Keysi: The Martial Art Of Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ Movies

Here at Bloody Elbow I think it's important to not only recognise but cultivate the connection between Mixed Martial Arts and popular culture. It's…

By: KJ Gould | 11 years ago
Keysi: The Martial Art Of Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ Movies
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Here at Bloody Elbow I think it’s important to not only recognise but cultivate the connection between Mixed Martial Arts and popular culture. It’s no secret that ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘ is the most anticipated film of this summer, and in this week of its release will be one of the most searched for keyword strings for additional information and media online. Rather than seeing it as just an opportunity to bring more eyeballs to your favourite combat sports blog, it’s a chance to switch on new people to the sport of MMA, and so contribute to its future growth and success.

One of Christopher Nolan’s main ambitions in this movie series has been to ground his Batman stories in realism; that given the right circumstances, resources and intelligence, it’s possible for the caped crusader to exist and succeed in our present day world. His costume, gadgets and vehicles had to be believable, but more importantly his fighting ability had to be convincing and authentic.

Enter the Keysi Fighting Method. Introduced to Nolan and the crew in the production of Batman Begins, Keysi was developed by two of the stuntmen that worked on the film: Justo Dieguez and Andy Norman.

Related Content:

BAM! POW! ZAP! Holy MMA, Batman! The Martial Arts of the Dark Knight – Part 1 | Part 2

On the official KFM website, it’s claimed both men came from a tough upbringing with a combination of street fighting and military special forces experience shaping what would become KFM when the two men crossed paths and developed it together. No mention is made of any formal training in the martial arts, instead its suggested they learned what worked for them from real life experiences as well as studying other arts by researching the good and the bad of each.

They key concept of Keysi — which means ‘from the heart’ — appears to be movement and protecting your head and body with your arms, in case you’re attacked by multiple people. Instead of spending time on a lot of techniques, KFM’s goal is to teach you how to react correctly yet instinctively, and use parts of your body (elbows, hammerfists, the cranium) that are durable both offensively and defensively compared to parts of your body that might be prone to breaking more easily (like the hands) or sacrificing your base standing (there don’t appear to be any kick or knee attacks as far as I can tell).

KFM also claims it shows how to attack and defend from all ranges, including projectile weapon range which makes it sound like it’s in the similar vein of Krav Maga. It’s quick to point out it’s not a martial art sport, though at the same time has a colour belt system not dissimilar to a lot of the Gi based martial arts of the world (and yet is not a kimono based system itself). KFM maintains it’s designed with ‘the street’ in mind.

The theory makes sense in that when multiple assailants attack, they’ll likely crowd into you and all try to hit you and perhaps knock you down to continue the battery on the floor. However whenever any ‘style’ makes claims of it being for the street and capable of dealing with multiple opponents, you always have to take a step back and make sure it’s not devolving into the realm of fantasy. The best self defense (or self preservation) in my opinion has always been learning how to identify and avoid conflict, and when it comes to our Fight or Flight instincts, the latter should be exercised whenever possible, where the former should only be exercised when the latter truly isn’t an option. Even then the goal of a fight in such a scenario is to survive until an opening can be found or created to make your escape.

Interestingly despite Keysi’s assertion of not being a martial sport and having the street in mind (language that often repeats itself on their site more than in this article, I promise), they have an MMA program, although with no fighters of note within it. It can be argued it’s early days for Keysi which unsurprisingly only seemed to surface at the time of the first Nolan Batman film (their website goes back to 2004, Batman Begins came out in 2005), but proof of any fighting style comes through competition, rather than the sole experience of its two founders, as interesting as they allege it to be.

Using the trademark ‘Pensador’ defense and use of hammerfists and elbows, Andy Norman demonstrates a form of ground’n’pound on a compliant Uke. This aspect seems quite gimmicky and makes some fundamental mistakes of fighting on the ground, including Norman crossing center line during a strike (exposing himself to a back take from any reasonable BJJ player) and his fairly passive Uke not looking to control posture or fight for a grip. There may be some ideas here that could spawn legitimate strategies in MMA, but if this video is any indication KFM is more likely to teach you bad habits on the ground that would be easily exploited.

Here Justo Dieguez demonstrates the KFM in action against an opponent where there’s a wall involved. I’ve decided to look at these because of the use of the cage fence in MMA to see if there are any applications that can transfer over:

In the first video Dieguez reacts when his attacker tries to clinch the back of his head and dirty box him, and ends up using his elbows to strike and beat the opponent up against the wall. It’s unlikely outside of the lowest levels of MMA that anyone would reach and over extend themselves that badly to grab the back or your head, let alone telegraph the follow up punch in such a wide, looping arc, although that’s more believable from an untrained aggressor, which tends to be the focus in possible scenarios KFM addresses.

The second video shows a nice looking escape off the wall when you’re forced up against it, but the end sequence almost borders on the ridiculous. Dieguez turns his back to his opponent, and uses his back to wedge him against the wall. This in itself isn’t so bad if you factor Dieguez does so to keep an eye out for any other attackers, but the following move is just nonsensical. Dieguez picks up his attacker’s leg from around the mid-shin level and elbows him in the foot. Not only do you have virtually no leverage trying to pick up the leg like that from mid-shin level, there’s just no point to elbowing someone in the foot like that as it’s unlikely to do any destructive damage.

Keysi Fighting Method is a different take and flavor for the choreography of the recent Batman movies, but seems highly dubious in its sole application within MMA. The grappling aspect has huge gaping holes, while the striking aspect might have its use as an exercise to maintain balance and stability when you’re being blasted in the pocket and covering up against the fence. But anytime you have a high guard like the one in Keysi to protect your head, you’re going to effect your field of vision no matter how much you keep moving it.

Protecting your head and using your elbows to break out of clinch range seems OK, but if you’re at punching range against a good Boxer he’ll use your limited vision as an opportunity to angle off to a blind spot and pick you apart especially if you drop your hands to see where he’s moved to.

KFM has interesting elements but doesn’t offer anything revolutionary. The close quarter aspect of Muay Thai and Boxing within clinch fighting has had more proven success in MMA where you’re utilising elbows and short punches, and you’re not temporarily blinding yourself as much either. On the ground it’s still all about a blend of Wrestling, BJJ and strikes that will make fighting there successful.

As it stands, KFM may be best left to Hollywood Blockbusters, rather than be sought as a viable alternative for what we know works inside the cage.

Share this story

About the author
Bloody Elbow Podcast
Related Stories