This March, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will bring to the big screen a battle between giants not seen since Ali versus Frazier. Strip Batman of his gadgets and Superman of his alien powers and they’re two men in spandex armed with only an instinct to punch the other guy in the face.
So what kind of kung-fu do they know?
The extent of Batman’s knowledge of the martial arts is regularly debated by fans because official DC lore says jack squat. Several collected encyclopedias, like DC Comics Encyclopedia Vol. 2 and The Ultimate Guide to the Justice League of America state Batman “has spent years perfecting every known fighting discipline” and is “quite possibly the greatest martial artist alive.”
Sorry, but we have to call bullshit. Or batshit. It’s more believable that an alien can be powered by our yellow sun and defy our physical laws than it is to believe a billionaire is a master of every way of punching dudes.
We’re not dismissing Batman’s ridiculous expertise because it’s “unrealistic” — everything about Batman is unrealistic, let’s be real — but because 1) we’d be here all day if we picked apart all his knowledge and 2) no one needs that much kung-fu in their arsenal. Even Bruce Lee wasn’t a master of everything, he just took what he liked from western and eastern martial arts a la carte to make Jeet Kune Do, which prioritizes utility and convenience.
So let’s narrow Batman’s knowledge to a handful of styles that would prove useful in urban, close-quarter situations and/or are canon. So what’s he got?
It’s hard to remove fact from fiction when it comes to the ninja, but there were expert spies who killed on behalf of aristocrats in feudal Japan. Their number one tool was the art of ninjutsu. It’s real, and gives credence to Batman’s stealth and intelligence-gathering.
Though it mostly provides a bag of tricks and deception rather than functions as a combative art, ninjutsu does have its deadly uses. It was used by assassins, after all.
18 skills make up ninjutsu, from hand-to-hand combat (Taijutsu) and sword fighting (Kenjutsu), to espionage tools like stealth and escape (Intonjutsu), pyrotechnics (Kayakujutsu), and most notably for Gotham’s Dark Knight, throwing weapons techniques (Shurikenjutsu).
Filipino Martial Arts
Considered one of the most deadly forms of combat in the world, Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) uses dual-wielding knives or bamboo sticks, and it’s proven effective against sophisticated weapons.
Though the actual events are disputable, legend has it that in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan — with an army at his command — got his ass beat by a Filipino army led by Lapu-Lapu who held only sticks and primitive blades. Of course they were later conquered by the Spanish for some 400 years after that, but that’s neither here nor there.
Today, FMA is taught in militaries around the world, from the U.S. Army to the Russian Spetsnaz. It’s gotta be hardcore when Russian special-ops thinks it’s badass. As does Batman, who lends his knowledge of FMA to protege Dick Grayson, who uses FMA as Nightwing.
“The Art of Eight Limbs” is recognized for its use of elbows, knees, and shins, and it remains popular as both a sport and a lifestyle. And extremely dangerous. There’s a reason why so many professional MMA fighters utilize it: It’s effective as hell.
Is it canon? Sort of. Really should be. It’s implied among the 127 styles Batman excels at, but it’s never been explicit. Comic books’ flirtation with mid-century exoticism means Batman knows wushu and sword fighting, but, practically speaking, he’d be smart to know Muay Thai instead. Recent Batman lore like Batman: Arkham City have shown Bruce Wayne utilizing techniques from Thailand’s national sport.
Batman can do a hundred somersaults and 360 spin kicks, but what good would that do if he can’t throw a simple punch? Even Bruce Lee incorporated western boxing into his methods, for the simple reason that it’s useful.
Regular canon shows Bruce learning boxing very early on, whether his teacher was fellow superhero Wildcat (a champion heavyweight boxer) or his beloved Alfred, who has been often colored with a British military background.
Jiu-jitsu (Brazilian and Japanese)
Originating in Japan before expanding significantly in Brazil after Geo Omori opened his school in Rio de Janeiro in 1909, jiu-jitsu is recognized for its ground fighting and submissions. Also a major weapon in pro MMA, the legendary Gracie family are the known authority of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
And you can bet that Batman knows the hell out of it. Useful for non-lethal chokes and knockouts, Batman has mastered the ground game to subdue enemies or interrogate Gotham’s worst.
There’s no doubt more martial arts Batman is adept at. We could spend all day until the release of Dawn of Justice analyzing Batman’s expertise of savate, wushu, aikido, Greco-Roman wrestling, kenjutsu, silat, bitch slapping, but you get it. So, what’s Superman got?
It’s easy to guess that Superman’s titanic strength and abilities means he doesn’t rely much martial arts, and you’d mostly be right. Why kung-fu when bullets bounce right off you?
But the martial arts aren’t just about beating people up with precision. There’s a mental and emotional discipline in lifelong study, and Superman has received significant training.
He’s also been trained in traditional warfare from Wonder Woman, boxing from Wildcat (the guy has taught a lot of DC’s heroes), and strengthened his mental barriers with the Martian Manhunter. But what would a Krypton warrior be without knowing his own homegrown disciplines?
Torquasm-Rao and Torquasm-Vo
As explained in Superman’s Death Battle! against Goku from Dragon Ball Z, Superman is adept at two Kryptonian martial arts.
Torquasm-Rao trains the body to enter Theta State, allowing the user to become extremely perceptive to instinct and environment. It’s actually a real thing, but for Superman it’s like a cheat code to become even more over-powered. Torquasm-Vo, on the other hand, is a mental martial art that prevents Superman from succumbing to mind control.
Batman v. Superman will be the cinematic fight of the decade (Captain America: Civil War is more skirmish than showdown), but ultimately who will win won’t depend on who knows their kung-fu. None of that matters. It isn’t that kind of fight.
“Stay down,” Superman warns a clearly beaten Batman in the trailer. “If I wanted it, you’d be dead already.” Batman can’t be Superman, no matter what artillery he’s got. I don’t care what happened in The Dark Knight Returns, Batman could never walk away clean from a fight with Superman. And that’s not what Batman v. Superman is about.
Batman v. Superman will present a battle of identity, of proving what it means to be a man and if it matters if that man is from Earth.
So. Who ya got?