martial arts tv

When Black Belt asked me to draw up this list, I decided to do it right. I immediately composed a checklist of the qualities on which the TV series would be judged: creative fight choreography, stunt work and how well the two complemented each other.

To even be considered, a show needed at least one main character who regularly performed martial arts. Furthermore, it must have appeared on nationwide television and have been significant in the martial arts community when it aired.

The 12 finalists, presented here in chronological order, don't necessarily contain the best fights in TV history; it's their overall contribution to the martial arts subculture that matters.

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The Transporter, starring Jason Statham, has spawned a TV show that features Chris Vance. Do the fights in the series match the fights in the Luc Besson films?

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. 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.

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Black Belt's resident film critic examines the popular ABC series — and explains why it and other shows often feature fewer fights as the seasons go by.

Since Keanu Reeves hit theaters in The Matrix in 1999, producers of American TV shows that feature martial arts-influenced fight scenes have tried to make their fisticuffs a bit more … stylized. A perhaps equally important influence has come from Matt Damon’s The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). This begs the question, Are audiences mesmerized by these stylized fights, or do they still prefer and appreciate action with superior choreography, directing and editing? The jury is still out. These days, the norm is for action-based TV shows to feature amazing martial arts in the beginning but to allow that boldness to dwindle as time goes by. Often, by the fourth or fifth season, the action becomes less important, and the focus moves to story development. Example: When Person of Interest hit the airwaves on CBS, it featured powerful close-quarters combat. But starting with the Spring 2014 season, the action was cut way back. However, the storyline of the series is still gripping. Similarly, when Arrow debuted on The CW, it had decent group fights and weapons choreography, and that quickly got audiences hooked. Nowadays, however, the mano a mano battles in Arrow are watered down. Sadly, that trend seems to be continuing. (More on these shows later this year.) One show that picked up martial arts steam in 2014 was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In fact, there was a lot of Hollywood chatter about one specific fight in the episode titled “Face My Enemy”: the womano a womano showdown between Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) and her doppelgänger. It became the season's most-talked-about battle. When I honed my fight-choreography skills in Taiwan in 1980, it was doing 47-minute-long kung fu soap operas. Using mostly actors who didn’t practice the martial arts, we created 10 to 17 minutes of action every two to three days — for weeks on end. Although this is never done in American TV production, I was still excited about the two-minute fight scene in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately, I missed the episode when it aired, but I did get lots of details from behind the scenes. I learned that the fight was planned over a two-week period and that each move was carefully crafted with long discussions involving the writers and producers. As the fight choreographer built the movements, they were refined, altered and adapted by the action-unit director. The actors underwent extensive rehearsals, often practicing on their own on weekends and whenever there was a free moment on the set. When I finally saw the scene, however, I noticed a lack of creative camera use (angles, lens, etc.), which weakened the fight's look and didn't enhance the choreography. The long shots revealed nothing spectacular, and the close-ups hid the action rather than intensifying it. The actors were fist/foot flailing, which meant that if a person missed a block, it didn't really matter. The pauses between techniques were prolonged, and the telegraphed windups before many of the attacks detracted from the power and reduced the energy. Furthermore, filming one or two techniques per edited shot removed any sense of buildup. Why practice a fight if you shoot only one skill at a time? Maybe it was poor shot selection and editing, I figured. Adding a few crashes into furniture or having an actor smash through a trellis might have added to the tension and increased the sense of danger, I mused.

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Mac Danzig, a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, demonstrates why he's got what it takes to win in the Ultimate Fighting Championship! In this video, Mac Danzig demonstrates a how to execute an over-under into a takedown. An article about his mixed-martial arts training and fight history is featured in the August 2008 issue of Black Belt.

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Mac Danzig, a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, demonstrates why he's got what it takes to win in the Ultimate Fighting Championship! In this video,Mac Danzig demonstrates a how to roll into a reverse omo plata step-by-step and at full speed. An article about his mixed-martial arts training and fight history is featured in the August 2008 issue of Black Belt.

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