down-to-earth, except for some subtle lightning animations and special glows. Though I’m not a big fan of fighting games, Tekken 3 still knows how to knock me out with its fighting swagger!
Number 1: Avatar
No, I’m not talking about that boring movie. I’m talking about the cartoons The Last Airbender (please forget the horrible movie adaptation) and Legend of Korra. In both cartoons, martial arts are ways to bend the natural elements of fire, water, air and earth. People who have a knack for it can learn one of these styles, and are then able to manipulate their chosen element through sweet-looking moves.
While many people wouldn’t call the bending of the shows actual martial arts, their movements are clearly inspired by styles from our world. It makes me happy to see a bunch of creative people turning these into a something so spectacular. While the fists of the characters seldom meet, they use their martial arts to force their will upon the world around them, directing it as if their bodies were divine instruments. It’s epic, cool and simply entertaining to see, and that’s why it’s my number one on this list.
So there you have it, my three favourite portrayals of martial arts in fiction. Do you think I missed any? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!