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. ☯