The barbarian charges into the melee, unflinching and without fear. The Jedi somersaults by the Sith’s crackling red lightsaber. The hero takes a mailed fist to the chin and shrugs it off. Science fiction and fantasy stories are full of exciting, inspiring battles, but how realistic are they? To find out, I asked my friend Daniele Bolelli, martial artist, professor and author of several books including On The Warrior’s Path and 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know: Religion.
How many martial arts are you trained in? In which ones do you hold Black Belts or are otherwise considered an expert?
Ready for a martial rap? I’ve trained in Mixed Martial Arts, Western Boxing, Kung Fu San Soo, Wrestling, Shaolin Kung Fu, Bagua, Taiji, Xingyi, Judo, Brazilian Jiujitsu (more no-gi submission grappling than orthodox Brazilian style). I hold a 5th degree black belt in san soo, and I have competed professionally in MMA but I don’t really consider myself an “expert” in jack sh*t. In just about any field, I distrust so called experts.
Do you know how to use any traditional weapons? Which ones?
I love the long staff (overcompensating for something?) I also enjoy training with sticks (Filipino style) and have messed around with lots of weapons but nothing too serious.
People sometimes write scenes where a good guy beats down a well-trained bad guy. What kind of chance does an average untrained person have against a martial artist in a street fight?
Generally speaking, a trained guy will always beat someone with no training, but there are exceptions. What art is the “bad guy” trained in? There are plenty of martial arts that are completely useless in real combat. What’s the size of the people involved? is one of them drunk or otherwise out of it? Does one of them have weapons? Also, the element of surprise… if you throw a full power kick to the b*lls when someone is not looking, your chances of winning the fight have just increased exponentially.
What about when tough guys snatch guns out of their enemies’ hands? Can a good martial artist snatch or dodge a gunshot? What about a sword?
Guns: If anyone with a gun is dumb enough to come within a few inches off you, yes, you have a chance. Not a great one, perhaps, but you definitely have a chance. If he is halfway a good shot and he stays 15 feet away… good luck. Swords… it depends how good is the person wielding it. If the guy is skilled and armed and you are unarmed, you are screwed. If he is not skilled, the odds of getting cut are still high but it is somewhat more possible to disarm them.
Fantasy fighters are rarely scared. What about their real-life counterparts? Do professional fighters ever become frightened?
Some guys seem to be made of stone and feel no emotions, but most people–even fighters–get nervous when they are about to throw down. I’m flat out terrorized when I have to fight. Pure, unmitigated terror that paralyzes the muscles and makes it difficult to breathe. Somehow, I have still managed to win lots of fights despite that, but I’ve never even come close to being fearless.
In the Star Wars films, the Jedi are always leaping and jumping around with their lightsabers. Is this a good idea when you’re using a sword, stick or other weapon in real life?
Typically, you want your movements to be relatively conservative–less chances to open your defenses, and more chances to be able to perform the movements effectively under pressure. But having said that, there are exceptions. Watch an MMA fighter like Jon Jones–crazy, wild moves coming from the weirdest angles, and yet he pulls them off beautifully.
Fantasy fights sometimes last a long time. Are real fights like that or are they usually over very quickly?
In a street fight, only very rarely are people evenly matched in size and experience so things tend to end very fast. Most street fights are over before you know it.
People in movies and books get kicked and punched and throw it off like nothing. Is it so easy in real life?
When your adrenaline is pumping, you don’t feel pain the way you do in regular life, but clearly it’s not magic. One good knee to the head, one punch on the button, one successful submission and anyone will go down. Movies love to show someone get horrendously beat up before they shake it off and make a miraculous comeback while looking fresh in the process. Needless to say, this happens almost never in real life.
Does it bother you when you see movies with ridiculous fight scenes?
It doesn’t bother me, but unless the choreography is amazing I lose interest very quickly.