An Homage to the Incredible Athleticism of Jackie Chan

By on January 27, 2021

Jackie Chan is, in my opinion, sorely underrated.

Everyone knows that Jackie Chan is incredible for doing his own stunts. And his martial arts prowess is widely regarded by those that understand that MMA ≠ martial arts. As I discussed in my post discussing Jackie Chan’s training, Jackie has repeated every kick and punch thousands of times since childhood – to the point of perfection.

But there’s so much more to Jackie’s movement, his endurance, and his originality. I believe that Jackie Chan – in his prime – is a perfect embodiment of incredible cross-modal athleticism. And there is much we can learn from him!

Jackie Chan: Parkour Innovator

I also feel that Jackie Chan should be given some credit as an early parkour innovator. Jackie incorporates the environment into his movement in ways that few others have, and he does it all with a sense of timing and “flow” that is actually beautiful to behold. And yet, the likes of Sebastien Foucan only ever credit Bruce Lee as an inspiration.

Jackie CHan Stunt Training

Watch Jackie Chan jump over a fence or climb a wall and it’s not the fact that he manages to get over the obstacle that’s impressive: it’s the fact he does so with such grace and ease. Jackie manages to maintain his sense of rhythm when scaling these obstacles, often adding acrobatic flourishes, or making the movement more challenging by not using his hands at all.

Multidisciplinary

So, Jackie manages to merge parkour and combat into a single scene. But there’s more! Often, in the fight, he will incorporate some tricks and flips. Or he’ll pick up an object and start twirling it around his head as though it was always designed for that purpose. The way he spins the ladder in First Strike is something like a kettlebell halo or a Bulgarian bag spin. Trust me: making something that large and heavy move like that requires immense core strength and control.

Jackie Chan Ladder Scene

He might start juggling, or catching precious vases. Or he’ll start balancing on a motorbike. Each demonstrating balance, coordination, balance, timing… Often the biggest fight scenes will end with one gravity-defying epic stunt.

See also: The Role of Rhythm in Martial Arts and Athletic Performance

Of course, this is not shot in real time. There’s no real improvisation here (though Jackie usually invents his own choreography). Jackie will often require hundreds of takes to make his movements appear effortless. And he can take breaks in-between.

He might start juggling, or catching precious vases. Or he’ll start balancing on a motorbike.

But this is still a showcase for an extremely multitalented individual. And I also love it because it demonstrates how being skilled in multiple areas can be a benefit in a high-stakes situation. Especially when combined with rapid decision making and resourcefulness.

I discussed this in my video on Batman training: to really be Batman it wouldn’t be enough to be strong, or to be a great fighter. You’d need to be fast, strong, smart, extremely resilient and endurant, mobile, and mentally tough. Being strong doesn’t mean you win fights. Being able to win a fight doesn’t make you an action hero.

Jackie Chan Free Running

Jackie Chan’s fight scenes show what this could look like. Of course, no one could really fight like Jackie Chan’s characters. But then no one could fight like any action hero – they’re all hyperreal. If I could emulate the performance of any character from an action scene though… it would definitely be a Jackie Chan character!

Physical Comedy and Acting

As though all this wasn’t impressive enough, Jackie does all of this while acting. Jackie can’t just go through the motions: he needs to put emotion and character into every punch and kick. This goes double for taking hits – as an amazing video from Accented Cinema explains. Here, Jackie Chan must contort his entire body in an exaggerated fashion to really sell the punches and kicks.

Imagine doing that for five takes, only to then have to perform a back handspring three times, then a short combat sequence. Each time, you have to remain in character and make every kick just as intense and snappy as the last.

Actor, Director, Writer, Catering Coordinator

That’s the other thing that makes Jackie Chan so amazing.

Jackie Chan does all this while also directing the damn movie. He points the camera, performs the action, watches it back, alters the lighting, then goes again. He instructs his co-stars and JC Stunt Team, and he makes sure everyone is fed. Oh, and he has to remember his lines. In a second language.

Jackie Chan does all this while also directing the damn movie.

He does this for days on end during a shoot, on location, with extremely high stakes.

So, when I say that Jackie gets to take “breaks” between shots… that’s not really true. And having worked a little on-location with a film crew, I know how stressful this can be.

I can also relate just a little to what it’s like shooting and directing your own action scenes. People often ask me what my own weekly workout looks like, but I can’t quite answer that. Why? Because the truth is that being The Bioneer kills any chance I have at a consistent training schedule.

Handspring of a sandbag
Two people commented on this. Worth it…

When I made the Batman video recently, I had to train-while-filming for over 2 hours. One shot I really wanted to get, was 3 sandbag cleans followed by a handspring over the top of the sandbag, to then perform push-ups the other side.

This took about 10 takes. Firstly: I wanted to get the shot from at least three angles (so I could cut between them for dramatic effect). Half of the time I landed on my butt. Half of the time I ended up out of shot (I only have my back garden to film in).

On the 8th take, I hurt my foot. I had to keep filming anyway.

I had to get the video out that week, so there was no option to spread those takes out throughout the week – I needed to be editing that afternoon.

That was one shot. In other shots, I performed pull ups from rock-climbing “Elephant Balls.” I performed ab rollouts, I punched the heavy bag, I did lizard crawls in a weighted vest with the sandbag across my back…

Jackie Chan: Hero

The next day, I wake up so sore. So any chance of doing “chest day” on Tuesday is pretty much out the window.

Today I’ll be filming a video about plyometrics. I’ve just bought a large plyo box that I need to construct. Then I’m off out into the snow to film myself leaping on top of it for the next three hours. I woke up with a backache. Wish me luck!

Jackie Chan's training and workouts

This isn’t a humble brag (or at least, that’s not the main objective!). Rather, I’m illustrating what goes into filming even a 10 minute YouTube video yourself.

Jackie Chan does this on a gigantic scale. FAR more regularly.

Jackie even holds the world record for the most job titles on a single movie (Chinese Zodiac).

He does this for entire days. For months on end. At the age of 66.

He is unstoppable. He is inspirational. And he is the pinnacle of physical excellence that I, personally, wish to emulate.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

2 Comments

  1. Nic says:

    I thought that handspring scene was done in shot the way it was so legit,lol

  2. Geff says:

    Currently doing a pull push leg split mixing training modalities the way explained
    But I want to know how I could add boxing or mma to it

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