The Many Martial Arts of Street Fighter
Street Fighter was notable for being one of, if not the first fighting game to have a recognisable cast of characters. There were earlier fighting games for sure, but they consisted largely of games where two identical avatars showed down.
Street Fighter was different, it had a diverse cast of characters from all over the world, and with them showcased a variety of martial arts. Today we’re going to spotlight some of them. Any fan of Street Fighter will tell you that there are many characters, too many to list in one article. Capcom also had a habit of continuously re-releasing Street Fighter 2, in new editions like ‘Street Fighter 2: Turbo’ ‘Super Street Fighter 2’ etc.
The idea was that Capcom could update the game and introduce new characters, in process similar to what would now be DLC. It does however make for a frustrating consumer experience. As such, today we are only going to be looking at a handful of characters from the original edition of Street Fighter 2. Why Street Fighter 2? Simply put, it’s better to look at the original SF game as a proof of concept, but Street Fighter 2 is where the series as we know it today truly began.
Everybody knows Ryu. Undoubtedly the mascot of the franchise and an all-around strong character in every game. Ryu being a karate master isn’t exactly a secret – but what makes Ryu’s style complicated is the mix of influences that led to the characters creation.
Ryu’s style is usually said to be Shotokan, which generally speaking, is the style of karate that most people will be familiar with. On paper at least, he has a lot of looks from his stance and bouncy movement resembling Shotokan, but Ryu has heavy inspiration from Kyokushin founder Mas Oyama, specifically the fictional version of him that appeared in the 70s Manga, ‘Karate Master’.
Kyokushin was born out of Shotokan and Goju-Ryu traditions with the aim of being ‘the strongest’ karate – heavily adapting its training practises from Okinawan iron body training, and Muay Thai – with emphasis on frequent full contact hard sparring over the point based affair of many other styles.
One of the main antagonists of early Street Fighter, Sagat’s influence is obvious and simple, once again on paper. Sagat is a practitioner of Muay Thai – or at least a non-thai’s stereotypical idea of what Muay Thai looks like with the overly dramatic arm positioning.
What has been obscured in recent years is the actual inspiration of Sagat. Due to Sagat’s sharing a name with the influential and formidable Muay Thai fighter – it is often said that the real life Sagat was the inspiration for the game character.
In reality there is no evidence for this claim whatsoever, and even less evidence for the claim that Dieselnoi was the inspiration for the character. Sagat was, just like Ryu, inspired (or perhaps more accurately, ripped off) from a character in the very same manga that inspired Ryu.
E. Honda aims to show to the world that sumos are legitimate combat athletes. A noble aim. It’s true that Sumo is not generally understood outside of Japan, with the general perception of the sport being two fat men pushing each other as opposed to a very explosive and gruelling sport.
That being said, unfortunately for E. Honda – historically sumo wrestlers haven’t performed well in any sport other than sumo. The sheer pressure for sumos to reach such ludicrous sizes to perform well in their sport, means they are woefully optimised for any other competition. Sumo wrestler Akebono, who was one of the top rikishi’s in the world competed four times in MMA and ten times in kickboxing. He won exactly one of these 14 non-sumo bouts against Nobuaki Kakuda. Kakuda being a Kyokushin and Shorinji Kempo black belt about half his size who still took him the distance.
Known for her bunned hair and ludicrously muscular legs, Chun Li was the sole girl in the original line up. She is also the hardest to classify as a martial artist. Sagat is clearly a Thai Boxer, E. Honda is clearly a sumo. Chun Li isn’t really anything.
Her style is usually stated to be kung fu, or wushu, and that’s a fair enough assessment but it doesn’t really tell the full story. Instead of one particular style, Chun Li uses a wide array of techniques from all different martial arts including the hand strikes of tai chi and the rapid kicks of taekwondo. While it’s true that most martial arts when boiled down to the essentials, are usually a different philosophy employing the same techniques, Chun Li is difficult to boil down precisely because she mixes up those often clashing philosophies.
Street Fighter’s theme has always been fighting around the world, and what’s wonderful about this series is the way it has brought so many cultures fighting styles to the mainstream. With only four characters, we’ve already tackled Japan’s national sport, multiple karate styles, Indochinese kickboxing and kung fu – while it’s by no means a completely accurate series, Street Fighter and games like it are probably the single best way to discover a martial art that you may never have heard of.
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