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Profile: Keysi Martial Arts in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises

The Keysi martial art used in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and upcoming The Dark Knight Rises is also present in the trailer for Batman: Arkham City.  Believed by some uninformed fanboys to be an “invented” fighting style for film, it is in fact drawn from Spanish streetfighting.  The ‘elbow strikes’ designed to protect the head and still deliver blows in close quarters, it is ideal for the types of combat in which Batman would find himself.

It’s tough being a superhero that isn’t very super. Batman hasn’t been bitten by a radioactive spider, exposed to cosmic rays or enhanced with an experimental serum – he’s a normal guy. Okay so he’s got a pretty impressive bank balance and some tasty-looking gadgets, but he has no special physical attributes that help him in combat.

It is this human fallibility that has helped the Batman character endure, but for the team bringing the bat to the big screen it meant a new direction for comic book films. There could be no convenient superhero ability to help save the day; instead he would need to rely on realistic skills to help him face his foes. This fighting technique would not only need to maintain this level of slightly heightened movie realism but reflect the character of Batman – his experiences, physicality and intensity. It would provide the foundations for much of the action, especially in one-on-one set-pieces and so choosing the right fighting style became a serious issue.

Keysi, Martial Arts in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises

Keysi, Martial Arts in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises

The director, Christopher Nolan had a very clear vision of what he wanted: “We’ve gotten comfortable seeing fighting portrayed in this graceful, dance-like fashion to the point where the violence loses its threat,” he says. “I wanted to take it back to a grittier place, where you feel the punches a bit more.” The actor in the Batsuit, Christian Bale also had his own ideas: “We really wanted something that would look as though Bruce Wayne-as-Batman had created his own style of fighting, something that was unique in style and look,” he explains. “A big part of the Batman persona is the aggressive, animalistic way he attacks his enemies. I wanted to show how devastating he is when he charges forward and attacks people, and his resilience in taking blows as well.”

This search for a fighting style prompted Buster Reeves, the lead stunt double for Batman, to mention the Keysi Fighting Method (KFM), suggesting that this new martial art could complement the brutal intensity of the caped crusader. But what is Keysi or KFM?

Keysi (which means “from the heart”) was founded by Justo Diéguez and Andy Norman, two martial arts experts who had devoted 20 years to bringing together all the best moves from their years of experience and study. It is characterised by a low-grounded fighting method that, unlike other martial arts, likes to get into close quarters to do its damage. It feeds off its environment and encourages the fighter to be constantly aware of their surroundings (a feature often expressed by Ducard (Liam Neeson) as he mentors Bruce Wayne in Begins) using it to their advantage. Still in its infancy, KFM is creative, constantly evolving and though incredibly sophisticated, isn’t above a few street moves such as head butts and elbow jabs.

But KFM is much more than just an improved fighting style, with much emphasis given to personal growth and knowledge. The official website talks of “KFM as a way of understanding, developing, expressing and transmitting knowledge… a philosophy of life based on the growth of a person,” and though such higher goals give it a spiritual and mental significance, it is the fighting techniques that were used in the Batman films.

Bringing KFM to the silver screen meant making changes, as Dave Forman, the fight arranger for Batman Begins explains: “Because it’s such a tight fighting style I had to adapt it and make the moves bigger.” As well as this, movement had to be slowed slightly to enable the audience to fully appreciate the skills on show. But as a lethal martial art, the fight team had to keep a close watch on the dangerous stunt work. “The hits were direct to very dangerous parts of the body,” adds Forman, whose credits include The Last Samurai and a number of recent Bond films. “So we had to be very careful so as not to injure our actors or stuntmen.”

Bale found the fighting style a perfect fit for Batman and swiftly became a devoted disciple of the craft during filming of Begins. “It’s a fascinating fighting method,” he says, “because it uses the adrenaline that everyone feels entering into a threatening or violent situation. It really comes from the gut. Rather than the kind of Zen calm that some martial arts call on, KFM is based on animal instinct and honing those instincts to be lethal, so it’s perfect for Batman.”

“It was just bizarre enough to get your attention and think what the hell is he doing?” he adds. “And then absolutely vicious enough and practical enough to believe in.”

The 34-year-old actor trained for 16 KFM fights for Begins, from his brawl in the Bhutanese prison to his final Monorail showdown with Ducard and continues using it in The Dark Knight. After a brief refresher course, where he trained for two to three hours a day with KFM’s founding fathers, Justo Diéguez and Andy Norman, Bale was ready to let loose once again. “We worked Christian extremely hard, and it was fantastic how quickly he absorbed everything,” reveals Norman. “There was a definite progression in his training since the first film. He understands KFM a lot better, so he was more powerful and his movement was incredible.” More »

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