It’s hard to recall the impact 2002’s The Bourne Identity made when it first dropped. The action in that movie felt visceral, lifelike, and unlike anything else around. But what were the martial arts that Jason Bourne used that made the movie’s action sequences feel so fresh?  

Jason Bourne uses the martial art known as Kali. He mixes things up with Jeet Kune Do and more unorthodox techniques of street boxing. Dynamic staging, editing, cinematography, and sound design blend these disparate elements of fight choreography into scintillating movie magic.   

This article will look at the features that made the action in the Bourne franchise so exciting on release. It’ll explain the eclectic mix of choreography and filmmaking techniques that give the action in the movie its vitality.

The Martial Arts Jason Bourne Uses

Jason Bourne is an elite assassin of the CIA. This backstory offers essential clues to the design of his fighting style and the martial arts in his repertoire. It implies training in a wide variety of techniques to take on every conceivable threat that comes his way. 

Bourne’s fighting technique is a ruthlessly pragmatic and efficient blend of different fighting styles. Together with an improvisational attitude to spaces and objects of the film’s production design, this mix effectively serves the story.

The three main components of Bourne’s repertoire are:

  • The Philippine martial art Kali
  • Jeet Kune Do, the hybrid form developed by Bruce Lee
  • Improvised techniques of street boxing

You can trace the martial arts that Jason Bourne uses to the critical contribution made by fight coordinator Jeff Imada. Imada, who first worked with Damon for 2007s The Bourne Supremacy, has a strong background in all three disciplines. Once established, these key elements have continued through the rest of the movies.

Kali: Central Component of the Jason Bourne Style

Jason Bourne’s fighting is indebted to the Philippine martial art Kali, also known as Arnis or Escrima. The traditional martial art is supposed to have originated in the Philippines back when it was a Spanish colony. This unique history means that both Philippine and Spanish traditions influenced it. 

Fighting in Kali involves a lot of hand-to-hand combat. It also works with long and short blades and sticks. All these aspects of its fighting style are hallmarks of the Bourne movies. They’re also critical to the impact that Jason Bourne’s fighting style has left.

Jeet Kune Do: A Bruce Lee Legacy

Along with Kali, the other significant influence on Jason Bourne’s fighting style is Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do is the fluid freeform fighting style developed by film and martial arts legend Bruce Lee. It aims for an intuitive expressiveness in fighting to evade categorization under any single fighting style. 

Directly translated, it means “Way of the Intercepting Fist.” The primary technique of Jeet Kune Do is focusing on intercepting your opponent’s maneuvers by reading their intent. The simplicity and directness of the style serve Jason Bourne’s needs very well.  

Gritty and Improvisational Street Boxing   

A final component in Jason Bourne’s repertoire is street boxing. Street boxing emphasizes Bourne’s willingness and ability to take punishment.  

The gritty and no-holds-barred techniques of this unorthodox style add a touch of menace to Bourne. His street boxing shows that Bourne can meet opponents at any level they choose to meet him at. 

Bourne’s street boxing credentials firmly emphasize the practical nature of the fighting throughout the Bourne movies. Here, every punch and kick aims to cause maximum damage. All excessive movement and pretension for the sake of visual presentation are foregone. 

Caveat: Movie Fights Are Special

Several features of filmmaking make fights in movies different than in real life.

Experienced trainers work long and hard with the biggest stars to transform action sequences into visually thrilling spectacles. In the Bourne franchise, the work of veteran Hollywood fight coordinators like Jeff Imada is crucial. 

But the contribution of other departments is also critical to the realization of every aspect of Bourne’s persona. 

Director Paul Greengrass cemented a lot of the critical elements of the Bourne style. The stand-out feature of this kinetic style includes fast action choreography and swift editing. Visceral sound design makes every punch and kick land hard. 

Then there is the thrilling handheld cinematography of Oliver Wood. The camera is always close to the action and struggling to keep up. While this is slightly disorienting, it enhances the realism of the fights, keeping the viewer permanently on edge.

A final element that makes the fighting of Jason Bourne so thrilling is the staging and production design. Bourne is forever fighting in cramped quarters, toppling furniture and banging into walls. These aspects of the fights’ staging make it appear scrappy and, ultimately, realistic.

Hallmarks of the Bourne Fighting Technique

There are distinct aspects of Bourne’s fighting style that make the action in the Bourne movies feel vivid and realistic.

Cramped Spaces

Jason Bourne frequently fights at close quarters—inside cramped rooms, at arms’ length, and using fists and elbows. The cramped spaces and proximity to danger keep the stakes constantly high over long-drawn action sequences. This makes the fights in Bourne movies edge-of-the-seat affairs.

Improvised Weapons

There’s plenty of gunfire in the movies, but Bourne also regularly uses less immediately lethal weapons. He frequently uses knives and other long or short-handled objects to fight opponents. Combat using old-fashioned weapons prolongs the fights and gives them a raw, visceral edge.

Bourne is a very scrappy and resourceful fighter. He’ll often grab any object lying around and make it into a lethal weapon. He uses everything from a pen to a chair-leg to a kettle to overcome an opponent. Because you never know what he’ll go on to do next, the fights are always unpredictable.

Efficient Fighting

Finally, the action itself is ruthlessly efficient. It uses minimal movement to achieve its intended effects. In the end, Bourne’s ultimate aim is survival at any cost. From the Bond Franchise to John Wick, the directness of this fighting style had a significant impact on later movies.

Who Is Jason Bourne?

Jason Bourne is the protagonist of a series of novels by Robert Ludlum. The fictional CIA assassin reached a wider audience over a series of exciting action movies starring Matt Damon. There’s also an additional film starring Jeremy Renner, but the character is usually associated with Damon. 

You can stream all five Bourne movies by purchasing the Bourne Ultimate Collection from Amazon.com.

The first film introduces Jason Bourne as a character suffering from dissociative amnesia. Bourne doesn’t know that he’s a trained killer with powerful enemies. He learns about his history by directly and unwittingly encountering danger. Fatal threats are close at hand and perpetually threaten to intrude into Bourne’s world. 

How the Bourne Films Changed Action Choreography

Bourne’s backstory defines his fighting style. His history and situation make it crucial for Bourne’s fighting to be intuitive and efficient. Significantly, the franchise eschewed the excessive CGI of most Hollywood blockbusters for more realistic practical effects.

These features of Bourne’s fighting style made the action in these films starkly different from anything else at the time. This was fighting that wasn’t pretty or dazzling. It eschewed flamboyance for ruthlessness and got the job done.

The reception of the films among movie audiences also ensured that other action filmmakers were quick to take note. The Bond franchise was the first to react, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Final Thoughts

Jason Bourne changed action choreography in movies forever. He brought a raw and realistic style to the mainstream Hollywood blockbuster. The franchise’s immersive fighting style influenced everyone, from the James Bond franchise to the John Wick movies. 

The thrilling fight scenes in the movies are indebted to the work of veteran Hollywood fight coordinator Jeff Imada. Different craft departments involved in blockbuster filmmaking enhance Jason Bourne’s fighting.

The key martial arts that make up Jason Bourne’s fighting style include Kali, Jeet Kune Do, and street boxing. Jason Bourne’s ruthless and pragmatic fighting style blends them into a seamless whole.

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