The Bourne trilogy made a new standard for cinematic combat. No more movies with big punches and overly karate moves. It is all about fighting to survive. As the series continues, Bourne’s extraordinary fighting style seems to develop and evolve, leaving people confused questioning the martial arts that Bourne uses.
Because of this, the Jason Bourne series has become an inspiration for other action movies like James Bond and John Wick, as stated by Nicky Naude, one of the actors in Bourne Identity.
You can watch a behind-the-scenes special of Bourne, and it will help you understand the logic behind the movie. The movie used legitimate moves, but you’d never know, which was quite intriguing.
Often in movies, directors choreograph the moves to create a mini-story within the larger one. Filmmakers care primarily about making sure the audience gets the message they’re trying to convey rather than worrying about the fighting skills on hand. Meaning it’s comparatively easy to act in one. So you must plan the fight scenes well in advance to incorporate them into your story if that is what you want.
The Jason Bourne Movies
As Matt Damon explained in Universal Pictures YouTube Channel, the fighting styles are a little of everything. The movies blend realism and stylized choreography. It demonstrates the actor’s ability as a fighter and an artist, putting Damon in fame and admiration for his high dedication to the movie.
The movie uses two principles; speed and efficiency. We can see how Bourne quickly takes his rivals down. He keeps striking and counters striking until his opponent is weak enough to make a mistake that Bourne will take advantage of.
Though I liked the Bourne movies, many Filipino Kali stuff like Palisut and Pagagi wouldn’t work as well in a life or death situation. Many Bourne movies are edited in a choppy style with very few cuts. The edits make it challenging to know when one shot ends and begins. They also wanted Matt Damon to look like he could choreograph, so most shots came from different angles.
When people watch Bourne, they’re not just seeing a realistic fight scene, but rather how cool the character is intended to be. It’s an attractive character trait, not a practical fight thing.
Suppose you want to see a real fight scene. Let the actors take it outside and fight for real. The settings would be brutal and not as appealing as those in the movies, but there are some exceptions.
It’s only a tiny part of the audience interested in knowing about the details of choreography. At least 75% or more big-time Hollywood actors don’t know anything about self-defense, so they make the fight scenes short and flashy with stunt doubles filling in. But let’s break it down for the sake of completeness of this article.
Martial Arts Used in the Movie
Before the movie-making, Matt Damon trained Filipino Kali and Jeet Kune Do for six months with Jeff Imada, a renowned Jeet Kune Do martial artist, stuntman, and actor. Besides Kali and JKD, some mention that the choreography also uses Krav Maga, although other sources say it doesn’t.
The choreography is so fast that most people cannot comprehend precisely the techniques used. It is resulting in some opinions saying that there are also Karate and Judo. Apart from those martial arts, we see Bourne uses lots of grips, elbow strikes, wrist locks, and disarms. Choreographers modified them with some new elements. One thing we can assure, The Bourne Ultimatum also adopts some features from Capoeira.
Kali also refers to other terms in Filipino Martial Arts, namely arnis and escrima (eskrima). It focuses on fighting both with and without weapons. When using weapons, you can use sticks, knives, blades, or anything around you. The moves are simple, making it distinguished for adapting well to the situations, overpowering dangers, and improvising the use of weapons when required.
Nick Powell, the fight choreographer in Bourne Identity, stated that most movies don’t show Kali, attracting the director, Doug Linen. Bourne improvises almost everything around him to be a weapon. We can see from the film he defends himself using a book and even a pen.
Jeet Kune Do
Also known as JKD, Bruce Lee founded this martial art – a well-known martial artist and actor. He set it with precise, straightforward movements and a non-classical style. JKD practitioners make sure they move concisely while at the same time optimizing the effects and making sure they do it quickly.
JKD is about the interruption, either the interruption of the opponent’s technique or his intent. Its principles are simplicity, directness, and freedom that you can apply both to actual combat as well as challenging life situations.
The fight scenes in the Bourne series always reveal how he interrupts his opponents by directly attacking their body fulcrums, such as the neck, hamstrings, or upper arms.
Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art consisting of self-defense, acrobatics, dance, and music. It was developed by the Africans who were captured by the Portuguese to be slaves in the 1500s. They used Capoeira to cover their practice for fight moves.
An expert in this martial art can be highly impactful not only because it increases one’s ability to react quickly and avoid attacks, but it also contains lots of effective kicks and trips, as well as nasty blows with head, elbow, and knees.
Bourne Ultimatum mainly uses the tricks of Capoeira in the scene where Bourne and Desh fight, such as leg sweeps and kicks. Desh even uses his remarkable flip to release him from Bourne’s wrist lock.
Krav Maga in Hebrew means “contact combat,” and it was initially developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, a Hungarian-Israeli wrestling champion. In the 1930s, when riots happened in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, Lichtenfeld and other street fighters united to protect the Jewish people.
He then became an instructor for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) when Israel was officially independent in 1948. After that, he continued to upgrade the fighting techniques during his 20 years of being an instructor. He combined styles ranging from Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, Aikido, and Karate.
Although Bourne primarily uses Kali and JKD, the principles in Krav Maga are also suitable with Bourne’s overall fighting choreographies, such as:
- Concurrent strikes and shields
- Increase physical attacks
- Continuously strike the enemy until they are weakened
- Defend proactively by prompt strike or counter strike
- Use anything around that could be used as a weapon
- Directing the strike to the weakest parts of the body, like neck or throat, face, knee, foot, fingers, liver, etc.
- Strike repeatedly
- Keep vigilant while fighting to find escape routes, use them as a defense tool, or anticipate more attackers.
- Improve muscle memory for quick response in battle
- Develop the ability of innate reaction under pressure
Jason Bourne demonstrates an efficient and agile fighting style that becomes the benchmark for other combat movies to come by combining several martial arts.
While it is not 100% Aikido or Krav, the martial arts in the Bourne series do appear to be Filipino Boxing (Panantukan)/Kali with some Jeet Kune Do. Martial arts choreography in films is rarely completely accurate.
As a choreographer, Inosanto had to distinguish between “moves for show and moves for go.” Most MA displays in movies are mostly movie-fu with an emphasis on techniques that – while impractical – look great on camera.
You can have fast cuts, but if it is not done well, the final video will turn out to be shoddy. I’m not recommending trying and learn martial arts from movies. However, people with the skill will know enough about the subject to spot something when they see it. Take this article as a reference when you want to learn about Jason Bourne’s moves.
You can find out more about Jason Bourne in the How to be Like Jason Bourne article.