5 Ridiculous Martial Arts Myths You Won't Believe Are Real
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.)
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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.
Speaking of outrageously impractical fighting styles ...
Drunken Kung Fu -- Not Just for Your Older Brother Anymore!
Jackie Chan once starred in a Hong Kong action flick called Drunken Master in which he wielded the deadly art of intoxication. Seriously, he spent the whole movie getting spread-eagle drunk, and that somehow enabled him to kick even more ass. That is easily the least plausible of all Jackie Chan film premises -- and we're including that time he had a superpowered robot tuxedo.
Shockingly, drunken kung fu is a legitimate martial arts style -- it's just that you're not supposed to actually be sloshed to use it. Every technique involves merely acting like a sloppy drunk so as to appear more vulnerable to your attacker. When you lure him in with all your swaying and stumbling and off-key renditions of "Build Me Up Buttercup" -- that's when you strike.
There are three types of technique that make up the bulk of drunken kung fu: drinking movements, waist movements, and falling movements. (Funny, we call them "the three stages of a Tuesday night.") These techniques, while looking like mere boozy gesticulations, are actually all disguised versions of basic attacks and evasions. This serves a two-fold purpose -- to confuse and surprise your enemy, and to instill within him a crippling and lifelong instinctual fear of happy hour.
There's also drunken monkey kung fu, which is impossibly even more terrific than what you're picturing in your head right now. The style was developed by a convicted murderer during a 10-year prison stint, which he devoted to studying the various personalities of monkeys. (Hey, between "watch monkeys fight" and "get your GED," we think he made the right call.)
The One-Inch Punch
In Kill Bill Vol. 2, Uma Thurman's character is buried alive. She's an incredible martial artist, but the problem with lying on your back in a tiny box is that there's not much room to maneuver. The Bride has about 3 inches of striking distance between her fist and the coffin's lid, but she's so badass that she just punches her way out anyway. Total bullshit, right? Try it: Find something soft 3 inches away from your hand and smack it as hard as you can. Now, apologize to your slightly inconvenienced cat and carry on with the knowledge that it is impossible to harm something with your bare hands and 7 centimeters of range.
The truth is actually more incredible than the movie. Turns out Uma had distance to spare: You only need one angry inch to shatter a board.
Bruce Lee perfected the technique, rather uncreatively called the one-inch punch, because he was a fighter, not a wordsmith. Lee proved the legitimacy of the move on several occasions, demonstrating both in front of (and upon the asses of) cynics.
And lest you think this was all rigged (although we wouldn't say that out loud if we were you; Bruce Lee may be dead, but that is a haunting you do not want to risk), the History Channel recently filmed a Shaolin monk demonstrating the power behind the one-inch punch on a crash test dummy. They concluded that "a 30-mile-an-hour car crash would be less injurious" than the blow.
That's right: One inch of monk is twice as powerful as a car crash. Ladies ...
We have some bad news: while punching is even more awesome than Quentin Tarantino's wildest dreams, guns are actually a lot lamer. In real fights, trained shooters only hit 10% of the time at just TWELVE feet away. You can learn more by ordering this text book written and illustrated entirely by the Cracked team! Cracked's De-Textbook is a fully-illustrated, systematic deconstruction of all of the bullshit you learned in school.
It's loaded with facts about history, your body, and the world around you that your teachers didn't want you to know. And as a bonus? We'll explain how the pilgrims were WAY kinkier than you've been lead to believe.
Related Reading: Cracked has other weapon myths to debunk- we've talked about guns 'till we're blue in the barrel. Punches may be awesome, but body armor and silencers suck a lot more than movies suggest. And did you know every Hollywood sword fight would end with a broken blade? Well you do now. And you're welcome.