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Martial Arts for Mundane Purposes

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A highly-trained martial artist, usually an Old Master, occasionally a Ninja or other Eastern-flavor warrior, uses their fighting skills for a mundane, non-combat task.

Martial arts, especially traditional ones, are ideas and philosophies that are used in combat practices; they turn "beating people up" into an "art form", so to speak. From people in the olden days who saw actual battle, they derive thoughts and philosophies from their way of fighting which then manifest into a set of techniques to be practiced and taught to people.

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Nowadays especially, martial arts schools will also teach the philosophies related to the martial arts that they teach, and how they could be applied to your normal life. Particularly true with martial arts that end in "-do" (such as Kendo, Aikido etc) as it means "path", or coloquially "way of life". That way, martial arts are like a "religion" that shapes one's way of thinking; some martial arts (notably Shaolin Kungfu) also use philosophies from actual religions, as well.

Thus this stands to form that martial arts can be used in other aspects of life - apparently, not just the philosophy part, but also the techniques/fighting part as well. A swordsman might use the ability to cut things to cook, and the ability to break boards in half might be useful for construction work.

Subtrope of Mundane Utility. Not to be confused with Martial Arts and Crafts, which is about treating mundane skills as martial arts, and Wax On, Wax Off, which is about using chores as a method to teach martial arts. See also Improbable Sports Skills, where sports skills are treated similarly to fighting techniques by the narrative.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple:
    • Jujitsu master Koetsuji Akisame normally keeps to standard techniques, but when up against a speed-sculpting Russian Sambo master, he responded in kind. Martial arts sculpture battle, anyone?
    • Turns out that Kii Kagerou's unearthly iaijutsu skill translates well into ploughing fields. Who knew?
  • In Samurai Champloo, some of the best swordsmen in Japan use their skills... to play baseball. Subverted when Mugen tries to use his breakdance fighting skills to pitch... and throws foul ball after foul ball after foul ball.
  • Love Hina has an episode where Mokoto and Kaolla are, in one scene, using Mokoto's sword skills to make statues out of logs so people will pay for the "show". Mokoto lampshades this by noting how the sacred art that was passed to her by her family has been reduced to cheap entertainment.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
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    Films — Animation 
  • Parodied by Kung Fu Panda's "Martial Arts Picking Up a Dumpling with Chopsticks" training scene. And in the holiday special, the Furious Five and Po use their mastery of kung fu to... cook and serve a fancy dinner.
  • In Kubo and the Two Strings, Monkey chops fish with her sword in mid-air, resulting in a perfect dish of Sashimi. Watch the scene here.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Long Kiss Goodnight, the protagonist become really good in the kitchen shortly after a car-crash. She thinks her memories are starting to return after six years of amnesia, and that her great skill with knives mean she used to be a chef. She's right about the first part.
  • Shaolin Soccer is centered on this trope. Stephen Chow's character believes that martial arts can be used for every day tasks. To promote the usefulness of kung fu, his ragtag group of former shaolin monks use their kung fu superpowers to play soccer. We also see kung fu used to trim trees, park cars, and fetch objects from high shelves. Tai Chi is also used to cook.
  • Stephen Chow's earlier film God of Cookery featured Shaolin-style cooking, complete with an over-the-top martial arts contest.
  • In Hero, one's skill in swordsmanship directly crosses over into skill at calligraphy. Nameless studies Broken Sword's calligraphy to get a better impression of his warrior skills. This is actually a reference to some Samurai beliefs — the way you hold a brush and the way you hold a sword have a symbolic relationship.
  • In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon one of the protagonists comments on the princess' calligraphy skills, comparing it to swordplay. She tries to act dumb, but her secret is clearly out. Tiny anvils begin to rain as she goes on to comment on how her name looks like "sword".
  • In Kung Fu Dunk, the main characters uses a special martial arts technique in the finals of a basketball game to travel through time in order to make the winning basket. In the same vein, his Masters from Kung Fu School show up to play after the most of his team is incapacitated by the opposing one. Projectile weapons are thrown, over-the-top slow motion is used and pressure points are hit.
  • Kung Fu Hustle, made by the same team as Shaolin Soccer, has this in droves; because the theme of the movie is ordinary-looking people turning out to be kung-fu masters, we typically see the "mundane" use before their true abilities are revealed to the viewer. The strong, silent Coolie who carries heavy loads for people uses his super-strong legs for kicking. The doughnut-maker who uses long poles to knead the dough is a master with spears and bow-staffs. The tailor uses heavy rings to both hang up his wares and wears them on his arms in combat. The Landlord who's constantly being beaten up by his wife can secretly deflect and withstand heavy blows. The Landlady who's always yelling and roaring at everyone has an outright sonic scream.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Leo puts his swords by slicing up a pizza and distributing the slices to the plates. The last one ends up falling on Splinter's head.
  • Return to the 36th Chamber (a continuation to The36th Chamberof Shaolin) has the hero kicking the Big Bad and his entire crew with Kung Fu Scaffolding Construction skills (he was kicked out of the Shaolin Temple for apparently slacking off on his test to become trained in kung fu (said scaffolding making), but it's not quite unsubtly implied that the abbot gave him a Secret Test of Character which he passed).

    Literature 
  • Doehring Cowart, in Coiling Dragon, instructs Linley in the Straight Chisel School of stonesculpting. Earth-style magi can sense and understand the essence of the stone in order to carve fine details without needing more precise tools. Besides producing sculptures worth large amounts of money, this technique also acts as training for the magus's spiritual essence.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Saturday Night Live. In the early years of the show, one of John Belushi's standard sketches involved a samurai warrior using his sword skills. One specific sketch was "Samurai Delicatessen", where he used his katana to cut up food items such as meats.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Parodied in Ninja Burger, where characters use their ninja skills for fast food delivery, losing honor if they're seen or late. Their slogan? "Guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes or less, or we commit seppuku!"

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • In The Order of the Stick, a waitress, upon sneaking up on her customers and startling one, admits that she's waiting tables to pay for ninja school.

     Western Animation 
  • In Futurama, Leela's martial arts are applied in grossly inappropriate situations; she has even been known to shout "HI YA!!" when unplugging a refrigerator.
  • In the first episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, the turtles walk through the "ninja district" of the city and, after finding their original destination (Ninja Pizza), see signs for Ninja-run dry cleaning, shoe repair, video rentals and dentists. At said Ninja Pizza, the food is thrown like shuriken at the customers (and either you catch it or it ends up all over you).
    [a ninja throws a dagger with a piece of paper at the Turtles' table, landing smack in the middle; Raphael picks it up]
    Leonardo: What is it, a threatening note?
    Raphael: Worse than that... it's the check!
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In one episode, it is revealed that SpongeBob is nigh-obsessed with karate, driving his boss Krabs to nearly fire him from his frycook job due to the fact this obsession is interfering with his work... until he realizes that SpongeBob's karate can also be used to mass-produce burgers and to put on a very entertaining show for customers.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: There's this one guy in "The Desert" who uses his dual dao swords to prepare soft drinks.
  • One episode of The Simpsons sees Bart getting a job at a Thai restaurant and gaining ninja-like skills... in order to slip fliers for the restaurant onto people's doors before they can stop him.

    Real Life 
  • The ubiquitous "dragon dance" seen at Chinese New Year festivals — and in many movies — is actually a form of Kung Fu.
  • Tai Chi is a martial art in its own right, but nowadays is pretty much only used as meditation, often by older people who have no intention of fighting anyone. The version most people think of is a very slowed down version meant to teach the motions until muscle memory sets in. The full-speed version is a Combat Pragmatist fighting style that involves lots of dirty tricks, like throwing sand in your opponent's eyes and heavy use of Groin Attack.
  • A 10-people building deconstruction firm in New York specialized in doing their job with Karate.

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