What is the Difference between Hand-to-Hand Combat Systems and Martial Arts?
There is some confusion over the difference between an hand-to-hand combat system and Martial Art and even an self-defense course. Martial Arts are a complex melee system that can incorporate philosophy, weapons, religion that has been developed over a length of time that can span centuries. Martial Arts also have levels for their students and masters that can take students years, if not decades, to master. At times, Martial Arts are very much rooted in the culture that created them with moves and ideas being in the native language like Japanese or Korean. Within this complex system of kicks, punches, counters, and throws are hundreds or even thousands of combinations. This is not true of hand-to-hand combat systems nor self-defense systems. Most hand-to-hand combat systems like the US Marines MCMAP, are taught to military or law enforcement units are more concentrated and condensed to account for time, the types of encounters, and the audience. Self-Defense systems are often taught in a few weeks or even a few hours to allow for a few effective techniques to be taught and retaught, allowing the students to defend themselves if the need arises organically.
Why would you create an Sci-Fi Martial Art Anyways?
"Trek-Fu" and "The Space Karate Chop"
When Star Trek: The Original Series premiered in 1966, the United States general public was starting to become more aware of Martial Arts, and it made sense that the show would incorporate Martial Arts for hand-to-hand engagements to take advantage of this emerging trend. While not taken from any one art, the techniques used did seems to be composed of sloppy copied moves, real tactics, and the corny trope of the "Space Karate Chops" seen in early interpretations of Martial Arts by western films/tv shows. Somehow, westerns really latched onto the Knife-Hand Strike (shuto-uchi) or Karate Chop as a symbol of all Martial Arts. Many spy films and action films showed the chop, and sci-fi picked up on it with Lost in Space being the first to show the "Space Karate Chop" in use in 1965. Despite how corny it was, Star Trek was still one of the first sci-fi shows to show Martial Arts on the small screen.
By the time TNG arrived, the stunt personnel wanted to abandon the goofiness of the original series and soon developed the familiar "Trek-Fu" that was used until ST: Voyager, and abandoned by the time of Star Trek: Enterprise. At its heart, Trek-Fu seems to be an linear, defensive, more hand-focused hand-to-hand combat system that is taught to all Starfleet personnel....some are better at it than others. The focus is one countering the enemy's first strike, and leading that up with hard-hitting blows until the target is down. There is a limited use of kicks, throws, weapons, and boxing. Two of the hallmarks of Trek-Fu is the clasped-hand strike (axe handle strike or the double-fist hammer strike) and the open-palm strike. Throughout the many Star Trek shows, many characters demonstrate using an unusual method of striking with both hands clasping and using that to strike either the face or stomach of the target. It can also be used to block then switched to a strike as seen in Deep Space Nine. This is odd and not utilized any real-world Martial Art I've seen. Some sources say that this is taught to women in Self-Defense classes to maximize strikes against larger male opponents...but if not done correctly, the result can be broken or damaged fingers, and there is no real world reason to do this....save for a WWF match. The open-palm strike is one of my favorites, and it is deadly if used correctly...so, no issues there with it's use in Trek-Fu. Martial Arts in Star Trek was mocked by Martial Arts magazines and fans for years, but it is important to know that Star Trek at large was important for the incorporation of Martial Arts into sci-fi.
Tips and Advice about Creating a Sci-Fi Martial Art
- Act it out. When you write or design hand-to-hand combat sequences in your work, act them out. See if they are stupid, lame, or even effective. I did this for most of the hand-to-hand combat scenes in my books, and while it is embarrassing at times, you generally work through any issues and maybe how to design the encounter better than before.
- Don't overthink the plumbing and KISS. Often flashier Martial Arts moves get more traction in the public and creator imaginations than practical, effective techniques. Remember, if your story is about warfighters or experienced melee brawlers, don't have them jumping across the room! Keep It Simple Stupid and Keep It REAL. Experienced brawlers and fighters will know what works and what gets your ass kicked. Novices is where you can have your fun.
- Don't be Afraid of a Hit. Often our heroes and villains that are Martial Arts masters are depicted as uber-badass with such godlike powers of fisticuffs that they are always victorious over their enemies in engagements. They also block every blow and now how to hit their opponent in just such a way as to knock them out in one blow or kick. Bullshit. Even me has a novice Jeet Kune Do student in 1995, got a few licks in on my instructors, and they were lightyears beyond me. Even Jason Bourne, Neo, and Bruce Lee got hit, but they knew how to take one and keep moving on. When film Serenity, director Joss Whedon wanted to see River Tam get hit from time-to-time in her fights.
- Be Creative! As Master Bruce Lee said: "Absorb what it useful. Discard what is not. Add what is unique your own." In creating an science fiction Martial Art, one must be mindful of the KISS rule, and rejecting what does not work, and creating something that is honest to who you are. I took Jeet Kune Do, and being that the art is always evolving, I added elements of other Martial Arts I had taken like Aikido, Karate, and pieces of other arts to create something of my own. Don't be rigid and only use one art as a basis for your sci-fi Martial Art.
- Non-Human Martial Arts. One thing I would love to see in science fiction is an alien Martial Art constructed around an completely non-humanoid physiology. How would a sentinel octopus-based species fight? Inquiring minds want to know...
- Stop using vaguely Asian sounding names for your Martial Art, especially, ones that are alien in origin! When I read the names of the Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat, I eye-rolled several times over how Asian the names of the forms sounded even in a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Science Fiction and Martial Arts
The term "Martial Arts" is a loaded one that nearly everyone on the planet Earth understands, including the power in mastering the techniques of the art. This has led to Martial Arts of one kind or another being fitted into the world of science fiction since the earliest days of the genre. During the pulp era with swashbuckling heroes like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and a little later, Dan Dare; used more boxing, simple kicks, and sword play which were more related to European fighting skills than Asian Martial Arts. It would not be until after the Second World War that Asian Martial Arts would start to filter into Western society. By the time of the 1960's, basic Martial Arts techniques and ideas were being incorporated into the skillset of the hero or villain of a story, like Captain Kirk and James Bond. Then Master Bruce Lee exploded onto the world stage, and altered the world of Martial Arts forever. He and the wave of Martial Arts films that came after would wash over the world, making Martial Arts commonplace, even in the final frontier.
Some Examples of Badass Fighters in Sci-Fi
Leeloo from The Fifth Element
Neo from the Matrix Universe
Jugger Grimrod from the Alien Legion Universe
During the 1980's, Epic Comics, a spin-off of Marvel, printed a military sci-fi comic called Alien Legion and it was glorious. One of the best characters in the comic was an green-skinned alien that spoken in a oddball Cockney British accent and was from the planet Thrax in the Tel Prime system in the Auron Galaxy. He was Jugger Grimrod and he was the best character in the entire series. Grimrod was an master of violence, cruelty, hand-to-hand, weapons (legal and illegal), and finding booze and loose women on all worlds through the three galaxies. Jugger's father was a mercenary who beat his wife and kids. At one point, he left his family, beating his wife to near death. Before he was teenager, Grimrod and his sister were on the streets. There he learned the art of violence and how to win in most every situation. Throughout the first and season series of Alien Legion, Grimrod proved himself as a deadly member of the Legion penal unit Force Nomad. In issue number 5 of the second series, Grimrod was left behind on an alien world, and he fought his way through the enemy to secure the planet for the Legion. That issue alone secures his status as one of the badass fighters of science fiction.
Kenshiro From Fist of the North Star
Spike Spiegel from Cowboy BeBop
Max Guevara from Dark Angel
Tyr Anasazi from Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
In the series, Tyr proved himself over and over in over-the-top moves and attacks, but it was the actor, Keith Hamilton Cobb, that really sold the fierceness of Tyr and his abilities.
Malcolm Reynolds from the Firefly Universe
Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod from Highlander: The Series
The poor mangled and forgotten Highlander universe was nearly saved by the spin-off television series of the 1990's and Adrian Paul's ponytail. I loved this show in the 1990's because it took the fan favorite elements of the original film and extended it out with a much better Macleod than Conner. In the series, Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod was an immortal that crossed the globe training and learning. Along the way, Duncan picked up Chinese Martial Arts from his lover May-Ling and his time in Feudal Japan with Samurai Hideo Koto. During the 1990's, Duncan would move to Vancouver and buy a failing dojo living above it in a loft and training with dojo manager Charlie DeSalvo. According to what I've seen in the series, read in magazines and online, Adrian Paul used a combination of Kung-Fu and Wing-Chun, along with Chinese arts that the actor took: Choy li fut and Hung Gar. All of this adds up to Duncan Macleod being a badass mother fucker with the series using his skills to maximum effect! It is a real pity that the stupid movies that followed the popular series did not utilize the character and condemned the entire franchise.
Riddick from the Riddick Universe
Elektra from the Marvel Universe
On a recent Top 10 list on the most badass characters in the Marvel Universe, our girl here Elektra was number three, and that made me sit up and notice her again. Elektra was a character in the more mature Epic comic line created by Frank Millar, and she is a badass assassin-for-hire trained in Martial Arts for much of her life despite being Greek. The death of her father drove her deeper into the shadowy world of underground Martial Arts groups, and for years, Elektra was one of the deadest women in the world. She was skilled in several Asian Martial Arts and a master of the sai as well as many other traditional Martial Arts weapons. While very-cute and talented Jennifer Garner portrayed her in two films after her roles as an female assassin in ABC's Alias, these were met with mixed reviews and unloved by fans. In the new Daredevil Netflix's series, Elektra will be played by French actress Elodie Yung.
Ronon Dex from the Stargate Universe
River Tam from the Firefly Universe
Examples of Fictional Martial Arts:
Anbo-Jyutsu from Star Trek: TNG "The Icarus Factor"
Gun Kata from Equilibrium and Ultraviolet
One of the most famous of the sci-fi cinema Martial Arts was Gun Kata developed by director/writer Kurt Wimmer for two of his Hong Kong styled sci-fi action films: Equilibrium and Ultraviolet He wanted a science fiction Martial Art that incorporated hand-to-hand combat, gun skills, and mathematics to form a Martial Art developed for the pistol as Kendo was developed for the sword. In both films, the heroes used their skill with Gun Kata to overcome fearsome odds with fluid, artful moves, all while blazing away with twin pistols or machine pistols.
While this pretty and looks great on film, it is firmly stupid. The moves are in no way realistic for CQW pistol skills, the enemy is treated as stupid and wielding and firing two pistols akimbo is simply not that easy. I guess in the world of Equilibrium and Ultraviolet recoil doesn’t exist? The other element I couldn’t stand while watching this was the stances and posing. I hate to say this, but for years I had heard of how badass the Gun Kata scenes were in both of these films and they simply did not live up to the hype. The moves presented in the films could not and would not happen that way. I found the scenes in John Wick to be more realistic for a "gun-fu" type gun Martial Art than what was presented in Equilibrium and Ultraviolet.
Mastaba and Lok'nel Jaffa Martial Arts from the Stargate Universe
The Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat from the Star Wars Universe
Throughout the long evolution of the Force-using warrior known as the Sith and the Jedi over thousands of years, seven forms of Lightsaber combat have been developed. Some of these forms were developed for blocking/intercepting incoming DEW bolts and beams, others are devoted to fighting other Lightsaber wielders. Other forms of Lightsaber combat utilize more aerobatics to throw off attackers and maximize energy and the Force. The final and most complex Form of Lightsaber Combat is Juyo, which Master Mace Windu used...not that it did him much good. Juyo was rumored to be developed by the Dark Side of the Force users to corrupt Jedi warriors onto the path of the Dark Side by attempting to master this aggressive form of Lightsaber combat. This form could only be undertaken with approval from the Jedi Council. Only a few Jedi Knights were allowed to purse Juyo. These forms of Lightsaber Combat have been retrofitted into the films, by saying this form was used by famous Jedi character X and this form was used by famous Jedi character Y. Whatever. The true origin of Jedi "Martial Arts" was Kendo and a few other weapon Martial Arts taught to the actors for their on-screen work. Either way, the sci-fi Martial Arts behind Lightsaber combat might be one of the most famous and known by the general public.
Panzer Kunst from Battle Angel Alita
Venusian Aikido or Karate from the Classic Doctor Who Universe
Fremen Kempo from the DUNE Universe
Omnite from Logan's Run
The Weirding Way from the DUNE Universe
Teras-Kasi from the Star Wars Universe
About 3600 years before the Battle of Yavin, a unique Martial Art was developed to counter the Jedi: Teras-Kasi or “steel hands”. This art was founded on the world of Bunduki by refugees from the planet Palawa, and it was developed to counter the speed of a Jedi, given the involvement of the Jedi in making the Palawans refugees. Despite these roots, the art has been adopted by many Forces users over the years, including Plo Koon and Darth Maul, have incorporated Teras-Kasi into their combat techniques. Most people know the term "Teras-Kasi" due to the painful 1997 Playstation One Star Wars fighting game called Masters of Teras-Kasi. This was during the fighting game crazy, and LucasArts wanted in.
Bantos Fighting from the Stargate Universe
Tsunkatse Mixed Martial Arts from Star Trek: Voyager Episode "Tsunkatse"
The Klingon Martial Art of Mok'bara from the Star Trek Universe
Hokuto Shin Ken and Nanto Seiken From Fist of the North Star
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