Whoosh! Issue 22 - July 1998


IAXS project #313
By Donald Plunkett
Copyright © 1998 held by author
4935 words

Were There Martial Arts When Xena Lived? (01)
All Martial Arts Are From Asia, Aren't They? (02-06)
Is Xena's Chakram based on a Real Weapon? (07-09)
Where Did M'Lila Learn to Fight? (10-15)
Are There Really Pressure Points? (16-22)
Can Real People Perform Xena's Aerial Acrobatics? (23-24)
What Martial Art was the Bad Guy Using in REMEMBER NOTHING? (25-27)
Who Played Hera's Enforcers on Hercules? (28)
Who Trained Lucy Lawless in Martial Arts? (29-31)
What Was the Weapon Used by Agathon in THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN? (32-35)
What Were the Weapons Used by the Horde Leader in THE PRICE? (36)
What Other Martial Arts Weapons Have Appeared in XWP? (37)
Who Was Yim Wing Chun? (38-46)
Does the Original Form of Wing Chun Still Exist? (47)
Everyone Talks About Bruce Lee, Who Was He? (48-51)
Where Can I Learn More? (52)

Martial Arts And Xena: Warrior Princess:
Questions And Answers

Were There Martial Arts Back When Xena Lived?

[1] Yes. The earliest recordings found of the martial arts are wall zoescope silhouettes in a funerary in the Beni-Hassan area of Egypt, dated nearly 4,000 years ago. A printed replica of these silhouettes may be found in the October 1941 issue of National Geographic. From Egypt, the martial arts seem to have spread like the spokes of a wheel, moving up into Italy, France, Turkey, and the other European countries where we now find wrestling, fencing, savate, boxing, etc.

All The Martial Arts Are From Asia, Aren't They?

Someone get this ferret off my head!!

Lao Ma, one of Xena's teachers.

[2] No. There were several martial arts known to exist in Europe during the rather broad period of history in which Xena takes place. The Middle East and the proximity to the Silk Road may have also influenced fighting styles of that place and time.

[3] The Greek art of pankration (all powers) was part of the Olympic games as early as 648 BC. It is the earliest recorded martial art using the open hand for strikes.

[4] One example of the use of the open hand is the story of Creugas and Damoxenus. About 400 BC in Nemea, two Greek boxers fought into the night with no clear winner. Creugas and Damoxenus agreed to settle the match with a single unopposed blow. Damoxenus weathered Creugas' punch to his head and killed Creugas with an open hand strike under the arm.

[5] Several schools and styles of pankration developed including both striking and grappling forms. Pankration is believed to be the basis of many of the Asian striking arts. Alexander carried pankration across the Himalayas with his armies in 326 BC. The recorded Asian martial arts before this time were primarily forms of wrestling. Egyptian murals of this period also depict a form of wrestling similar to Japanese judo.

[6] The Pyrrhic war dance or pyrrhichia (how to cope with an enemy) was strikingly similar to modern kata or forms. In kata, the martial artist executes a set series of techniques against an imaginary opponent. Plato described Pyrrhichia as a dance in which the warriors simulate all manner of fighting. Plato called it skiamachia or "fighting without an antagonist".

Is Xena's Chakram Based On A Real Weapon?

[7] Yes. Vajramushti was a martial art depicted on statuary in India. It post-dates pankration by a bit, so it was probably not an influence on the development of pankration. Xena's chakram is East Indian in origin, although the Irish used the same thing (war quoits) as did several other groups in Western Europe. The chakram is mentioned in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. Vishnu used one to behead an enemy. There are several alternate spellings including chakra. The correct plural would be chakrani. Chakra translates as "wheel".

[7] Here are some websites with information on the chakram:

[8] Limited numbers of exact duplicates made by the same artisans who make the chakram for the series have been offered for sale at conventions. In addition, several Xenites on the NetForum have offered custom made chakrams for sale in plastic, aluminum, and wood. Knowing their love for the program, I am sure their replicas will show great attention to detail.

[9] The dimensions of Xena's chakram are as follows: Outside diameter is ten inches (25.4 cm). Inside diameter is seven and a half inches (19 cm). Thickness is one-half inch (1.27 cm) on the inside, and tapering in a curve to a sharp edge on the outside. There are different designs in gold on each side and it is decorated with green abalone shell.

Where Did M'Lila Learn To Fight?

Early tetherball.

M'Lila takes on the crew of Rob's Folly in DESTINY.

[10] M'Lila in DESTINY (36/212) was an Egyptian who was taken to Gaul as a slave. Where would she have learned to fight?

[11] The Basques of Western Europe practiced a form of kick fighting that was later known as chausson (a kind of soft slipper). Chausson formed the basis for the French art of savate (old shoe). It may be Celtic in origin as a form of kick fighting was known to some of the Celts. A Basque sheepherder I met in northern New Mexico gave me a demonstration of chausson.

[12] Another Celtic martial art may have been fotan (or foton). Practitioners could supposedly reduce large rocks to dust with a single blow by "borrowing" energy from the moon or "dark stars". I have heard a second hand report of just such a demonstration, for what that is worth. The man was living in Iceland some years ago and had no students.

[13] The Irish also had stories of a war shout that could stun or kill their enemies. This would be similar to the Japanese art of kiaijutsu (spirit directing science). The kiai is the yell that Japanese martial artists give to add power to their techniques. Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi is a current practitioner of kiaijutsu. There is apparently some natural ability required to use this art. There is a story about a Japanese monk whose natural ability was so great he was forced to speak in whispers lest the buildings he was in collapse.

[14] Here are some interesting quotes from Celtic Battle Heros by Stewart and Matthews (1988, p.10-13). This was sent to me by Ban-Cu from the Xena NetForum.

"Missive or throwing shields with sharp edges, used as offensive weapons. One such shield cut off the hero Sualtam's head...

"'Do you remember, the throwing weapons that we used to practice with Scathach?' said Ferdiad. 'I remember indeed,' replied Cuchulainn. 'Then let us use them against one another,' said Ferdiad. So they took up their throwing shields in their hands... The weapons flew back and forward between them like bees on the wing of a sunny day...

"During the scene described above, both champions referred to their training together under the instruction of the warrior woman Scathach... some interesting detailed observations upon the traditional techniques taught to the ancient Celtic warrior: 'At last, when the full lore of soldierly arts had been mastered by Cuchulainn; the apple-feat, the thunder-feat, the blade-feat, the supine-feat, the spear-feat, the rope-feat, the body-feat, the cats-feat, the salmon-feat of a chariot chief, the throw of the staff, the whirl of a brace chariot chief, the spear of the bellows (Gae Bulga), the Boi of swiftness, the wheel-feat, the breath-feat, the Brud Geme (hero's whoop), the blow, the counter blow, running up a lance and righting the body upon the point; the scythe chariot and the twisting around spear points... when he had learned all this a message came to him... and so he took his leave'.

"This list is extremely detailed, and derives from a precise tradition of combat techniques."

[15] Many of these techniques remind me of some of the pentjaksilat forms of East India. The Celts were travelers and may have taken their arts to the Far East or brought some back with them. Archeological evidence suggests a Caucasian people traveled across northern Mongolia some three thousand years ago. Most Japanese martial arts trace their roots to the Tengu or long nosed forest goblins. It is interesting that most Asians refer to Caucasians as having long noses. Far traveling Celts perhaps?

Are There Really Pressure Points?


Xena learns pressure points first hand. M'Lila could easily have killed her.

[16] There are no pressure points, are there? I keep trying the "neck pinch" on my little sister. Why won't it work?

[17] There are many martial arts techniques depicted on XWP. Most of them are the results of choreography, well-trained stunt men, and special effects. Several of them are based on reality, however. One of the most dramatic techniques which is based on reality is the use of pressure points. To see the actual use of pressure points go to http://www.dillman.com. You will find QuickTime clips of pressure points in action here.

[18] The use of pressure points is based on the chi theory of medicine developed in China centuries ago. Each organ is related to a meridian along which the chi flows providing energy throughout the body. There are twelve bilateral visceral meridians and two central meridians. There are one hundred and eight acupuncture points useful to a martial artist (some say up to 120 points). There are some other chi meridians that are not associated with specific organs.

[19] There are also some pressure points that are useful to a martial artist that are not associated with meridians. Each meridian is associated with either yin or yang energy, one of the five Chinese elements, another organ's meridian, and a two hour period during the twenty four hour cycle of the day. Attacking one point can cause pain, numbness, and/or involuntary reflexes. Attacking two points related through one of the meridian's associations can cause unconsciousness. Attacking three related points can cause death. The strike, press, or rub that causes the injury can sometimes hardly be felt. It takes very little force to affect the meridian. The organs may not show the effects until up to twelve hours after an attack during the low chi part of the diurnal cycle.

[20] If I were to guess how Xena performs her neck pinch, I would say Xena could probably cause the muscle sheathing around the jugular veins to cut off the flow of blood leaving the head. She then disables the baroreceptors that monitor the blood pressure going to the brain. The blood pressure builds up (thus the nosebleeds) until the victim dies or gives Xena what she wants.

[21] Caution: Do not mess with pressure points on or around the neck yourself! By stimulating the baroreceptors or pinching off the carotids, you can knock someone out. If you do not restore the blood flow immediately, brain damage or death can occur. Without proper treatment, blood clots can form, and the baroreceptors can be disabled, or the muscle sheathes will constrict cutting the flow of blood although the pressure on the outside of the neck is released.

[22] Any pressure against the pharyngeal nerve or the larynx is extremely dangerous. When I was trained in pressure points, as we learned a new point or set of points, we also learned the acupressure treatment to counter the effects. We only trained for a brief period on certain points to avoid inducing organ failure that might not show up until later. The symptoms and certainly the cause would be a real mystery to a western-trained doctor. Most pressure point interactions are not explained by western medicine. Acupuncture works on skeptics and animals, however, so the effects are real.

Can Real People Perform Xena's Aerial Acrobatics?

[23] Another feature of many of the fight scenes on Xena is the acrobatics. Most of the gymnastics depicted are the results of the special effects team and some of the rest would be of limited utility in a real fight. I have personally witnessed some amazing examples of such acrobatics in real life. "Tiger" Kim, a tae kwon do master, could kick a basketball hoop. He could also kick and break boards held by a man sitting on another man's shoulders who was standing on a chair. That is a long way up. I once saw a Chinese boxer jump out of a third floor window and land on a concrete patio with the same effort that you or I would show jumping off a chair. I also saw the winner of a Kyokushinkai karate competition jump over his opponent's head and kick him in the back of the head while in the air. I have seen several people who could jump in the air and break three boards with three separate kicks before landing. Some Korean arts teach back flips as counters to certain types of kicks. The sport form of Chinese wushu is very acrobatic.

[24] Xena also catches swords and arrows headed in her direction. Gogen "The Cat" Yamaguchi was well known for these same tricks. I have seen others catch live sword blades in some impressive demonstrations. I have caught arrows shot past me (not at me!). I could not do it with the modern high performance compound bows and the light arrows (too fast to see) nor could I do it with some of the very powerful crossbows. I will leave catching arrows with the teeth to Xena.

What Martial Art Was The Bad Guy Using In REMEMBER NOTHING?

[25] One scene that caught many eyes was the opening fight in REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202). One of the baddies used a martial art that appeared to be almost a dance, and utilized handstands and cartwheels. That was the Brazilian art of capoeira (various spellings). Brought over from western Africa, capoeira was used by slaves. Because their hands were often chained, they used handstands and cartwheels to kick their enemies. Capoeira was outlawed and, like many martial arts (including the hula of Hawaii), went underground as a dance form. Capoeira practice incorporates a distinctive style of music. The game is played in a circle of participants called a roda (ho-da). Two participants at a time enter the roda and "play" with each other. The play is dictated by the music and by the individual abilities and moods of the players. Play ranges from highly aggressive to extremely playful and expressive.

[26] The music of Capoeira centers on the berimbau, a musical bow that sets the rhythm for the music and the style of play. Accompanying the berimbau are pandeiros (tambourines), atabaques (drums), and other instruments, along with clapping and singing by the participants. Capoeira songs are sung in Portuguese and reflect both the cultural origins of capoeira and the events that occur in the roda.

[27] Here are some websites concerning capoeira:

Who Played Hera's Enforcers On Hercules?

And next...the letter

Cynthia Rothrock has kicked b*tt in many of her own films.

[28] I am sure there are many martial artists who I do not recognize used in the production of Xena every week. Two that I did recognize, though, appeared on Hercules. They played Hera's elemental enforcers. Cynthia Rothrock (fire) practices northern eagle claw kung fu. She was on the West Coast Demo Team with Ernie Reyes, Sr., and Jr. Karen Sheperd (water) practices won hop kuen do kung fu as taught by Al and Malia Dacascos. Both women were champions in forms competition and both have had careers in Hong Kong martial arts films.

Who Trained Lucy Lawless In The Martial Arts?

[29] Sifu Douglas Lin Wong trained Lucy Lawless for a short time before XWP began filming. Doug Wong instructs five animal, five family, Wing Chun, and white lotus kung fu. He has several books out including: The Deceptive Hands Of Wing Chun, Shaolin Fighting: Theories And Concepts, and Kung Fu: The Way Of Life.

[30] Stunt coordinator Peter Bell choreographs the fight scenes and continues to train the stars. The actors learn stage fighting rather than real martial arts.

[31] One movie that you might find interesting is Iron And Silk (Shirley Sun, 1990) from Disney. It is the true story of an English teacher who studied wu shu (war arts) in communist China. It is interesting to see legitimate wu shu techniques as the English teacher, Mark Salzman, portrayed himself in the film.

What Was The Weapon Used By Agathon In THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN (49/303)?

[32] The weapon was similar to throwing knives found in central Africa from Gabon and Cameroon east past northern and central Zaire. The Zande people of Zaire and Sudan called it kpinga. The Kuba called it shongo (lightning) and were known as Bushongo or "people of lightning". The Dowayo of northern Cameroon called them "hands of rain", another term for lightning. Atlanta Cutlery sells a version they call the hunga-munga that is identical to one used by the Bwaka people. It does not act like a boomerang, but what it does is strike the opponent's shield and swing around the edge to hit the poor sap trying to hide behind his shield.

[33] Here is a description of the shongo in action from Emil Torday:

"... then all of a sudden, some objects, glittering in the sun as if they were thunderbolts, come whirling with a weird hum through the air. The enemy warriors raise their shields; the shining mystery strikes it, rebounds into the air, and returns to the attack; it smites the warrior behind his defense with its cruel blades. A weapon which is capable of killing behind a shield cannot fail to cause a panic".

[34] The shongo dates back to about 1000 AD. Marc Singer's character used a folding version in the movie The Beastmaster (Don Coscarelli, 1982).

[35] The hurlbat of Europe was another multi-bladed throwing knife.

What Were The Weapons Used By The Horde Leader In THE PRICE?

Bet Siskel and Ebert would be good at this.

The Horde Chieftain was finished off by his own people in THE PRICE.

[36] The leader of the horde in THE PRICE (44/220) used a pair of kama. The kama is a grain sickle used by the Okinawans as one of their five systemized weapons of kobudo (weapons warrior's way). The Horde chief swung them by cords wrapped around his thumbs.

What Other Martial Arts Weapons Have Appeared In XWP?

[37] The dart thrown by Xena at Callisto in INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207) was similar to the Chinese cloth dart, as well as darts found in many other arts.

Who Was Yim Wing Chun?

[38] Several Xenites compared Xena to Yim Wing Chun, and expressed an interest in the story of Yim Wing Chun and her fighting style. Here is the story of Yim Wing Chun as I learned it from grandmaster William Cheung.

[39] In the early 1700's the Manchu destroyed one of the Shao Lin (also called Sil Lum, or, in Japanese, Shorin) temples. Of the five great masters at that temple, only one escaped, the nun Ng Mui. These masters had refined the preying mantis system to make it more efficient against the linear kung fu styles. (I am familiar with seven star preying mantis, some of the southern styles are radically different, but you can see the rudiments of the Wing Chun techniques.) Ng Mui is considered the founder of many kung fu styles. The hall they met in to develop the style was named Wing Chun hall (beautiful springtime) in the hope that it would usher in a new renaissance in Shaolin martial art instruction. Ng Mui spent some time on the run from the Manchus. She hid in the nunnery on Tai Leung Mountain between Szechwan and Yunan provinces where she further refined the system.

[40] One day when Ng Mui traveled down to the village at the bottom of the mountain, she met the daughter of a bean curd vendor, Yim Yee Gung. The girl and her father were in a lot of trouble because the town bully wanted to marry the girl. The bully was the leader of a gang and threatened to ruin Yim Yee Gung's business, so eventually Yee Gung and the girl would have to agree.

[41] Ng Mui told them to play along with the bully, but agree to the marriage only if he could then defeat the girl in a kung fu contest. Since, in those days, it took several months for a marriage to take place anyway, the bully agreed. Meanwhile, the girl started learning Wing Chun with Ng Mui.

[42] Six months later, the girl stood on a five-foot-diameter platform, waiting to respond to the bully's challenge. As he ascended onto the platform, he attacked with a wide roundhouse punch. The girl quickly used a tahn sao block and palm strike, knocking him to the ground. That was the end of it. She had won!

[43] After the contest, Yim Yee Gung asked Ng Mui to take care of his daughter. Therefore, the girl followed Ng Mui to the nunnery. Ng Mui gave the name 'Wing Chun' to the girl, since she had now become the future of the art. Yim Wing Chun stayed with Ng Mui until she died.

[44] Years later Wing Chun taught the art to her husband, the salt merchant named Leung Bok Chau. (It seems the men back then did not like to marry women who could whip their butts without working up a sweat).

[45] Wing Chun, the art not the person, was later split into two forms. One of the grandmasters did not want his sons being beaten by his students, so he taught a modified form with inferior footwork to his students. He also left out some of the techniques and theories from the original.

[46] One training technique almost unique to Wing Chun is the chi sao (sticking hands) exercise. Through it the student learns to feel his opponent's motion and respond more quickly than if he had to see the move first.

Does The Original Form Of Wing Chun Still Exist?

[47] Yip Man learned the original form of Wing Chun and passed it on to William Cheung after extracting the promise that he would not teach it until after Man's death. Yip Man also instructed Bruce Lee, but in the modified form. Lee recognized the deficiencies of the modified form and went on to develop Jeet Kune Do (way of intercepting fist).

Everyone Talks About Bruce Lee, Who Was He?

Lord Of The Dance.

Bruce Lee was the real deal. The graphics editor saw his "two inch punch" live and in person.

[48] Bruce Lee was a pioneer in the martial arts. Before him, very few people were allowed to train outside their original style. Virtually no one ever thought to combine styles. Lee was also forced to meet several challenges from traditional instructors when he opened his own school. They were upset primarily at his teaching of non-Asians. He won the fights, but found he was out of breath so he adopted physical conditioning routines. He was an extreme exercise nut and monitored his diet carefully. I personally admire three people for their absolute mastery of their own bodies. To watch any of these three do perform their craft is a real treat. They are Gene Kelly, the dancer, Michael Moeschen, the new age juggler, and Bruce Lee.

[49] Lee starred in several films as a child and was quite a celebrity before he became a martial artist. His early films as an adult did not really highlight his abilities. Return Of The Dragon (Bruce Lee, 1972) and Enter The Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973) show some of his art although he did dress it up for theatrical purposes. He was a pioneer in fight choreography and cinematography, and many of his methods are considered standard now. Although Lee only appears in the final fight scenes of Game Of Death (Robert Clouse, 1978) (they used a double for most of the film), it contains some of the best footage of all time. His nunchaku battle with Dan Inosanto is classic. He played Kato in The Green Hornet (1966-67) TV series opposite Van Johnson. He learned to broaden his moves because the director complained that it looked fake as he flung the stuntmen hither and yon with no apparent effort. Lee considered his best work to be his few appearances (three, all in 1971) in the Longstreet (1971-72) TV series starring James Franciscus. He wrote the screenplay for the movie The Silent Flute aka Circle Of Iron (Richard Moore, III, 1979) starring David Carradine. It was not filmed until after his death, and I can only imagine how it would have turned out if he had starred in it. The martial arts are mediocre at best in this film, but it does present some of the Zen philosophy that Lee lived by. I consider it a must-see.

[50] Rather than a collection of techniques, Lee's method, Jeet Kune Do (JKD), is a theory of movement and a method of training. The primary aim of JKD is to allow an individual to adopt the techniques that suit him and the situation, and blend them into a harmonious whole. Efficiency is everything in JKD and any wasted moves are discarded. Lee believed that the martial artist must be able to operate effectively at any range against any opponent. He was refining the grappling portion of JKD just before his death. Shortly before his death Bruce Lee was describing JKD in five basic attacks: SAA or simple angular attack, PIA or progressive indirect attack, HIA or hand (or foot) immobilization attack, ABC, an attack by combination, and ABD or attack by drawing.

[51] Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong. He moved back to Seattle to go to college. Bruce Lee died of a brain edema (swelling) brought on by an allergic reaction to the headache medication Equagesic. Lee was buried in Seattle.

Where Can I Learn More?

[52] A web site:

This is a martial arts FAQ with descriptions of popular martial arts.

Here is a list of books that you may find interesting. They are all authentic and very well done:

Jeet Kune Do: Its Concepts And Philosophies by Paul Vunak
Paul Vunak trained SEAL team two in JKD. He is one of the few instructors that actually trained under Bruce Lee. His book explains the theory behind developing personal attributes for JKD.

Jeet Kune Do by Dan Inosanto
Absorb What Is Useful: A Jeet Kune Do Guidebook by Dan Inosanto
Dan Inosanto is a premiere instructor of the Filipino martial arts. He was Bruce Lee's head instructor. These books present a history of JKD as well as typical techniques that might be incorporated by an individual. The second explains how one adopts techniques for his own JKD repertoire. Inosanto's book, The Filipino Martial Arts, is necessary read for anyone interested in the effective use of melee weapons (sword, stick, staff, etc.).

The Tao Of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee
This book was assembled from Lee's notes after his death. It contains his original notes and sketches. It is primarily theory and philosophy, and, for a beginning martial artist, it can be a bit hard to follow. I consider it a classic and a "must read" for someone seriously training in the war arts.

Wing Chun Bil Jee by William Cheung
How To Develop Chi Power by William Cheung
Advanced Wing Chun by William Cheung
Bruce Lee considered William Cheung to be the best street fighter he knew. Shortly before his death, Lee wrote to Cheung. Lee said that he felt his own art of JKD was refined enough so that he could beat Cheung. He died before they got a chance to meet again. Each of Cheung's books covers one of the three forms of Wing Chun along with theory and training. These differ from other books on Wing Chun in that they present the original, more effective system.

Kyushojitsu: The Dillman Method Of Pressure Point Fighting by George Dillman
Advanced Pressure Point Fighting Of Ryukyu Kempo by George Dillman
Advanced Pressure Point Grappling: Tuite by George Dillman
Dillman does an excellent job of describing each pressure point in terms of western anatomy.

Wing Tsun Kuen by Dr. Leung Ting
I have not read the book, but Dr. Ting is generally very thorough in his research and probably presents a more complete story of Yim Wing Chun.

In addition, of course, The Art Of War by Sun Tzu is a must-read! It is a 2500-year-old treatise on strategy and is still relevant today. I am sure Xena would have based much of her strategy on the theories of Sun Tzu.


Donald Plunkett Donald Plunkett
I am former military. I collect knives, swords, and most other types of weapons. I enjoy board games, racquetball, fencing (both foil and kendo), archery, and sport judo. I have tried most types of martial arts, but I have been practicing jujitsu and escrima the longest (maybe someday I will even get them right). My little speckled dog is named Shelby. I live in the White Mountains of Arizona.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: Vidalus: "I'm under a lot of pressure here..." BLIND FAITH (42/218)
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Anything with Joxer in it, except those with Callisto in them.

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