top of page

The Golden Era of Martial Arts Movies

Updated: Oct 31, 2023 11 Ultimate Facts About Jean-Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport

Recently a friend, David Abdullah Muhammad aka Brotha Newz started posting vintage martial arts movie posters for an upcoming album release and reminiscing about movies that I watched as a young adult. Most of these are not what you would typically think of like Enter the Dragon. Most of them were from the 80's which I consider to be the golden age of the martial arts movie genre. You had movies like A Force of One with Chuck Norris and Bill Wallace, Blood Sport with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Above the Law with Steven Seagal. These movies had some of the biggest martial arts stars of the time and really pushed an explosion of martial arts related movies into the next decade.

David Abdullah Muhammad

Today's movies feature action stars with huge stunts, but they are generally far more related to car stunts or explosions than pure martial arts as it was in the 80's. There are still many martial arts fight scenes in certain movies but unless you were alive in the 80's or 90's you probably don't realize the number of films in the genre that were being produced at that time. I love all of the old Bruce Lee films, but what Bruce started was then expounded on by the stars of the 80's. Its not just the actors you know that were the giant stars of the time but cult classics like The Last Dragon, Best of the Best, and even Big Trouble in Little China that captured the essence of martial arts movies of the time. The reason I bring this up is that I feel like many young martial artists have started to lose touch with the people that paved the way for them not only in movies but also on the tournament side. Many young martial artists know Richard Plowden as being Avery or Morgans Dad, or the USA head of WKC, but when I was a young martial artist Richard was one of the top fighters on the planet at the time. I remember reading Sport Karate Illustrated and seeing Richard, Billy Blanks, or Steve "Nasty" Anderson being talked about all the time and wanting to emulate them. Its not just previous generations of martial artists that don't get their due at times. I had a student years ago that was talking to some others in class about a new band that she had discovered, when I finally heard the song she was talking about I had to laugh. The song was "Rock and Roll all Nite" by Kiss, when I told her that it wasn't exactly a new band and that the song was from the mid 1970's the puzzled look she gave me was classic.

The reason I think this is important is because as the Maya Angelou quote says, "you can't really know where you are going until you know where you have been". One of my many influencers and mentors over the years was Mike Stone. Mike was a legend in the early days of karate in the United States and won many of the tournaments in the 1960's. Although Mike was known by many for his days in the ring, he was probably even more famous for the company around him that included Ed Parker, Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, and Priscilla Presley. During this time-period Mike wrote some of the screen plays and acted in several of the movies of the era including Enter the Ninja and the American Ninja series to name a few. While many martial artists from my generation know who Mike is and what he has done I hope to get the younger generations of martial artists to reach back into the time vault and explore some of the roots from which they have sprung. I know that some of the younger martial artist on the circuit today do watch some old footage from previous years such as Jackson Rudolph who constantly impresses me with his knowledge of martial arts history. I was even shocked a few years ago in Tulsa, OK when I introduced myself to Bailey Murphy, who many consider one of the best point fighters today, and he actually said he felt like he already knew me from watching old NBL Super Grand videos of fights I refereed, so some of today's fighters do still study history and watch old videos.

With the explosion of the Cobra Kai on Netflix I hope that it reinvigorates the interest in movies from that era and people learn a bit more about the martial artist that paved the way for them today. So, what is your favorite martial arts movie that maybe people will know or maybe you can turn them on too?

David Clifton has refereed over 1,500 MMA, Kickboxing, and boxing matches. He has also been the center official and training official for WAKO USA, NBL Super Grands, World Sport Karate Federation, World Karate Commission (WKC), and many Naska national events.

bottom of page