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 Unarmed combat in fiction

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Registration date : 2007-06-27

PostSubject: Unarmed combat in fiction   Wed 17 Feb 2016, 11:14

I'd like to discuss some of the fiction books that featured some type of unarmed combat, with varying degrees of accuracy.
Although Sherlock Holmes relied on Bartitsu to defeat Professor Moriarty, while Doctor Fu Manchu was highly skilled in an obscure Tibetan system,[taught at the Rache Churan monestry] completely unknown by any Western mind, the first books to deal with unarmed combat in detail were the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. As a secret agent Bond frequently used Judo and other techniques when fighting baddies all over the world. One book started with Bond working on a manual for the British Secret Service, which took all the best unarmed combat techniques from various countries.

Without doubt the most memorable unarmed combat character was Oddjob, a Korean highly skilled in Karate. Fleming researched his books quite well. For example, his firearms expertise came from British gunwriter Geoffrey Boothroyd, who Fleming eventually introduced in one of the books as the armourer "Major Boothroyd". Similarly, he consulted a Brazilian karate enthusiast for material which became Oddjob.

Portayed quite entertainingly in the 1964 movie "Goldfinger" bt pro-wrestler Harold Sakata, who originally wrestled as "The Great Tosh Togo". Sakata had met Mas Oyama, who toured the USA on a wrestling bill, and picked up some rudimentary karate moves.
The movie Goldfinger generated quite a bit of interest in Karate, and Bobby Poynton actually joined the Red Triangle club because of Oddjob. He eventually became a senior Shotokan instructor.

Shortly after Oddjob hit the screen I started noticing posters for a book called Modesty Blaise, featuring a female main chracter. This had actually started life as a strip cartoon series, written by Peter O'Donnell, but wasn't in any papers in our area. I eventually bought the book and was hooked by the martial arts detail. Here was an author who had done his homework. Modesty was portrayed as a girl from a refugee background, who had been forced to fend for herself, alone in the aftermath of WW-2. In one scene she explains her fighting background:
"How old were you then?"
"Around twelve"
"And you'd tackle a man?"
She smiled, "It wasn't so hard. For one thing I wasn't scared. I'd had all that burned out of me a long time before. For another thing, I had the right attitude, the right frame of mind"
"Most people scare easily.They're afraid of getting hurt, even by something small,if it's fierce. So they have to work themselves up to a certain pitch before they'll fighting. Watch two men at it; there's usually a lot of words and jostling first. All preliminaries"
"True. But not with you?"
"There's a point where you're committed, and from then on it's dangerous to pussyfoot around. You have to throw the switch. Go in like a ball of fire and finish it as quick as you can"

I'm sure you'll agree that this was really good stuff, especially for the time, when most authors hadn't even heard of Karate and other martial arts. O'Donnel created another terrific character when he gave Modesty a sidekick named Willie Garvin, an ex-Foreign Legion soldier, skilled in numerous fighting systems. Modesty first encounters him fighting in a Thai-style match...

...... she recruits him, he teaches her many of his skills, and they have many adventures together......

The final series I'll mention was one Terry O'Neill introduced me to. These featured Burns Bannion, an American working as a private eye in Tokyo, and studying Judo at the Kodokan, then Karate at Takushoku University.

In terms of plot and writing style these really were "pulp fiction", but the setting and the martial arts made them worth reading for me.
Of course today writers are much more aware of the various fighting arts, and there is a whole genre of thriller based on technical accuracy. Contempoary authors such as Marcus Wynne and Barry Eisler bring personal experience to their works.
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