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Artistic License – Martial Arts

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We're not sure which should hurt more: getting kicked in the face, or doing that kick.

Elder: My, my, it's like they're filming a movie!
Sakaki: I agree, these kids have too many excessive movements!

Think Flynning, but with martial arts instead of swords.

This page is dedicated to all of the 'amended' martial arts that populate Martial Arts Movies, manga and anime, especially high-flying spinning kicks and other telegraphed moves. Lots of times, this comes from the directors following the Rule of Cool, but many other times, they just didn't bother with the research. If there is a Hand Wave coming up, appeals to Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers! may be thrown in—after all, a "highly telegraphed" multi-spin roundhouse is a lot less easy to counter when your foot meets your opponent's face in the time it takes for him to blink, and if you can shrug off a ton of hits and kill the one guy with one then whiff punishing is not as critical.

Much of this comes from the basic issue that martial arts (which are specifically designed to eliminate an opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible,) simply don't look quite as visually interesting as the more elaborate moves seen on film, not to mention actors (usually) don't want to actually hurt their costars. Hence the reason stage combat is treated as a very different animal than actual fighting styles.

Jump kicks are an interesting thing in that they do exist in some forms of martial arts, but they're primarily for demonstration purposes rather than dueling. Claims that it had a practical purpose seem to rely on unverifiable sources.

Even in the more realistic video games, you will find at least one attack at this absurd level among the movelist of Shotoclones. Usually it will be the Hurricane Kick Sub-Trope, alongside its buddies the Kamehame Hadoken and Shoryuken. They look great and all in video games, but would be needlessly showy in real life.

This trope can apply to as minor a grievance as an inefficient move or as major a martial insult as 80s ninja films.

As a general rule, take a martial arts scene and ask yourself, "would this move work in Mixed Martial Arts or Kickboxing?" If the answer is no, it's likely under this trope.

These days it seems to be less prevalent, particularly with the rise in popularity of fighting systems such as MMA or Krav Maga.

Note, however, that because Reality Is Unrealistic, not even combat sports are safe from occasionally featuring low-percentage moves scoring successfully, either by specialized gameplans or by sheer luck. The evolution of MMA has seen plenty of techniques going from being considered ridiculous and impractical to becoming part of the sport's repertoire after someone important started landing them in the cage. In a way, the sport of MMA itself used to be seen as this trope before it became mainstream in the martial arts community, which means the trope can be Truth in Television in a nuanced way.

This trope is usually included with Supernatural Martial Arts. Compare Martial Arts and Crafts, Chop Sockey. Contrast What the Fu Are You Doing?, where the lack of knowledge is on the part of the character instead of the writers.

Note that this is for works that are presenting a move or martial art as serious or an Acceptable Break from Reality. If it's intentionally being Played for Laughs, it would be I Know Kung-Faux.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Baki the Grappler: Fucking christ, where do we begin?
    • Perhaps the most egregious thing about this series is the imagination battles. Yeah, as if sparring with a completely imaginary 220 pound praying mantis and actually suffering injuries from it is anything within the realm of actual martial arts.
  • Suzaku Kururugi of Code Geass is infamous for these. His trademark gravity-defying attack allows him to run up walls, destroy machine gun turrets (while dodging their fire), disarm pistol-wielding opponents from across the room, fall great distances, shatter steel weapons, and send guards flying. Naturally, his personal mecha can do this, too, with the added benefit of his opponents exploding.
  • Fist of the North Star:
    • Hokuto Shinken, which, if you ignore its ability to give whoever is the successor to it nigh super human strength and speed as well as its result of causing whomever is hit by it to swell and explode, isn’t too ineffective as a fighting style, should you have the speed and strength required to pull off the Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs needed for it.
    • Nanto Seiken, the rival style to Hokuto, is a fair bit less reasonable. Many of its practitioners are shown leaping at their opponents with arms spread wide as if they're doing an airplane impression, and its moves often include "spear hand" strikes that, were their users not superhuman, would probably result in broken fingers.
  • Although martial arts are mostly portrayed accurately (albeit grossly exaggerated), History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi has some instances:
    • One character starts spinning in place a few times before planting an outside crescent on Kenichi, while he gawks in disbelief. Try that in the UFC.
    • And then there's Attention Whore Rachel "Castor" Stanley of YOMI. She specializes in Luchadore wrestling moves, and considers keeping the audience's attention more important than actually winning the fight (though she has yet to lose a fight in the series). She and her YAMI master "Laughing Fist" Diego believe that using Awesome, but Impractical moves to win fights is the way to go.
    • Chapter 134 has an aversion and Lampshade Hanging (starting here), where Hermit is fighting Berserker, who doesn't actually knows martial arts. Berserker winds his fist way back to launch a finishing blow, creating a massive opening that Hermit takes advantage of to turn the fight around.
    • One of Kenichi's Masters, Shio Sakaki, is referred to as having a 100th dan rank in karate. This is impossible: dan ranks only go up to 10. It is suggested, however, that Sakaki just likes boasting and is exaggerating his rank, and besides which, nobody is really willing to challenge him on that claim.
    • As the series goes on, the martial arts get less and less realistic, and this trope is played straight. Most obvious with the Elder, who can throw tanks around with ease, and is called the "Invincible Superman".
  • Dragon Ball in general is full of this, but there are two particular points that deserve mention:
    • Whenever the characters do any form of side kick, they throw their hands above their heads or out to the sides. This is a bad idea in real life, as it leaves the vital areas wide open.
    • There was a scene in the original Dragon Ball series where Yamcha remarked that Goku had no openings, while Goku was standing face-on to his opponent, with his hands held downward at his sides. His head, torso, and groin were all wide open to attack.
  • As Bruce Lee Clones, Rock Lee and Might Guy from Naruto also use a lot of flying kicks (KONOHA DAI SENPUU!). Hand-waved in-universe because most of these folks are augmenting their martial arts abilities with chakra, making those impossible moves possible and/or allowing them to hit far harder than should be possible.
  • The Crane stance is done as well with complete seriousness in Fist of the Blue Sky by Zhāng Tài-Yán (except with his hands together), as well as Falco early in the second half of the Fist of the North Star manga; just to make it more mind-boggling, the leg he was standing on was his prosthetic leg.
  • Air Master: Gymkata in Anime form!
  • In one of the title sequences of the anime Death Note, L performs some rather implausible spinning kicks which, depending on your point of view, either look downright amazing or downright hilarious. It's supposed to be Capoeira.
  • Even Gundam has them! At least the martial art/super robotesque stepchild, G Gundam. How'd you call their fighting techniques otherwise?
  • Hajime no Ippo:
    • Sendo's Smash punch is based on Canadian boxer Donovan "Razor" Ruddock's signature punch. Not nearly as impossible as it looks, but Sendo's version leaves him far more open to getting tagged with a counternote .
    • The Dempsey Roll. Now this is a perfectly normal (if risky) technique for fighters of small build, and is named after its most famous practitioner. The artistic license comes from the fact that Ippo maintains it on his opponent and goes for at least 8 seconds. If that was done in real life, there would be 3 possible outcomes: either the opponent would counter it somewhere in that time frame (since the Roll puts out so much offense that it leaves next to no defense), they were knocked flat on the ground from its beatdown long before 8 seconds had passed, or a referee would step in to give an 8-count or stop the bout entirely.

  • Kengan Ashura does do a fair amount of research, and quite a few of the fighters to feature in the series are entirely plausible, if a bit exaggerated. This makes it all the weirder when the series starts tossing in genetic freaks, borderline Supernatural Martial Arts, and stuff that blatantly would not work in real life.
    • Julius Reinhold's entire character is that he has no martial arts training whatsoever, outright eschewing it, and relies solely on his physical strength training and being the size of a fridge. He's loosely based on real-life powerlifter Mariusz Pudzianowski. However, Pudzianowski spent a lot of his early career struggling against the limitations of his previous training, such as low stamina and maneuverability, and didn't become competent until he lost a lot of weight and started retraining. Simply put, the skillset and body type needed to become a powerlifter is very different from the one needed to become a martial artist—though the necessity of weight training is somewhat disputed, exclusively training to lift weights is considered a bad idea. Julius, meanwhile, suffers from none of these limitations and is instead depicted as a Lightning Bruiser whose inexpert technique is his sole weakness.
    • A lot of the physical conditioning in the series is taken to Training from Hell extremes, such as Saw Paing doing bone conditioning by having someone hit him in the head with a hammer and Gensai doing hand conditioning by stabbing his fingers into stone or concrete. Overlapping with Artistic License – Biology, the point of conditioning is to stress the body, whereas these methods would probably just shatter the relevant bones and leave them useless for the rest of one's life.
    • The Rakshasa's Palm, a palm strike where the user spins their hand while twisting their whole body into the strike, sounds at least somewhat plausible as a martial arts technique as described. The fact that it's shown twisting the skin and muscle of whoever it hits as if they've been struck by a drill? Not so much.
    • Most of Nikado's moves are classic fa jin or a variant of it, but his signature move, the qilong, where he releases a burst of compressed air by opening his palms quickly and whispers a hypnotic command into the opponent's ears while they're stunned from the air burst, can only be described as pure fantasy.
  • Riki-Oh: The whole thing really.
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • In real life, sheathing your sword in the middle of a fight is a bad idea; for Kenshin, it's required for his finishing move.
    • Saito's gatotsu doesn't have the advantages a left-handed thrust has in real life, surprise and an accompanying extended reach.
    • Enishi, the series' final Big Bad, utilizes a sword whose design is based on the tachi, a weapon whose blade was traditionally anywhere between 70 and 80 centimeters long. Enishi is shown to be quite capable of wielding his sword in one hand, even twirling it around between his fingers at one point to demonstrate his skill; in real life, the tachi was used primarily by cavalrymen, and while it could be used for ground combat it was more awkward to wield than if the swordsman was still on his horse. (It may be somewhat justified in Enishi's case, however, as his sword's particular design consists of a traditional Chinese sword handle and a Japanese blade, and Chinese-made swords are designed to be significantly lighter and more flexible.)
  • Science Ninja Team Gatchaman occasionally averts this trope (such a straight elbow to the guts of someone trying to be sneaky) but more usually plays it very straight. Bad enough with the rank-and-file (who tend to be slow and dumb as bricks), but when the SNT and the Elite Mooks go up against each other, both sides are very guilty of this trope. Partially justified in that both sides have help.
  • One episode of La Seine No Hoshi had an interesting mix of this and Shown Their Work: a one-shot character featured in it had some rather improbable techniques, but not only was the martial art chosen for him, Savate, appropriate to the place, era and social status (the series being set in Paris right before the French Revolution, when Savate already existed but was only used by soldiers, sailors and street brawlers), the character was noted as extremely skilled, doing things that shouldn't have been possible, and the one time he fought a skilled foe (another Savate practitioner) he fought in a very sensible manner, aside for the flying kick that won him the bout (with the foe actually being caught by surprise by the attack and unable to dodge in time).
  • In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, it's revealed that Syaoran fights mainly with kicks due to having poor vision in one of his eyes, which he resolves by measuring out the distance to his opponent with his legs. In realistic fighting, this would be almost the opposite case - a fighter would risk his balance and defense if he threw commited, long-range attacks without good accuracy, so the most adequate style for a person with poor vision would be actually a short-ranged, preferably grappling-based one. In other words, this is the reason why in real life judo is a popular sport for blind athletes and taekwondo isn't.

  • Discussed in Gary Gulman's breakdown of the crane kick in The Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi asserts, "If done properly, no can defend," but Gulman counters, "Can defend." The first rule is not running straight at the kick chin-first. But this assumes you know that the crane kick is coming. Luckily, Daniel's crane stance provides some "subtle" clues that there's an impending crane kick.

    Comic Books 
  • Lampshaded, in all places, in the first ever Groo the Wanderer. A soldier comments on Groo carrying his swords on his back, only to have Groo pull out a sword and put it up to his nose before he even finishes his sentence.
  • When Frank Miller draws martial artists in Sin City, he loves having them perform some weird split kicks that look like they would be awkward in Real Life.
  • John Byrne once said, since he did not know Kung-fu, he would draw Iron Fist pulling off fighting moves that simply looked cool and didn't care about how real it looked. Since Iron Fist learned how to fight in another dimension, it does make some amount of sense.
  • Lady Shiva is (though her daughter is catching up or has depending on continuity) the best female unarmed Badass Normal fighter in the DCU, and is able to stick her hand, in a single blow with fingers extended, through someone's skull, as a matter of fact it's her signature move. She was also able to teach this gory move to Richard Dragon, the best male unarmed Badass Normal fighter in the DCU.
  • Not only do comic-universe martial arts work absurdly well, they're incredibly quick to learn. Batman trained a ten-year-old kid in a matter of weeks to clear out roomfuls of armed mooks. Captain America (who himself had limited time to learn) trained Bucky to do the same on a modern battlefield, without benefit of shield or super-serum. You have to wonder why more criminals don't train to the same level, if it's that easy to become a one-man wrecking crew.
    • In some iterations, Batman is said to have mastered every martial art. In reality there are hundreds of distinct martial arts, and any martial artist will tell you the time and energy it takes to practice martial arts mean few people can equally train two or three separate styles simultaneously, let alone more. And even the quickest and most pragmatic fighting arts to learn application, such as boxing and MMA, take years of devoted practice to become proficient in, let alone master, while many of the more traditional styles require a degree of time investment and tests of character to advance to higher levels of learning, regardless of your proficiency in actual fighting. In other words, the 10-20 years, depending on the version, Bruce was training to become Batman, it is extremely unlikely he had the time to practice more than a few styles, never mind master them. Likewise, many martial art styles are subsets, descendants or hybrids of other styles, making training in all of them utterly redundant, and even completely distinct disciplines tend to have a degree of overlap in their applications, so even if Bruce had the time, it would be an enormous waste to work at all of them.

    Fan Works 
  • In the fic Daughter of Nyx, the teenage protagonist fuses tae kwan do, karate, and ballet together into one style. At the very least, such a melding would be awkward, slow, and defeat the purpose of self-defense.

    Films — Animation 
  • Mulan:
    • During the "I'll Make a Man Out of You" sequence they do deeds worthy of Bruce Lee.
    • Take a look at when Mulan kicks Shang. She pivots on her toe — in martial arts, you typically pivot on the ball of your foot. On top of that, the only kicks that benefit from raising your back foot's heel are sweeps; even if you pivot on the ball, you lose power if you're not planted otherwise.
  • Loads of moves in the Kung Fu Panda films are highly dubious, to say the least. Then again, it's a comedy, so the MST3K Mantra applies.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Steven Seagal's earlier films such as Out for Justice and Under Siege have some pretty realistic techniques. On the other hand, the most recent ones, where he can't even run, reflect this trope perfectly.
  • In spite of his reputation as the world's greatest martial artist, Bruce Lee's movies feature a lot of this. He admitted that jumping high kicks were only good for movies, and he would never use them in a real fight. He also noted that grappling and wrestling, though fairly practical techniques that he himself tried to incorporate into his own style, just don't look good on film.
  • Jackie Chan films. Chan was schooled in Peking Opera from childhood to perform stage fighting and acrobatics. He and his fellow opera school graduates such as Sammo Hung excel at creating fighting scenes that indulge fully in the Rule of Cool and/or Rule of Funny. He has admitted that his skills don't amount to much in a real fight (he claims to have only ever been in one, in which he did not come out unscathed).
  • Jet Li protagonists indulge in being badass and fending off one Multi-Mook Melee after another, but since he is a trained martial artist, his fight choreography has Shown Their Work and tend to be grounded in more realistic martial arts moves than your average wuxia movie, and when it's fantastical, the setting is as well.
  • The wuxia genre of films, such as Hero (2002) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are based on mythic stories of supernatural swordsmen. As such, their reputation of combat features a great deal of magic.
  • Equilibrium is based around a fictional martial art in which practitioners use probability to predict the locations of bullet fire and move to avoid them. While memorizing such probability would give you a slight advantage, it not only relies on nobody ever deviating from the statistical norms, but also on your attackers being accurate enough that their shots don't stray too far from those lines of fire. It also ignores the unpredictable nature of guns being fired in burst and fully automatic modes, or the use of suppression fire.
  • The first Best of the Best film features a group of martial arts experts sent to Korea to compete in a World Karate competition. And certainly, the martial arts on display resemble karate, with an even mix of punches and kicks and even some judo throws for good measure. All in all, a mild example since the 80s were chock-full of karate films, if not for the fact that Korea has no karate tradition and, in fact, is the birthplace of the Taekwondo martial art. And the film makes it so blindingly obvious that the plot is meant to fixate on Taekwondo that it goes beyond Limited Reference Pools into willfull disregard.
  • Bringing Down the House presents Tae Bo as a form of exercise and an improvised fighting style. Tae Bo is inspired by martial arts, so it is not much of a stretch to modify it for fighting purposes.
  • The "Crane Kick" from The Karate Kid (1984). It doesn't come from any actual martial arts tradition. The filmmakers invented it simply to look impressive. There's even some debate as to whether it would cause Daniel to be disqualified from the tournament. As it goes, one of the reasons Daniel does use it is so he doesn't need to put pressure on his injured leg. Subverted in the first sequel; Daniel attempts to use it in a serious situation and it's treated as What the Fu Are You Doing? nonsense that lets his opponent easily hand him his ass.
  • The rebooted The Karate Kid (2010), apparently needing to upstage the original, climaxes with a magical reverse flip kick that wouldn't be out-of-place in a Wuxia film. Martial arts teachers typically regard fancy jump kicks as ineffective in real fights compared to a more straightforward punch or kick. The aerial part of the kick should have given enough time to telegraph the move, allowing the opponent to block or dodge. Even with sufficient training and practice, such a kick could miss the target due to being overly complex. Here it is executed perfectly and precisely despite its complexity.
  • Bud Spencer's trademark move, called the "pigeon." It's a fist bash to the top of the head, the hardest spot on the human body.
  • The Pink Panther series presents a mostly believable series of fights between Clouseau and Cato. Nunchakus falling apart on their own, or a bo staff breaking from a shinai strike is unlikely unless those weapons were at their breaking point already from heavy practice. What stretches believability is Clouseau launching into a jump kick like a Spring-heeled Jack and covering at least a room in distance, or almost touching the ceiling with another jump kick. Apparently Clouseau's jumping ability is just that good.
  • In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya not only blocks an attacker's blade behind him but stabs him to death back there as well, without looking. He's just that good.
  • In David Mamet's Redbelt, one character applies a standing rear naked choke, then the other one runs up a wall and does a backflip over him to escape. Mixed Martial Arts competition does sometimes feature a "wall walk" to get out of submissions, but they're always used while grappling on the ground. Fighters who apply a rear naked choke will wrap their legs around their opponent's thighs, "getting the hooks in," to prevent their opponent from using their lower body to escape. Here's what's likely to happen in real life, from a similar situation.
  • Christian Slater in Uwe Boll's 2005 Alone in the Dark movie manages to initiate a somersault kick while lying on his back, violating several popular laws of physics in the process.
  • Kill Bill:
    • The Bride is Buried Alive in a wooden coffin and uses a one inch punch to break it. The one inch punch gets all its power from the stance and hip movement and is thus impossible to do when lying on one's back. Since the Bride had to do it over and over again, it's possible that the only help she got from her training was toughened knuckles.
    • All of the wuxia-inspired choreography is based on this trope, such as Pai Mei jumping onto a sword blade and standing on it, apparently weightless.
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme's "spinning splits jumpkick," displayed most prominently in Bloodsport, is telegraphed years in advance, and it's only the use of slow-motion and very low camera angles that make it look like a head-height attack instead of the chest-height hop it actually is.
  • In a weird variant of the trope, Tom-Yum-Goong has Tony Jaa take a full-speed/full-power meia lua de compasso from significantly heavier-looking Lateef Crowder squarely on the jaw. Suffice it to say, if you actually do that in real life you won't be waking up for a good while - and once you do, you'd probably wish you hadn't.
  • An early scene in You Don't Mess with the Zohan had Adam Sandler's character dealing with a ignorantly racist businessman in New York City. The two are standing about a foot apart the entire time. Through the use of camera shots and props, Zohan starts kicking the guy in the face, alternating between both feet, before grabbing his nose with both feet and starts twisting it. Standing perfectly eye-level with the guy the whole time. This is all for the Rule of Funny.
  • Subverted in an early scene in Ninja Cheerleaders. Some unfortunate orange-belt (a low rank in Karate) utterly fails to impress April with his backflips...and gets his arse handed to him.
  • Parodied all over the place in Kung Phooey! One particular scene has the hero blocking a series of punches with his legs in an anatomically impossible fashion. Then the camera pans back and it turns out he was using his arms, but had shoes over his hands for some reason.
  • Kung Pow! Enter the Fist isn't exactly a movie that cares about being realistic at all.
    • At one point, a character fights a baby — and the baby does a Blade Run then kicks the guy's ass.
    • At another, a character shreds a another guy's clothes into a humiliating frilly bikini, causing Defeat by Modesty.
    • At another, a character punches another guy so hard a roughly half-meter diameter perfectly round cylinder of flesh is straight up punched out of his torso, leaving him with a perfectly round hole other people can see through. In the post-credits scene, that mook is seen using his own cylinder of flesh as the weight of a meteor hammer. Even the narrator goes on a mild rant about how unlikely this is.
    • A character makes nunchucks out of gophers, and he defeats a horde of mooks by making flailing motions with his hands before emerging with all of their eyeballs impaled on his fingertips. He then imitates Bruce Lee's infamous sounds so loudly he bursts an artery.
    • All of the above happen before the halfway point of the film. By the midpoint, the silliness has risen to the level of defeating a kung-fu cow by milking it into submission.
  • The Guyver: In his introduction scene, Sean is taking Aikido class while wearing socks, the only one in his class to do so. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of martial arts will tell you this is horribly impractical as bare feet provide better balance and grip to the floor, something that you cannot do while wearing socks, as you can easily slip.
  • Kung Fu Hustle has this in spades. Between the Lion's Roar and Toad style actually making you look like a toad, it gets pretty crazy. Oh, and the landlady runs like the Roadrunner.
  • Cleopatra Jones: Master Bong Soo Han, a 9th Dan Blackbelt in Hap Ki Do, was the Martial Arts advisor for this film. It only shows in one or two scenes near the climax (the classic wristlock-spin-opponent flips 270 degrees onto his back); the rest is "judo chops" and curved-legged kicks so bad that even the editing can't make it look believable.
  • 3 Ninjas and its sequels: Rocky, Colt and Tum Tum are able to beat up several bigger and stronger adult opponents in rapid succession. Even a well trained real-life kid ninja would have trouble with attackers more numerous than them, let alone a single bigger and stronger foe. Artistic license though is taken for both Rule of Cool and Rule of Funny.
  • In Who's Harry Crumb?, Harry Crumb kicks his shoe off of his foot onto someone's head and claims to be a black belt in Aikido. This is not specifically an aikido move, as Aikido focuses on the redirection of the opponent's momentum by armlocks and wristlocks, and in fact, most of its styles don't even teach kicks. This happens to be a spur-of-the-moment decision, and does not preclude one from having earned a black belt through years of hard work and dedicated training.
  • In The Incredible Hulk (2008), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts legend Rickson Gracie shows up in a cameo as Bruce's martial arts instructor and is credited as... Aikido instructor.
  • Austin Powers makes Austin's judo skills into a Running Gag, with him frequently shouting things like "Judo Chop!" or "Judo Kick!" Naturally, he has yet to ever demonstrate a judo technique onscreen.
  • The disarming technique featured in The 5th Wave is Suicide by Cop at its finest. Even if you somehow achieved the grip without the gunner shooting you point blank, the push on the hand would only increase the chance for the gun to fire accidentally while the push on the gun would only work to keep it pointed at you, not to mention the whole move might end up with the gunner instinctively pulling the trigger on you even if he didn't actually intend to shoot. Being held at gunpoint, especially at such close quarters, is enough reason not to try anything, but seriously, do not try that move in real life.

  • Writers of Chinese kung fu epics have been doing this for decades if not longer. It also translates into the television series based on the books, one of the most popular examples being the epic "Condor Heroes."
  • In The Destroyer, Sinanju gives you superhuman strength and speed, and it might make you the hero of prophecy and the Avatar of Shiva, the Destroyer. It also lets you fall from airplanes without injury, detect snipers with the hairs on your upper arms, perform chiropracy on dinosaurs and redirect electronic signals to hack door locks.
  • In Time Scout, Author Appeal distorts the depiction of martial arts.
  • Played with in Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World when discussing the so-called martial arts secrets that obviously must exist, since every single Chop Sockey film has made use of them. The master of the main character says that there are no such things as the Inner Teachings or any such nonsense. Then he makes one up on the spot as a joke just so that the students can say they have some to other martial artists. Later the protagonist realizes that the teacher's secret teaching was legit, and proceeds to use the Ghost Palm of the Voiceless Dragon. The zig-zag moment comes when the narrative completely justifies the use of the secret: the protagonist spends some time getting his older opponent's heart rate up by forcing him to expend a lot of effort in using a hard style martial arts. Then when the opponent's heart is racing along at 190 bpm, the protagonist lays a nice solid palm strike to his sternum, causing cardiac arrest.
  • The Avenger's sidekick Nellie Grey knows jujutsu, which allows her to throw men three times her weight around like tenpins if they so much as extend an arm in her general direction.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle introduces the Adem, a culture of warrior-philosophers who practice a martial art that is so powerful that 10-year-old girls can defeat grown men. The discipline is based on an understanding of morality in addition to athletics, and because women are morally superior to men (!), women are better fighters than men. When the protagonist protests that men are typically larger and stronger, he's told that these factors don't mean much. All of this is, of course, pure fiction.
  • In the first Artemis Fowl book.Artemis asks Butler to create a distraction. Butler insults a bunch of drunken longshoremen and defeats them using flashy kicks and punches. He's purposely using such moves to make the fight last longer and to stand out more, giving Artemis his distraction. In his inner monologue, Butler cringes at some of the moves he performs, because they're so inefficient. He defeats multiple opponents mostly because they were all drunk and enraged. Lampshaded by Artemis immediately after: "Your sensei must be rolling in his grave. A spinning kick? How could you?"
  • In Goldfinger, Karate is described to be "a branch of Judo" with Chinese origins, and how there are "only three practitioners with Black Belt" in the world. True for the Chinese origins, wrong for everything else.
  • In Shadowboy, Travis admits to using overly showy moves when he has an audience, despite the act coming back to bite him frequently.
  • In Deep Six (1984), a character adopts a "judo stance" and throws several hand strikes. In real life, Judo is a grappling art, with no strikes (it does have striking in its old katas, but those are basically in disuse outside of grading exams), and it doesn't have a particular, recognizable stance (the nearest to this might be the kinds of sleeve and collar grips that can be established to grab the opponent).
  • Defied in Katanagatari; one of the Central Themes of the story is that many a Martial Arts Movie tends to show Martial Arts just as a way to obtain different superpowers. Nanami reminds us that true Martial arts seek two Simple, yet Awesome things: To teach a technique that improves the students' self-worth by patience and practice, and to give the students at the school a sense of community and pertinence. Those were the very things her Blessed with Suck incredible power denied her. That is what makes her duel a true tearjerker:
    Seventh head of Kyotouryuu, Shichika Yasuri
    Without Style nor School, Nanami Yasuri.
  • Jeff The Killer (2011) has a fight in which two teens (about 13 or so) engage in a Hollywood-style fight scene, including throwing each other around like ragdolls, pretty much no-selling multiple kicks to the face, and Jeff even killing a guy by stopping his heart with a punch to the chest.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Spanish adventure series Águila Roja, Gonzalo, the main character dresses and moves like a ninja, but his fighting style is somewhat indetermined, and doesn't resemble Ninjutsu at all.
  • The sketch-comedy Almost Live! did a long-running series of bits titled "Mind Your Manners With Billy Quan", where the eponymous guy would regularly do impossible martial arts moves, in particular his double-footed jump-kick, which could home in on its target, travel for blocks, go around corners, etc.
  • Babylon 5: Fight choreography favors a lot of spinning, particularly in Minbari and Centauri martial arts, because it looks pretty sweet.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In early seasons, Buffy's stunt double actually knew martial arts, leading to fairly realistic combat with a few exaggerations easily explained by her super strength. Later, Sarah Michelle Gellar lost so much weight that only gymnasts could fill in for her without the switch being obvious, leading to a lot more wire-fu and gymkata.
  • Charmed: Phoebe had been practising martial arts for years and combined it with her levitation ability to pull off movie-style martial arts moves. Prue also learned how to combine martial arts and her telekinesis ability to perform the same moves as Phoebe. Lampshaded once by Piper complaining that those two have become super-witches and she can't do what they're capable of doing.
  • Zig Zagged in Chuck. One confrontation with the villain of the week starts with him showing off in a series of backflips and high-acrobatic martial arts. It's justified, as his backstory includes competitive gymnastics but no actual combat, which means he's the kind of person who could do backflips and wouldn't realize it's a bad idea. So a martial arts fight is set up, but then Sarah just shoots him in the knee.
  • Although Daredevil is usually pretty good with its fight choreography, some of the fights in the first season had the titular character doing flips in the middle of a fight, seemingly just for Rule of Cool.
  • In Doctor Who the Third Doctor's Venusian Aikido pretty much counts as this (although it's not as egregious as some other examples); it seems to have mostly been designed to make Jon Pertwee look good in a cloak. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
  • Subverted in The Following. With the exception of one wonky joint lock, the series fighting is both realistic in terms of what most people would look like fighting against one another (such as the very simple yet useful Knife techniques used by Theo), to the variety of ways that they fight unarmed, from techniques taught to police on how to defend themselves when their pistol is grabbed, to weapon disarms.
  • Played entirely for laughs in the "Unagi" (Japanese for eel) episodes of Kaamelott, where the two resident dumbasses Karadoc and Perceval are forever attempting to come up with a martial art (seeing as they're no good in a fight involving swords and armor). Highlights include Karadoc attempting to break several slabs of rock barehanded (that is, he never actually gets around to it) or their contribution to the art of Improvised Weaponry such as flutes (playing a shrill sound to force the enemy to cover their ears), sausages (used as nunchucks), fennel (the trick is apparently to grab it by the round part and stab with the stem, not grab the stem and hit with the round part)... In the latter, Arthur plays along with their style for a few seconds before clocking them both out with a punch.
  • Played With on NCIS. Ziva, a former Mossad operative, frequently engages in hand-to-hand combat, and you can definitely see elements of Krav Maga in her fighting style. But it's definitely gussied up for television, as Krav Maga, at its heart, encourages one to be a Combat Pragmatist, and there's a lot of unnecessary twirls, twists, and flipping of opponents over her back or otherwise randomly dropping them to the ground without also securing them or the area.
  • The long-running Pili series from Taiwan features Kung Fu puppets with wire-fu, precision-guided swords and CG special effects. It's basically Chinese puppet theater.
  • When the Canadian science fiction channel Space still used the "Space Bar" intros to its regular "Movies From Space" segments, one character demonstrates a traditional martial arts kata of his people; it looks utterly ludicrous. The bartender asks if it actually works. The alien says it works very well; their opponents laugh long enough for them to run away. The character's people are extremely good at Obfuscating Stupidity, to the point where they're not entirely sure if their stupidity is in fact obfuscating...
  • Star Trek features a few moves of dubious authenticity.
    • The chopping blows to the base of the neck or elsewhere, sometimes remembered as "Judo chops," though Judo is a grappling art that does not allow strikes, much less strikes to the neck. The principle behind "chopping" strikes is that the "blade" of the hand has a smaller surface area, and has been recommended in a few real-world fighting systems.
    • The famous Vulcan nerve pinch, in which the base of the neck is pressed with the fingers and induces instantaneous unconciousness. Leonard Nimoy invented the move on the spot when he decided that simply clubbing an opponent with a phaser didn't seem very Spock-like. The original concept was that Spock produced a bio-electric/psychic shock through his fingertips, turning his hand into a taser. When Spock uses it in the Original Series, he simply touches the necks of his opponents. However, the move was misinterpreted as a nerve pinch, and remained this way through future incarnations of the series.
    • Kirk used a horizontal jump kick so often that when William Shatner nearly got into a Real Life fight, he realized that he was instinctively planning on using it. After a moment of consideration, he realized that flopping onto the floor at the beginning of a real fight would go very badly for him, so he walked away.
    • Hand-to-hand fight scenes in every series almost invariably feature a two-fisted hammer punch. Holding the hands together like that tends to decrease the reach of the strike as well as make it more difficult to defend oneself.
    • Subverted with the open-hand strikes that hit with the base of the palm, common in Next Generation and used by Worf and Riker in particular. It looks odd but there are actual reasons to do this in a fight, one of which is that it prevents the attacker from breaking knuckles or other bones in the finger. Also, Worf has a different skeletal structure and physiology than humans so there may be other reasons for him in particular to use that technique.
    • Klingons on the newer spin-offs tend to just hack with bat'leth swords and head-butt each other, despite Worf's claim that the elaborate tai-chi-looking moves he practices are "Klingon martial arts". This was addressed in some Extended Universe material in a way that can be summed up as, "Martial arts are for artists, this how you fight a REAL battle." Not to mention that bat'leths are highly impractical weapons, when compared to a typical sword, eliminating one of the greatest advantages of a sword - range. Trying to use a bat'leth like a normal sword would also result in the other sharp end pointing straight at your gut (not a good idea).
  • Wonder Woman (1975): In "Going, Going, Gone", Wonder Woman faces off against a real Bruce Lee Clone from The '70s. His moves were very showy breaking of boxes, screams of "Hiyahh!", high and wide kicks, and two very clear and very ineffective punches that bounced harmlessly off her amazonian abs. She finished the fight with blocking a kick which became a foot grab, which somehow resulting in him being lifted into the air in a lying down position, thrown across the dock, and knocked out. A tour de force of '70s Martial Arts Artistic License!
    Wonder Woman: [standing over the defeated Bruce Lee Clone] This really hasn't developed into a very good day, has it?

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The medium, or at least the actual matches. Even the simplest of punches is painfully slow, clear to the opponent weeks in advance and aimed at low-damaging areas, frequently the opponent's massive pecs. And that's not even considering the more ludicrous maneuvers detailed below. The reason, obviously, is that they're only trying to put on a good show, not actively trying to kill each other.
  • The Ring of Honor pro wrestling promotion had one of its early pro wrestling matches use this trope: Amazing Red brought the flips, Low Ki brought the high-impact kicks. However, ROH also occasionally subverts the trope; both Kevin Steen and Samoa Joe have countered acrobatic attacks by simply walking away rather than standing and waiting for the move to complete.
  • The Irish Whip is extremely common. It involves swinging someone around by the arm to send them sprinting across the ring, bounce off something springy, and sprint back towards you to receive a follow-up attack. While certain joint locks and such can give you control over an opponent's movement, The Irish Whip takes it to absurd levels. What's more, most wrestling rings use wire rope or cable wrapped in tape in place of a springy cushion, for budget reasons, meaning whipping someone towards them usually should be the offensive maneuver, rather than a setup (winding steel rope too tight resulted in the loss of Mick Foley's ear and Perro Aguayo Jr's life)
    • The move is supposed to need some cooperation by the opponent, who presumably is trying to use the momentum of the move against the opponent, but then it rises the question of why would a little wrestler want to try to revert-tackle a superheavyweight Wrestling Monster, which is the most common occasion.
    • It gets even weirder when it's not too uncommon to see an Irish Whip victim grip the ropes before they can be sprung back at their opponent, faking them out and likely causing a whiffed attack. Sure that makes sense... but then what about all those other times you didn't and ate a clothesline to the face?
  • "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith was charged with assault in 1993 following a bar fight, the complainant claiming that the wrestler had attacked him and powerbombed him. Part of Smith's defense was demonstrating that the powerbomb was impossible to do without the 'victim's' cooperation. The court found for the defendant, as a police officer witnessing the fight testified the man simply tripped and fell on the back his head. Oddly enough, exceptionally strong wrestlers can pull a deadlift powerbomb with much trouble (Big Van Vader being a popular example), and Mixed Martial Arts matches have occasionally seen powerbombs when one fighter is attempting a triangle choke with his legs wrapped around his opponent's head, leaving him vulnerable to slams. Rampage Jackson famously knocked out Ricardo Arona this way.
  • The Canadian Destroyer (a flip piledriver), which is borders on physically impossible (the 'victim' does all the work). This was highlighted when Kota Ibushi received a series of Canadian Destroyers from YOSHIHIKO, a blow-up doll. Even though the "victim" does do all the work in this example, there's always that one-in-a-million chance...and in the event a "Canadian destroyer" happens in a real fight with fighters not wearing headgear, well the result is pretty much the same as most worked matches.
  • Also, piledrivers are mostly fake, as, if done the way they seem to be done, they'd be mostly lethal (As these two found out), or at least crippling (an unprotected piledriver broke Stone Cold's neck). In a real fight, the piledriver, much like the power bomb, is not an offensive maneuver but a counter. These counters are rarely seen, as all but the most tenacious fighters will simply release their hold or transition into a different one rather than risk being slammed by anyone strong enough to lift them while they apply it, especially if they're about to be slammed on their head.
  • The RKO (jumping diamond cutter\ace crusher), which, despite inheriting the People's Elbow's Most Electrifying Move title, is a move where the victim does about half the work and then pretends to be out of it. Even if it was real, it'd be the kind of move that only stuns for a few seconds.
  • Performing a stunner on a hard floor might just break your opponent's neck or back. You'll probably also break your tailbone.
  • Sin Cara (the original one more successful as CMLL's Místico) had a particularly silly finishing move that basically involved doing a moonsault from the top turnbuckle and somehow dragging the opponent (in superplex position) with him(non WWE fans might know this move as "the evolution" but it's pretty rare even taking the wider industry into account). Even with fully trained, co-operative opponents there were very few wrestlers who would receive this move because of the high agility required on the part of the "victim". In real life you would most like end up falling on your head with the opponent on top of you.
  • Rey Mysterio Jr.'s 619 requires the opponent to be draped over the middle rope with his head and arms outside the ring. The presumption is they're too weak to avoid the move, but just strong enough to not slide onto the mat from their own body weight. There's also the fact that they pretty much have to get themselves into that position.
  • Any flip move like the 450 Splash. Since the point is to land on the opponent with your full body weight, the flip part adds nothing to it, actually wastes time and makes it harder to land at a distance. The only advantage of a flip or spin is if the opponent is standing, and even then only if the opponent decides to intercept the move instead of move away from it. If they do move, you just made it harder to tell where they went.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The GURPS supplement GURPS Martial Arts (being as detail-oriented and versatile as is usual with the system) divides each style into “realistic” and “cinematic” versions, the latter requiring significant expenditure of character build points on exotic training and granting access to weird and fancy moves and quasi-supernatural effects.

    Video Games 
  • Street Fighter (even discounting the Ki Manipulation) throws everything about martial arts out of the window with such impossible moves as the Hurricane Kick. Oddly enough, some of the attacks do bow to reality - if a Dragon Punch misses, you can smack the user out of the air with anything. Guile's upside-down kick gets bonus points; it breaks the laws of physics and it's not even a special move. It's like they ran out of space for the sprites, and decided to just flip an existing one vertically.
  • Virtually any Kunio-kun game. Especially River City Ransom, its "sequel", and remake. Mainly because it's both awesome and funny at the same time. Running in mid-air indefinitely is only one of the examples.
  • Double Dragon:
    • The second game was one of the earliest games with a Cyclone Kick, and it was way more effective than it realistically should have been (maybe enemies are just too impressed with your ability to briefly deny the laws of physics).
    • The 2-Player mode in Double Dragon III (in both, arcade and NES version) allows both players use a Double Cyclone Kick, the strongest attack in the game. Luckily no one ever shot you down when you tried it. The arcade version allowed any pair of characters to do it, but in the NES version only Billy and Jimmy could perform the Double Cyclone Kick together.
  • Righteous Fists, the basic attack of Unarmed Martial Arts in Champions Online, apparently consists of teleporting between several poses, striking them in mid-air. With a high enough frame rate, one can see they DON'T teleport, just change direction and momentum faster than would be humanly possible. As this is a superhero MMO, this is understandable.
  • The Martial Arts power set from City of Heroes is way too flashy to be genuinely useful, one of your most used moves is a flying spinning kick that a real fighter would see coming a mile away. Though it's probably justified- most all heroes can take bullets without flinching, so they probably don't care about leaving an opening if they can get a stronger attack from it.
  • Bujingai uses Wuxia as a motif, so this is to be expected. Apparently in the demon-infested future of Japan, martial arts will let you run up and leap off of walls, do a spinning backflip kick while Dual Wielding swords, and fly!
  • Largely averted in both Bushido Blade games where characters couldn't jump more than a foot or two vertically, sword strikes can kill you in one hit, and the few scenarios involving more than one mook opponent seriously challenge the characters.
  • Toribash has a lot of realism, but players can also remove body parts with kicks and throws, or even literally tear you to pieces, then top it off by finish the match in a flashy pose.
  • To this day, Mestre Marcelo Caveirinha, who was the mo-cap model for Eddy Gordo, gets crap from other capoeiristas over Eddy (and later Cristie) not doing the ginga right. It's not his fault, though; ginga—capoeira's distinctive guard, consisting of "swinging" back and forth from the opponent, with one arm up to guard your face—is counterintuitive for many non-capoeiristas, especially if they've also done an Asian martial art. Making a proper ginga a base for a good fighting-game move-set is even more challenging.
  • Fatal Fury's Mai Shiranui has a move that, were it to be performed in real life, would probably hurt her much more than her opponent: her musasabi no mai, which has her dive headfirst towards her opponent. She doesn't even use her head to hit, but her face. The first version of this move (back in Fatal Fury 2) was different but not much better; its sprites strongly implied that she was attacking with her ample bust (Electronic Gaming Monthly even dubbed the attack "Mai's swan dive").
  • The first strike of Ermac's X-Ray Attack in Mortal Kombat X - a headbutt to the face with enough force to break the unlucky sap's skull - should also break Ermac's own skull as well. Ermac also has a move he can perform while hovering, which involves tripping up the opponent by striking the ground. How does he strike the ground? By turning upside down and slamming his entire body onto the ground, neck first. There's even a bone-cracking sound.
  • Persona 5: Officially, Makoto knows Aikido, but her fighting style is closer to Good Old Fisticuffs. This is justified in-game by Personas granting fighting skills that their users don't otherwise have, and Makoto's got some serious repressed rage and a desire to pummel someone. The fact that she's not using Aikido but "some hardcore ass whoopin'" is even noted by Ryuji when her Persona first appears.
  • Tekken 7's new combo mechanic, "Tailspin", throws the enemy backwards onto their head when they're hit with a move that will twist them through the air (this animation has existed in previous Tekken games for other reasons as well). Thing is, if someone were able to impart enough force to twist a human body in mid-flight purely by impact, it'd probably snap their neck with horrific whiplash.

  • Subverted and Lampshaded in S.S.D.D.. Subverted in that, when Action Girl Tessa tries to use a Bruce Lee-style jumping kick in a CQC sparring-match, she gets a pair of cracked ribs for her trouble. Lampshaded in that her opponent immediately realizes that she threw the match by giving him a huge opening. Although that strip also provides an example. Taking the full force of that in a direct block would break your arms, and knock you flat on your ass.
  • In Sluggy Freelance Oasis is fond of doing unnecessary gymnastic showmanship moves while fighting people, though admittedly she saves the big poses until after she strikes a critical blow. She's also clearly superhuman, so perhaps it would really work for someone like that.
  • In El Goonish Shive, many of the moves in "Anime-Style Martial Arts" would be very hard or impossible to pull off effectively without the help of magic. When first introduced Justin describes it as:
    ... difficult, overly complex, and fairly ridiculous activities that shouldn't yield such fantastic results and yet somehow do.
  • In The God of High School, every named fighting style is this! For example, the protagonist, Jin Mori, apparently uses a form of Tae Kwan Do in which one becomes capable of generating tornadoes with a single kick to knock opponents skyward before riding said tornado to kick them back to the ground, which leaves the victim spinning on the ground unconscious but alive. Yeah... and that's without magic.

    Web Videos 
  • A short film by the ZeroGravity stunt team, "US vs HK," manages to parody it both ways by playing the same fight scene as both Hollywood and Hong Kong martial artists would do it. The US version is a Fight Scene Failure played for laughs. The HK version is awesome, played for laughs and jaw-dropping.

    Western Animation 
  • Some of the earlier fights in Teen Titans (2003) had poor choreography on Robin's part. Several times he backflips away from the enemy to kick them. Fortunately he cleaned up his act in later seasons. This might be deliberate given that every time he fought Slade (who didn't bother with flips or gymnastics at all), Slade kicked his ass.
    • May be because the show's Robin is Dick Grayson, whose parents were acrobats before they died and he got adopted by Bruce Wayne.
  • In real judo, a "throw" is any maneuver that knocks an opponent off his feet. In an episode of The Flintstones, however, Wilma used judo to throw an intruder all the way into the next room and out the door.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
    • The show couldn't have the turtles use their weapons to shed blood, so they go all out on the martial arts instead.
    • Speaking of the Turtles, Master Splinter's portion of the title sequence sees him demolishing a wooden tower by breaking individual boards with a sequence of moves while falling through it.
  • In the Double Dragon animated series, Jimmy Lee has what Billy called "deadly Shadow Moves", which one of the kids learned when he watched Jimmy practice.
  • One episode of W.I.T.C.H. (2004) has Will go into a Crane Kick pose, but not use the attack, when she and the girls race back to where they were hiding Yan Lin. Equally frustrating was the fact that, as they were running, at least one of them climbs over and jumps off a big rock, which would just use up strength needed to fight if something bad WAS happening.
  • One episode of Dexter's Laboratory had the characters learn a "free Judo lesson" that involved shrieking "AAAAAH, SHITAKE!!!" while flying through the air at the opponent.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures unashamedly did plenty of this in emulating the action of Jackie Chan's better-known movies (meaning that the action is about 20% theatrical martial arts and 80% Jackie running away from danger and hastily improvising defenses). The villainous henchman Hak Foo even takes the time to call attack names for everything from basic punches to excessive gymnastic combination attacks.

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Martial Arts