ByRyan Matsunaga, writer at
MMA fan, BJJ enthusiast, and Executive Publisher at Creators Media.
Ryan Matsunaga

Many of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have powers well beyond that of any normal person, but that doesn't mean their fighting styles aren't deeply rooted in very real martial arts disciplines. In fact, to prepare for their roles, many members of the cast underwent serious martial arts training to make sure their action scenes looked as authentic as possible.

Here are the real-world martial arts backgrounds of eight of those superheroes, and the fighting styles that inspired their characters.

Black Widow

Wrestling, Muay Thai, Boxing

Considering that Natasha Romanoff is a former Soviet super-spy, you might expect that her movie fighting style would be based on something Russian, like Sambo or Systema. However, when director Jon Favreau was developing Black Widow for her debut in Iron Man 2, he and his team turned to a very... un-Russian variety of martial arts for inspiration.

"The biggest [inspiration] was lucha libre, a Mexican wrestling style of fighting that seemed silly when they first mentioned it to me," Favreau said in an interview. "I thought it was a little comical with all of the swinging around, flips, holds and acrobatic moves, but when you see a woman doing it in the Black Widow costume ... it has a much different effect."

Here's an example of what that eventually turned into on screen:

In addition to the lucha libra inspired choreography, Johansson herself trained for months in more traditional martial arts including Muay Thai and boxing.

In terms of weapons fighting, Black Widow has more recently been incorporating batons and tonfa into her arsenal. This angle of her fighting style was inspired by the Filipino martial art of Eskrima, which is often known for its stick fighting techniques.

Captain America

Boxing, Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, Gymnastics

According to the comics, Captain America is an expert in boxing and judo, combining elements of both into his own take on hand-to-hand combat.

For the movies though, Chris Evans trained in a much wider blend of martial arts disciplines to develop Cap's fighting style. He spent quite a bit of time learning traditional boxing, karate, and even a little Brazilian jiu-jitsu, to create a style that wouldn't be too out of place in the UFC Octagon.

"It's truly a mixed martial arts that we had Chris training for because part of bringing the character into modern day is that Steve Rogers has studied and mastered these modern fighting styles and techniques," said Thomas Robinson Harper, stunt coordinator on Winter Soldier.

Additionally, Evans underwent a serious regimen of gymnastics training in order to get the more acrobatic elements of Cap's combat down.

For The Avengers specifically, Evans also worked with choreographer Jonathan Eusebio, a martial artist who trained under Dan Inosanto, and specializing in Filipino martial arts such as kali as well as Jeet Kune Do.

The Winter Soldier

Various Knife and Improvised Weapon Disciplines

Bucky Barnes seems to favor guns in most situations, but when it comes down to it, he's proven he's absolutely lethal in hand-to-hand combat. Similar to Jason Bourne in that series of action movies, the Winter Soldier is very comfortable with small blades and improvised weaponry, something very reminiscent of a Filipino martial art called Kali.

The choreographers on Captain America: The Winter Soldier also seem to have drawn inspiration from the Russian martial art of Systema. A relatively modern discipline, Systema includes both knife and firearm techniques, and stresses short, explosive movement that maximizes energy, something that feels very in-character for Bucky.

In terms of the character's in-universe background, it's also possible that he trained in another Russian martial art called Sambo. This particular style focuses on grappling, and was developed by the Soviet Red Army. it really started to take off during the the late 1930s and into World War II, which lines up pretty well with Bucky Barnes' abduction by HYDRA agents in Russia.

Iron Man

Mixed Martial Arts

Tony Stark doesn't get a ton of opportunities to show off his hand-to-hand skills, but in Iron Man 2, he does make a point of showing off that he's training in MMA (Happy Hogan does not approve).

He also demonstrated a pretty great grasp of Wing Chun techniques in his fight scene with Bucky Barnes in Civil War. That shouldn't be too big of a surprise though, as Wing Chun has been a huge part of Robert Downey Jr.'s life for over a decade now.

Black Panther

Kung Fu, Capoeira

We don't actually know a ton about Black Panther's fighting style yet, as so far we've only gotten a few glimpses of what he's capable of in Civil War.

From what we saw though, the Wakandan warrior utilizes techniques similar to the Nanquan styles of Kung Fu (Chinese martial arts that originated in the southern region of the country).

In an interview with EW, Chadwick Boseman confirmed that Black Panther's style definitely takes inspiration from the animal styles of Kung Fu, but not just tiger style!

"There are some animal forms, but not just cat. He could be a snake, or various different styles," Boseman said.

He added that there are also "some capoeira" elements to Black Panther's hand-to-hand combat. Capoeira is a very fluid-looking Brazilian martial art that incorporates elements of dance and music into the training.

Thor / Loki

Boxing / Capoeira

Given that he's a godlike being that can control lightning, Thor is a little less reliant on traditional fighting techniques than most of the other characters on this list. That being said, Chris Hemsworth and his choreographers did take inspiration from real fighting when designing Thor's combat style.

"We talked about boxers, you know, Mike Tyson, very low to the ground and big open chest and big shoulder swings and very sort of brutal but graceful at the same time," Hemsworth said in an interview with MTV News.

As for Loki, Kenneth Branagh, director of the original Thor, asked Tom Hiddleston to develop a unique fighting style for the character. Hiddleston wanted something that felt like the inverse of Thor's, so he looked to martial arts like capoeira to create a more fluid, elegant look.

"I felt like if Thor was a big rock, Loki was like the wind, and he would dance around this sturdy block of granite," Hiddleston told First Showing. "So I developed a kind of fighting style that was much more balletic, a kind of lethal dance."


Arnis and Muay Thai

To prepare for Hawkeye's role in The Avengers, Jeremy Renner spent time training in a Filipino martial art called Arnis. This particular discipline emphasises weapons fighting. That makes sense for a guy like Hawkeye, who often uses his bow as a melee weapon when the situation calls for close-quarters fighting.

Renner also began training in Muay Thai to prepare for the role, something he's keeping up with to stay ready for future Marvel movies, as well as his roles in the Mission: Impossible and Bourne franchises.


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