In comic books and the live action versions of them, we are routinely exposed to the most fantastic elements of a person’s imagination splashed across pages and screens (big and small). We have beings with an immense amount of superhuman ability; they have enhanced strength, super speed, hyper agility, advanced healing, invulnerability, enhanced senses, flight, energy manipulation, control of the elements, etc — things that at best are far off in the future, at worst are just unrealistic or impossible. But somewhere in these stories of the fantastical and the incredible there are things we can see, things that are possible, things that translate. That is where this article comes in, as we discuss one of the biggest comic book heroes in the world — Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America.
Now we haven’t seen the creation of super soldiers — men or women with the physical tools to fight 15-20 soldiers or assassins, outrun cars, leap off buildings without harm, lift heavy objects, or kick people halfway across the room. But what we have seen is well-trained men and women who operate at the highest level of human physical ability. More importantly, we have seen men and women who have committed themselves to learning a myriad of martial arts — blending different styles, techniques, and philosophies — all to physically dominate an opponent. In Captain America, we have a man who does something similar in the Marvel Universe, so it’s worth breaking down the fighting style and techniques of the First Avenger, the finest hand-to-hand combatant in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One of the fundamental pillars of Steve Rogers’ fighting style is boxing; it is the one constant in almost every hand-to-hand engagement he’s had, be it against highly paid mercenary, super soldier assassin, technological genius in a suit of armor, or god. Rogers has showcased not just individual offensive technique, but defensive skills, offensive skills, and counter skills employed in a textbook fashion. Unlike some in the Marvel Universe who are educated brawlers (I’m talking to you, Daredevil; look for that article in the near future), Rogers instead leans on positioning, slick defensive maneuvers, and flawlessly executed offense to be successful, even in light of the tremendous physical advantages he has that others don’t have. (Yes I am still talking to you, Matt Murdock.)
Slips, Parries, and Counters
- Brock Rumlow swings a wild right hand. Rogers keeps his knees bent, allowing him to lean back to avoid the punch without losing balance or getting his feet out of position. This keeps him defensively responsible in the case that he follows up with strikes.
- Rumlow, seeing that Steve’s hands are down, and seemingly out of position, follows up with a short left cross. Rogers simultaneously parries the left hand inside as the first line of defense, bringing it across his body to eliminate the left hand as a threat and take Rumlow out of position. As a second line of defense, Rogers slips to the outside, a move that is a must, as it allows him to be safe in the case that the parry misses (i.e., basic boxing fundamentals).
- Sensing he is out of position and vulnerable to being countered, Rumlow pours it on, following up with a right cross, which Rogers once again parries to the inside while slipping to the outside and neutralizing it.
- Rumlow responds with a slashing uppercut thrown with a slight angling, meant to catch Steve as he brought his head back on the centerline after his outside slip; Steve once again slips to the outside, once again having Rumlow crossing his body again eliminating it as an offensive weapon and defensive tool.
- Now, having gotten Rumlow to over pursue due to his inability to land cleanly on Rogers — as well as the constant threat he is under, as he is constantly put out of position when attacking — Rogers finally counters Rumlow with a short right hand (right cross).
This was a textbook example of Steve Rogers the technician, setting a trap for Rumlow by getting him to overcommit with his strikes and his pressure, frustrating Rumlow, making him more aggressive and as a result sloppier, creating the opening for a counter with maximum opportunity for success and minimum risk of being countered.
Slips and Body Punches:
- Rogers is in a corner, similar to how one might be in a boxing ring. Rumlow figuring this eliminates Steve’s mobility and limits his athleticism as a factor in the fight, pursues aggressively, ready to attack.
Rumlow leads with a wild left hand. Rogers leans back and slips to the outside; he doesn’t lean all the way back as he did the first time, as he is aware of the wall and making an adjustment for it so that he won’t be out of position and open for a follow up from Rumlow.
- Rumlow fires off a sharp right cross, which Rogers slips to the outside, not using a parry due to the intensity of Rumlow’s attack and the limited room to maneuver. After he slips he follows with a left hook to the body.
- Rumlow follows up with another left hand, which this time Rogers rolls under, bending his knees to change levels, taking him under Rumlow’s shot and loading him up to fire off a follow up right hand.
In this instance we see the combat IQ of Steve Rogers. In the first exchange, he set traps using footwork, defensive maneuvers (parries/slips), and positioning (getting head off centerline) to bait Rumlow into being overly aggressive, setting up the sharp counter. In this exchange, however, Rogers realized he didn’t have as much room to move, meaning that he couldn’t afford to be as defensive in waiting for openings to present themselves. This time he couldn’t just make Rumlow miss, he had to make him pay, which he did in the form of two body shots.
But as much as Captain America has done to showcase the value of the sweet science, it is important to note that Steve Rogers is not just a boxer — while it is his base martial art, he has diversified his skillset, and it’s important to showcase that aspect of his combat skills:
- Rogers deftly traps Rumlow’s arm and transitions into a standing shoulder lock, simultaneously immobilizing him and taking his right hand out of play as a weapon or defensive tool.
- Rogers uses an elbow strike to stun Rumlow, disarming him and effectively ending his threat as a combatant.
- The Winter Soldier tries to stab Rogers, and he uses a high forearm block to stop the strike.
- The Winter Soldier immediately reverses off of the block to change levels with his attack, where Rogers uses a low forearm block.
- The Winter Soldier redirects once again, aiming his blade at the eye of Rogers. Steve uses a double wrist lock to neutralize the blade hand and to set up a throw. The Winter Soldier recognizes this and quickly shoves Rogers off, in order to create space and more importantly break the hold so Rogers can’t adjust and transition to another throw.
In these two instances Steve Rogers showed a bit more of what he has in the toolbox, first using forearm blocks commonly found in various styles of traditional karate to defend against knife attacks, then transitioning to aikido to eliminate the threat of the knife and take the Winter Soldier down.
- The Winter Soldier has Rogers trapped against a van, trying to push his blade into him as Steve struggles to prevent that.
- Rogers goes with the momentum of the blade, making a deft inside pivot, clearing both arms and transitioning into a duck under.
- Steve gets a rear waistlock, transitioning into a belly to back suplex.
That was for the wrestler/grappler types. Although I have spent a lot of time on the striking of Steve Rogers, it’s important to point out that Captain America has some skills on the opposite end of the spectrum, skills that aren’t often showcased, but are possessed. As illustrated above, he showed a slick and well-executed wrestling takedown, transitioning from a defensive position and finding an advantageous position before executing it.
Steve Rogers is the ultimate hero in the MCU, a guy who was never accepting of bullies, never unwilling to step in when danger arose and others were put in harm’s way. And while he is hero who has been enhanced by the Super Soldier Serum, to think that he relies purely on physical strength, speed, agility, and explosiveness would be a mistake. He is a true fighter, not just because he can and will fight, but because he spent the time and effort to learn the skills to handle himself when his physical tools wouldn’t be enough. And in a world of futuristic armors, highly trained mercenaries, gods, arachnid-powered heroes, and Wakandan herb-enhanced warrior kings, it would never be. Steve Rogers isn’t just the best hero in regards to character, but he is also the most seasoned, skilled, and well-trained hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Avengers: Endgame arrives on Friday, April 26.
The grave course of events set in motion by Thanos that wiped out half the universe and fractured the Avengers ranks compels the remaining Avengers to take one final stand in Marvel Studios’ grand conclusion to twenty-two films.