Top 5 uses of Jiu-jitsu in the Movies

If you were thinking Mel Gibson, triangle choke, Lethal Weapon or Gina Carrano and RNC in Haywire, you’re way off! No, I’m talking deep Jiu-jitsu, real Jiu-jitsu, Meta-jitsu, I’m talking Jiu-jitsu that’s so hard core, it transcends Jiu-jitsu itself. Yeah, I’m talking about the good stuff. So let’s get started.

At number 5 we have Lucifer and his play for John Constantine in the movie “Constantine”. You see, old Lou has been waiting desperately to take Constantine’s soul back to Hell with him, but in a final selfless act of sacrifice, Constantine earns his place in the pearly gates. Just as he is about to ascend to Heaven, the Devil reaches inside Constantine’s lungs and removes his terminal cancer then repairs his opened veins thus bringing Constantine back to life, giving Constantine a second chance to screw things up and giving himself another crack at his coveted prize, John Constantine’s soul.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to give something up, not to win, but to give myself a second chance to have the other guy make a mistake and screw himself up. It’s like being mounted and having a guy go for a V-Lock/Figure 4 Americana Shoulder Lock. Sometimes the only move you’ve got is to turn and give up your back just to stay alive and hopefully allow your opponent to slip up and let you back into the game. It is for this desperate but savvy maneuver that Constantine comes it at number 5 for the best use of Jiu-jitsu in the movies. No Neo, you don’t know Jiu-jitsu but Lucifer surely does.

At number 4 we have “The Hunt for Red October”. WTF you say? Yes, you heard me right, when the captain of the Russian sub hunting fleet fires on Captain Ramius of the Red October, Ramius does the unexpected. Instead of turning away from the oncoming torpedoes, he turns into them and moves to engage them at full speed. By doing so he is able to collide with them before their safeties can disengage and thus arm their explosives. This leads his foe to disable the safeties which eventually leads to his own demise.

There is so much here that merits it’s place on the top 5 list. First is the idea of closing the distance and smothering your opponent to minimize damage to oneself. This is an essential element in Jiu-jitsu. But then there’s the idea of off balancing your opponent, both physically and emotionally and allowing them to kill themselves. It is for demonstrating these key characteristics that The Hunt for Red October gets it’s spot at number 4.

And this leads us to number 3 on our list, the “The Avengers”. Here we see a perfect example of luring, and off balancing used by the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson (insert an Austin Powers purr here…). Oh and we’re not done yet. The fact that she’s a knock out is an integral part of the reason that “The Avengers” is at number 3. You see, many times, misdirection is utilized in Jiu-jitsu to grab a hold and keep a hold of your opponent’s attention. While they’re looking at the shiny, sparkling, glittery thing over here, the real threat is over there and by the time they realize it. It’s already too late.

And it is for the picture perfect execution of this concept and the Black Widow’s ability to feign weakness and vulnerability, coaxing her opponent to over commit, that “The Avengers” gets number 3 on our Top 5 uses of Jiu-jitsu in the movies.

The runner up on our Top 5 List is “Searching for Bobby Fischer”. In it, our Hero, Josh Waitzkin while competing in a highly anticipated and prestigious Chess Match, corners his opponent and offers him a truce. What happens next is not as important as was Josh’s gesture of compassion, understanding, mastery and true gamesmanship. What does any of this have to do with Jiu-jitsu you ask?

It has everything to do with Jiu-jitsu. Beginners only see the move in front of them. They are checkers players. Great players see two, three and sometimes many more moves ahead. They are Chess players. And then there are the Josh Waitzkins of the world. Players who not only see the moves that inevitably follow based on the positions of the pieces and the eventual end games they will produce, but also have the ability to see what lies off of the board or the mat as it were. These players understand how certain moves like face cranks, or the manner in which you catch a guy will effect how teammates will view him. How the way he rolls will result in the admiration of his peers, and in being the guy who everybody wants to roll with, or how they may make him the guy who people run from like a raging case of mat Herpes or that ring shaped lesion peeking out from underneath a pair of TapOut shorts. They understand the bigger game that’s at stake. Crank your instructor too many times or in a nasty way and how long do you think he will continue giving you the inside lane. I mean, let’s face it, who wants to go out of their way to make their own life more difficult and miserable to lead. Checkers players play the move in front of them. Chess players play two and three moves ahead, but still they are focused on winning a game. Josh Waitzkins are looking at having people to play games with tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that. They are interested in keeping their mentors counsel and in losing battles to win wars.

Josh Waitzkin saw what was at stake off the mat. He could see that losing this match for the boy in front of him would mean earning the disapproval of the boys father. He could see how it would destroy his self esteem and spirit and to Josh it wasn’t worth it. He didn’t need to win the game to have that sense of validation or self worth. He was bigger than the moves he made or the roll he was in with his opponent. And this is why “Searching for Bobby Fischer” is numba two.

This brings us to what you’ve all been waiting for. THE BEST USE of Jiu-jitsu in film… Drum roll please…


Oh yes! Rorschach! My favorite! I’ll just let the movie clip speak for itself.

You see, many of these clips have personal significance to me and my experience with Jiu-jitsu. And being the size of an prepubescent teen, I am always getting dominated and held down in “bad positions.” For years I learned the escapes and on players at my level and below, they worked alright. But on my seniors, my escapes only seemed to lead into deeper, murkier, more sinister waters and eventually they’d drown me… or better yet, they’d watch sadistically as I drown myself.

And then I realized that these positions, Back Mount, Mount, Across Side, Quarter position and the like were like my prisons. Every time I tried to escape, I was shot or got burned by the electric fences or entangled in the razor wire. So I decided to take a step back. I changed the way I looked at things. My prisons would no longer be what caged me in, but rather what kept the bad guys out. They would be my fortified castle, not my source of imprisonment. As Rorschach would say, “you guys just don’t get it. I’m not locked in here with you… YOU’RE LOCKED IN HERE WITH ME!!!”

You see, if they lock you in a cell, they’ve got to open it up and take you out in order to walk you down to the executioner’s chamber. That’s when I’ll make my break. In the meanwhile, I’m going to sit back in the deepest part of my cell and if anyone sticks their hands inside to tug at me… I’ma break em off.

Don’t like my list? Think you’ve got a better example or question some of my picks? Leave me your thoughts and your picks in the comments boys. The score is 1 to nuthin… come and get me.

8 replies
  1. Shane
    Shane says:

    Great post! Internalizing “the jiu-jitsu of life” is definitely one of the biggest benefits of training. I love the movie “Inception” partly because the whole premise is making the target think the thought planted in his head is his own idea.

    Another movie I think about often is “Lady in the Water.” The apartment tenants are just a bunch of “ordinary” humble people – none of them are particularly remarkable on the outside. But when they come together with a sense of community, passion, and purpose, they accomplish amazing things individually and collectively. And they help an innocent with the gifts they didn’t know they had.

    • Dr Sick
      Dr Sick says:

      I’m trying to catch the “Jiu-jitsu” in “Lady In The Water.” But “Inception” I totally see. I remember a guy at CSW Camp. He was on top of me in Half Guard and I went for a deep underhook. He countered with an attempted Darce and I let him really go for it. At the last second I switched my hips and swept him. It’s the whole, let him think that it was a good idea thing. Very cool use of Jiu-jitsu in a movie.

      • Shane
        Shane says:

        Lady in the Water is like a gym full of ordinary dudes & gals. None of them use braggadocio, ego, vanity… They all work together in seemingly humble ways and end up accomplishing something great for everyone that chooses to participate – both for the individuals and for the collective. And who knows how many people that not-so-ordinary team will go on to save, physically, spiritually, emotionally or other?

      • Dr Sick
        Dr Sick says:

        WOW! That’s definitely a fresh and previously unseen perspective. Thank you for that insight. That aspect of a greater community and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts is definitely one of my favorite aspects of training at Mushin. There are so many incredible people willing to stand out of the spotlight and yet shine all the more brightly because of it.

  2. Konrad
    Konrad says:

    “Lucky Number Slevin.” Josh Hartnett allows himself to be repeatedly captured, interrogated and ordered around by the two men he’s tryint to take revenge on for almost the entire movie. Knowing he’d never be given access to Sir Ben Kingsley or Morgan Freeman otherwise, he lets them maneuver themselves exactly where he needs them while letting them both believe that they’re completely in control. The reveal comes in the final 15 or so minutes of exposition that explains Willis’ “Kansas City Shuffle” story at the beginning of the movie. The whole thing is essentially a checkmate 20 years in the making.

  3. Konrad
    Konrad says:

    Let me know you how like it. It’s one of my favorites because it rewards you for really paying attention not just what the characters are saying, but *how* they’re saying it. It’s even more rewarding on the second watch, in my opinion. Hope you like it!

  4. Brian S
    Brian S says:

    Well written and thoughtful presentation. I just read it for the second time and got a lot more out of. These 5 examples illustrate many concepts you have been teaching. I think the maturity of Bobby Fisher may be the most difficult to master. It kind of reminds me of what one of my good friends who played guitar for a successful band that broke up said– he wished he listened to the other players more. He was so focused on himself.


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