Fighting on TV

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On-screen combat

Many TV series and movies feature characters that are regularly engaged in combat. Without any hesitation, people leap into action, delivering powerful, effective, accurate blows.
There is often no real sign of injury afterwards.


Size, strength, physics and even choice of target plays little part in on-screen combat.
Apparently, you can be scrawny, small, weak, possess no combat experience or training and yet still prove victorious every time.


Clearly, it is necessary to remember that on-screen fighting constitutes entertainment. It is not meant to reflect real life. It is highly choreographed and unrealistic.
The camera angles, the music, the emotional content - these are all carefully orchestrated to provide optimal enjoyment for the viewer.

Faux expert

Yet... people attend martial arts or fighting classes and expect to magically be capable of manifesting tai chi skills overnight.
Or worse, people do not attend classes, and dream that they can take care of themselves because they have 'attitude'.

Actors and martial artists

Some actors are just actors, whereas some actors are also competent martial artists. It is easy to tell them apart. The actors are slow and clumsy whereas the martial artists look casual and confident.


In order to perform any martial art skilfully, considerable on-going training is necessary.
If somebody on-screen makes it look easy, allow for the fact that they have probably invested a lot of time practicing the movements and rehearsing the scene.
No matter what level of skill is being shown, it is still pretend.



Most martial arts involve force against force. The defender drives their fist into an unyielding, solid opponent. This is common.


Newton's third Law of Motion dictates that for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction. In other words, the force that you exert against a solid object is also fed back into you.
Impact affects you. Hitting somebody else, or being hit yourself has consequences.

If reckless, he can be killed;
if cowardly, captured;
if quick-tempered, he can be provoked to rage;
if he has too delicate a sense of honour, he can be easily insulted.

(Sun Tzu)

Being hit

When somebody hits you, throws you to the ground or into a wall or another object... the experience affects you. A knife cut cannot simply be shrugged-off. A break cannot be dismissed.
Concussion disorients you. Injury prevents your body from working properly. Pain wakes you up to the reality of your situation and warns you that injury is occurring.


Combat is tiring. The longer it lasts, the more worn out you will get. The more dramatic your combat, the quicker you will tire. The Art of War advocates a speedy conclusion.

Beating a man to the floor with your fists...

On-screen characters beat a man to the floor with their fists and this is seen as being heroic. Usually this involves punching the face with your knuckles.
Bone on bone damages the knuckle joints. The mouth is filled with sharp teeth and bacteria; there is a high risk of cutting your knuckles open and getting an infection.
Force-on-force is not a sign of skill. It shows no artistry whatsoever.

Wake up

Real life fighting is not glorious or exciting. It is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. It will not be choreographed in order to make you look good. There will not be a dramatic soundtrack.

Reality hurts

You may panic. You may be afraid. You may be surprised by multiple opponents. They may be armed. You may be seriously injured, and you may even die. You may be arrested and put in jail.

Combat experts

Miyamoto Musashi and Sun Tzu encouraged the martial artist to be smart. If you can avoid conflict, then do so. Looking tough or acting macho only serves to attract attention, and not all attention is good.

Why learn a martial art?

Martial arts training has the potential to make you fit, agile and strong. It is often a lot of fun. Students typically become self-disciplined, patient and calm.


You become increasingly seasoned to combat.
Whilst this does nor guarantee success against a real life assailant, it does mean that you have the reflexes and the awareness to handle adversity in whatever form it takes.
This may not be what the on-screen action heroes tell you... but remember: they are not real people. They are fictional characters. Do not get confused.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023