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Why Martial Arts Movies Need More Spirituality

A pearl of sweat slowly makes its way down Jackie Chan’s cheek. He never expected himself to be cornered by two tuxedo-clad, agile fighters on a high-rise rooftop. Yet, ever the skilled and courageous hand-to-hand combatant, Chan confronts his foes one by one and dives into a flurry of quick punches and deft blocks. Coupled with suspenseful music in the background, this action set piece from the 1998 flick, Who Am I?, shows Jackie Chan’s struggles with the henchmen duo and eventually his hard-fought victory, thanks to some quick thinking.    

The movie itself did not fare as well as predicted in the box office. But it has earned a lot of praise for its action choreography, due to its clever employment of various fighting styles. And that’s what puts Who Am I? among an elite group of action films.  

From The Great Train Robbery in 1903, to Rocky in 1976, and to The Dark Knight in 2008, the action genre is overflowing with movies and won’t experience a shortage for decades to come. Behind only the adventure and comedy groups, action is the third-most popular genre in North America. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see a good butt-kicking once in a while?

Seeing the hero use a masterful combination of punches, kicks, and throws to defeat the brooding baddie in the film’s climactic scene is always an incredible sight. Cheekbones getting battered by bloodied fists, bodies getting hurled onto windowpanes, and the agonizing crunch of bones getting broken are mainstays of any action scene. And, at the heart of any scene or move, one will always recognize some form of martial art.

Whether it be kickboxing, kung fu or karate, martial arts have long been used in action cinema. Their image and reputation continue to grow thanks to being popularized by actors such as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Donnie Yen and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Why Martial Arts Movies Need More Spirituality

(Image Source: The Chive)

However, despite all the recognition, the stereotypical view on martial arts more or less continues to be the same idea: martial arts is about beating people up. Fighting and martial arts are not exactly identical, but movies make it seem so. What most people do not realize is that martial arts are not necessarily about the fight itself; they’re more so about the will and the awareness to not engage in fighting. They require as much mental prowess as one does physically.  

Instead of learning how to do a proper punch, one must first obtain the will to overcome their struggles. Instead of getting in the ring to spar, one must first acquire the self-control that they should have over their actions. Instead of mastering a kata, one must first have the wisdom to make the right decisions.

American actor and martial artist, Brandon Lee, once stated that “for me, the martial arts is a search for something inside. It’s not just a physical discipline,” and he couldn’t be more correct. At the root of any martial art, there’s a certain lesson or philosophy to be learned through practice. Different people will learn and follow various morals. The concept can be as simple as “let go of anger” or as broad as “find inner peace.” By practicing martial arts with desire and passion, one gradually learns a lesson to live by and finds spiritual peace with oneself.    

And it’s for this reason alone that martial arts should be practiced.

Why Martial Arts Movies Need More Spirituality

(Image Source: The Hollywood Reporter)

Bruce Lee, hailed as possibly the best martial artist of all time, was a master of both the mental and physical capabilities of the human body. Leave it to him to impress the world by doing a one-inch punch or a two-finger push-up. But, what we should remember more of from his illustrious career are his wise teachings. Among his most famous principles is the quote, “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water.” It can be interpreted in many ways, but Bruce Lee wants people to understand and apply the shapelessness of water in their lives. The sheer, unleashed force of water is magnificent. Yet, whenever it is put inside a container, it takes the shape of its new environment. Water doesn’t fight back. Similarly, when people are faced with a difficult situation, they shouldn’t immediately resist. They should remain calm and adapt to the environment.

Bruce Lee came to understand this spiritual idea by practicing martial arts. So, rather than focusing on the actual fight, it’s these types of principles that people must seek to take in through their practice.       

It’s evident that the mental and physical aspects of martial arts are equally significant. But while films do a great job promoting martial arts, many of them only show one side of the coin. To be fair, there have been some movies such as 2008’s Kung Fu Panda and 2010’s The Karate Kid that have shown both the spiritual and physical features of martial arts. Yet, there has to be more films that follow their example.  

Movies continue to be not only a popular form of entertainment, but also a good way to learn about the unknown. Without the renowned action flicks of the 1970s and 1980s, Western countries would never have had a clue about martial arts.

Why Martial Arts Movies Need More Spirituality

(Image Source: Vintage Movie Posters)

Since long ago, spirituality has been serving as a major part of the identity of martial arts. It must be preserved and shared in order for it to not be forgotten. So now, the time has come for films to make viewers more aware of the spiritual and mental importance of martial arts.


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