Created By: MadassAlex on November 21, 2011 Last Edited By: MiinU on January 4, 2015
Nuked

Asian Martial Arts Are Just Better

In media, Asian martial arts are considered superior to other regional forms, if said other forms are depicted at all.

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Trope
Throughout history, wars, duels and street brawls have been fought by all manner of people from all over the world. While the majority of the first world lives in relative peace today, one's enemies used to be very close at hand. As a result, it was necessary for all cultures to develop martial arts for use in wartime and self defense. Unfortunately, most of these are lost to time, being practiced by cultures that didn't write them down, didn't survive, kept them closely-guarded secrets or any combination of the above.

In popular cultural understanding, however, only East Asian martial arts exist and have ever existed. You had better not cross someone with training in these martial arts, because their oriental secrets will invariably destroy you. In media works that do recognise non-East Asian martial arts, they are either depicted as inferior or East Asian martial arts are not touched upon at all. Expect the East Asian martial artists to be depicted as humble and centred, while the non-East Asian martial artists are depicted as arrogant or aggressive.

This ridiculous phenomenon can be chalked up to the assumption that an absence of evidence is evidence of absence. As early as the 19th century, historians were discovering European combat manuals detailing the fighting skills of medieval knights. Boxing, while martial, is often considered a sport rather than a complete martial art in its own right. The only truth to this trope is how well-preserved East Asian martial arts are by historical standards, although today there continues to be debate over the legitimacy of arts such as kenjutsu.

Compare: Katanas Are Just Better Contrast: Good Old Fisticuffs

Examples

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
  • Crossing over with Katanas Are Just Better, most works of this nature make the equally erroneous assumption that Japanese sword skills are superior to those in other regions. It would be simpler to list aversions.
  • Averted in Knights, where the main character's martial art is based on an obscure German sword style dating to the 14th century. Even his allies consider it outdated.
  • Averted in Sword of the Stranger, where the Russian "barbarian" working with the Chinese proves himself perhaps the most skillful fighter in the entire work.
  • Played with in Historys Strongest Disciple Kenichi: Kenichi is trained in a huge variety of East Asian martial arts, and, being the hero, wins most of his fights. However, he confronts artist who practice arts from all over the world (russian SAMBO, french Savate, Malaysian Penkak Silat, Indian Buramin, Mongolian "Sumo", Greek Pankration, Mexican Lucha Libre, etc. etc.) and they are all presented as very credible, threatening foes. He usually wins because of tenacity, a pure heart, and willpower, which in a shounen work is simply another way of saying Plot Armour.

[[folder:Video Games]]

  • Most fighting games adhere to this concept, with the protagonist usually being Japanese and their counterpart being a foreigner. In most instances, the Asian character is presented as humble and usually the superior of the two in terms of ability and significance to the overall plot. The rival is typically portrayed as cocky or hot blooded and usually a step or two behind in actual talent; though close enough in skill to give the protagonist a run for their money.

[[folder:Film]]

  • Ip Man 2, in which the titular character must use Chinese martial arts to defend their legitimacy against an English boxer. Arguably averted by the ending, where the Ip man says he was never out to prove the superiority of Chinese martial arts, but to prove they could withstand Western equivalents.
  • The Last Samurai has Nathan's fencing being outclassed by the katana, but it shows that A) Nathan is a Combat Pragmatist who knows fencing as a secondary combat tactic after the bullets have been fired and B) rock will not beat laser in the long run. Nathan used his already existing skills to learn how to use a katana and grows to be a competent Samurai warrior, capable of fighting experienced warriors to a standstill and killing inexperienced warriors with ease.

[[folder:Real Life]]
  • Reality itself is an aversion; East Asian martial arts, while often strong and well-developed, are not inherently superior to martial arts from other regions of the world.
  • General public understanding of the martial arts lean this way, and most people probably jump to karate or kung fu as examples.
  • For a long time, it was assumed that historical European fighting methods were slow, pondering and based on brute strength. A number of historical fighting manuals have been discovered that have broken that perception entirely within the small groups that study them. Although most examples are German, dealing with the longsword, examples have been found to be of Italian, English and French origin. Most deal with some form of sword combat, but many also include sections on unarmed fighting, daggers and polearms.
Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • November 21, 2011
    ChunkyDaddy
    By "Asian" martial arts, do you really mean "East Asian". Because, Indian martial arts get the same treatment as European martial arts in popular media.
  • November 21, 2011
    MadassAlex
    Yes, I do actually mean "East Asian". For the trope name, however, I believe it gets the point across well enough.
  • November 21, 2011
    mtlwriterguy
    Asian "martial arts" were usually packaged as part of a larger philosophical system, and were honed over centuries in societies where (I think) personal ownership of weapons was very severely curtailed, Japan especially, but also in China.

    Weapons ownership (whether blades or firearms) was never as severely curtailed in the west, and the fighting arts were never encapsulated inside a larger philosophical system. If you wanted spirituality, you became a monk. If you wanted to fight, you became a mercenary. If you were highborn, you became a knight.

    However, when weapons or other styles of fighting were curtailed in the west, martial arts did spring up. French sailors in the 18th and 19th century could face severe penalties -- even death -- if they were caught fighting with weapons or even with fists. So they developed savate, a deadly martial art that uses only the feet.
  • November 21, 2011
    mtlwriterguy
    What I meant to say in that ramble above is that I'll bet the average East Asian martial artist was a much better hand-to-hand fighter than the average westerner in, say, the 19th century, the setting of the old Kung Fu TV series. It made sense that David Carradine could easily best most old west gunslingers in hand-to-hand combat. Their martial skills were focused on their firearms, and their fistfighting skills were probably rudimentary.
  • November 21, 2011
    captainpat
    Please stop listing aversions. This isn't an Omnipresent Trope
  • November 21, 2011
    MiinU

    Video games

    • Most fighting games adhere to this concept, with the protagonist usually being Japanese and their counterpart being a foreigner. In each instance, the Japanese/Asian character is presented as humble and usually the superior of the two in terms of ability and significance to the overall plot. While the rival is typically portrayed as cocky or hot blooded and usually a step or two behind in actual talent; though close enough in skill to give the protagonist a run for their money. Noteable examples inlcude: Ryu And Ken from Street Fighter, Kazuya and Paul Phoenix from Tekken, and Liu Kang and Johnny Cage from Mortal Kombat.
      • This concept is inverted by games such as Fatal Fury, which portrays Terry Bogard as being superior to both his brother Andy and their friend, Japanese kickboxer Joe Higashi. And gets subverted altogether by Art of Fighting, which portrays Ryo and Robert as equals in skill and plot significance. The third game in the series even shifts the focus onto to Robert, making him the main character.
  • November 21, 2011
    MadassAlex
    "Please stop listing aversions. This isn't an Omnipresent Trope"

    It may as well be, given popular assumptions made by martial arts. Keep in mind that most martial arts media also tends to come from East Asia. While wrestling and boxing media in the West may be exceptions, they're dealt with more as sport media than martial media.

    "Weapons ownership (whether blades or firearms) was never as severely curtailed in the west, and the fighting arts were never encapsulated inside a larger philosophical system. If you wanted spirituality, you became a monk. If you wanted to fight, you became a mercenary. If you were highborn, you became a knight."

    Except that knights were spiritualist fighters, at least ideally. While it's true that not all took their faith seriously, many did, and some of the most famous Orders were just as much monks as they were knights.

    I'd also question the assumption that weapon styles are anything different from martial arts. That's a reasonably popular misconception born from modern understandings of martial arts, given a context where close combat weapons are as obsolete as they're likely to get and mostly unarmed forms are studied. Most historical martial arts, however, recommended the use of weapons where possible. In fact, martial artists of such periods didn't see a large divide between unarmed and armed combat, as evidenced by the mixture of unarmed techniques and weapons techniques. Unlike modern sport fencing and kendo, weapon-inclusive martial arts did not forget about grapples or hand strikes; one of the best ways to defeat a knight, for instance, was to fight until close in, grapple, throw them to the ground and use their vulnerability to finish them off.

    Remember that the 20th and 21st centuries have been very, very specific martial contexts in relation to the rest of human history. Before the mid 17th century, guns were not reliable weapons, but simple mechanical tools. Europeans had to turn to martial arts to fight effectively on the battlefield, and historical evidence proves that they did just that and at length. In addition, where Eastern martial arts took a spiritual bent, the Western ones were more academic in nature. Theoretical martial study was considered a core element of mastery.

    Both the East and West have developed, context allowing, extremely powerful martial arts from different perspectives, with weapons and without.
  • November 21, 2011
    PacificState
    • Played with in Historys Strongest Disciple Kenichi: Kenichi is trained in a huge variety of East Asian martial arts, and, being the hero, wins most of his fights. However, he confronts artist who practice arts from all over the world (russian SAMBO, french Savate, Malaysian Penkak Silat, Indian Buramin, Mongolian "Sumo", Greek Pankration, Mexican Lucha Libre, etc. etc.) and they are all presented as very credible, threatening foes. He usually wins because of tenacity, a pure heart, and willpower, which in a shounen work is simply another way of saying Plot Armour.
  • November 22, 2011
    KJMackley
    Most any aversion would fall under Good Old Fisticuffs. Plus based on the name and write-up a true example would be that Asian martial arts are inherently superior to non-Asian styles, and the only way to defeat an Asian martial art is to learn it and become better than the other person. Just "Asian martial artists are really good" would not be an example.

    But for examples there are plenty:
    • The Last Samurai has Nathan's fencing being outclassed by the katana, but it shows that A) Nathan is a Combat Pragmatist who knows fencing as a secondary combat tactic after the bullets have been fired and B) rock will not beat laser in the long run. Nathan used his already existing skills to learn how to use a katana and grows to be a competent Samurai warrior, capable of fighting experienced warriors to a standstill and killing inexperienced warriors with ease.
  • November 22, 2011
    MadassAlex
    This is the technique counterpart to the technology trope Katanas Are Just Better, which is a fictitious but widely believed and used in media. So while Good Old Fisticuffs is certainly one way to avert the trope, it's not the only one. For instance, if a Krav Maga practitioner were to fight a Xing practitioner and win, that would be an aversion, despite the fact that Krav Maga is very different from Good Old Fisticuffs. So keep in mind that not all Western martial arts fall under that trope, and that this trope describes a wider media perspective on martial arts. Plus, this trope covers the inclination for media to forget about Western martial arts entirely.
  • November 23, 2011
    KJMackley
    If half your examples are aversions then this is clearly not an omnipresent trope. The best way to build a trope is to list as many straight examples as you can (in the format that I said in my previous post), you start throwing around the entire playing with a trope and no one is going to understand what the trope is.

    Plus aversions and subversions are more complicated than what you seem to be using them for. In your example the Xing practitioner could be heralded as unbeatable because of his training and then the Krav Maga user wipes the floor with him, that would be a subversion. A true aversion would fall under Good Old Fisticuffs because that trope is about "It doesn't matter what your refined style is, a street fighter can usually take you out." There is only a handful of tropes on this site that warrant listing all the aversions, see Limited Wardrobe and Space Is Noisy. This isn't one of them.
  • November 23, 2011
    surgoshan
    • Doctor Who's second series episode "Tooth and Claw" included a group of Scottish monks who were also a martial sect worshipping a lupiform alien ("deus lupus est") who, for some reason, wore East Asian clothing under their robes and fought in a manner reminiscent of wuxia.
  • November 23, 2011
    Psi001
    • One Tom And Jerry short featured Jerry learning Martial Arts to fight off Tom, the latter goes through assorted different combat skills such as boxing to challenge him, all of which are quickly overpowered until he mirrors same Martial Arts skills.
  • November 23, 2011
    pinkdalek
    Subverted in Metal Gear Solid 3, in which Volgin (a Japanophile) assumes Snake's fighting style must be 'judo' due to how powerful it is. It's actually CQC, a modern martial art developed by The Boss (an American), and she corrects him on this.
  • November 23, 2011
    Antigone3
    Subverted in the Tabletop Games (Hero System) book Lucha Libre Hero, in which lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) wipes the floor with every other martial art in existence. I haven't seen enough lucha films to know if the subversion came from the films, but I suspect it did.
  • November 23, 2011
    RazorSmile
    How'd you mention Ip Man without mentioning Jet Li's Fearless? The protagonist fist-fights a boxer, spear-fights a cavalry lancer and sword-fights a fencer, winning all the matches. His toughest opponent ends up being ... you guessed it, a samurai, thus reinforcing this very trope.
  • February 1, 2012
    MiinU
    bump.
  • February 1, 2012
    JimCambias
    There's a fun aversion in the roleplaying game supplement GURPS Alternate Earths 2. In one of the alternate histories, China conquered Europe during the Age of Exploration and the whole world is either Chinese or heavily Chinese-influenced. As a result, the cool "ancient fighting art" is Irish boxing.
  • February 1, 2012
    ZombieAladdin
    Inverted in Samurai Champloo: The protagonist Mugen is a capoiera practitioner living (and native to) late feudal Japan.
  • February 2, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Subverted when The Simpsons go to Israel. Bart tries to use Karate (or rather, what he's picked up from watching Chop Socky movies on TV) against a girl his own age, who is a Mossad agent trained in Krav Maga, the Israeli-originated martial art which is one of the world's most dangerous hand-to-hand fighting systems.
  • February 2, 2012
    Goethe
    @pinkdalek: the profane might confuse them at first glance, though...

    ^a girl the age of Bart is a Mossad agent????

    "Weapons ownership (whether blades or firearms) was never as severely curtailed in the west, and the fighting arts were never encapsulated inside a larger philosophical system. If you wanted spirituality, you became a monk. If you wanted to fight, you became a mercenary. If you were highborn, you became a knight. "

    What about the The Teutonic Knights, the The Knights Hospitallers and The Knights Templar?
  • May 30, 2012
    MiinU
    bump.
  • May 31, 2012
    randomsurfer
    .
  • May 31, 2012
    AP
    Just Launch Already
  • January 6, 2013
    StarSword
    Literature:
    • Played straight in the Matador Series. Sumito, the art used by the main characters, is a mixed martial art derived from the Indonesian art pencak silat. Well-trained practitioners are exactly as lethal as they want to be depending on the situation, and superior to most other hand-to-hand fighters.
  • January 6, 2013
    surgoshan
  • January 6, 2013
    MiinU
  • January 7, 2013
    nitrokitty
    This trope has always annoyed me, since there are lots of very effective martial arts from other places in the world. French Savate, Israeli Krav Maga, Brazilian Jiu Jutsu, Pankration, Philipino Eskrima, there's tons of them out there, but you'd think that Kung Fu was the only martial art in existence.
  • January 9, 2013
    Astaroth
    • Eddie Izzard has a routine about self-defence, in which he describes asian martials arts as graceful and precise, while european fighting tends to be harsh, pragmatic and lacks finesse. "In the west, we're all martial, no art."

    • Played straight in the first Sherlock Holmes film: Holmes uses a martial art which combines elements of Baritsu, Wing Chun Kung-Fu, Jiujutsu and Combat Pragmatism, and ends most of the fights he finds himself in pretty easily. The only opponents who he struggles against are Dredger, and an Elite Mook who is also proficient in Kung-Fu.
      • Averted somewhat in the sequel, in which Moriarty, a former boxing champion, uses Awesomeness By Analysis to show how easily he could defeat Holmes in a fistfight. However, Holmes is suffering a crippling shoulder wound and might have fared better if he'd been in peak condition.
  • January 9, 2013
    Larkmarn
    I don't like this trope.

    I think an All Martial Arts Are Asian trope would be better, because most of the examples are basically "Most trained martial artists use an Asian form. Most martial artists win fights. Examples where martial artists that use an Eastern art beat untrained fighters really aren't an example. Western martial arts get a LOT less exposure, but are rarely demonstrated as inferior.

    And the video game example is just bad. The VAST majority of straight examples in video games are just Creator Provincialism (same with the Anime section), with the most powerful being based on their country of origin (and since they're invariably Japanese, the strongest fighting style happens to be Japanese), but so many fighting games have the strongest be Western fighters (if they have a canonically strongest character at all).

    So, yeah. In other words, as is, I think it's not tropeworthy without a heavy overhaul.

  • January 9, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Basically, of the ones listed, the only straight examples are Mortal Kombat, Battle Arena Toshinden, Kenichi The Mightiest Disciple, Ip Man, and The Last Samurai. And two of those are more Creator Provincialism than anything else.

    The rest are all aversions or just not examples since they don't include multiple styles of martial arts.
  • January 9, 2013
    halfstep
    Fist of the North Star is all about this, although really, with Fist of the North Star, that is more about "Hokuto Shinken is just better" than Asian martial arts: if you aren't at least a mid-high level Nanto practitioner, you don't stand a chance, regardless of how many people you beat or killed before running into a Hokuto practitioner.

    The real trope here is "my kung fu is just better than yours": for any style, you can find movies or media that are based around the premise that _this_ is the ultimate martial art, and everything else sucks compared to it. Capoeria has "Only the Strong", MMA has "Redbelt" and "Never Back Down", Muay Thai has "Ong Bak", Savate has "Savate". There's even a movie where someone's gymnastic skills are presented as the last word in kick ass (Gymkata if anyone is interested). Don't know if this clears up any of the issues above, you might want to consider this in creating this trope.
  • January 9, 2013
    Larkmarn
    That's a great idea for a trope, if it doesn't already exist someone should make it. I do think it would be different enough that reworking this into it would be fruitless.

    Basically a Non Actor Vehicle but instead of being for a person, it would be for a martial art.
  • December 23, 2013
    MarqFJA
    Bump.

    What has become of this trope?
  • December 23, 2013
    KarjamP
    Well, for starters, the current trope's name violates No New Stockphrases (which applies to dialog-based titles as well).
  • December 23, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    You should probably mention that if a non-East Asian martial art is mentioned then it has a high chance of being the Israeli Krav Maga, which is currently being lauded in the geek-o-sphere as the god-like martial art du jour. As with the fads for Kung Fu, Kempo and Karate, its reputation is mostly exaggerated.
  • December 24, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    ... this isn't quite a trope. Larkmarn already said everything i am going to say.
  • January 4, 2015
    Alberich
    The Shadow: In "The Phantom Voice," The Shadow grapples with a professional wrestler who gets him into a chokehold. Later The Shadow turns out to have one. "He was a good wrestler...but he didn't know one little hold that I learned in the Orient."
  • January 4, 2015
    Alberich
    btw, I disagree with some commenters...I think it is a trope, though not as popular as it once was, back when The Mysterious Orient held more mystery. The novel of Goldfinger would provide another example...Oddjob is a master of the mystery art of "karate," which is supposed to be far superior to mere "judo" (which westerners were more likely to know, though it too was of Asian origin). Also, I saw one or two references in Max Brand's westerns...where a "judo" move (or in another place, "trick wrestling") was sure to beat the western man's fighting arts.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=n1xaa58gizetihzc0d7gi6lk&trope=DiscardedYKTTW