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

Co-written with Thomas Nash. With the upcoming release of the third and final film in Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy,The Dark Knight Rises, we thought…

By: John S. Nash | 11 years ago
BAM! POW! ZAP! Holy MMA Batman! The Martial Arts of the Dark Knight – Part 2
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Co-written with Thomas Nash.

With the upcoming release of the third and final film in Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy,The Dark Knight Rises, we thought it would be interesting to examine the fighting skills of the Caped Crusader, specifically the martial arts that his creators, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, chose to give him in those early tales and why they would prove useful to a crime-fighter in Gotham City. In the previous installment of our series, we took a look at his boxing skills. This time, we will look at the other “core” martial art that Batman uses: jiu-jitsu.

Along with boxing, jiu-jitsu was one of the first martial arts to ever be identified as being used by Batman, being mentioned by name in Detective Comics #36 (1940), where he uses an “old jiu-jitsu trick” to escape from beneath the villainous Prof. Hugo Strange. But even before it is ever named, it was revealed that Batman was well versed in various throws and submission holds which so happened to bare an uncanny resemblance to the ones found in the “Gentle Art. Having established that he knows jiu-jitsu, the question then becomes “what do we mean when we say ‘Jiu-jitsu’“? At that time the name was very much a blanket term for all the different schools of Japanese jacket wrestling, and was synonymous with jujitsu, jujutsu and even judo. In 1939, when Batman first appeared, judo, while still viewed as a somewhat exotic martial art, had proven effective enough with its throws and holds that not only could schools and instructors be found all across the United States, but it was even being taught by and to some police forces for use in disarming and apprehending suspects. Such a martial art would have not only caught the eye of Bruce Wayne, but also Kane and Finger.

That is not to say that Batman didn’t study another school of jiu-jitsu outside of judo. During his world traveling days it is seems likely that not only would have he spent time at the Kodokan itself, but that he also educated himself in a few of the other schools of jiu-jitsu, such as Shinden Fudo Ryū, Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū and Aki-Jitsu or possibly even spending time in Brazil to learn under Carlos, Helio, or George Gracie. But the style most familiar to the authors, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, would have been Kodokan judo and it seem most likely that the jiu-jitsu presented by Batman is this.

As we discussed in part 1, Batman prefers to stay out of the reach of his opponent, using his boxing skills to attack and finish them before they ever have a chance to grapple or counterstrike themselves. Sometime though he is forced to engage at extremely close ranges and at such times he depends on his jiu jitsu skills. In this regard, his use of his two primary disciplines is very similar to what Jean-Joseph Renaud suggested when he wrote his 1910 self-defense manual La Défense Dans La Rue,”Jiu-jitsu is the art of defence in the clinch, boxing is the art of avoiding the clinch, of repulsing the adversary with the foot or the fist.”


So of what use is jiu-jitsu to Batman? To get a better idea I asked a few Bloody Elbow team members who are a little more knowledgeable than I in the grappling arts what their thoughts were on the benefits the Japanese martial art offered the Caped Crusader.

The first to respond was TP Grant, who offered the following:

Jiu Jitsu would offer Batman chokes to quickly and quietly put bad guys to sleep. Dominant positions and “arresting holds” for controlling suspects. Escapes, sweeps and hip mobility for when he finds himself in bad situations on his back… Also standing grappling techniques useful in groups. Wrist grab escapes, counters to direct attackers into each other. Oh and of course joint locks to take bad guys out of commission quickly.

Ben Thapa, elaborated even further:

Of course, he’s going to be using concepts taken from jiu jitsu and wrestling (and not just the Brazilian version). Throws most commonly seen in judo would end fights. Takedowns would be immensely changed and more dangerous due to the angles and speed that the Batman can come from. I think Brazilian jiu jitsu would have to be somewhat modified for Batman to employ, but it would be a key component of his combat style. The Dark Knight strikes from the shadows and foments chaos whenever he can — so he can pick off bad guys at his leisure.

Batman is not going to be able to do a regular “mata leao” RNC with the spikes protruding from his glove, he’s going to have to do the short choke (as Anderson Silva did on Dan Henderson). He’s not going to be doing the usual progressions from guard to half guard to side control to mount to armbar. He’s just going to blast the bad guy in the face, stand up, break the guard and continue to use his mobility and skills to cause chaos. The hammerlock Shinya Aoki put on Mizuto Hirota would be used all the time – a thug with a shattered shoulder isn’t going to be doing anything dangerous for a while…Power guillotines like Scott Jorgensen pulled on Chad George would be splenderiffic for Batman, as he doesn’t want to kill anyone — just maim them or put them to sleep.

Looking at Batman’s earliest stories, we see that Grant and Thapa’s analysis is proven correct, for numerous times he is seen using his jiu-jitsu as they suggest above.

As Thapa pointed out, one of the obvious advantages of judo/jiu-jitsu is the throws. What a throw does for Batman is instantly grants some space between him and his opponent, puts them at the disadvantageous position of being off their feet, and, more often than not, possibly knocked out or seriously injured when they hit the ground. While in matches opponents land on mats, in a street fight Batman’s enemies will usually find themselves instead landing on wood floors, hard concrete or even being hurled off building ledges. In such situations a uchi-mata, kataguruma, osotogari, or an ippon seoi nage (as demonstrated here by both Kano Jigoro and Batman) can be a quick and devastating way to take an adversary out. And even if his opponents are not completely incapacitated when they are hurled to the ground, they will at the very least be disoriented and stunned, allowing Batman time to follow up with another attack.

Even more impressive is Batman’s is the ability to combine his throws with submission holds. That he is able to apply both in conjunction, and in the middle of a life or death fight no less, attests to the world-class skill level he possesses. Here he is performing some sort of nage-waza while simultaneously applying a Kansetsu-waza:

Batman’s knowledge of judo/jiu-jitsu would also have defensive uses for him as well. Judokas are trained in breaking free of grips and holds, which would help prevent Batman from being held and occupied by one opponent while others move against him. It would also train him to be able to keep his balance and avoid being taken down. Combine this with his skill at throws and trips, in most situations such as this Batman could quickly escape from grips or clinches, allowing him to create space so he can return to using his boxing.

Batman has successfully demonstrated such techniques in many of his early stories. Often against charging opponents he will use a tomoe nage to catch the attacker by suprise. Here is a example of the technique as shown in Frederick P. Lowell’s manual “Jiu-Jitsu”, which was publish in 1942, only a few years after Batman was introduced.

And now here we see Batman perfectly executing a double leg tomoe nage :

Another defense technique commonly performed by Batman is known as a ushiro kata dori in aikido (none of us could remember the name in jiu-jisu) which is used when attacked from behind. A illustration of its being exhibited can be found in Lowell’s Jiu-Jitsu”. And here is Batman successfully using the same technique:

It should be mentioned that while Batman is rarely seen involved in ground-fighting, that doesn’t necessarily mean he lacks skills in newaza. If anything, it shows just how good of grappler he is by the fact he is very rarely put in such a position, and even then for only a short time. As seen here when finds himself in a terrible position against Hugo Strange –

– only to quickly reverse it using what is referred to as a “jiu-jitsu trick”.

And while Batman might never be seen in the guard position, that of course doesn’t necessarily mean he has no skill fighting off his back. With someone as well trained as him, I think it would be safe to assume that he has studied to prepare himself in case of such a contigency (especially if he spent any time in Brazil training with a certain family).

Jiu-jitsu also supplies a number of self-defense techniques to be used against armed opponents (techniques which have been incorporated into other martial arts such as krav maga). With every hoodlum carrying a gat or blade, Batman will no doubt find knowledge of such maneuvers as the tsukkate, choku-zuki, naname-zuki, shomen-zuke, doshi-gamae and haimen-zuke to be very beneficial (even Sam Spade found the haimen-zuke useful).

The “Judo-throw” seen here is the last stages of a furiage being used on a woman foolish enough to attack him with a fire-poker.

Batman has also demonstrated a very effective knowledge in shime-waza. In his very first recorded fight, in Detective Comic #29, he puts a “headlock” on a thug that renders him incapacitated. At the time the term “headlock” was synonymous with choke holds used in professional wrestling, so it’s easy to understand how it could have been misidentified. As we can see, the one applied by Batman greatly resembles a standing choke as demonstrated in Earl Liederman’s 1923 manual “The Science of Wrestling and the Art of Jiu Jitsu”.

Other chokes and stranglehold are also commonly used by Batman. Several times during his earliest adventures, Batman was seen using a okuri eri jime or similar type of “rear naked chokes”. Since their effectiveness is limited when engaging a gang of toughs, Batman instead uses them as a means to silently eliminate unsuspecting criminals, applying and rendering unconcious his foes before they usually even have time to react let alone raise an alarm.

Additional note: In the three examples provided here it is difficult to determine exactly what type of stranglehold he is using since we can not be certain if what we are seeing is the choke or strangle hold in progress, or his arm moving in to apply it or pulling away after successful having done so. It is also interesting to see Batman only using one arm. By doing so he leaves the the other free to restrain his opponents arm if they attempt to use or draw a gun or knife. In case of the “Policeman”, Batman’s unseen arm could very well be covering his holster to prevent him from drawing his weapon.

(Ben Thepa also raised an interesting possibility with regards to Batman’s costume, and how it could easily have been modified to aid his grappling: “the costume Batman wears could be modified to make the chokes even more effective, with ridged forearms and perhaps a ridge on the biceps allowing the faster, stronger compression of the carotids”. )

Now that we have covered his principal striking and grappling styles – boxing and jiu-jitsu – in Part 3 we will tackle the other disciplines he uses – including, but not limited to, gymnastics, fencing, wrestling and savate – and how he combines them all to help make Batman a complete mixed martial artist. So tune in same Bat-Channel, same Bat-Time…


All art by Bob Kane unless otherwise noted.

Detective Comics No. 36, “Professor Hugo Strange”

Batman Vol. 1 No. 260, “This One Will Kill You.” Penciller Irv Novac, inker Dick Giordano.

Detective Comics #35, Untitled

Detective Comics #42, “The Case of the Prophetic Pictures”

Detective Comics No. 36, “Professor Hugo Strange”

Batman Vol. 1 No. 235, “Swamp Sinister.” Penciller Irv Novac, inker Dick Giordano.

Detective Comics No. 27,”The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”

Detective Comics No. 43, “The Case of the City of Terror”

Detective Comics No. 48, “The Mystery of the Secret Cavern”

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John S. Nash
John S. Nash

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