The John Wick franchise is an action-packed assassin series, and the films incorporate many different forms of martial arts into their action sequences. John Wick first debuted in 2014, and has since grown into an extremely popular action movie franchise, even migrating to the summer movie season with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. A key element to John Wick becoming the phenomenon that it now is lies in the series elaborate and intricate action scenes.
Directed by stunt veterans Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (with Stahelski directing solo from John Wick: Chapter 2 on), the John Wick series is full of stunts and action that aren’t just breathtaking, but also a style of their own. The fight scenes in particular blend gun fu with martial arts, interweaving the two to establish a style that other assassin action movies like Atomic Blonde and Nobody have also adopted. The franchise also has many amazing martial artists on board to make its fight scenes hit hard.
Mark Dacascos, Roger Yuan, and Tiger Chen are just a handful of those who have brought their skills to the John Wick franchise, with John Wick: Chapter 4 also enlisting Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, and Marko Zaror. With so many martial artists from a diverse background of different disciplines, combined with Keanu Reeves’ own training for the series, the John Wick movies have utilized a very long list of martial arts forms in their action scenes. Here’s every martial arts discipline seen in the John Wick franchise so far.
One of the martial arts seen throughout the John Wick franchise is judo, with John himself being its primary user. Founded by Kano Jigoro, judo is well-known for its throwing techniques. John is a highly skilled judoka, and throughout the franchise often relies on various judo throws to catch his opponents off-guard. John also frequently blends his judo skills with his use of guns, throwing or sweeping an enemy to momentarily incapacitate them before putting them down with a bullet. Halle Berry’s Sofia in John Wick 3 has a very similar approach to fighting as John, blending judo throws with gunplay in the movie’s battle in Morocco.
The John Wick movies also feature heavy use of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which Keanu Reeves also trained extensively in for the role. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a grappling-oriented fighting style that primarily focuses on combat on the ground with chokes and joint manipulations, and is a staple of the MMA world. John is also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu exponent, while the first John Wick also had his enemy Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) utilizing it as her main fighting style. The gi of a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner can also be used for chokes, which is something Perkins implements with her leather jacket in her fight against John.
Karate has many different sub-schools, including but not limited to Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, and Kyokushin, the latter of which John Wick 4 star Hiroyuki Sanada is a practitioner of. Translating as “Empty Hand”, karate is a punching and kicking-oriented martial art, and was arguably made most famous in the West by Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid franchise. Though John is partial to fighting off his enemies with throwing techniques, he also uses punches and kicks drawn from karate, with several of John’s opponents also being karateka.
Tae Kwon Do
While countless martial arts teach kicking techniques, Korean Tae Kwon Do is particularly well-known for its emphasis on kicking. John faces several enemies who display skills in Tae Kwon Do, and one of the best examples of Kirill in the first John Wick, played by Daniel Bernhardt. In their nightclub encounter, Kirill is a challenging adversary for John with his swift and powerful kicks, while other assassins in the John Wick series are skilled kickers with training in Tae Kwon Do, as well.
Kali originates from the Philippines, and is heavy on combat with both sticks and knives. John is a knife fighter with deadly skills, as is his major opponent in John Wick 2, Cassian (Common). Co-fight choreographer Jonathan Eusebio explained in an interview with Maxim that kali was the basis of John’s knife fighting skills, which also extend to his ability to eliminate opponents with a pencil, a feat that is part of what fuels the legend of Baba Yaga.
Many different forms of kung fu exist, with China’s famed Shaolin Temple being regarded the cradle of kung fu for a millennium and a half. Other martial arts throughout Asia can trace their lineage to kung fu in some way, and the many different subsets of kung fu vary greatly from hard to soft in their emphasis and approach to combat. The John Wick franchise most prominently features kung fu in John Wick 3 when John encounters a gang of assassins in New York City’s Chinatown. One of them is even portrayed by Keanu Reeves’ good friend, Triple Threat star Tiger Chen, whom Reeves worked with on The Matrix films and Man of Tai Chi, while Donnie Yen’s John Wick 4 role will also inject kung fu into the series.
The Russian martial art aambo is another combat art in John’s arsenal. A fairly young martial art on the world stage, sambo was created in 1920’s by Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oschepkov. While a hybrid of different fighting techniques, sambo is closely connected to Judo with a similarly great emphasis on throwing techniques. With John’s Eastern European background (his birth name is revealed to be Jardani Jovanovich in John Wick 3), it makes sense that he has significant training in sambo alongside various other martial arts. Additionally, a scene in John Wick 3 when John meets The Director (Angelica Huston) shows a group of students in sambo training.
Born out of the Japanese pro-wrestling, shoot wrestling began as an endeavor to bring some combat authenticity to the pro-wrestling world. Shoot wrestling blends an array of different martial arts, and is now utilized by many professional MMA fighters, with a number of off-shoots like shoot boxing. Eusebio revealed in the Maxim interview that shoot wrestling was also a component of Keanu Reeves’ training to portray John Wick.
Another martial art well-known for its throws, aikido focuses on redirecting the momentum of an opponent’s attack to use their energy against them. This was a big focus of John Wick 3, with John now frequently dealing with multiple opponents. As Eusebio explained in Maxim, the fight choreography of John Wick 3 factored this in, and oriented John’s fighting style to incorporate more aikido elements. In John Wick 3, with John now a man on the run, his throws often see him taking down one enemy in such a way as to continue the energy of their attack away from him, and enabling John to immediately turn his focus to the next opponent.
John Wick 3 was where the franchise pulled in a wider range of different martial arts than ever, and brought ninjutsu into the equation with John’s Shinobi enemies led by Zero (Mark Dacascos). The ninja of feudal Japan employed a range of different stealth and espionage techniques alongside weapons and unarmed fighting. Zero’s students rely on exactly this kind of attack, surprising John from the shadows in the climactic battle in the Continental, and wielding various Japanese bladed weapons, such as the Wakizashi. Several contemporary schools also teach modernized forms of ninjutsu, including the Japanese Bujinkan Association, along with American ninjutsu teacher Stephen K. Hayes’ modern school, known as To-Shin-Do.
The Southeast Asian martial art of silat, like many martial arts, has a large number of different schools and subsets, and are often named by the region they originate from, such Malaysia’s Silat Melayu and Indonesia’s Pecak Silat. Many moviegoers in the West were familiarized with silat by The Raid movies, and fittingly, two of that series’ own stars, Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian, appear in John Wick 3 as two of Zero’s Shinobi students. Rahman and Ruhian are both genuine silat exponents, and also wield the signature silat knife known as the kerambit in their fight against John.
The John Wick series has certainly come a long way from its B-movie debut, to now being the model that action movies collectively seem eager to follow, whether in the general assassin movie concept or the series’ approach to orchestrating action. Meanwhile, the franchise’s martial arts fights remain a crucial element of its popularity with their creativity and eclectic nature. When it comes to showcasing a wide collection of different forms of martial arts, no current Hollywood action movie series, and perhaps none in the entire world, does it better than John Wick continues to.
NEXT: John Wick: Every Action Star Who Should Be At The High Table
- John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)Release date: Mar 24, 2023
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