There are worse ways to spend a mildly hungover Sunday afternoon than watching Kill Arman in its entirety. The series features our man Arman, a tailor and party boy who for reasons not gone into (presumably shits and giggles, which is reason enough for me) goes around the world getting eight colours of snot beaten out of him by genius practitioners of deadly fighting. He goes to South Korea, China, Japan, England, Cambodia, and a few other joints to enjoy his face-pummeling, and while I don’t envy the brain-kicking he routinely enjoys, everything else maintains a nice level of vicarious enjoyment. But aside from watching a comparatively tubby man getting punched to custard every few days and being physically humiliated by five year-olds hourly, there are thoughts to be provoked here.
Extreme Martial Arts were developed in nations with a combination of economic, environmental, and political brutality, combined with harsh authoritarian rule. While sometimes the social structures that birthed these fighting style shave themselves withered and decayed, they present the interesting flip-side to our current prevailing libertarian western idiom. If you are willing to submit to doing exactly what someone else says from a young age, and follow a rigid set of rules your entire life, you can achieve extraordinary things. Our mindset suggests this may not be worth the implied loss of free-will, that whatever super human feats your body may be coaxed into are not worth the resulting lack of individual identity.
Indeed a social system that neglects orphans and poor children so thoroughly that their best option for survival is to enter a temple and be hit with sticks for fifteen years (but good sticks), could scarcely be considered amazing. Except that those kids can do amazing things, while those of us with happy childhoods are barely able to jog for our seat on an air-conditioned train. It is true any human being could be capable of the grueling physical development of young Shaolin students, but it is the centuries of method and study that have made this possible. And those centuries of method are characterised by a startling disregard for human life and the poor.
Also, breaking bars of iron with your head seven hours a day and running up and down mountains doesn’t leave a lot of time for your reading and writing and arithmetic and you know, fun.
The modern western martial art Arman learns is street warfare in America. This is ghetto-defence, another example of poverty and generally horrible ways of life resulting in being able to beat people up almost supernaturally. You could say it’s an argument for terrible lifestyles. Do we need one of those?
The rigidity of the structure of these Martial Arts is feared not just by us squishy whiteys, but also by the actual ruling systems of the countries they come from. Recognising the danger of groups of people single-mindedly dedicated to anything, many of these arts have been almost wiped out. The Shaolin School Arman visits has been forcibly moved from it’s temple by the communists and put it a rather hideous ‘modern’ concrete cell block. It is allowed to exist, but largely because Shaolin is now a source of national cultural pride. Bokator in Cambodia was almost completely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, and all Martial Arts were banned. The ones that continued to thrive were similarly adopted by the state either as a display art, or a genuine military tactic. OR, they were entertaining as hell to watch, such as Boxing (which as a war weapon is pretty stupid, what with it’s gentlemanly rules and purely incidental killing blows). Frankly, the actual killing arts are considerably more respectful of the human form than Boxing. It’s like they just threw Boxing in there to embarrass Europe, and fair enough.
All in all, Arman doesn’t get very good at fighting. He doesn’t wind up hospitalised either, which is apparently only because the masters are pulling their punches. This is a noble code to live by, but if there’s one appetite this series whets without satisfying, it’s bloodlust. I kind of just want to see two Okinawa Karate masters beating the living hell out of each other. This is entertaining, a little superficial, and features a bunch of extremely decent tussles. Get amongst it.