Martial Arts

The Top 11 Training Montages in Martial Arts Movie History


Last year I put in the hard research and came up with the Top 7 Kicks in Martial Arts Movie History. That countdown was full of face crunching footwork, so I decided it was time for another list.

This time I’m upping the ante and listing not just the best kick, but the best martial arts training montages of all time. That’s no mean feat as there are some epic sequences to consider.

martial arts movie training sequence montage

As I began my research this time around I decided to create a series of criteria upon which to grade each montage. This helped me in ranking them and deciding which ones would make the cut and which wouldn’t. Here is a quick description of each criteria I used (this works on a 5 star system, * as the poorest grade and ***** as the best):

  • Training Intensity: How hard is the trainee working? 1 star means things aren’t too intense, 5 stars means I broke out in a sweat just watching.
  • Campiness: Does the scene hit all the heartstrings that make montages a classic piece of cinema corniness? 1 star is not at all campy, 5 stars is deliciously so.
  • Music Awesomeness: Part of a successful montage is epic music that makes you want to run out your door and do situps. 1 star is not too inspiring, 5 stars is chest poundingly awesome.
  • Montage Purity: How closely does the scene follow montage format? A good montage will show many cutscenes of the protagonist first struggling, then growing, and finally demonstrating super skills. 1 star means it’s a montage (but not that pure), 5 stars is perfect montage gold.

 Ready? Here we gooooo:

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11. Ninja Assassin – Raizo’s Routine

  • Training Intensity:      ***
  • Campiness:                *
  • Music Awesomeness:  ***
  • Montage Purity:          **

This montage is decidly low on camp, and doesn’t follow the strictest guidelines of montage purity. Nevertheless, the action is undeniably cool and has a unique style that makes it a pleasure to watch. Directly after the clip shown below, the movie takes us into Raizo’s past and shows us more of his development. That is why this movie makes the montage list in place of others like The Matrix, which have singular training scenes.

Pain Breeds Weakness

Take-away exercise to try: inverted pushups on nails.

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10. Kill Bill 2 – The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei

  • Training Intensity:      ***
  • Campiness:                ***
  • Music Awesomeness:  **
  • Montage Purity:          ***

This scene features one of the best characters in all of martial arts cinema: Pai Mei. Pai Mei is a “white browed” taskmaster that has appeared in some classic kung fu cinema, and indeed this whole training sequence honors the campiness of those old movies. It also features the talent progression in our hero that explains her highly refined skillset.

Take-away exercise to try: One inch punch. Or the five point palm exploding heart technique.

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9. Mulan – Let’s Hear it For the Ladies

  • Training Intensity:      **
  • Campiness:                **
  • Music Awesomeness:  ****
  • Montage Purity:          ****

You didn’t think I was too tough and hardcore to ignore this montage did you? I don’t remember many scenes out of Disney movies, but this one really sticks out. It hits all the great montage notes of a helpless hero, a band of doubters who are eventually won over, and a tough but honorable teacher. Throw into the mix a message about gender equality, and forget about it! It was a tough call between this and Kung Fu Panda, but the inspiring music put Mulan over the top.

 Take-away exercise to try: Breaking concrete with your face.

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8. Ninja: The Final Duel – Water Spider Madness

  • Training Intensity:      ***
  • Campiness:                *****
  • Music Awesomeness:  **
  • Montage Purity:          **

I almost wanted to break my own rating scale and put 6 stars for campiness here. The ninja techniques demonstrated are exactly the kind of weird nonsense that makes old kung fu movies so fantastic. Sure, it perpetuates some bad stereotypes…but…you know. It’s fun. This clip would have ranked higher if it followed the montage format a bit more closely and had more mind blowing music.

 Take-away exercise to try: Water spider assault.

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 7. Batman Begins – The Will to Act

  • Training Intensity:      ***
  • Campiness:                *
  • Music Awesomeness:  ***
  • Montage Purity:          ***

Modern films don’t feature montages quite as much as they used to, and when they do it is often for comedic effect. Batman Begins is a serious affair and displays a well polished training scene. In a lot of ways, this clip rates lower than some of the previous entries. However, when you take into account the quality of the film and acting I believe this is the appropriate place for it.

 

The Will to Act

 

 Take-away exercise to try: Dealing with emotions and stuff.

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 6. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow – Jackie’s Ring Work

  • Training Intensity:      **
  • Campiness:                *****
  • Music Awesomeness:  **
  • Montage Purity:          ****

This movie is one of the Grandaddies of Kung Fu Cinema, and the training sequences are just as influential. Movies like Kill Bill and The Matrix would not have been the same if it wasn’t for efforts like Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Maxed out on campiness, this montage deserves it’s high placement.

  Take-away exercise to try: Egg based workouts.

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5. 36th Chamber of the Shaolin – We Get It, You Train A Lot

  • Training Intensity:      ****
  • Campiness:                *****
  • Music Awesomeness:  **
  • Montage Purity:          ****

You wanna talk about training? How about a movie that’s filled with it. 36th Chamber revolves around the protagonist progressing through his Shaolin training. Every skill a monk needs is presented via a separate chamber. Has any premise been better setup for a progressive montage?

 Take-away exercise to try: Bo circling with pointy, injurious consequences.

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4. KickBoxer – A Tree’s Worst Enemy

  • Training Intensity:      ****
  • Campiness:                ****
  • Music Awesomeness:  ****
  • Montage Purity:          *****

If you didn’t know Jean-Claude was going to make this list then shame on you. JCVD has an almost supernatural talent for creating training montages, and Kickboxer is one of his finest masterpieces. Who knew coconuts and palm trees could be so nightmarish?

Kickboxer training (full video) by bRu7-eXeC

 Take-away exercise to try: Just don’t kick trees.

 3. The Karate Kid – Daniel’s Private Training

  • Training Intensity:      ***
  • Campiness:                ***
  • Music Awesomeness:  *****
  • Montage Purity:          *****

Here’s the thing – this isn’t even the best montage in this movie. That’s how insane the original Karate Kid is. As we all know, the tournament sequence at the end of the movie is one of the best montages of all time. However, that’s not really for training, and thus doesn’t make the cut here. But that doesn’t mean Daniel’s private training isn’t a fantastic moment. It gets such a ranking due to the scope and emotional charge of the movie. A real classic.

 

Daniel’s Training

 

 Take-away exercise to try: I’d say the crane kick, but I’m not sure you can handle that yet.

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 2. Rocky IV – U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.

  • Training Intensity:      *****
  • Campiness:                ***
  • Music Awesomeness:  *****
  • Montage Purity:          *****

Say the words “training montage”, and “Rocky” will be the first word uttered in response. I probably could have picked any of the Rocky movies for this, but I feel like IV is the most monumental. You might argue that boxing isn’t a pure martial art, and therefore Rocky should be disqualified from this list. That’s a tricky call, and since it’s so close (and Rocky is such a dominant montage force), I decided it was right to include it.

 

Cross-training

 

  Take-away exercise to try: Draaagooooooooooooooooooo.

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1. Bloodsport – To Keep an Open Miiiind

  • Training Intensity:      ****
  • Campiness:                ****
  • Music Awesomeness:  *****
  • Montage Purity:          *****

In the purest sense, Rocky is a better montage. But since we are listing the best martial arts montages, Bloodsport rules as King. This sequence is the perfect collection of campy 80s music, training development of the protagonist, hardships endured, winning respect from the hard nosed teacher, and techniques just real enough that we want to try them. Surely Bloodsport holds a special place in the montage hall of fame.

   Take-away exercise to try: Unnecessary splits. Blindfolded tea. Everything.

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That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this journey. I won’t keep you any longer because you probably want to go running through the woods, carrying giant rocks on your back while hitting yourself with sticks. I understand, I’m pumped up too.

Don’t forget to add your two cents in the comment section below. Do you think there are any other movies that should have broken the top 11? Do you think some of these movies should be swapped around in rank? Let me know!