Furious 7: Record-Breaking Action Movie Is Loaded With Martial Arts Talent!

Martial arts-rich TV shows are a lot like a Fourth of July fireworks display done in reverse. The crescendo of explosive action usually comes at the beginning. It’s followed by the constant rhythm of ground and air displays, then ends in a way that often exemplifies Macbeth’s soliloquy:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”

Sadly, this plight also afflicts film franchises. The Taken and Bourne movies are good examples. In each installment, audiences were treated to fewer and fewer fights.

Jason Statham Vin Diesel

(Photo by Scott Garfield/Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

And then there’s Furious 7, the latest entry in a series that started in 2001 with a flute of champagne called The Fast and the Furious. With the release of Fast Five in 2011, the franchise increased in potency even more. Thanks in part to nonstop martial arts action, it’s now a veritable 100-proof bottle of Scotch with a Corona chaser.

Dwayne Johnson

(Photo by Scott Garfield/Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The fight-fermentation process took off with the addition of Dwayne Johnson as CIA agent Luke Hobbs in Fast Five. His job was to track down and capture Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel). Since that flick, which boasted more over-the-top car chases and featured the wicked WWE/MMA/LA-street-brawl Dom-vs.-Hobbs matchup, hand-to-hand combat and wacky automotive duels have become a staple.

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Fast & Furious 6 (2013) upped the martial arts ante as it pitted Han (Sung Kang) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) against Jah (Indonesian martial artist Joe Taslim), a killer for the ruthless Shaw. Unfortunately, the fight didn’t look particularly good, mostly because Kang and Gibson’s combat skills lacked timing and sharpness.

Michelle Rodriguez

(Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The standout bout in Fast & Furious 6 was Letty’s (Michelle Rodriquez) fight-or-die encounter with the military-trained Riley, played with laser-focused intensity by mixed-martial arts-fighter-turned-actress Gina Carano. With the addition of a ferocious free-for-all inside a cargo plane, the film intensified fan expectations for what would come next.

In its first 10 days, Furious 7 earned $252.5 million (domestic), which surpassed Furious 6′s 15-week American run of $238.6 million. Furious 7 already has raked in $1.1 billion at the international box office. It’s fair to say the sequel hasn’t disappointed fans.

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For Furious 7, director James Wan looked to veteran fight choreographer Jeff Imada and stunt coordinator Joel Kramer to design and execute multiple action scenes, which included a whopping six fight sequences with the Furious 6 ensemble.

It also featured three seasoned fighters, each a legitimate martial artist: Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey and Jason Statham.

Wan, an avowed action-film buff, had specific parameters for how he wanted to illustrate the action. His goal was to create inspiring ways to capture the fast-moving action at every angle and keep the stunts and fights within the realm of the Fast milieu.

Vin Diesel

(Photo by Alex J. Berliner/Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“I wanted to shoot fight action where we let the actors do their thing without cutting it up too much and just let my camera hold on them,” Wan said. “I’m a big fan of pyrotechnics in my camerawork, so I also wanted to bring some of that aesthetic that I’ve applied in suspense thrillers into big action sequences and fuse the styles.”

How good are the fights in Furious 7? Did the filmmakers take advantage of the martial arts talent they had in Jaa, Rousey and Statham? Tune in next week.

Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

How to Defend Against a Gun Threat: Your Mind Is the Key

As you reach out to retrieve your receipt from the ATM, the evening air makes you shiver. It’s been a long, hard day, and you’re glad it’s almost over. Just one more stop at the all-night grocery store. …

“All right, scumbag! Give me your money and your keys!”

Startled, you turn at the sound of the voice, the content of the man’s words not yet registering in your brain. He’s about 20, unshaven and dirty. He smells bad and looks like he’s on drugs. Your eyes survey his body, and your surprise turns to shock as you detect the chrome-plated revolver in his trembling, tattooed hand.

Moment of Truth

That type of scenario has played out countless times, with both accomplished martial artists and armed off-duty police officers in the role of the victim. The situation carries with it some dynamics that cannot be answered with a speedy fast-draw or a spinning back kick. To survive such an encounter, you must understand several things about the realities of human conflict at close quarters.

Primarily, you must have your “warrior mind” in place. Winning a real fight requires controlled violence. You must be able to call up your “dragon” and become a fierce, feral creature instead of the domesticated human being you were raised to be. If you’re not emotionally and psychologically prepared to rip your adversary’s heart out of his chest and barbecue it in front of his fading eyes, don’t try anything. Give him what he wants and hope for the best.

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Even if you would never choose to stand up to a gun, there are scenarios in which you might be compelled to do so. For such situations, it’s beneficial to know how you might solve this problem.


First, I’m not claiming that any secret skills, ancient art or trendy technique can withstand a bullet. Any martial artist who thinks otherwise has been smoking too much rice paper. But I am claiming that if you understand your adversary’s motivation, you have a better chance of defeating him if you’re forced to fight.

If the criminal wanted to kill you, he would just walk up to you and shoot you without warning. Regardless of how many years of training you have or how many arts you know, you will never be able to defend against that. If it’s your day to die, there’s not much you can do except go out with style.

The hoodlum in the story — like most people who will point a gun at you, as opposed to simply shooting you — does so for reasons of intimidation. His objective is to place you in a position of tactical disadvantage and “bargain” with you for something he wants. The bargain is typically that if you do as he says, he won’t kill you. His intent provides you with the opening you need.

Let’s look at the two men in the story in a simplified way: The hoodlum has the pistol pointed at the hero. The hero is surprised. The hoodlum makes his demands, then waits for the expected response. In essence, the hoodlum is in “pause,” waiting for the “return” of the hero. The hero can go either way at this point: comply or fight. If he understands the dynamics of human reaction time, he has a better chance of prevailing.


Every conflict, whether between countries or individuals, is a cycle in which each party observes the other, orients himself according to those observations, decides on a course of action and finally puts that decision into action. Called the OODA loop, it’s the theory of conflict professed by the late Col. John Boyd.

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Boyd was responsible for creating many of the aerial-combat tactics now employed throughout the free world. His findings resulted from projects and studies he conducted on the success American pilots had over their North Korean adversaries in the Asian unpleasantness of the 1950s. Boyd theorized that although the North Koreans had certain technical advantages with their airplanes, American pilots could generally see their adversaries first because of their planes’ cockpit design. They could immediately recognize them as enemies and decide what to do more quickly because of their recognition training, as well as their flight training. And the controls on the American airplanes allowed them to put those decisions into play more rapidly than the North Koreans. This allowed them to complete a decision-action cycle more efficiently than their adversaries.

Boyd then theorized that in any conflict — whether between nations or individuals — the party that can go through the observation-orientation-decision-action loop more quickly enjoyed a remarkable advantage over the competition.

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That aerial-combat concept also applies to personal combat. Studies have determined that even for a prepared individual, each phase of the OODA cycle takes at least 1/4th of a second. That means you may have up to one full second to act before the other fellow even realizes what you’re doing. And then he has to select a viable response to your actions and employ it.

Field Testing

Studies involving students at Suarez International, the training establishment I founded, support this concept. Armed with “marking cartridge” firearms, two operators of comparable skill level faced each other at arm’s length. Operator No. 1 (the aggressor) was told to command his opponent to put his hands up, as the thug in the story might do. Operator No. 2 (the defender) was told that as soon as he thought he could do it, he should quickly move into the first portion of a disarm. The aggressor was told that when he saw the other man move, he should fire.

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In the experiments, the aggressor had every advantage. He had the pistol already pointed at the defender, his finger was on the trigger and the hammer was cocked. Furthermore, he was familiar with the technique the defender would use, and he knew that the defender would not comply. The odds were obviously in his favor.

The results were revealing and supportive of Boyd’s concepts. Out of 10 tries, the defender was able to deflect the muzzle of the pistol and trap it in a single move before the aggressor could fire every time.

Lesson learned: All things being equal, action beats reaction.


If you understand how to take advantage of the dynamics of human reaction time, you can implement your responses and countermeasures before your adversary has even realized what you’re doing.

This doesn’t require you to be particularly fast or technically proficient. All you need is a tactically correct, preconditioned move that’s simple to use, violent in nature and technically correct for the situation.

Gabriel Suarez holds black-belt rank in kyokushinkai karate, chung mu kwan taekwondo and hapkido. He’s also studied kali, ship pal ki and jeet kune do.

* Black Belt does not recommend resisting an armed attacker when the only thing that person wants is a physical possession that can be replaced.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Endangered Species! How to Save the Martial Arts Film Industry

As digital communication takes over our lives, it naturally affects the way we connect with each other. It seems as if more and more people are studying writing at AU (Acronym University), which enables them to use “capital” punishment as a means to say a lot by writing a little.

For the longest time, it seemed that the martial arts world was immune to this affliction. But now we live in the era of mixed martial arts, the sport that’s better-known as MMA.

So who came up with the phrase that led to the acronym MMA? It must have been some famous martial artist, right? How could someone not in the know have devised a term that would have such an impact on the evolution of the arts? Well, let me save you the google.

In 1993 a non-martial artist named Howard Rosenberg used the words “mixed martial arts” in a review of the UFC 1. He probably never thought the phrase would stick, let alone become a war cry for a new form of martial arts competition.

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Such occurrences happen from time to time. Here’s another one that’s closer to home:

In 1995 I wrote an article for the magazine Imagi-Movies, in which I coined the term “fant-Asia films” to describe Hong Kong’s new wave of motion pictures that mixed horror, sex, sorcery, fantasy, science fiction and swordplay. These were basically revamped and wildly stylized wuxia films injected with a frenetic pace, over-the-top martial arts action and gravity-defying “wire fu” stunts.

Several months later, I wrote a second article titled “Fant-Asia: Hong Kong Action Without the Mouse.” It ran in a film-industry pub called Boxoffice. Things took off from there.

The term “fant-Asia” struck a nerve with three Canadian film enthusiasts, who in 1996 created one of the biggest shindigs in North America. Dubbed the Fantasia International Film Festival, it now draws genre flicks from Asia, Europe and the Americas.

At this point, I’d like to introduce a new acronym: MMMA. Bear with me while I explain what it means.

Over the years, most martial arts film genres have been born in Asia. The Chinese invented five genres: wuxia, gong fu, guo shu, wu da and fant-Asia. The Japanese created three: chanbara, karate and ninja. Other countries added to the mix based on their traditional arts: Filipino escrima movies, Thai kickboxing films, Indonesian silat cinema and so on. Even Hollywood has a fight genre — yup, it’s barroom brawling.

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MMMA is similar to MMA in that, at the end of the day, every martial arts film made is a result of a mishmash of combat skills and fight choreography used by earlier genres. So I say the time has come to lump all the past, present and future martial arts film fights under one cinematic genre umbrella: MMMA, which stands for “mixed movie martial arts.” The easier — and cooler — way to refer to it is “3MA.”

3MA has deep connotations and implications.

First, when a person says he or she is a 3MA connoisseur, it means that person has watched lots of martial arts films from around the world and probably possesses a deeper understanding of why scenes in movies look the way they do. (I smell awesome 3MA conventions in the future.)

Second, a more important part of the MMMA equation is that it can ensure the survival of martial arts cinema — and, in fact, fight scenes in any film — for the next 50 years! Consider:

How many fight directors and choreographers in Hollywood can create a scene in which an eagle-claw hero battles villains who use praying mantis kung fu, karate, tiger-claw kung fu and MMA — and do it so every move looks different? How many can do that off the cuff?

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This is how fights in Chinese films have always been done. I learned this skill while working on Taiwanese kung fu soap operas in the 1980s, when we’d create 10 to 17 minutes of martial arts action every two to three days. I gained knowledge of many kung fu styles and was forced to figure out how to sell them on film.

Back then, when my sifu (also my choreography mentor) taught me a new form, he tasked me with coming up with three ways to apply each new movement to a real combat situation. Then I was told to devise a way to use them in a film-fight sequence. This means that if I learned a kung fu form with 20 movements, I was expected to be able to derive 60 film-fight skills from it.

When I worked as a fight-director apprentice under Yuen Tak on CBS’s Martial Law, in the beginning, the crew was skeptical because they had never heard of him. When he told everyone that his next fight would be done in 92 shots and that he’d do it all in his head, they laughed. Ten hours later when the fight was complete, the continuity lady counted the shots. No one ever questioned his filmmaking ability again. So, yes, it is possible.

For martial arts films to survive as a genre, choreographers must learn how to shoot a fight, how to do camera choreography (lens, movement, angles, speed) and how to edit. With today’s technology, even a simple leaping punch can be made to look dynamic — so much so that audiences now demand it.

My advice to fight choreographers is to start thinking 3MA. Watch hundreds, even thousands, of martial arts films and TV programs — it’s the only way to see what’s been done. Then use your martial arts sensibilities to create new ideas from those old sequences.

Imagine you’re a studio exec, producer or director. You get an inkling of what 3MA experience can bring to a film. Surely you’d want to have a 3MA expert on hand during any action scenes. Only by exploiting the skills of a person with extensive knowledge of martial arts films would you be able to avoid redoing what’s been done to death, to shoot a fight in a way that’s guaranteed to please the audience and to create something that’s completely different.

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Don’t think moviemakers need to take advice from this humble writer? Think they’re doing fine on their own? Better think again.

Did you know that there may be no more theatrical releases of Asian martial arts films in the United States? These days, even Jackie Chan movies are going unnoticed and getting the straight-to-video treatment.

Good fight scenes are few and far between these days. And when they do occur, they all tend to look alike. That has the potential to be the death knell for martial arts cinema. However, if the 3MA mentality catches on and creativity once again takes center stage, movies will start blowing away audiences like they used to. Martial arts on film will thrive. Trust me on this.

Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Dr. Laura on the Value of Martial Arts Training

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, known to her millions of fans as simply “Dr. Laura,” is a radio and Internet problem-solver who doles out practical, no-holds-barred advice for extinguishing life’s emergencies. In between her probing questions and cut-to-the-chase admonishments are almost daily recommendations to sign up for martial arts lessons. In this exclusive interview, the Southern California-based author and black belt recalls her experiences in the arts and her reasons for recommending them to her legions of listeners.

Why did you decide to take up the martial arts?

Dr. Laura: Most little girls love ballet dancers in froufrou costumes. I loved the beauty of Bruce Lee’s moves — guess it’s the tomboy in me. However, this was not the thing for little girls to do “in the day,” so I never had training as a child.

When my son was 3-1/2 years old, I decided to start him in the martial arts. I took the leap and signed myself up at 41.

Which arts did you study?

Dr. Laura: Hapkido and taekwondo. I have not trained for eight years; I switched over to weightlifting and power walking because I didn’t think that the pounding and kicking was doing my body any good after my 50th birthday party.

What’s your rank?

Dr. Laura: I earned a black belt. When I asked my teacher about second degree, he explained something about me running across the studio, running up the wall and then turning in the air to kick a bag. I thought about that and decided black was black.

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During my black-belt test, my teacher made me do takedowns with a blindfold. I had never done that and was upset at first — until I started to fight and realized that I could “see” him in my mind’s eye. Fascinating. I did well.

My black-belt test was about eight hours. The first thing I did was put my wrong leg out front [during] my staff form and clobber my knee. I was blindfolded then, too, although I hadn’t quite gotten the calm-down-and-focus thing at that point. I did the whole day in pain. Makes me even more proud of my accomplishment.

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What was your training regimen like when you were practicing?

Dr. Laura: I do everything 250 percent. I would work out every day, either at home or at the studio. [Sometimes] I would work an hour at home and several hours in the studio.

Has your martial arts training influenced your attitude about fitness, discipline and self-defense?

Dr. Laura: I have never stopped being physically active: bicycling, power walking and weightlifting. Now I race sailboats with a crew — it requires legs and arms like crazy.

I didn’t need to learn discipline; I am hardwired that way. I loved the formalities and having goals that I couldn’t obtain just with IQ: grit, stamina, coordination. I was so happy to finally learn how to breathe in order to keep my balance on one leg. People are still amazed that to tie my shoe laces, I don’t sit down or bend over. I bring my foot up to me and tie the laces with only one foot on the ground, without wobbling.

I did a photo shoot with yoga poses for an ad about “strong and flexible” for my radio program. I started doing — after all of this time — front, side, spinning and crescent kicks. I was happy to see I still had it, although my side kick is down from over-my-head level to chest level. Hey, I can still do damage at that height, although I would probably go for the knee.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger

You frequently mention the martial arts on your program. When do you advise people to start training or enroll their kids?

Dr. Laura: I push parents to put all their children from age 3 and up into martial arts.

What physical and interpersonal skills do children and teenagers take away from martial arts training?

Dr. Laura: Discipline, perseverance, respect for self and others, exercise, self-defense, focus, a sense of accomplishment. Along the way, children develop maturity, camaraderie, self-control, confidence, competency at something that requires their mind and body, coordination, respect for authority — which they often don’t have at home, sadly — and so forth. For many children with absent fathers and chaotic home situations, the martial arts studio is where they learn to settle down, focus and feel a part of something special.

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You mentioned that the martial arts help a person develop self-respect. What are some specific ways training can improve low self-esteem?

Dr. Laura: My definition of self-esteem is a respect for the self, earned by accomplishment and perseverance. I tell people that self-esteem does not come from empty pats on the head from adoring parents; it comes from impressing oneself with one’s courage and fortitude. Getting through a martial arts program is one great way to obtain that at any age.

You have addressed school bullying often. How can the martial arts help kids deal with bullies?

Dr. Laura: [Martial arts training] is ultimately about violence — not for its own sake but for righteous reasons. I give the strong and direct message: Never hit anyone first. When/if somebody hits you, take ’em down hard and fast with at least twice the power that they came on to you.

I also admonish children and adults to always be willing to intervene and stand between evil and the innocent. This is a martial art, not a dance class. No young lady with a junior black belt will be date-raped, [and] no young man with a junior black belt will be bullied more than once.

(Photo Courtesy of Dr. Laura Schlessinger)

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Ancient Korean Swords and Sword Arts (Part 2)

Debate continues in the South Korean martial arts community regarding the exact swordsmanship skills Adm. Yi Sun-shin and his men used to fight off the Japanese in the late 16th century.

Practitioners of kumdo (the Korean pronunciation of the characters used to write kendo) insist their art is the direct descendant of the one Adm. Yi Sun-shin used in battle.

Photo showing the tangs of Adm. Yi Sun-shin’s oversize swords

Yet Korean kumdo is undeniably similar, some might argue identical, to Japanese kendo. Many kumdo instructors, including Lee Jeong-hee in Pusan, readily acknowledge that their art is a recent import from Japan taught with few or no modifications. They tell how both Korean and Japanese swordsmen train and compete under the same set of rules, then proudly announce that Korean practitioners give their Japanese counterparts a run for their money in tournaments.

The similarities of the two arts’ footwork, hand movements, protective gear, real and practice weapons, and sparring rules lend credence to claims that kumdo came from kendo and not from an ancient Korean art.

kumdoSouth Korean kumdo practitioner

Stolen Skills?

Purists in South Korea counter with what seems a far-fetched theory: Japan honed kendo into a fine art using as raw material “stolen” kumdo skills from Korea. While the explanation parallels that of Korean and Japanese sword development, it may be a byproduct of Korean nationalism.

At least one part of kumdo, however, differs significantly from kendo. It is the bon guk kum bup, or roughly “indigenous sword form.” The unique routine consists of a series of movements that cannot be found in Japanese kendo. For this reason, many Koreans still believe the entire art of kumdo comes from the ancient sword ways of their ancestors and has nothing to do with Japan.

Detractors, however, insist the bon guk kum bup form is merely a modern recreation of the movements depicted in Mu Yea Do Bo Tong Ji, a textbook that is said to date from the 1700s. Obviously, more research needs to be done concerning the relationship between kumdo and kendo, as well as other Korean and Japanese sword arts.

Haedong Kumdo

It is unfortunate that few martial artists in the West know of haedong kumdo, a unique sword art that, even in its modern incarnation, exhibits a decidedly Korean character. Many South Koreans believe that it, rather than kumdo, is the art that descended from Korean sword skills of ages past.

haedong kumdoBeginner in a haedong kumdo school in South Korea

Haedong kumdo takes its name from an ancient Chinese name for Korea: hae means “sea” and dong means “east.” It probably came about because Korea lay across the water to the east, on the other side of the stretch of sea separating the peninsula from the Chinese mainland.

The first thing one notices upon entering a haedong kumdo school is the absence of the traditional Japanese decorations — such as the large drum and hanja calligraphy — that typically adorn kumdo studios. Instructors wear a regular dobok (uniform) top with dark baggy pants, and students wear ordinary black uniforms with conventional belt rankings.

Everyone wields a hardwood practice sword, which is quite similar to the Japanese bokken (called mok kum, or wooden sword, in Korean) but several inches longer than those used in kumdo and kendo. Because of the greater weight of the sword, haedong kumdo tends to use longer strikes, more circular slashing movements and more frequent body spins in forms and sparring.

haedong kumdo in South KoreaHaedong kumdo class in South Korea

Although still a minor player on the international stage, the art is popular enough to have its own organization, called naturally enough the Korea Haedong Kumdo Association. There is some evidence to suggest that the relationship between it and the Korea Kumdo Association is not very cordial, however. It probably involves a battle for government recognition and support, and regular kumdo appears to be winning for the time being. For this reason, it is unlikely that haedong kumdo will become as popular as kumdo in the near future.

Historical Form

In comparing these South Korean sword arts, it is interesting to mention once again bon guk kum bup. Kumdo students learn the form, but it bears little resemblance to the rest of the art’s techniques. Haedong kumdo students do not learn bon guk kum bup, but the form’s techniques appear similar to those of haedong kumdo. And kuk sool won students learn entirely different forms that are considered historical.

kuk sool wonKuk sool won is another Korean art that teaches the sword

This anomaly is sometimes explained by postulating that during Korea’s Three Kingdoms Period (37 B.C. – A.D. 668), Silla, Paekche and Koguryo each possessed its own specialized sword art. Many of the techniques from this period have disappeared — except for bon guk kum bup from the Silla dynasty, haedong kumdo from the Koguryo dynasty and perhaps a few other skills. Although from different regions, the aforementioned contemporary sword arts would have shared some of these techniques and movements.

kuk sool wonStraight sword of kuk sool won

If this is true, modern martial artists are privileged to have access to the sword skills from Korea’s historical dynasties. There are even rumors that “lost” sword arts still exist in remote towns and villages in the southwest part of South Korea. If and when they are located, it should prove interesting to compare their skills with those of the other Korean sword arts.

(Photos by Robert W. Young)

(Read Part 1 of this article here.)

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Ancient Korean Swords and Sword Arts (Part 1)

In South Korea’s museums, the oldest swords, called jik do, have straight double-edged blades. Most scholars believe that the ancient sword-making skills that produced them came to Korea from China — as did much of the nation’s culture and technology. They speculate that Korean technicians then refined the imported metalworking techniques over the centuries.

Unfortunately for researchers, the lineage of Korean sword-fighting skills is not quite so easy to determine.

The Hardware

If you were to return to those museums and search the more recent displays for sword exhibits, you would find mostly Japanese weapons from the colonial period (1910-1945). Many of them were probably taken from dead or captured Japanese troops. If you then skipped ahead to modern times, you would find two distinct varieties of swords: the kum (from the Chinese word jien) and the do (from the Chinese word dao).

The kum (also spelled geom or gum) is a light, double-edged weapon with a grip that usually accommodates one hand. It is intended mostly for thrusting techniques. The do is a heavier weapon with a handle that is large enough for both hands. The blade is sharp on one edge only and intended mainly for slashing techniques. (Interestingly, the aforementioned jik do is more like a kum than a do.)

In South Korea, the explanation for the development of the two types of weapons goes something like this: In the distant past, Chinese sword makers concentrated on the jien. Not surprisingly, their sword skills focused on one-hand techniques, with a shield often held in the other hand. After these techniques and skills filtered into Korea, local craftsmen developed more advanced manufacturing processes, and word of this high quality helped spread the reputation of Korean blades throughout Asia.

Primitive Korean sword (top) with more modern weapons

It is widely believed — at least in South Korea — that Japanese sword-making skills originated from imported Korean methods. Japanese craftsmen proceeded to perfect the process, while in Korea the rise of Neo-Confucianism led to official disdain for the arts of war. Consequently, the militaristic society of feudal Japan encouraged weapons making, while the scholastic society of Korea despised it. Korean sword-making techniques were left to stagnate. Had it been otherwise, Korean long swords might have been prized by modern collectors around the world, just like Japanese katana are today.

Similar But Not the Same

Careful observation of several features can help visitors to South Korean museums distinguish Korean swords from Japanese swords. Near the blunt edge of a Japanese blade, one usually finds a longitudinal channel, called a bo hi. Korean swords usually do not have this.

The tips of Japanese swords often have visible lines where different angles and cutting edges have been created. Korean swords tend to be smooth from the blunt edge to the sharp edge and the point. Furthermore, Korean weapons don’t normally have a ridge (shinogi in Japanese) running the length of the blade.

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The Japanese often wrap the handles of their swords with thin strips of material such as suede, leather or silk (tsuka ito). The Koreans usually construct their sword handles from wood.

The sheaths of Japanese swords — at least the ones found in South Korea — usually are made of smooth, black wood. Korean sheaths are more extravagant, often adorned with gold or mother of pearl. Occasionally, a Buddhist symbol that’s similar to a reversed swastika is used, and metal bands and lashing rings are often attached.

A Japanese sword (left) and a sword presented by the Chinese emperor

There Be Giants

Of particular interest to Korean-sword aficionados is Hyon Chung Sa, a shrine located in Chungchong-namdo (province), South Korea. The compound is dedicated to Adm. Yi Sun-shin, perhaps Korea’s most revered war hero. Adm. Yi Sun-shin is reputed to have fought off Japanese invaders with the aid of two huge swords (77 inches long, 12 pounds). They — along with two Chinese swords presented by the Chinese emperor, spears, fire arrows and even a scale model of a so-called turtle ship (the world’s first iron-clad vessel, developed by Adm. Yi Sun-shin) — are permanently displayed in the shrine’s Relics Museum.
Korean swords in museum

The swords of Adm. Yi Sun-shin

Both of Adm. Yi Sun-shin’s swords can be viewed up close in a brightly lit glass case. Nearby photographs reveal the hanja (Chinese-style writing) that is engraved on the tang, that part of the blade normally hidden by the handle. A plaque lists the swords’ specifications and history.

A number of theories exist in South Korea to explain how a mere mortal could have used such massive weapons. Some fancifully argue that Koreans grew larger then (some 400 years ago) and that wielding a 12-pound sword would have been possible. Others say the swords were never intended for use in battle but were symbols, similar to flags and standards, around which troops rallied.

Still other South Koreans explain that because Adm. Yi Sun-shin fought primarily from the deck of a ship, the majority of his swordplay would have been against enemies trying to scale the sides of the vessel. It is not too difficult to envision a strong man raising one of the swords overhead, then using a little muscle to help gravity pull it downward onto the head and shoulders of climbing attackers. The action would not be too different from using a heavy ax to split wood.

(To be continued)

(Photos by Robert W. Young)

To download a free guide titled “Samurai Weapons: Sword Master James Williams Shows You How to Start Training With Japanese Samurai Swords,” go here.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Pressure Points Video From the April/May 2015 Black Belt Cover Story on Kuk Sool Won

The Korean martial art of kuk sool won is renowned for its comprehensive collection of combat techniques. In particular, it teaches an extensive set of offensive and defensive moves designed to take advantage of the human body’s many pressure points.

For that reason, when we were conceptualizing the April/May 2015 issue, we looked to kuk sool won. Specifically, we asked R. Barry Harmon — who’s a ninth-degree black belt in the style, a licensed acupuncturist and one of kuk sool’s most prolific writers — to pen the cover story.

Black Belt magazine cover April/May 2015 issue

We were fortunate that In Hyuk Suh — the man who assembled the art in 1958, founded the Korean Kuk Sool Association in 1961 and moved to the United States to spread his system in 1974 — was available to travel from his headquarters in Texas to Southern California for the shoot.

Because we live in the age of Internet video, our staff recorded all the action involving In Hyuk Suh and R. Barry Harmon at 30 frames per second. Below is a video synopsis of the day.

The April/May 2015 issue of Black Belt went on sale March 31. It will remain in bookstores and on newsstands until May 25 — or until it’s sold out. Get your copy today. Better yet, click here to subscribe.

(Cover photo by Peter Lueders)

Many more martial arts videos are available on Black Belt’s YouTube channel. Visit it today to subscribe — or just to watch. Either way, it’s free!

Source: Black Belt Magazine

The Martial Arts of Transporter: The Series — The Good and the Bad

In the never-vacant category of “TV shows based on hit films, either in development or on the air,” there are currently 35 entries. One of the newest is Transporter: The Series, which plays on TNT in the United States. It’s derived from Luc Besson’s Transporter movies, which featured Jason Statham as Frank Martin, a freelance courier whose driving style is as fast and powerful as his fighting style.

Unfortunately, the key to the films’ success — Statham’s ability to deliver the goods in frenetic, Hong Kong-style fight scenes that were choreographed by Cory Yuen Kwei — is absent from the series. So just how do the resulting TV battles compare to the film fights?

There are three reasons the fights in Transporter: The Series fall short. First is the star. Chris Vance as Martin resembles Roger Moore’s debonair Simon Templar in The Saint TV show (1962-1969) more than he does Statham’s portrayal of Martin. Suffice it to say that Vance’s martial arts skills could use some work, as well.

Transporter The Series

Second is the choreographer. Mohamed Elachi’s fight scenes are like a seesaw. In other words, the action goes up and down. It’s bad most weeks, but sometimes it gets better — although it’s never really great.

Third is the fact that the fights in the series are not as important to the plot as Besson demanded for his movies.

None of this means that Transporter: The Series sucks; it just means the fights need work.


The first episode, which aired in late 2014, showed Vance using weak boxing stances, performing one-step-sparring moves with big windups, and doing silly things like stepping onto a car hood and then jumping into the air (not very high) before executing a simple punch.

The second episode tried to conceal Vance’s skill level by using shifty camera movements — aka the “earthquake cam.” Interestingly, this technique was used often in samurai movies from the 1970s.

Transporter The Series

In the ensuing weeks, Vance’s signature movements became apparent: the head butt, the noggin smash into a wall or plate glass, the step-jump that leads into an attack and a front kick that’s reminiscent of Kwai Chang Caine.


On the positive side: An episode that aired in January 2015 had Vance fighting the Chinese Triads, and the star actually did a ton of decent martial arts moves. Making it even better, the choreography involved more props, incorporated the environment, and used wider angles so viewers could see — and appreciate — the combat. Such is the nature of seesaw choreography.

Sometimes, the first season of any TV series brings with it a learning curve that challenges the choreographer, the stuntmen and the actors. They’re tasked with developing a fight rhythm so that by the time the second season is under way, everyone is in sync and the choreographer knows how to work with non-martial-arts-practicing actors. That seems to be the case with Transporter: The Series.

Transporter The Series on TNT

Because the choreography and camerawork in Transporter: The Series can change from episode to episode, it’s hard to predict whether a particular installment will feature good fights. With any luck, the cast and crew will find the right balance that will keep everyone happy.

(Photos Courtesy of TNT, Cauvin-Chognard/CCSP)

Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Most Dangerous Man in the World: MMA Fighter and Special Forces Soldier Tim Kennedy

In the 20-plus years I’ve worked for Black Belt, I’ve met a lot of people whose backgrounds have run the gamut from traditional Asian arts to law-enforcement defensive tactics to military combatives. I’ve interviewed tons of masters, soldiers, cops and fighters — representatives of just about every category of martial artist you can imagine.

Why do I bring this up? Because if I had to pick one of those people as the Most Dangerous Man in the World, it would be a guy who was featured on the cover of our July 2011 issue and inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 2011 as MMA Fighter of the Year. His name is Tim Kennedy.

Tim Kennedy

If you’re a follower of the UFC, you know Tim Kennedy’s name well. His professional record stands at 18-5 (according to Sherdog.com), which is impressive by anyone’s standards. If you’re not into MMA, you might remember him from his appearances in Black Belt and from the free guide that’s available on our website.

Kennedy rose to his current status by building on the martial arts he learned as a child — jujitsu, boxing and wrestling — and augmenting that skill set with kickboxing and jiu-jitsu and then tempering it all in the MMA cage.

But that’s hardly enough to make someone the Most Dangerous Man in the World, in my opinion. What sets Tim Kennedy apart from the rest of the pack is his military training. He started with Army Basic Training, then volunteered for Airborne School. Getting his jump wings wasn’t enough, however; he went on to spend nearly a year in the Special Forces Qualification Course.

If you’re thinking “lots of theory but not so much practice,” know that Kennedy, 35, served in a counterterrorism unit in Iraq, where he no doubt polished his combat skills. When he was rotated stateside, he elected to undergo Ranger training and, he says, attend “a few different sniper schools.”

OK, let’s review for a second:

•    Skilled in MMA — check

•    Airborne qualified — check

•    Special Forces — check

•    Ranger — check

•    Sniper — check, check and probably check again


There’s more, on both the training front and the experience front. Kennedy joined a HALO sniper team — those are the guys who leap out of high-flying aircraft and plunge earthward, opening their chutes at the last possible moment. (Hence the meaning of the acronym: High-Altitude, Low-Opening.) Next, he served in Afghanistan — more real-world experience — as a combatives instructor, not just for regular troops but for the 7th Special Forces Group.

Let’s review again:

•    Proficient with feet and fists, as well as on the ground — check. Traditional martial arts and MMA will do that for you.

•    Proficient at combatives — check. He went through the Modern Army Combatives Program and won the Army-wide tournament in 2005, 2006 and 2007. He also completed the Special Operations Combatives Program.

•    Proficient with weapons — check. When he knew he would be heading into a protracted battle in Afghanistan, he says, he’d carry “five guns [and] a few different knives.”

When it comes to personal combat, what’s left? There may be a few minor aspects of the fighting arts he hasn’t mastered, but it’s doubtful anyone else who’s done the things he’s accomplished has mastered them, too. It’s for that reason I feel comfortable giving Tim Kennedy the unofficial title of the Most Dangerous Man in the World.

Request for intel: If you know a female fighter — think Ronda Rousey as a Navy SEAL — who’s deserving of the title of the Most Dangerous Woman in the World, send me a message. I’d love to meet her.

Tim Kennedy

Bonus! What Exactly Is SOCP? 5 Questions With Tim Kennedy

Black Belt: What curriculum did you teach to the Special Forces?

Tim Kennedy: At first, we used the Modern Army Combatives Program. Toward the end, we started using — and now we use primarily — SOCP, which stands for Special Operations Combatives Program. It builds on the fundamentals we expect everyone who’s coming into the Special Forces to know: level two of MACP. Then we put the guys in a kit and make sure that they’re deadly, that they know how to grapple, how to box, how to wrestle.

Matt Larsen book

Black Belt: What role does hand-to-hand combat play in the mission of the Special Forces?

Tim Kennedy: It gives guys the opportunity to make space so they can get to their tools: their gun, their knife, their cuffs and so on.

Black Belt: Does that mean you assume that an M4 carbine, a handgun and a fixed-blade knife are always part of the equation?

Tim Kennedy: Absolutely. During the hundreds of combat missions I went on, I never saw a guy who didn’t have at least a long gun, a pistol and a knife. Some guys, like me, carried a few guns. I knew I was going to be in a gunfight and in it for a long time, so I had five guns on me, a few different knives and two backpacks full of pre-loaded magazines. That’s typical in the Special Forces because they know what they’re getting into.

Black Belt: How did SOCP develop?

Tim Kennedy: Greg Thompson and Matt Larsen saw a deficiency at the higher level of CQB: You can’t shoot a double-leg takedown and get on top of a guy when you’re in a small room because his buddy will come up behind you and smash you in the head. You can’t close the space and knee a guy you’ve pinned in the corner because his buddies will swarm you.

You have to have a heads-up, prepared-for-anything martial art that’s fast, dynamic and dangerous. You have to be able to do damage and then get back to the important stuff. Recognizing that, Greg Thompson developed SOCP. Now every Special Forces member trains in it.


Black Belt: So SOCP builds on the skills soldiers have learned in level two of MACP?

Tim Kennedy: Yes. MACP is very necessary. All soldiers need to know the basics of jiu-jitsu, boxing and wrestling before they can get into anything else. By the time they get to a Special Forces unit and start learning SOCP, they’re very proficient in Modern Army Combatives.

(Photos by Robert Reiff)

Source: Black Belt Magazine

RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan on Kung Fu, Philosophy and The Man With the Iron Fists

Throw on a Shaw Brothers movie and watch Kuo Chui, David Chiang, Lu Feng or any of the early kung fu legends, and you’ll see choreography that’s almost mesmerizing. From those early days of Kung Fu Theater sprang an entire generation enthralled with martial arts that incorporated not only the moves but also the spirit and style into something entirely unique. Personifying this scene is RZA, a founding member of and the man behind the Wu-Tang Clan.

Since forming the group in 1992, RZA has mixed references and samples from old-school kung fu movies into his music, and for him, it’s not just kitsch. With an encyclopedic knowledge of martial arts philosophy and an academic approach to its appreciation, RZA has branched out from music into film. Cutting his teeth with work on Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Kill Bill, he’s most recently been involved in The Man With the Iron Fists, a collaboration with Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth that harkens back to the days of ultraviolent grindhouse cinema.

In this exclusive interview, RZA talks about what martial arts mean to him.

What sparked your interest in kung fu? Was it the old movies?

Yeah, I got into martial arts by watching movies and falling in love with them and of course trying to imitate and emulate what I saw on the screen. We’d all go buy magazines and books.

Who were some of your favorite actors?

Bruce Lee, always Bruce Lee. And Jim Kelly is one of my favorites. I was also a fan of a lot of the Shaw Brothers actors like Chi Kuan Ti, Gordon Liu and Ling Po.

Jim Kelly

One of RZA’s favorite actors: Jim Kelly in Black Belt Jones (Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

What was it about kung fu that drew you in and made you so passionate about martial arts?

First, it was just the action and ability to fight without weapons and stuff like that, but then the spirituality of it resonated with me as a teenager.

Where did the crossover between hip-hop culture and kung fu come from?

I think the crossover came from the movies that we all watched on the silver screen or on Kung Fu Theater. Also, you know, dancing — kung fu in a way has a dancing pattern to it. In the movies, you see the guys flipping and stuff, and I think it just had a natural resonance. We were fascinated by what we saw on the big screen, and then we’d try things out in our neighborhoods. In my neighborhood, a lot of guys would get old mattresses and do flips on them. We would watch Bruce Lee and go home and make our own nunchaku.

When did you start formal training?

When I was about 11 years old. There was a guy [who] was a brown belt in karate, and I had a buddy named Jose [who] was really good. He’d take us out to Silver Lake Park in Staten Island and show us karate moves and things like that when I was young, but I can’t say I officially joined as a disciple of the martial arts until I met sifu Shi Yan Ming from the USA Shaolin Temple and I was ordained as a disciple of Shaolin.

Black Belt cover February 2001

One of RZA’s instructors: Shi Yan Ming, as featured on the cover of the February 2001 Black Belt

What is training with Shi Yan Ming like?

He’s pretty intense. He trains in many styles, and for me, after reading so many books on martial arts, I didn’t want to get stuck in any one form. I like what Bruce Lee taught about [being] “like water and using all forms,” so what I learned from him was the basic studies of chi kung, which is essentially the root of martial arts. I use that as my foundation principles for whatever I want to learn.

There was a book called The Tiger/Crane Form of Hung Gar Kung Fu — I had that book for years, and I would always try to pick moves out of the book and never would do them right. For [The Man With the Iron Fists], I went and got a hung gar master who showed me the proper way to do the form. Now I can say I know hung gar.

Bucksam Kong book cover

One of RZA’s inspirations: this book by Bucksam Kong (cover of revised edition shown)

I [also study] the books — Japanese books, Chinese books, Filipino books, Korean books — not of just styles but of the cultivation of the spirit.

How have you incorporated martial arts philosophy into your own work and life?

Martial arts principles and philosophies are part of my everyday life. Whether it’s the way I conduct my business, socialize with my friends or play chess, I’m always thinking in a martial way. If you would say, for instance, pa kua says to practice the “walk of the circle” yet hsing-i says you practice in a straight line — I’ve realized that in life you can’t always walk straight through something. Sometimes you got to walk around it, you know what I mean? (laughing) Faced with a situation, you got to be able to apply any principle based on the situation, so it’s not only a principle thing. Sometimes you do have to go in a circle to figure out things, and sometimes it’s a straight path.

How did the concept of The Man With the Iron Fists evolve?

The concept started around 2005 when I sat down to focus on not just writing the story but writing the screenplay.

How did you start working with Eli Roth?

We met at Quentin Tarantino’s house, actually; we used to watch movies there together. But we really didn’t become cool or acquainted until I was on the way back from Iceland. I had a long flight with him, and I told him about the movie The Man With the Iron Fists. He loved the idea, and we became buddies.

How did you balance writing, directing and starring?

“Be like water.” (laughing) It was no easy job. I think martial arts principles are part of what it takes—many different styles, and different styles are tools for different occasions.

Cung LeOne of RZA’s co-stars: actor and MMA fighter Cung Le (right) (Photo by Rick Hustead)

What was it like working with the actors?

Cung Le was great, man! He has all these training techniques that he shared with us and got me in shape. Corey Yuen is a treasure for action directors, and he was a valuable resource to have on the set with us. He was able to take the ideas that we would storyboard and bring them to life. He had a lot of ideas, and I would talk to him and he would bring them to life.


On April 14, 2015, The Man With the Iron Fists 2 will be released on DVD. It stars, among others, RZA, Dustin Nguyen and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Watch the trailer here.


The Art That Inspired the Artist

The Tiger/Crane Form of Hung Gar Kung Fu — the book that RZA says was so inspirational for him during his youth — was written by Black Belt Hall of Fame member Bucksam Kong in 1983. It recently went out of print but soon will be transformed into an e-book. (In the meantime, copies may be available on Amazon.com. For information about Bucksam Kong’s hung gar kung fu DVDs and video downloads, click here.

Source: Black Belt Magazine