The Reality of Martial Arts in Movies and Novels
The first example of martial arts in this country (the USA) was probably the James Cagney film, Blood on the Sun in 1945. Man, it was a rock ’em sock ’em movie, with a judo match in the end that was gr-r-r-eat!
Before that movie the only other instance of martial arts in the US was that Teddy Roosevelt supposedly took Judo lessons while in the White House.
After Blood on the Sun was ‘Bad Day in Black Rock,’ where a one armed Spencer Tracey used Judo to dispatch some very nasty two armed villains. Quite good stuff.
Somewhere in the late fifties and early sixties people started hearing about Karate. It was cocktail humor, and people joked about karate chopping somebody to death. On chop and cowier…bad guy gone.
And martial arts began making its way into cheap movies. Matt Helm featured a young Ed Parker, a hippie did Tai Chi Chuan in Billy Jack.
But, truth to tell, this was all pretty shlocky. Nobody knew how to film this new beast, and it really wouldn’t open up untilBruce Lee came along about 1967.
Which brings us to novels.
I remember reading ‘Six Days of the Condor,’ before it became a movie called ‘Three Days of the Condor,’ and the villain was so deadly because he had a(gasp) brown belt in Karate.
A brown belt.
The writer obviously didn’t know proper research.
And, to this day, there is little research, and writers are not too knowledgeable about the martial arts.
There have been a few good writers, Eric Lustbader is supposed to have done Aikido, but how much is not known, and then there is the question of whether he was a good enough writer to translate the art to the written page in a realistic manner.
Just a couple of years ago I read a book by Laurell Hamilton in which her heroine knows martial arts, but it is obvious that the author took a few lessons, painted Kenpo as the deadliest martial art around, and then slithered through any real fighting sequences without knowing what she was talking about.
All of the above, of course, is great for me. I’m a writer, and a martial artist of nesar fifty years. I know the techniques, I know the reality of the martial arts, and I can translate it to the written page.
Not to say that I don’t embellish for the sake of the novel. After all, you have to have a scorcher plot, and you have to build things up larger than life.
But, when I detail a Martial Arts technique as it would be used in the reality of a fight, it is fact based. THAT is what would happen if you stuck your finger in an eyeball. THIS is what happens when you lever an arm so that the bone snaps. THAT is the effect of trying to block a samurai sword.
But the thing is not to just have dynamite techniques, but to have a sub theme of martial arts.
In ‘The Haunting of House’ there is a girl who teaches martial arts, and she knows martial arts, and when she uses martial arts, it is with a sword and a hefty helping of the B chromosome. And it feeds the plot, it is important that she know martial arts, it shapes her, and it shapes the plot.
In ‘Machina’ Martial Arts is pivotal. The good guys all know martial arts, and they can link the arts together to create…something else.
But probably the best of these books deals with the Wudan Assassin. Three books, all filled with martial arts mayhem, all pivoting around the abilities of personal combat, and in a way that modern people, even people who haven’t studied the martial arts, can come to enjoy and empathize.
The first book, ‘Hero,’ has a guy down on his luck, a violent sort, whose only redeeming quality is the fact that he practiced martial arts in prison, that he survived prison through the martial arts. This opens the door to an engagement with a religious order protected by…the Wudan Asassin.
In the second book, ‘Assassin,’ the Wudan Assassin makes his appearance, and you finally meet somebody who IS the martial arts. Who can feel things behind him, can sense what others are thinking. It is the highest level of martial arts possible, and it is all translatable to the written page.
In the third book, ‘Avatar,’ The Hero and the Assassin come together. There is a threat to the world that is so great that the Assassin actually needs help!
And all these books have rock ’em sock ’em REAL martial arts.
No posing or posturing, no bad information, just real martial arts.
Heck, there are even training routines that the reader can do himself and learn from!
So, they are all available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble on line, Createspace, and other places. Though you might have to ask the clerk to order it for you.
Here’s the list of books.
You might have to sort through the links if you wish paperback or Kindle, but these novels are in both platforms.
Enjoy, and have fun with the real reality of Martial Arts.