THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS: Iconic Weapons in Martial Arts Movies, Including Bruce Lee’s Nunchaku, KILL BILL’s Katana, the Flying Guillotine and More!

     November 2, 2012


With RZA’s kung-fu homage, The Man with the Iron Fists, set to debut on November 2nd, we thought we’d take a look at some iconic weaponry used in martial arts films over the years.  After all, RZA’s character, the Blacksmith, makes a bunch of weapons for the warriors in the movie, but nothing stands out quite like his own iron fists.  So we’ve put together some clips of iconic weapons used in martial arts movies: some you know, some you may have heard of and some you’ve never seen before.

The Man with the Iron Fists, also starring Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Cung Le, Jamie Chung and Dave Bautista, opens November 2nd.  Hit the jump to check out the weaponry!

I’ll be upfront and say that I’ve dabbled in a number of martial arts disciplines over the years and have studied armed and unarmed combat alike.  I have tremendous respect for the people both on-screen and off who have dedicated their lives to the martial arts.  None of them need a weapon to beat their enemies silly, but it’s fun to watch them do it anyway! So while you won’t see any gopher-chuks in this article, we will aim to mix some humor in with the historical.  Let’s start with the former.

Writer/director/star Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle) broke onto the American martial arts stage with his 2001 effort, Shaolin Soccer, even though he’d been in the business in Hong Kong for quite some time prior to that.  The picture centers on a former Shaolin monk who reunites his five brothers after their master’s death and applies their martial arts skills to the game of soccer.  What follows is an iconic scene from that film, even if the weapon used is…somewhat less so.

Now that we’ve kicked that out of our system, let’s get to perhaps the most recognizable name in the world of martial arts: Bruce Lee.   The world’s first poster boy for martial arts, Bruce Lee not only founded the school of Jeet Kune Do, but paved the way for future martial artists to star on screen.   Though Lee was a Chinese American by birth, he popularized a weapon that had its roots in Japan’s Okinawan martial arts system and did more for awareness of it than any other figure (until a certain orange-bandana’d ninja turtle came along).  Here’s a look at Lee’s prowess with the nunchaku in a montage that starts with 1972’s The Chinese Connection/Fist of Fury (apologies for the terrible music):

Now if we’re talking iconic martial artists in movies, there’s no doubt that Jackie Chan is currently at the top of that list.  The problem is that Chan doesn’t have a signature weapon.  Well it’s less of a problem for him, because he’s the master at using his environment in insanely innovative ways (most recently, a bodysuit made of rollerblades).  Chan has used jackets and ties, sand bags, Dutch clogs, even chili peppers!  The guy is like the MacGuyver of martial arts weapons! Here’s a fight scene from 1996’s Jackie Chan’s First Strike in which Chan climbs the ladder of creative weaponry:

This next one might upset fans of James Bond because I didn’t include the villainous Odd Job and his steel-brimmed flying hat of death.  Even though Goldfinger pre-dated our next movie by over a decade, I think you’ll agree that the following weapon took it to the next level.  What is it you ask? Why it’s right in the film’s title! 1976’s Master of the Flying Guillotine:

Well that last one was a bit crazy so let’s tone it down with some actual legitimate martial arts weapons wielded by some well-practiced masters.  The following clip comes from one of the most recognizable martial arts films that came out of Shaw Brothers Studios, the largest of the Hong Kong movie studios, but one that lacked the star power of Golden Harvest’s Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.  While this title is a bit more obscure in the states, it definitely has a cult following.  Called equally 36th Chamber of Shaolin or The Master Killer, the 1978 film stars Chia Hui Liu as San Te, a patriot who seeks refuge from the Manchu loyalists in a Shaolin temple.  There, he trains until he masters all of their martial arts; the film is iconic for not only the secretive look into the training of Shaolin monks, but also for San Te’s inspiration to create the three-section-staff.  Have a look at the clip below:

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Now let’s take a look at the deceptively simple bo staff.  It’s basically a broom stick, right? Anyone can use it!  Wrong.  This thing in the hands of a real master is really something to be wary of.  Since it’s so common and recognizable, we have two clips to show it off: first is a completely insane final fight from 1984’s Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (see if you can spot the obvious Kill Bill inspiration):

And the other is a more humorous example from 1989’s Pedicab Driver, starring Sammo Hung:

Ready for some more crazy weapons? How about these wacky boomerang-bladed devices created only for the 1977 film, Shaolin Kung Fu Mystagogue.  The plot never actually mentions the word “mystagogue” or even explains what, or who, it is.  But there are some crazy ass blades flying around by the name of the “bloody birds.”  Check it out:

So the bad guy basically dismantled a couple blenders and used the blades as weapons? Okay… Well, getting back to legit blades.  I can’t have an iconic martial arts weapon article without a katana and since The Man with the Iron Fists just so happens to be produced by Quentin Tarantino, how about we revisit Kill Bill and the Hattori Hanzo sword?  (I could have gone with the classic 1962 tale of the blind swordsman in The Tale of Zaitoichi, but the Tarantino connection was too good to pass up.)

Now, you ask, what would happen if these weapons masters all got together and had access to a vast arsenal?  Well look no further than 1980’s The Master/Three Evil Masters.  Even their hair is a weapon in this one!

You want more fight?!  Then we’ll end things with 1982’s Legendary Weapons of China.  It happens to be the name of Wu-Tang Clan’s 2011 compilation album, so there’s your RZA connection.  It also happens to feature 18 different weapons that are iconic to Chinese martial arts, which are conveniently labeled for you during the fight (minus the voodoo doll…you’ll see).  Check it out below!

If you’re interested in learning more about the weapons outside of the movies, this National Geographic special is as good (and safe) a place as any to start.  I guarantee there are fan-favorites out there that I didn’t get to (Jean-Claude Van Damme’s glass-dipped hand wraps in Kickboxer, Pat Morita’s deadly chopsticks in The Karate Kid and Jet Li’s needle bracelet in Kiss of the Dragon come to mind).  But I wanted to bring you some weapons you may not have seen, introduced you to some films you may not have heard of and hopefully given you a deeper appreciation of martial arts in general.  I know RZA respects it.  Now go show him some love and check out The Man with the Iron Fists in theaters starting November 2nd!


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