If you want to watch a martial arts movie or TV show online, you have a lot of options.
Thanks to sites like YouTube and streaming services like Tubi and Netflix, the internet is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to martial arts content. We have access to an amount of knowledge and entertainment that previous generations could only dream of. Everything from classic kung fu films to instructional videos to the latest documentaries are just a click away.
(For a taste of just how much is available, check out our blog on shows and movies to stream from last year. Some of the content is no longer available, but lots of it is!)
But when you have access to an entire world full of material, it’s not always easy to find all of the good stuff. It’s impossible to keep up with everything that’s available, and there’s always a risk that you’ll miss out on some excellent films and programs along the way.
To help make up for that, we’ve put together a list of some hidden gems we’ve been enjoying lately and where to find them.
It might sound hard to believe if you haven’t seen it yet, but one of the modern films that most accurately captures the physicality and power of boxing is about a young dancer and seizures. When 11 year old Toni (the brilliant Royalty Hightower) sees a two members of a dance team practicing at the community center where she boxes with her older brother, she’s instantly fascinated. With her brother’s encouragement, she tries out for the team. Soon after she starts practicing with them, though, the members of the team start experiencing a series of seizure-like “fits.” All of which is performed and filmed in incredible and expressive detail. This is very different from how we’ve seen boxing training on film before, but it’s exhilarating.
This 2021 documentary that follows three Iranian sisters in their efforts to become international wushu champions has been hailed as “Rocky-esque.” And for good reason. Although their circumstances and sport might be very different, Platform’s stars are also hard-working underdogs both in life and in competition. And watching them train and compete, you can’t help but root for Elaheh Mansourian, Shahrbanoo Mansourian, and Soheila Mansourian every bit as hard as you root for Rocky.
Platform is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.
When it came out in 2011, Fightville was an empathetic and intimate portrait of local MMA fighters at various points in their careers training out of Lafayette, Louisiana. Eleven years later, it’s an empathetic and intimate portrait of local MMA fighters at various points in their careers and an unprecedented glimpse into the early days of a current UFC star. Because one of the up-and-coming mixed martial artists profiled in Fightlville just happens to be Dustin Poirier.
Fightville is currently available for rent from a number of outlets, including iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.
Emptying The Tank
This short documentary about a Chippewa mixed martial artist named Ashley Nichols packs quite a punch into its runtime. In just 9 minutes and 37 seconds, we’re treated to a look into Nichol’s life, her beliefs, her fights, her community, the parallels she sees between Muay Thai and First Nations culture, and how she wants to inspire the next generation of martial artists. We’re also treated to some stunning black and white footage of warmups, hand-wrapping, shadowboxing, Wai Kru, and pad work along the way.
Emptying The Tank is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.
B1 (aka B1 Tenório em Pequim)
This one takes a little effort and patience to watch, but it’s worth it.
Felipe Braga and Eduardo Hunter Moura’s 2009 documentary follows professional Brazilian judoka Antonio Tenorio as he trains and competes for his fourth gold medal at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing. Tenorio is B1, a Paralympic classification for athletes for either mostly or completely blind, and at the time of filming he was one of the few B1 athletes in the world competing in both in and outside of Paralympic judo tournaments.
Disability in sports can be a tricky subject to film well. Abled filmmakers don’t have the best history with the topic. But Braga and Moura do a great job of engaging with Tenorio’s life and work without feeling exploitive and celebrating his tremendous achievements without pandering. The result is a thoughtful look at a martial artist’s training and competition, and all of the highs and lows that happen along the way.
Unfortunately, the English version isn’t currently available to stream, but the film is on YouTube and turning on the auto-generated subtitles will give you a good idea of what’s going.