Bloodsport

I saw an interesting post today in a blog I follow… Yeah, that’s right! I also read blogs; I don’t just author one. My point is, the post was about 1988’s “Bloodsport,” starring Jean-Claude van Damme. The movie is about a young boy who is on the cusp of going down the wrong path, when he is taken in by a Japanese immigrant who brought his family to the United States. He teaches him the art of ninjutsu along with his only son. When the son dies, Van Damme’s character takes over as the Japanese master’s protege and learns the martial arts to its full extent.

Years later the boy would grow into a man and join the military, only go AWOL in order to travel to Hong Kong and participate in an alleged tournament of martial artists called the Kumite, which he ends up winning. Of course. The movie is said to have been inspired by the real life events of Frank Dux. There’s a great deal of controversy surrounding Mr. Dux, and he’s been the focus of a lot of attention in recent years, especially in martial arts circles.

Mr. Dux is said to have been born in Toronto, Canada (please don’t hold that against us) and his family moved to the United States when he was very young. This is where Dux was allegedly introduced to the teacher who would teach him ninjutsu. He later went on to serve in the military. There are a lot of claims he made that don’t make sense and that people have been working to discredit. He went on to found his own style of ninjutsu, Dux-Ryu. He made a lot of bold claims about working for the CIA, winning the Kumite and even the existence of his alleged teacher has been disputed.

Despite the controversy surrounding Frank Dux, Bloodsport is still arguably one of the best 80’s martial movies out there and has stood the test of time. It came out when I was 10 years old, right around the time I decided to change the path I was on and join the martial arts. I won’t say this movie was the deciding factor, but considering my age and the fact I LOVED martial arts, it definitely played a role. And who doesn’t love a good story about the good guy winning? This movie definitely carried a number of important life lessons. When you consider the situation the young boy was in and the fact he was given a second chance, which he used to become reasonably successful by serving his country and train in the martial arts… One could do much worse.

There are a few problems with Dux’s story. For those who walk in martial arts circles, we know that ninjutsu isn’t a fighting art as it’s described in the movie. Ninjutsu was mostly developed as a means of espionage and survivalism. They trained with a number of weapons and throwing devices, but there wasn’t so much a structure fighting style associated with it. Arguably, most who have studied and practiced ninjutsu have pointed out that the practitioners didn’t go around advertising what they did or the art they studied. Some have described it as “the art of invisibility.” Not if you go around advertising it, bro!

The next problem is the name of the alleged tournament Dux participated in, the Kumite. Yeah. THAT one… I’ve been studying Okinawan karate for over three decades and I can tell you this: the word “kumite” means “grappling hands” and is a form of pre-arranged sparring that combine techniques learned through katas and structure drills. Considering the “pre-arranged” part, it isn’t something they’d use to describe a super-secret, illegal tournament held in the heart of Hong Kong…

Despite all of that, I still love the movie. Look, you can take the movie in one of two ways. You can accept that most movies are based on fantasy and enjoy the movie with grain of salt. Or you can be bitter about the fact it may be predicated on one man’s lies and boycott it. The choice is up to you. But if you want a solid 80’s action flick with lots of gratuitous fight scenes and some cheesy lessons thrown in, Bloodsport still stands on its own. ☯

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Shawn

I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

3 thoughts on “Bloodsport”

  1. I’m not sure if you were glossing over it for the sake of brevity or not, BUT Ninjitsu is actually different from Taijitsu, which is the empty hand techniques associated with ninjas. It’s actually pretty effective too. Definitely a far cry from Van Damme’s fighting style, which appears to be Japanese (it’s fairly linear), with perhaps a bit of Savate influence.

    My ex and I stopped into a Ninjitsu dojo in Atlanta once, seeking a new school after our last had closed (story of my life), and what they demonstrated is pretty close to what I’ve seen in material from Stephen K Hayes and a few other older pieces of source material. Taijitsu is quite effective and can hit hard. HOWEVER, it utilizes very deep stances since it was designed around an “attack or counter, lock / disable, throw and escape” pattern. What I saw it sacrifice in mobility, it made up for in otherwise very good body mechanics. But the overall idea of the style was disable and escape, as fit with the overall idea that ninjas were spies.

    Coincidentally, we didn’t go with that dojo because they were pretentious pricks who thought they were the only ones that understood body mechanics. That’s another rant though, lol.

    Bloodsport itself; it’s probably no more unrealistic than any other “based (VERY loosely) on a true story” movie nowadays, LOL. The only thing I can say for sure one way or another is that way back when I did do some research and “The Kokkoryukai” (sp? Black Dragon Society) is or was apparently at least based on something real. I can’t find any links now. Google buries every search nowadays behind 20 pages of the latest pop culture garbage and video game references. *sigh* There IS an American knockoff of the IFAA though.

    ALSO, Dux himself did have a cameo in the movie “Only the Strong”. When our protagonist (Mark Decascos) breaks into a auto chop shop to shut it down, the last guy he fights is a HUGE welder about the size of Hulk Hogan in his prime. Turns out the welder was Frank Dux. He was big enough where I could almost believe some of those knockout records that were claimed at the end of the movie.

    Bloodsport is not the only martial arts movie, book or instructor to reference an elite tournament in Hong Kong though. Most of the vaguely credible sources I’ve heard however claim that chinese grandmasters and muay thai practitioners dominate it.

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    1. Some of my own research from years ago led to the IFAA being an actual and real organization, as well. I know there’s a lot of bad press surrounding Dux, it probably didn’t help that he tried to sue Van Damme and got owned when he took the stand, but who’s to say what actually happened or not, unless they were there, right? Did it happen? Who knows, but it made for one hell of a fantastic movie that influenced an impressionable young boy to save his own life by stepping into the martial arts.

      I haven’t seen “Only the Strong.” Was it any good? I may have to watch it now, just to see the cameo.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Again, I’m taking it all with a grain of salt also. If you didn’t pick up the context clue, I’m very cynical about anything “based on real life”. Research usually turns out that it’s full of poop, or, as with Bloodsport, unsubstantiated. It’s probably Van Damme’s best movie though.

        Only the Strong… I like it and I think it’d appeal to you also. Basic premise is a guy returns home to Miami after serving as a Green Beret in Brazil. He picks up Capoeira from the villagers down there. He comes home and finds his former high school overrun with gang bangers and decides to fight the gang while training some of the worst kids in the school in Capoeira to develop their self-esteem and respect for each other.

        Hard to believe Mark Decascos went from movies like this to playing “The Chairman” on Iron Chef America.

        Anyway, good action and Decascos actually trained with the Santos family school in Miami which is hands down the best Capoeria school in the country. Santos is the guy he’s sparring with at the beginning and end of the movie.

        Liked by 1 person

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