Martial arts movies dwell in their own little fantastical universe that obeys the laws of physics about as well as a drunken mule obeys Miss Manners' guide to restaurant etiquette. Most of what you see in a kung fu flick could not happen in real life, but every once in a while those outlandish feats you see up on the screen contain a bit of truth ...
(Martial arts aren't the only thing more badass than you've been lead to believe. Buy our De-Textbook and learn why the ancient Samurai were closer to mercenary pro athletes than suicide-happy servants. And as for ninjas? They preferred cunning disguises to black pajamas. Your favorite book sellers are now accepting pre-orders!)
#5. Grabbing Arrows Out of the Air
One of the more common ninja myths involves seemingly superhuman martial artists plucking real arrows out of the air. Obviously that's ridiculous -- arrows are effective solely because they're too fast to dodge. They're like a bullet's slow-witted, well-endowed cousin: not quite as quick, but just as effective where it counts. But Anthony Kelly, who calls himself a "reaction man," begs to disagree: He holds the Guinness World Record for being able to catch the most arrows in two minutes. So what is that -- like, two arrows, with his torso?
Nope. Kelly snatched a total of 33 arrows out of the air.
Kelly says he started catching arrows in 2000 as part of an annual "martial arts night" he put on at his New England Martial Arts Center. (Because when you think "hotbed of ninja activity," you think "New England.") From there, Kelly became the go-to guy when it came to grabbing sharp things out of the air for martial arts demonstrations, county fairs, and drunken boasts. He was even brought in by the MythBusters to test a whole slew of ninja myths. And when it came time to catch the arrow -- fired by trained shooter Jamie Hyneman (of course he's an archer; just look at that mustache) -- Kelly plucked it out of the air like a pro, right there on camera.
If you want to try the stunt yourself, just follow these three easy steps: First, find a professional and accurate bowman to fire the projectile. Second, snatch wildly at the arrow hurtling at you faster than the human eye can see. Third, bleed profusely.
#4. The 100-Man Kumite Shields
In Bloodsport -- which first popularized both the kumite and man-splits -- we watch Jean-Claude Van Damme dismantle fighter after fighter in a vicious underground martial arts tournament, eventually emerging victorious from his many battles, thus proving that white people are better than other cultures even at their own things. (Well, according to other white people, at least.)
Afterward, Van Damme handicrafts the shit out of a paper dragon.
First off, the kumite is a real thing. That's not the crazy part. Here's where real life actually outdoes cinema: Bloodsport shows the kumite as a bracket-style tournament, like the NCCA Championships with a few more elbows to the face. So it isn't that crazy to think Van Damme (who is playing real-life ninjitsu instructor and supposed kumite champion Frank Dux) could take home the gold ... plated sword.
But the kumite is not a bracket contest: It's an endurance test developed by the founder of kyokushin karate, who had finally figured out a legal way to murder his students. The real challenge pits one man against 100 equally skilled martial artists. He fights each one consecutively in two-minute full-contact sparring matches. After each round, the challenger gets a quick 60-second break before fighting a new, fresh opponent. The main object is to defeat at least half of your opponents, preferably by knocking them out.
The other object? Try not to get mashed into meat pudding.
"Beat 50 out of 100? That's a 50/50 shot, right? Uhhuhhuhh ..."
Only about 14 people in history have ever made it through the 100-man kumite. The most recent to attempt the feat was Judd Reid, whose preparations for the fight put the collected montages of all the Rockys (and even a few Karate Kids) to shame. Then there was Akira Masuda, who completed the challenge in 1991. During his 44th -- that's 44 fresh, eager, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed murder machines that Masuda put down -- Masuda nearly kicked his opponent's goddamn head off and practically exploded the poor guy's ribcage.
But badassery, much like cabbage, has an expiration date. Toward the end, even Masuda can barely keep his hands up. His fellow competitors take pity on him by punching and kicking his legs and stomach like legs and stomachs killed their families.
#3. Mowing Down Enemies With Everyday Objects
Jackie Chan has made a living convincing viewers that everything from a shoestring to a colander is a deadly weapon. And while that frozen fish might cause some solid food poisoning if ingested, it is perhaps slightly unrealistic to believe that you could kill 20 yakuza with it. But hey, it's movieland -- any ridiculous thing could be a deadly weapon in the hands of the right martial arts star. We've seen countless goateed Asian men butchered by folding fans and chopsticks.
Good news, murderers with regular access to Chinese restaurants! You can seriously mess some folks up with both of those items.
If you didn't watch the above clip, you missed out on a man throwing harmless plastic chopsticks right through a stainless steel bowl. Yes, "through."
And what says "delicate" and "gentle" more than a demure handheld fan? You really only see them in movies these days: Asian girls giggle coquettishly behind them. Southern belles waft themselves after shocking statements with them. Perhaps the occasional Victorian fop will cool himself arrogantly -- but that's about as intimidating as they get, right?
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Or do you suffer from gentlebreezaphobia?
Of course not. You can jack a dude's face up pretty good with an average bamboo fan with the right training, but take care: That portable cooling system could actually be a well-disguised iron fan, also known as a tessen. The iron fan was commonly used by female ninjas to mutilate any poor bastard dumb enough to attack them with something as brutish and pedestrian as a sword. The spokes were made of sturdy wood or hardened metal, and they made excellent deflection tools, as well as cutting instruments.
In fact, there's an entire fighting style dedicated to the art of murdering someone with the equivalent of a water spritzer. It's called tessenjutsu, and it's apparently incredibly effective. But a word of caution, grade school liars: No bully in history is going to be scared away when you tell him you're a black belt in air conditioning.
Try it and he'll make you into the last airbender.
Speaking of outrageously impractical fighting styles ...