This is the list that I mentioned I might write when I did my list on fictional Asian martial artists. For this, I used the following guidelines:
- Must be Caucasian. The trope of a Westerner becoming an Eastern martial art master almost always involves a white man.
- Must be explicitly established or at least heavily implied to practice some form of Eastern fighting discipline, whether real or fictional.
- Being a martial artist is a major defining quality of the character.
- No characters that equally practices Eastern and Western fighting styles (like Batman and Daredevil).
- Again, this list is only for white men who exclusively or dominantly use Eastern/Asian fighting styles, real or fictional.
Honorable Mention: SNAKE EYES
As a white man trained as a ninja, Snake Eyes was actually a top contender for this list. But since I didn’t put his rival Storm Shadow on my list for Asian martial artists, I decided to also leave him off this list in order to make room for other characters. Deserves an honorable mention though. (Besides, both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow made my list for ninjas.)
10.) FRANK DUX
I also considered Kickboxer’s Kurt Sloane, but I only have room for one Jean-Claude Van Damme character in this list, and I decided to give it to Frank Dux, hero of the cult martial arts classic Bloodsport. Dux is a U.S. Army captain who was trained in ninjutsu in his youth, and goes AWOL to participate in an illegal Mortal Kombat-esque martial arts tournament called “Kumite.”
Interestingly, there’s a real-life Frank Dux, whose unverified claims served as the inspiration for the film’s main character and premise.
9.) BILLY and JIMMY LEE
They weren’t able to crack my list on best fictional duos, but I was fond of the Double Dragon brothers. I played the game and watched the cartoon, which are significantly different from each other. In the cartoon, they are exclusively armed with swords, have “Dragon Warrior” powers, and even transform into masked superheroes. Meanwhile, the game’s Lee Brothers – the incarnation which this spot is for – are straightforwardly depicted as “street” martial artists who practice the fictional fighting style of Sōsetsuken a.k.a. Sōsaiken a.k.a. “Twin Sever Fist”, an amalgam of karate, tai chi, and Shorinji Kempo.
8.) KUNG FURY
He’s probably the most ridiculous character in this list, but definitely an entertaining one. As the eponymous character of an insanely over-the-top, 80’s-celebrating short film that involves the likes of a Transformer-esque arcade cabinet, dinosaur cops, machine gun-wielding Vikings, and a kung-fu master Hitler (“Kung Führer”), his origin as an utterly badass martial artist is fittingly absurd: he became so from being struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra at the same time!
7.) LION RAFALE
As a kid, while most were playing Tekken, I was playing Virtua Fighter 2. My favorite character was Leon; his youthful character design, kickass name, and unique fighting form mightily appealed to me. I don’t think I was aware of his backstory then, but apparently, he’s born into a wealthy French family and was trained in Tourou-ken (a.k.a. Northern Praying Mantis), a style of Shaolin Kung Fu, since he was five.
6.) JOE ARMSTRONG
Though he didn’t make the cut for my list for best fictional ninjas, there was a time when I extremely loved Joe Armstrong a.k.a. the American Ninja. As a baby, he was raised and trained by a ninja master until a bomb blast separated them, both believing the other died. Joe becomes amnesiac, but retains much of the fighting skills he had learned growing up. He gets conscripted by the U.S. Army, which coincidentally leads him to clash with a ninja criminal organization called the Black Star Order as well as reunite with his master and complete his training. Sounds ridiculous? Yep, the American Ninja movies are pretty silly and cheesy, but, again, as a kid, I really enjoyed them, especially the ones that had Michael Dudikoff’s Joe Armstrong.
5.) RON STOPPABLE
Ron Stoppable is mostly known for being Kim Possible’s inept and clumsy sidekick/best friend (and, later, boyfriend). But after being imbued by Mystical Monkey Powers, he is gifted with the instinctive knowledge of “Tai Shing Pek Kwar” a.k.a. Monkey Kung-Fu along with superhuman strength and speed. However, being untrained of it, he’s unable to have any mastery on how to manifest it at will, though he taps into it unintentionally or limitedly a couple of times throughout the series. It took until the series finale before Ron completely learned becoming an unstoppable Monkey Master.
4.) KEN MASTERS
Technique wise, Ken is basically the American version of his best friend Ryu. But personality wise, they’re polar opposites – Ryu is stoic, Ken is flamboyant. And their difference in personality types manifest in how they fight. While Ryu strictly sticks to the fundamentals of their martial art, Ken will readily take risks in executing more creative and flashier moves.
There isn’t any special reason why I like Ken. It’s just that Ryu and Ken are a “set” – if you get to like one, you’d also tend to like the other. And I do like them both.
3.) IRON FIST
After a tragic betrayal that left Danny Rand an orphan, he’s rescued by the inhabitants of the mystical city of K'un-L'un and undergoes martial arts training at the hands of Lei Kung the Thunderer. Proving his worth as Lei Kung’s pupil, he’s given the chance to obtain the power of the Iron Fist, the power to summon and focus chi. In order to do so, he has to fight and kill the dragon Shou-Lao, which he succeeds in doing. Years later, he returns back to modern civilization, takes back the fortune that is rightfully his, and adopts the superhero identity of “Iron Fist”, after the mystical power that he wields. He also notably becomes partners with Luke Cage to form Heroes for Hire.
Along with Luke Cage a.k.a. Power Man and Shang Chi a.k.a. Master of Kung Fu, Iron Fist is created by Marvel Comics in the 1970’s to capitalize on the hot pop culture trends of that time (i.e. grindhouse, blaxploitation, Hong Kong martial arts films). And just like Luke Cage and Shang Chi, Iron Fist’s relevance outgrew the era he was conceived on – even leading to him becoming part of the Avengers in the 21st century.
2.) BEATRIX KIDDO
Aside from her deadly swordsmanship, Beatrix Kiddo a.k.a. Black Mamba a.k.a. The Bride is also notable for her formidable hand-to-hand martial arts skills. Already a master of Tiger and Crane kung-fu styles, she gets trained by the legendary master Pai Mei, from whom she learns the Snake style (which includes the skill of grabbing an opponent’s eyeball) as well as the Three-Inch Punch and the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, which is said to be the most fatal strike in all of martial arts.
1.) JOHNNY CAGE
I didn’t enjoy Mortal Kombat: Annihilation like I did Mortal Kombat, not because it’s godawful (which it is), but because Johnny Cage was killed off within the first few minutes of the movie. Even until now, it still pisses me off that he was discarded unceremoniously like that.
Mortal Kombat isn’t exactly a good movie, but I’ve loved it since I saw it for the first time. It’s one of the movies that I had watched over and over again when I was younger. And even as an adult, I still find enjoyment in that movie. One of the big reasons why is its depiction of Johnny Cage, played by Linden Ashby. He was awesome in it.
I loved the character immediately as soon as he appeared on screen (the scene where he was shooting a fight scene; prior that, I had no idea he’s an actor, so it appeared as a “twist” to me), and has been one of my most favorite fictional characters ever since (ironically, this is just the first time that I was able to feature him in a list, but I got to mention him in a very old “favorite fictional characters” post). In fact, he was the reason why I was fond of wearing sunglasses when I was younger.
Ashby’s portrayal in the movie defined the character for me. And since then, in my opinion, it had been the basis of the way he’s characterized in the game.
Cage is supposed to be a parody of Hollywood martial arts actors, particularly Jean-Claude Van Damme (that’s why one of his iconic movies is the split, just like Van Damme). He personifies the full-of-himself, cocky celebrity persona, but comes off as lovable instead of obnoxious. He has such characterization because he’s intended to be the comic relief. However, he’s also a formidable fighter. And there’s something tremendously gratifying about having a character who is primarily there for laughs being able to legitimately kick butt (in the movie, Cage was the one who beat Scorpion and Goro, two dauntingly commanding villains).