Five years ago, Daredevil was repackaged, retooled, and reintroduced to popular culture in the live-action medium when Marvel Television decided to use the character in its first foray into the streaming space, via its partnership with Netflix. Unlike the previous incarnation released in cinemas in 2003, this version of Daredevil not only resonated with fans, but was critically acclaimed and financially successful. Most importantly, it (much like Arrow did for CW) spawned a shared universe for the smaller screen, one where a number of well-known (and not so well-known) characters were successfully adapted for the masses.
For three seasons, Marvel and Netflix told the story of Matthew Murdock, as he battled crime in the courtrooms as well as the rooftops, back alleys, and docks of the city. He faced crooked businessmen, gun runners, drug dealers, assassins, enforcers, ninjas, antiheroes, and corrupt law enforcement, using his wits, grit, mental toughness, and fighting skills, and he battled them successfully on all fronts. Murdock wasn’t a billionaire tech genius, a master spy trained by the government, or a kung fu master; he was a blind kid, the son of a boxer who learned about the harsh realities of life early, and burdened himself with the responsibility of doing what it took to battle those who would wrong others, working inside and outside of the law. No natural genius, no powers, no serum, no government programming — he did all this armed with his will and his skill.
In honor of this series, the impact it had on pop culture, and the ripples it created through the various other live-action shows it spawned, I am doing a breakdown of the fighting style, technique, strategies, and habits of Marvel’s own educated brawler, Matthew Murdock, AKA Daredevil.
In Part 1, I discussed Matt Murdock’s techniques with regard to counter-punching and level-changing, and how it fed into his success against dangerous opponents who outmatched him physically. In Part 2, I break down the tactics that make Matt the “educated brawler” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Matt Murdock is a very skilled fighter. In fact, during The Defenders, his sensei Stick referred to him as one of the most naturally gifted fighters he has ever seen. But unlike other gifted fighters who chose to fight technically using accuracy, positioning, angles, technique, and timing, Murdock instead willingly engages in high contact exchanges made to test the poise and durability of an opponent, more so than testing their all-around skill sets and fight IQ. The idea is that while there are many skilled fighters, there aren’t many tough skilled fighters who can or will continue when or if a fight gets messy.
1) Murdock sees his opponent, Nobu Yoshioka, and once again he rushes into battle to close the distance, using a shoulder block to take him off-balance and put him on the defensive. As Nobu recovers his balance and attempts to regain his stance, Murdock lunges in with a powerful but telegraphed uppercut that backs Nobu up.
2) Stunned, Nobu fires back a wild right hook, which Murdock blocks. He then lands another telegraphed uppercut followed by a wide but powerful left hook; Murdock is imposing his will on Nobu
3) Murdock tries to maintain momentum by coming in with powerful, but poorly set up, strikes — in this case a right cross, which Nobu blocks to the inside, forcing Murdock to over extend and reach across his body. Realizing Nobu hasn’t completely recovered, Matthew gets off a left cross to keep from being tied up or countered,which Nobu slips to the outside.
4) Off the slip Nobu tries to land a left hand over the top, but Murdock fires off a short right hand simultaneously; this same time counter beats Nobu to the spot, interrupting his attempt at putting together a striking combination. Murdock then changes levels and fires a straight left to the body, before once again changing levels and coming in with a right over the top that puts Nobu on his heels.
5) Nobu unleashes a backfist, hoping to counter Murdock’s overaggression in his punching, but Murdock blocks it and counters with a short left hook. Nobu is attempting to play a version of “sticky hands” with Murdock, seeking to trap his hand and create clear lanes to land to the head and body.
6) Murdock fires a straight right hand, but Nobu parries it down, trapping him and letting loose a backfist over the top. Murdock rotates his hips, catching the strike on his guard. Nobu turns the strike into a trap, exposing Murdock’s midsection to a short right hand.
7) Murdock willingly eats the shot, in order to gain an opportunity to get inside on Nobu, where his strength and size advantage can be maximized. He lands a short right hand that puts Nobu on his back foot, then lands a stiff kick to the body under Nobu’s left arm, sending him careening into a guard rail before finishing with a 360 spinning back kick, ending the exchange.
In this fight, Murdock forced an exchange and did so in a manner that opened him up to being countered or outclassed. However, the purpose of this wasn’t to showcase an array of skills; especially given that he was at a huge disadvantage regarding skill and experience he sought to impose himself physically and mentally on an opponent who had previously gotten the best of him.
These engagements are where Matt’s reputation as an educated brawler was established, because when it comes down to it; he will seek to initiate and extend exchanges that allow him to back up and break down opponents, which is a common theme in both his comic book and live-action runs. Daredevil is a gifted martial artist with a broad skill set and physical tools who eschews clean technique and instead insists on engaging in physically punishing fights that show his duality as a fighter: The educated part is Matt’s use of fighter IQ to figure out the way to resolve the problems posed by a myriad of opponents — regardless of styles, approach, or attributes — and to utilize the correct techniques to exploit those opponents’ weaknesses. The brawler part is Matt’s penchant for making fights a matter of will, conditioning, and durability, and leaning heavily on those things while only flirting with the finer points of his game in regards to technique.
For three seasons, Marvel and Netflix explored the duality of Matt Murdock, the lawyer and masked vigilante. They told the story of how he came to be and the burden that was placed firmly on his shoulders. The series showed the depth of his character and the complexity of his being, using the city he lived in and the people he interacted with to tell the story of Daredevil, both in and out of the mask. But the most important thing the series did was use his fighting skill, fighting history, and fighting style to tell the story, providing fans with a physical representation of the many layers Murdock had, the demons he faced, and the responsibility he bore. Any true Daredevil fan knows that a large part of who and how he is was firmly rooted in the teaching and experiences he had as he developed into one the best fighters in his part of the Marvel Universe. Fighting isn’t just something Matt did well, it was something that told his story. Whether there are more stories for his fights to tell remain to be seen.