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It’s almost the holidays! With days off from work and school, you’re probably looking at a bit of extra free time – so why not use it to binge-watch some martial arts TV shows? :D
There's more to martial arts television than UFC pay-per-view matches and Bellator MMA bouts on EPSN. From "Kung Fu" to "Cobra Kai," the martial arts provide a rich backdrop for drama, comedy, and everything in between. From cartoons to classics, here are four of the best martial arts TV shows to grace the small screen — all of which you can stream right now.
If that intro doesn't make you want to watch the whole series right now, I don't know what will.
If you were a kid at the dawn of the 21st century, there's a good chance that you spent your Saturday mornings parked in front of "Jackie Chan Adventures." This animated series features — spoiler alert — Jackie Chan and his adventures.
Like many martial arts-based TV shows, "Jackie Chan Adventures" incorporates the use of supernatural and magical items, including talismans. In fact, it’s a talisman that initially ropes fictional Jackie, a mild-mannered university employee, into the battle between the Dark Hand, a demonic crime syndicate, and Section 13, the top-secret organization trying to bring the Dark Hand down.
For Jackie, fighting crime is a family affair. He's joined by Jade, his 12-year-old niece from Hong Kong; Uncle Chan, his mystic, catchphrase-spouting uncle; and a 485-pound sumo fighter named Tohru who Jackie lures away from the Dark Hand with the promise of donuts, as one does.
(Editor's note: This was, quite possibly, my favorite show as a child. My parents probably have a couple VHS tapes of recorded episodes, somewhere…wow I feel old now.)
YouTube Premium's critically acclaimed and widely adored "Cobra Kai" is essentially "Karate Kid: Where Are They Now?" The series picks up 34 years after Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) first made the move from Jersey to Los Angeles and met Mr. Miyagi. The twist? This update focuses on Daniel's blonde-haired nemesis, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who decides to reopen the Cobra Kai dojo in an attempt to get his life back on track.
Daniel's still around, of course, and he's still at odds with Johnny. While Johnny's down and out, Daniel owns a successful car dealership. He also fills the wise teacher role formerly held by the late, great Miyagi, as Daniel mentors Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), a young man who works on his lot — and who also happens to be Johnny's estranged son. Sweep the emotional leg!
TBH, Daredevil is the most impressive/intimidatingly powerful superhero to me, not only because I ran into the wall the last time I tried to walk to my (studio apartment) kitchen in the dark, but also because I have no concept of how legal proceedings work.
This popular Netflix series stars Charlie Cox as Daredevil, the vigilante alter ego of blind Hell's Kitchen lawyer Matt Murdock. Along with "The Punisher," it's one of several Marvel Comics entries into the world of martial arts television.
What sets "Daredevil" apart is the main character's inner turmoil. As both an attorney and a practicing Catholic, the fact that Murdock spends each night donning a red suit, blurring the line between moral and immoral (not to mention legal and illegal), and using violence as needed is something that weighs heavily on him.
"Daredevil" costars Deborah Ann Woll as mysterious love interest Karen Page and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Murdock's law partner and BFF.
What do you get when you cross the Old West with a Shaolin monk who's also a martial arts expert and five members of the Carradine acting dynasty? You get "Kung Fu." This is a classic martial arts show that many people will point to when asked, “What inspired you to start training?”
David Carradine stars in this cult favorite as Kwai Chang Caine, a half-American, half-Chinese orphan who's forced to flee China for American in the mid-1800s after avenging the murder of his mentor, Master Po (Keye Luke). Caine's attempts to disappear in America are repeatedly thwarted by his sense of responsibility to do what's right; he just can't help but stick up for the little guy. This means Caine's constantly on the move as he tries to abandon the attention garnered by his moral fortitude and martial arts expertise.
Central to "Kung Fu" are flashbacks that spotlight Caine's upbringing at the monastery and his rigorous training under Master Po and Master Chen Ming Kan (Philip Ahn). Much like "Jackie Chan Adventures," the show is a family affair. Young Caine is portrayed by David Carradine's brother Keith in these flashbacks. Their father John and brothers Robert and Bruce also have multi-episode arcs on the show— although, sadly, none play a donut-loving sumo warrior.
These four martial arts TV shows exemplify the practice's uniqueness as a setting for compelling television narratives. "Cobra Kai" filters a lifelong feud through comedy and drama, for example, while simultaneously brewing brand-new tensions. Both "Daredevil" and "Kung Fu" weave intricate stories from the moral complexities involved in being a skilled fighter. "Jackie Chan Adventures" has a magical pig talisman that grants the user the power of heat beam eyes (Editor's note: YAAAAAS). In other words, martial arts television truly holds something for everyone!
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