Martial arts: movies VS reality, 7 differences

Why so many people approach martial arts?

A lot of people, inspired by action movies, mature the idea to start a martial arts path but when they impact reality: everything changes.

The problem is that training and combat are very far from what is shown on film.

Note – This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).

With this article, we want to list some of the most incisive differences that (even if exposed with a certain hilarity) can clarify a few crucial aspects.

A note by Master Kongling – Before continuing it must be stressed that: we love martial arts movies, we respect the involved people and we appreciate their artistic performances (in many cases, we can even extrapolate useful teachings from them, read 5 teachings from the movie Birth of the Dragon). Said this, at the same time, we want to help the more inexperienced to trace a line between reality and fantasy (a line that too many people seem not able to recognize).

7 differences between reality and cinematic fiction

Let’s see some of the most important aspects (not all) to reflect on:

  1. Training duration – In most movies, the classical situation is that the protagonist (a total beginner) finds an old invincible master that, in a few days / weeks, transforms him into the most incredible warrior (able to beat the strongest fighter of the world); this is impossible, even in the case of “natural talent” (read carefully Natural talent and martial arts), the first real changes happen in (at least) 6-24 months and to be able to face a high-level adversary, we talk (at least) about 3-5 years of complete dedication
  2. Combat techniques – It is not strange to see high-level contenders executing extended sequences of perfect acrobatic techniques (and in some cases even connected with crystal clean countermoves); this happens only when the partner is collaborative, it would never happen in a real fight (until the gap between the 2 contenders is something like ultra-expert vs ultra-novice); the reason is that the clean didactical application of a technique happens almost never; in 90% of the cases, everything is a dirty adaptation (forced, tried, etc.); in addition to this, if the life is at risk, in no case a good fighter would use acrobatic moves, they are uselessly risky, often characterized by a limited vision and almost certainly energy-consuming; unless there is a specific occasion (that can be exploited only in that way), even the most practical acrobatic techniques are completely excluded
  3. Big damages – In a lot of cases the hero, after having beaten heavily for a (proportionally) long time (with sounds of broken bones, etc.), gets improvise access to new resources that permit him to win; if on one hand, it is true that in a fight-or-flight scenario the adrenaline allows us to do extraordinary things, it is equally true that this normally happens before being massacred (at the first few violent stimuli and practically never after); once a series of truly disabling damages has been suffered, even if the perception of pain is strongly altered, it is not possible to pass over the more serious injuries; the general rule is that the energies start high and then decrease very quickly
  4. The untouchable – The myth of the untouchable smiling master (sometimes even incredibly old) is a cliche that returns continuously; the incredulous opponent attacks without interruption but nothing overcome his invulnerable one-arm defensive technique; the truth is that, unless we are fighting against a person 2 or 3 times less prepared than us (eg. a child against an adult), in no case, a prolonged fight ends without getting hit; we could feel more or less the blows but some of them will certainly arrive at their destination (the skilled fighter is simply able to ignore the effect of the less incisive ones)
  5. Combat duration – Many times we see fight scenes where the contenders (never presented as formidable athletes), fight for a long uninterrupted time without effort (and at the end, in some cases, one of them can even perform the classical running escape); very hard to see in a real self-defense situation; most combat ends rapidly on the ground, exactly because the 2 contenders have simply finished their energies (read How to avoid the ground fighting); to face an intense fight for more than 1 minute, it is a matter of professional fighters (with 4-8 hours of training per day, advanced breathing skills, etc., read /// Subscribe (it's free!) or Login to see this content ///)
  6. Breakings – Everything breaks, wooden blocks, metal weapons, reinforced concrete walls, nothing can withstand the fury of the blows of the warrior that miss his adversary; nothing more wrong, the breaking techniques (the real ones, not the tricks), work only against specific materials, with specific characteristics and with a precise will to perform them; even glossing over intentionality, the very fact of unloading so much off-target power is much more reminiscent of the action of a clumsy person than a good fighter; normally, an expert removes stiffness and inertia from his blows in the exact instant he realizes he has missed the target (this to preserve his limbs, his energies but above all, the option to continue the fight with a balanced stance)
  7. Multiple opponents – It is not rare to see the protagonist facing from 5 to 100 fighters at the same time; the scene is generally this, 1-3 are truly interacting, the others are agitating their hands in the background (or calmly waiting their turn to be beaten); this is absolutely crazy, if on one side is true that the newspapers often tell us of martial arts experts defeating multiple opponents, it is sure that this cannot happen if the aggressors are aware of it, trained to fight and more than 2-3; when more than one aggressor get beaten by a single person, in most cases, it is a matter of fortune, fear, surprise and especially low preparation (to deepen this topic, read Forget everything you know about multiple opponents fighting)

Final notes

In conclusion, it must be said that:

  • Regarding expectations, even if it should be obvious, let’s say it clearly, martial arts can make us every day stronger but never invincible; let’s leave this ingenuous belief (read Why martial arts do not work: 5 reasons)
  • Not all movies are completely detached from reality, there are various levels but in cinematic fiction, it is (and it must be) permissible to do everything; it makes no sense to put limits on the creativity of screenwriters, directors, etc.; since cinema is an artifact, it is practically obligatory to emphasize those aspects that would otherwise appear less incisive than in reality
  • Even when reference is made to real-life stories, it is correct to give one’s own artistic interpretation (although preferably it would be better to specify it); it is the final audience who decides whether the staged representation is more or less credible / enjoyable / respectful (read for example Once upon a time in Hollywood: Bruce Lee beaten)
  • As martial arts practitioners, we probably appreciate more when there is a certain realism and when the stunts are performed without the use of excessive artifices but on the other hand, it is also true that if all the films were hyper-realistic, we would live in a very trivial / boring world
  • Everything must be appreciated and interpreted for what it is and not for what we want it to be

In-depth articles


Reply in the comments and share your experience:

  • What is the less credible martial arts movie you have ever seen?

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