I Know Kung Fu

I Know Kung Fu
Stepping Into the Ring

Marshal D. Carper | 23 Mar 2010 12:32
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He shot a takedown as soon as the referee stepped away. I pulled him into my guard and baited him into a sweep. As I rolled into mount, I trapped his arm. I leaned back for the arm bar, and he panicked. He frantically attempted move after move, escape after escape, reversal after reversal, but I had it locked. I felt his elbow joint grinding against itself as I hyper-extended his arm. I glanced at the referee, expecting him to call the fight, but he didn't. A moment later, I felt the arm snap, splintering like a sapling.

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This incident didn't occur in a videogame - I really broke my opponent's arm in my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match. I've competed (and lost) many times since then, and I have witnessed very few matches as grisly as my first. For casual martial arts fans, however, experiencing the sport via videogames is an enjoyable alternative, and the mystique surrounding martial arts has become an abundant source of inspiration for game developers.

From Eddy Gordo's Capoeira in Tekken to BJ Penn's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in UFC Undisputed, it's easy to see how martial arts play a significant role in videogames. What you might not realize, however, is that videogames do not simply draw upon martial arts for inspiration; they give back by exposing new audiences to the sport and providing martial artists with new ways of thinking about their craft. The relationship is symbiotic, and it has continued to evolve as videogames have established themselves as an important part of our culture.

Fighting games, as one might expect, rely upon martial arts more than any other genre, and they've been doing so long before Eddy Gordo ever hit the scene. According to the "Fighting Games" installment of G4's Game Makers, the first fighting game was Victronics' 1979 title Warrior, "which featured vector graphics of two knights fighting over an overlay with a top-down perspective." Given the relative popularity of multi-user-dungeons (MUDs) at the time, which were largely based on the rules, mechanics and lore of Dungeons & Dragons, it's not much of a surprise that the first fighting game featured swordplay rather than Kung Fu or Karate.

It didn't take long for the Karate Kid generation to take over, though. Activision released Boxing for the Atari 2600 in 1980, Data East released Karate Champ in 1984 and Konami released Yie-Ar Kung Fu in 1985. But the nascent genre truly began to mature when Street Fighter, released in 1987, showcased the potential of fighting games by tapping the diversity of martial arts in order to give individual characters different styles and personalities. Ryu used Karate. Sagat was a Muay Thai kickboxer. Geki practiced Ninjutsu. Retsu practiced Kempo. Birdie incorporated wrestling into his boxing.

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