THE TOP 13… FICTIONAL MARTIAL ARTS TOURNAMENTS
From fighting for your life to fighting for a cool $10 mil to fighting for the respect of Cobra Kai, we pay tribute to all the underdogs who ended up champions…
by K. Burtt, Rachel Hyland, Jason Murdoch and Kim Sorensen
There’s just something about watching skilled exponents of a martial art going at it, mano-a-mano. And it’s even better when the battle is joined in some form of ring or cage scenario, in which there are at least a modicum of rules and where there is some form of prize up for grabs in addition to all the revenge and/or redemption we’ve come to expect from such things. Here, a look at our thirteen favorite fictional fighting tournaments. And yes, we do realize we have included not one but two Van Damme movies in this list—to be honest, we’re surprised there didn’t end up being more of them…
1. MR. HAN’S TOURNAMENT
Enter the Dragon (1973)
Prize: The winner gets to become a member of Mr. Han’s army and not die
Styles: Shaolin Kung Fu and Jeet Kune Do
PARSONS: What’s your style?
LEE: My style? You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.
Mr. Han (Shih Kien) is a ruthless criminal warlord who holds a martial arts tournament on his private island every three years, a front for his attempts to recruit promising young minions into his organization. To this tournament arrives Lee (Bruce Lee), a young Hong Kongese fighter who has been sent to the island by British Intelligence in an attempt to bring Han to justice. Throughout a series of bouts with his fellow competitors, as well as with Han’s many, many henchmen (one of whom is a young Jackie Chan!), Lee uncovers the incriminating information as well as exacting revenge on the man responsible for his sister’s death (of course!). There are also several amazing fight scenes (choreographed by Bruce Lee) featuring others, such as those between American fighter Roper (John Saxon) and Han’s sadistic sidekick Bolo (Bolo Yeung). Mr. Han’s tournament never does manage to crown a victor, but is still incredibly important because of its impact. It immortalized Bruce Lee. It was the catalyst for martial arts films in America. It has led to dozens and dozens of similarly-themed films. (Balls of Fury!) Plus, the villain had a prosthetic iron hand!
– Kim Sorensen
2. THE KUMITE
Bloodsport (1988), Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite (1996)
Prize: A ceremonial sword, but mostly honor
Styles: Almost everything including ninjitsu, kung fu, Jeet Kune Do, kickboxing, Muay Thai, etc.
CHONG LI: You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend.
In the 1980s, top fighters throughout the world were invited to participate in an underground tournament in China, called the Kumite, the main point of which was to gain honor for yourself and for your master. (Though for some, of course, it was revenge.) A form of entertainment for the wealthy, who bet on the matches like Romans at the Arena, one of the reasons the Kumite is awesome is because of all the different martial arts it showcases: karate, Ninjitsu, Muay Thai, street brawling, kickboxing, and some strange form of African monkey kung fu, among others. There is some controversy regarding the Kumite’s place on this list, since the man on whom Jean Claude Van Damme’s character is based, Frank Dux, claims that this story is real, that there is an actual underground tournament, which he was the first Westerner ever to win. But all of that doesn’t matter, because Bloodsport is an awesome movie and it launched Van Damme’s career, and in it he kicks a lot of ass because he’s the hero – it’s the only time you should put your money on him in a fight against Bolo Yeung, and that face alone makes the Kumite fictional enough.
– Kim Sorenson
3. DEAD OR ALIVE TOURNAMENT
Dead or Alive 1 – 5 (video games) and DOA: Dead or Alive (2006 movie)
Prize: $10 million
Styles: It’s the best of the best of the most buxom facing off with whatever they’ve got
KASUMI: It’s a sign.
TINA: Look little Miss Zen Master. This isn’t Karate Kid, it’s DOA… as in Dead or Alive, as in 10 million dollars…
KASUMI: You don’t understand. It’s a sign. [points to a road sign]
– DOA: Dead or Alive
This is one of the few martial arts tournaments to feature a significant number of female fighters (if any at all), and the movie version is barely about the men at all. (Neither is the beach volleyball version.) So, the best fighters in the world get an invitation – a spinning invitation! – from the mysterious DOATEC (Dead or Alive Tournament Executive Committee) to this resort paradise to face off in a knockout style tournament. In the film version, the competitors all get a wristwatch that flashes when their fight is up and tells them who their opponent is, then it’s up to them to commence ass-kickery, preferably as scantily-clad as possible. (Really, have you seen the movie’s cast?! And you’re asking why it made the list? Really? Best tournament ever. From a spectator point of view anyway.) Sure, sometimes they avenge their lost family members or, in the later games, bring down the evil corporate overlords who run the tournament, but again, it’s mostly just about hot girls kicking ass.
NB. Pro wrestling should never make it into any actual martial art tournament. Ever. Not even if you’re Brock Lesnar. [We’ll let you tell him that. – Ed.]
– Jason Murdoch
HONORABLE VIDEO GAME MENTIONS:
Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter
4. THE HSIN-PEI SCHOOL OF DEFENSE VS. SCHOOL OF MENG TUNG-SHUN
King Boxer aka Five Fingers of Death (1973)
Chinese Title: Tian xia di yi quan (天下第一拳) “Number One Fist in the World”
Prize: Honor (and, in one case, a wedding)
Style: Kung fu
HSIN-PEI: Chi-Hao, you’re an honest and level-headed youngster. You’re bound to go far. I’d like to… teach you my secret technique, known as the Iron Fist.
CHI-HAO: Thank you, sir.
In the world (the Old World) of martial arts, there have been many famed grudge matches, but few have ever been as heated as the battle between the virtuous Chi-Hao (Lieh Lo) and the villainous Tung-Shun Jr., seen in King Boxer (though it’s alternate English title, Five Fingers of Death, is far more lyrical, don’t you think?). It all started out fairly tamely, as Chi-Hao was sent to another village to study under Master Hsin Chin-Pei (Mien Fang), there to fight in the tournament for the hand of Yin-Yin (Ping Wang), his original master’s lovely daughter. But Chi-Hao’s meteoric rise in the school of Chin-Pei makes him enemies, and he must overcome all kinds of betrayal and sabotage in order to make it to the tournament, there to potentially employ his new master’s greatest, unstoppable secret, the Iron Fist. As it turns out, Chi-Hao’s much-anticipated victory in the tournament – which is barely worthy of the name; it’s essentially one school’s champion against another – means little, since most everyone ends up dead anyway and even his marriage to Yin Yin was really never in question. But King Boxer nevertheless deserves its place on the list as the first Asian martial arts movie to find a western audience, and while it has since been emphatically overshadowed (and deservedly so) by Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, out the same year, the influence of this Shaw Brothers classic cannot be overestimated. Plus, it’s always fun trying to keep all the names straight.
– Rachel Hyland
5. ALL VALLEY KARATE TOURNAMENT
The Karate Kid (1984)
Prize: A pretty sweet trophy, and Daniel LaRusso gets respect and stops getting beat up
Styles: Okinawan Karate
KREESE: Sweep the leg.
The 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament is an elimination competition that pits underdog Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), trained by the stoic Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), against the combined efforts of the bullies who have long tormented him. Daniel-san moves easily through the tournament, much to the dismay of the evil sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) from Cobra Kai dojo. (No mercy!) Kreese orders Bobby Brown (but not the Bobby Brown) to take Daniel out of the competition by almost breaking his leg, yet even that doesn’t do it, and so Daniel and head bully Johnny (William Zabka) face off in the final match. Kreese orders Johnny (in a now infamous line) to “sweep the leg”, and like a good little sociopath, he does. Yet with the power of the Crane kick, Daniel wins the tournament. The Karate Kid still holds amazing appeal even after all these years, where the good guy is harassed by the bad guys but learns to defend himself and defeat his enemies through the power of martial arts; as well, it is possibly the best translation of a martial arts film for the Western teen market. You are a liar if you say that you have never attempted a Crane kick.
– Kim Sorensen
The Quest (1996)
Prize: A golden dragon
Styles: The original Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)… my Muay Thai is stronger than your Kung Fu
CHRIS: You owe me.
LORD EDGAR: Yes, I do, Chris. And I always repay my debts. What do you want?
CHRIS: The Golden Dragon.
LORD EDGAR: The Golden what?
CHRIS: The Golden Dragon in the Lost City.
LORD EDGAR: Lost City?
CHRIS: The best fighters will meet to compete in secret for the big dragon made of sun gold.
LORD EDGAR: Sun gold? You think you can win?
Take Bloodsport, make it eight years later, have Van Damme write and direct it, move it to Tibet, set it in the past, have our hero sold into slavery by Roger Moore… and you have The Quest. The scenes are freakishly awesome, but since we’re talking about the tournament, go read the Kumite entry then come back here and read the next word: ditto.
– Jason Murdoch
HONORABLE VAN DAMME MENTION: Wrong Bet
7. WORLD MARTIAL ARTS TOURNAMENT
Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT (1984-1996)
Prize: 500,000-10,000,000 Zeni and the title of World Martial Arts Champion
Styles: Karate, Kung Fu, Alien Karate, Turtle Hermit-Style
GOKU: It would be meaningless to fight with you now. You’re too scared and ashamed. Live with the shock. Keep it bottled up inside you. Silently.
The World Martial Arts Tournament originally took place every five years, though this changed to every three years after the 21st World Tournament. The tournament features Earth’s strongest fighters, as well as the regular participation of those brave souls in search of the seven mystical Dragon Balls, later known as the Z Fighters. The tournament has two parts: the preliminaries and the main event, although this changed significantly in the later tournaments. The eight preliminary winners, one of each group, move on to the actual tournament. The participants fight in pairs, with the order of the fights decided by each participant taking a random number from a box, leading to some of the Tournament’s best matches, such as those between Goku and Piccolo (Goku being the badass hero that he is of course wins) and the one between Goku and Chi Chi (who entered the tournament because Goku had promised to marry her when they were children).What makes the tournament awesome is what makes the show awesome, the amazing characters and the things they can do. It has aliens! In fact, Goku, the main hero, is an alien. The opponents can fly, and some can blow up cars, islands, and planets. Not to mention that the longest running champion is named Mr. Satan, who becomes hero of the world.
– Kim Sorensen
8. TEAM USA VS. TEAM KOREA
Best of the Best (1989)
Prize: National pride
Styles: Karate, Tae Kwan Do
COACH COUZO: You’ve worked very hard. All of you. You’ve grown, as athletes and individuals. You’ve learnt a lot. We’ve ALL learned a lot. As Miss Wade would say; a teacher also learns from his students. Today, you have the chance to be the greatest martial artists in the world. It’s up to you. If you give everything you’ve got, EVERYTHING, you’ll be winners. That I promise you. You can be the best of the best.
The movie says that this tournament is a big deal, held once every three years, the winners going on to fame and glory. And yet it’s just a tournament between five guys from the US and five guys from South Korea. That’s it. And the US team only had three months to train and prepare, before which, most of their fighters weren’t much good. What kind of “big deal” tournament is this?! You have to wonder if it’s really just a front for some kind of spy operation. You know it’s a possibility. And why is the US team called the “US National Karate Team” when the tournament is obviously for Tae Kwan Do? Still, with how the US team performs against the heavily-favored South Koreans, it is an effort to cheer for, thus giving this otherwise suspicious event a place on this list.
– K. Burtt
Prize: Prize – A shiny $5 mil
BRENDAN: I know this isn’t a great time. And it’s too bad about Marco. But what about me?
FRANK: You talking about Sparta? Brendan, please. You got a better chance of starting a boy band.
Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s an MMA tournament. Surely if the UFC or Pride or some other large MMA organization drove a dump truck of money up to the producers’ doors and asked them to call the tournament “UFC” then that’s what it would have been called. But apparently this didn’t happen, so Sparta it is. Like the UFC events of old, this whole event occurs over a couple of nights, with competitors fighting in a knockout-style comp where they face multiple opponents in a single night, carrying the exhaustion, injuries and fatigue into the next match. (And sometimes going up against their estranged brothers, while their reformed abusive fathers look on tearfully.) Fun times.
– Jason Murdoch
10. QUEST FOR THE DRAGON STAR
WMAC Masters (1995 – 1997)
Prize: The Dragon Star trophy, and acclaim as the “Best Martial Artist in the World”
Style: Many assorted styles, everything from kickboxing to Wushu
SHANNON LEE: You’re looking at Mike “Turbo” Bernado, wondering just how long he’ll remain the reigning Dragon Star champion. Hi everyone, I’m Shannon Lee, and welcome everyone to an ultra-exciting WMAC Masters. Competing today: Herb Perez, “Olympus”, who’s just one Ki Symbol short of a full Dragonbelt…
– “Brothers in Arms” (01.02)… and yes, that’s Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce, sister of Brandon
This would have to be the most intricate and involved of all martial arts tournaments, fictional or non-. Held by the World Martial Arts Council, there were preliminary rounds. There were melee rounds, in which competitors faced off against a bunch of ninjas as well as each other. (What’s the plural noun for ninjas anyway? A silence of ninjas? A freaking awesome of ninjas?) And then after all of that there was the Battledome final, in which the two victors of their respective Battlezone bouts faced off in an electrified cage – press your opponent to its sides and they get a nasty shock – in order to win the other’s “Ki Symbol”. Once a competitor had attained ten Ki Symbols from his opponents, he could then challenge for the Dragon Star, with these master bouts held atop a rotating pedestal and policed by yet more ninjas. There were also Super Challenges and 4-Man Battledome Finals (though, yes, there were a few female WMAC competitors added in after a while), as well as tests of skill and strength such as breaking blocks of ice with only a fist. After all of this, the ultimate champion – be they Tsunami or Star Warrior or The Machine or any one of dozens of other American Gladiators-style sobriquets – surely had earned their new (though probably temporary) status as the “Best Martial Artist in the World”. It was hard enough just to understand the rules. Not to mention absorb all the life lessons! Martial artists are deep, yo.
– Rachel Hyland
11. INTERNATIONAL FIGHT ASSOCIATION TOURNAMENT
Prize: A belt. It’s red.
Style: MMA, but really the film is all about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
ROBERTS: Mike, tell him what’s the best weapon in the world.
MIKE: The best weapon in the world is a flashlight.
ROBERTS: Tell him why.
MIKE: So you can look deep into the other guy’s eyes.
The cool thing about this here tournament is that it’s your usual MMA style event – with a twist. The fighters of each match have to pick a marble; if they draw the black one, they fight with a handicap (like having 1 hand tied behind their back). Sure the gimmick was stolen from our hero, and is all interwoven in the plot and stuff, but that’s pretty ballsy. Realistically, the guys fighting in the UFC and stuff are tough… like REALLY tough… but to sign up to an event where you might have to fight wearing a blindfold, or something else wacky… Nuts. Stupid. Completely unrealistic. YAY FOR MOVIES!! (Also, yay for Chiwetel Ejiofor – The Operative from Serenity, among much else – for manning up and coming through with the win, in the hallway of all places. No wonder Mal had such trouble with him.)
– Jason Murdoch
12. WORLD ROBOT BOXING LEAGUE
Real Steel (2011)
Prize: Money, the title of World Champion, and the occasional side bet
Style: Boxing. Robot boxing
MAX: So what do we do?
CHARLIE: We fight smart, be patient and pray. Seriously, pray!
When Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie came out, there was a review that said it should have been called Giant Robot Punch On. That’s wrong. THIS movie should have been called Giant Robot Punch On. Also the tournament should have been called Giant Robot Punch On. In fact, there is not enough in this movie with the name “Giant Robot Punch On”. It’s like Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots, but bigger, and more awesome, and seriously, they’re robots, and they’re boxing!! FREAKING WIN!!! That’s pretty much the crux of it… you take the wonders of technology, you use this to build the biggest, nastiest mechanical dude, you cram two of them into a ring, and then you let them go to town on each other. (Perhaps simultaneously bonding with your long-neglected son, and proving that old technology can defeat new if only it has heart.) And you thought Robot Wars was good; that was just the BBC. GIANT ROBOT PUNCH ON!!!!!
– Jason Murdoch
13. CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH
Celebrity Deathmatch (1998-2002, 2006-2007), MTV
Prize: The Celebrity Deathmatch Championship Belt
Styles: Primarily wrestling, but anything goes, really – up to and including assorted heavy weaponry, help from outside forces, and the spectacularly gruesome deaths of innocent spectators
MILLS LANE: Let’s get it on!
– Every episode
In order to compete in the Celebrity Deathmatch ring, you need only two attributes: 1) you must be at least a little bit famous and 2) you must have a natural enemy—at least tangentially. Some of the most compelling showdowns over the years have included bouts between David Letterman and Jay Leno (which left both talk show hosts dead), Jack Black vs. Jack White (Black died from enforced hipster fashion), and the tag team duel of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson vs. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith (resulting in a deserved victory for The X-Files). There was even a Jackie Chan vs. Jean-Claude Van Damme face-off, which resulted in the dismemberment of both Van Damme and, in a twist, Chuck Norris. Commentated by the ever-dapper Johnny Gomez (Maurice Schlafer, Jim Thornton) and the troubled Nick Diamond (Len Maxwell, Chris Edgerly), and refereed by the markedly lenient Mills Lane, as himself (“I’ll allow it”), each fight was bloody, filled with punny quips and pseudo-trash talk, and very, very ironic. Also, it’s possible that no fight will ever again give us the sheer joyful insanity of Mahatma Gandhi, brought into the future and imbued with the spirit of his opponent, viciously crushing Genghis Khan. But the undisputed champion of CDM? Marilyn Manson, who has taken out, either separately or together, Charles Manson, Hanson, the Spice Girls, Garth Brooks and Ricky Martin. (Manson also wrote a Grammy-nominated song based on the show, “Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes”, and even voiced himself. Twice.) All this, and it’s claymation, too. As Johnny Gomez always says: “Good fight, good night!”
– Rachel Hyland
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Circle of Iron, The Tournament, Pit Fighter, Never Back Down, American Shaolin, Bloodfist, Death Warrior, Brawler, Arena, that episode of Angel with the underground battling demons and that episode of La Femme Nikita with the underground slave girl fights.
Why The Top 13?
Sure, there’s Saturn 3, Babylon 5, Blake’s 7 and District 9. But what number could be geekier than 13? Not only is there its inherent creepiness, but there’s also The 13th Immortal, The 13th Warrior and The 13th Floor. There’s spooky gore-fest Friday the 13th and those plucky, kick-ass comic book kids, Gen13. There’s Warehouse 13, The X-Files‘ oft-referenced 1013, and the 13 tribes of Kobol. Plus, the Munsters lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. So, we at Geek Speak Magazine bring you the Top 13 of… well, whatever strikes our fancy.
Just be glad we didn’t elect to go with The Top 1701…
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