Someone like Shang-Chi comes along, having honed some formidable fight skills from a young age, and suddenly you’re like, “Wait, the Avengers actually have a breadth of incredible fighters on the team and now here’s this dude, who is gonna bolster their offense immeasurably.” Right? And never mind any superhero powers that might go along with plain old regular Avenging.
Well, it got us thinking about how one of us mere mortals might take on an Avenger and not wind up like tenderized steak in the process. ‘Cos you never know if one day you might end up having beef with one of them. And as the MCU is at pains to point out these days — we’re going to paraphrase Loki here — no one is completely good or bad. That includes us, by the way; we’re not necessarily saying we’re the good guys here. Maybe we started out evil, or we’ll turn evil or make a bad choice, or perhaps the same could happen to one of Earth’s mightiest heroes – it’s been known to. What we’re saying is, in case CIRCUMSTANCES, we might need to beat up an Avenger and it would be good to go in with a strategy to increase our chances of winning.
So, with that in mind, we consulted a real-life fight expert – Shifu Julian Dale of the UK’s Eagle Claw Kung Fu School – to give us some tips on how to beat up an Avenger. We looked closely at the fight styles of Black Widow, Black Panther, and Spider-Man as practitioners of some prominent martial arts, analysed their approaches, and looked for weaknesses to exploit. The tips we’ve collated, however, should help you against whichever opponent you face. We, of course, assume that you are already a master of the martial arts so please do bear that in mind as you read this guide. If you’re not, please be aware that you may need to get cracking with some lessons before facing off against an Avenger.
Oh, and we also got Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings director Destin Daniel Cretton, and actor Meng-er Zhang who plays the awesome Xialing, to weigh in on how they think Shang-Chi and Xialing would fare against an Avenger of their choice.
Analysing Us Some Avengers
In the knowledge that movie fights are shot and cut for the camera to convey specific effects, and that creative teams consequently take a lot of liberties with traditional fight styles, it wasn’t easy to pin down the traditional styles the Avengers employ. But first, let’s identify what we’re working with.
“Movie Fu is definitely not what it was back in the heyday of Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers [movies] where there were very clearly definable Kung Fu styles that you can differentiate between,” says Shifu Dale. “What we’ve got now is an eclectic mix of skills that look great on camera [with] high impact, very fast cuts and close-ups that only showcase certain things.
“So I watched the Black Widow stuff. She’s done a lot of Jujitsu and Judo. She’s done some Thai boxing, some Taekwondo, and some Wu-Shu. So, with that eclectic mix — you’ve got kicks, punches, elbows, knees, armbars, joint locks, and throwing — really what you’re seeing in the movies is more akin to MMA, Mixed Martial Arts. It’s not clear definable styles. So, the Black Widow stuff is an eclectic mix of Jujitsu, Judo, Thai boxing, Taekwondo, and some Wu-Shu.”
“I think Shang-Chi and Cap would be a fun fight to watch. It’s hard to imagine anybody kicking Cap’s butt and because Shang-Chi probably respects him so much he probably wouldn’t, but that’d be a good fight.” — Director Destin Daniel Cretton imagining Shang-Chi and Captain America facing off minus their superpowers
What about Spider-Man and Black Panther?
“If you look at Spider-Man’s stuff, his is a lot of Capoeira,” says Dale. “And a lot of Parkour, the kind of jumps and tricks [he does], and what have you, with some punchy stuff in there. Then, if you go on to Black Panther, they’ve tried to include some African martial arts stuff. He’s done some Wu-Shu, and some Taekwondo, and he’s learned some of the Fu-Jow Tiger Claw System — because of his claws on his suit.
“The other Chinese discipline that they’ve all been learning is Wu-Shu. And Wu-Shu is the modern competition performing martial arts that’s spread right across China. So with that in mind, again, Black Panther’s is a very eclectic mix. It’s MMA, it’s loads of stuff put together. Stylized for movies. It’s Movie Fu — it’s not this, it’s not that. Not Kung Fu but Movie Fu.”
Quite the tally of martial arts to master, then, if you’re hoping to equip yourself to best random Avengers at any given moment. Indeed, agrees Shifu Dale.
“You have to have developed a very well-rounded skill set yourself and just be better at your methods than theirs. You just have to be a better fighter; have a better, stronger strategy that you apply to defeat your opponent.”
Target Their Strengths
It’s as easy as that? Shifu Dale says, “I mean, for Spider-Man, you just wear a Teflon suit so his web doesn’t stick and bug-spray him. And for fighting Iron Man, you just need to have some kind of tech of your own that delivers an EMP pulse that short circuits his suit and then just go Meccano on his ass and take him apart.”
“Yeah, because that’s the only way you’re going to defeat somebody like Iron Man — is by disabling his special unique powers,” says Dale. “I think Iron Man had his plate full when he was fighting Thanos who was just this intergalactic behemoth. But for us normal mortals, those are the kinds of things that you could use against them.”
Got it. Mental note to add tech wizardry to the old skillset. So how does Shifu Dale look for weaknesses when he’s fighting an opponent (Avenger or otherwise) and exploit them?
“If you’re fighting somebody who is a very good boxer, you have to disable their legs. You have to damage and injure their legs, so they can’t step and move around, and then apply your skill from there. If you fight a very good kicker, like [in] Taekwondo, you have to get inside of their legs, as well as damage them, and use joint locks and throws. A kicker, you want to be close and use striking, locking, and throwing. A boxer, you want to disable and damage their leg, their ability to step. And then again, use throws. So those are the kind of things. If you fight somebody who’s very strong and powerful, you can’t meet force-on-force. So you have to use more evasive techniques and striking vulnerable areas against a very strong person.”
Which basically means you have to create the weaknesses. Got it.
Footwerk It, Baby
These are techniques that would be effective against most of the Avengers, and certainly the characters that we’re focused on in this article – Black Widow, Black Panther, and Spider-Man.
“There’s an old Chinese saying, that footwork opens the doors for the hands to enter. What that means is you have to use effective stepping to both go in, and evade your opponent, and create angles at which you can strike. So a lot of it is about footwork and body positioning,” says Shifu Dale.
“To counter a kicker, damage their legs, getting close enough that they can’t use their kicking [abilities]. Fight somebody who’s good with their fists, damage their legs, and get in close, where you can throw and control them, like [in] Jujitsu. A heavy, strong opponent, you have to use more evasive skills and strike vulnerable areas and break things in your strikes. So if you’re fighting somebody who’s a grappler, you have to know how to use evasive footwork so that they can’t get in close and grapple with you.”
Winter Soldier, watch out. Specifically for Black Widow, Shifu Dale says, you’re going to have to break bones.
“For Black Widow, you have to break her. Because she uses a lot of Thai boxing and she uses Jujitsu and she uses Taekwondo kicking, you have to break joints with either locks and/or impacting, so you strike joints and bones to disable the arms. So a snake is only dangerous with its fangs. If you take the fangs out, then the snake is not deadly anymore, you know: it becomes snake soup. So, the way to disable [Natasha Romanoff’s] ability, which is very light and quick, is to damage her joints and bones so she can’t apply those skills.”
Breaking out the Weapons
If you’re thinking you can’t wait to put these newfound tips into practice on an Avenger, firstly you should probably be on a watch list, but secondly, we’d ask you to stop for a moment and consider weapons. If Shifu Dale found himself going up against Black Panther and he pulled out his bladed claws, what weapon from one of the disciplines he’s versed in would he use against him?
“Good question. The thing with Black Panther is, he wants to get in close. Because his claws are only dangerous if they’re close,” says Dale. “So I’d use a twin weapon: double broadswords. Double broadswords so you can continue to cut and slash and block. Double broadswords. That’s what I’d apply to Black Panther.”
Nice choice. And this would presumably keep him at a distance so he couldn’t get his claws in close?
“Yeah, and chop his hands off,” adds Dale.
Chop his what off?
“Chop his hands off.”
I think he’s saying knees.
“Well, those as well,” says Dale.
“A double broadsword is like a continually whirling set of slashing blades,” he explains. “So anything that’s coming in, these blades are continually cutting, either blocking or chopping, cutting. So it’s like you’re trying to get past two whirling blades all the time. And with Black Panther’s skills, he needs to be close to apply those claws. So with two continually whirling and twirling, cutting, two-foot long blades it’s going to be difficult for him.”
Psyche Them Out
So that’s Black Panther disabled. This is getting fun. Are there any psychological approaches you could take, like mind games or other ways of playing with the mental side of things?
“Psychology — your eyes should look like a tiger rushing down a mountain,” says Dale. “Your eyes must be very bright, and full of spirit and energy. And very sharp; very clear and very sharp. In terms of psychology, don’t be obvious in what you’re doing. And constantly change. Constantly change.”
Shifu Dale says this is a strategy that would work against any Avenger opponent.
“You should never be fixed in your strategy, and [be] flexible. So if you have two opponents that are evenly matched in terms of strength, skill, and ability, the one with a more flexible mind and a more flexible strategy is the one that will win. To be open to change, and adapt on the hoof, so to speak.”
“I want to see Shang-Chi fight my favorite superhero, Ant-Man. I want to put them in a ring. Awkwafina [who plays Katy in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings] told me that she would love to see me [as Xialing] fight Groot. I mean, Groot is so cute. Maybe I just let him win, you know?” — Shang-Chi actor Meng’er Zhang on the MCU fight she wants to see, and one which her character might actually throw
So is there a way of using Spider-Man’s penchant for talking during fights against him?
“Yeah, you could use his liking for talking by creating a diversion in his attention and flipping his narrative and dialogue,” says Dale. “You can use that as a strategy — he likes to talk. Then play verbal chess with him.”
We’ve got these Avengers whupped. Questions pretty much exhausted, I ask Shifu Dale if he has any final words of advice to dispense. Let what he says forever remain imprinted on your souls.
“In terms of martial arts, there’s a saying that we should be iron wrapped in silk. So, soft as silk on the outside and hard as iron on the inside. And that is a life strategy as well. You know, we should be soft and flexible through life, but have emotional resilience to things that come at us, and strength. You’ve got to have a backbone on the front as well as the back.”
Go forth and conquer, people.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits screens on September 3, 2021.
Shifu Julian Dale is a Kung Fu Master with some 36 years training and practice of Chinese Martial arts. He specialises in the Eagle Claw Kung Fu Style from Northern China as well as Taichi Quan and Qi Gong. His unique journey of travels through Hong Kong and China have led him to be the first and only accepted westerner as a family disciple in the renowned Eagle Claw system at its birthplace in Northern China. Shifu Dale teaches and runs a full-time Eagle Claw Kung Fu School in the UK where he helps others learn the arts of Kung Fu, Taichi & Qi Gong.
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