Superhero Martial Artists – Top 5 Countdown

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting

Neo:I know Kung Fu.
Morpheus: Show me.

The Matrix

Martial arts are one of the world’s oldest traditions. Masters have spent millennia striving to improve mind, body, and soul through exercise, diligence, and beating the crap out of each other. Is it any wonder that martial arts are a cornerstone of the superhero genre?

Every superhero worthy of the title knows some form of martial arts. Most get by as superpowered brawlers. Some actually learn how to fight, only resorting to powers and gadgets if needed. A small number push past their limits to master martial arts. So who are the top five superhero martial artists? Let’s find out, grasshoppa.

#5 Iron Fist

Played by Finn Jones and Greg Cipes

Iron Fist: [punching a giant monster] “The bigger they come, the harder they fall when you slice through their Achilles tendon. [the monster falls] Thank God this thing has an Achilles tendon.

Immortal Iron Fist #23

We’ll kick off this list of the top five Superhero Martial Artists with the Avengers’ Living Weapon: Iron Fist.

Danny Rand was the son of a wealthy businessperson who wanted to find the mythical city of K’un-Lun. His parents were assassinated by a colleague. Danny was left to die, but was rescued by monks from K’un Lun.

Danny began training with them to take revenge against his parents’ killer. He surpassed the other students by mastering dozens of fighting styles. He aced his final test by defeating a dragon called Shou-Lao the Undying by punching him in the heart. This act gave Danny the ability to make his hand “like unto a thing of iron”, and earned him the title of Iron Fist.

Iron Fist is one of the Marvel Universe’s best fighters. The sacred teachings of K’un Lun are more than enough for him to deal with most criminals or weaker villains. The Iron Fist lets him knock out enemies he would otherwise stand no chance against. That said, Danny is merely a skilled martial artist without the Iron Fist.

There’s a lot more to Iron Fist’s story. Check out our Iron Fist Backstory and review of his Netflix show.

#4 Richard Dragon

Played by Mark Dacascos and Kirk Acevedo

Richard Dragon:So I took on the student with no name. A talented amateur. [montage of Richard Dragon fighting superheroes] He must have told all his friends. I stopped asking questions after a while, never even asked for names.

Richard Dragon #7

You aren’t truly good at something until you can teach others how to do it. That’s why Richard Dragon is our number four Superhero Martial Artist.

Richard Dragon was a young thief from Japan who was caught trying to steal from a dojo. His would-be victim, O-Sensei, realized that Dragon was a good person deep down and offered to train him. Dragon became an expert fighter and philosopher. He eventually became a wandering hero.

Richard Dragon was sought out by a young Bruce Wayne to serve as one of his teachers. He taught the future-Batman all he knew. Batman would later teach these techniques to the Justice League. Some heroes would even seek out Richard Dragon on their own to train. He has directly or indirectly taught every member of the Justice League how to fight.

We can’t send you to Richard Dragon for study, but how about checking out our Richard Dragon Backstory?

#3 Shang-Chi

Played by Simu Liu

Shang-Chi:It is said that every pilgrim’s journey begins with but a single step. This, then…was mine. Countless more await me over the horizon…yet walk them I will. Walk them I must, for I am the rising and advancing spirit. I…am Shang-Chi, and my journey never ends.

Journey Into Mystery #516

Iron Fist may be Marvel’s most famous Superhero Martial Artist, but he isn’t their best. That title belongs to Shang-Chi: The Master of Kung Fu.

Shang-Chi is the long-lost son of Fu Manchu. He was raised to be the ultimate martial artist and assassin. Shang-Chi was sent to assassinate one of Fu’s enemies and encountered his father’s nemesis, Sir Denis Smith. Denis revealed that Fu Manchu was evil and convinced Shang-Chi to turn on his father.

Shang-Chi wandered the world, combating his father’s forces wherever he found them. He frequently fought heroes due to misunderstandings, earning a reputation among the superhero community for his fighting prowess. Several heroes have studied under him, including Captain America, Wolverine, and Spider-Man. Shang-Chi even created a new style of martial arts specifically tailored to Spider-Man during a crossover.

Shang-Chi makes his film debut in 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Fu Manchu will be replaced by an Iron Man villain called The Mandarin.

#2 Lady Shiva

Played by Kelly Hu and Gwendoline Yeo

Oracle: Her hobby is hunting down the best fighters in the world and beating them to death with her bare hands.” – Batgirl #7

Batgirl Vol. 1, #7

You didn’t think every one of the Top 5 Superhero Martial Artists was male, did you? The female is often the deadlier of the species. No one proves that more than Lady Shiva.

Sandra Wu-San was a martial arts prodigy who trained with her sister Carolyn. She always held back to avoid hurting her sister. While training, Sandra learned to read body language instinctively, making her borderline precognitive in a fight.

Carolyn was murdered by an assassin named David Cain, who wanted Sandra to stop holding back. She trained relentlessly to kill Cain, renaming herself Lady Shiva when she was done. While they fought, he convinced her that she was better now than she had ever been. Lady Shiva spared Cain and became an internationally feared assassin.

Lady Shiva decided that the only way to continue improving was to murder martial arts masters after a fair fight. She has taught several heroes her skills in exchange for a duel to the death. Any hero who goes to Lady Shiva without a plan to break the deal or a cheat that will let them win is usually considered suicidal.

There’s still more to the story of Lady Shiva. Read her backstory for more info.

#1 Cassandra Cain

Played by Ella Jay Basco and Mindy Raymond

Cassandra Cain:You want to die? [knocks Lady Shiva down] Keep searching.
Lady Shiva: [Cassandra falls next to her] “I’ll… kill you.
Cassandra:Not tonight.

Batgirl #25

Cassandra Cain has a lot of titles. Batgirl, Black Bat, Orphan, Daughter of Destruction, The One Who is All, and now, you can add number one Superhero Martial Artist to that list.

Lady Shiva had David Cain’s child before they parted ways. Cain wanted to raise her as the ultimate assassin. Lady Shiva believed the child would be able to kill her and left her in David’s care. 

Cassandra Cain was raised on martial arts and assassination tactics, specifically forbidden from speaking and never taught to read so that she would gain Shiva’s body reading technique faster.

Cassandra was sent to assassinate a target, but her empathy let her feel the target’s pain, fear, and death. She fled the scene of the crime and spent years wandering, eventually winding up in Gotham City. A convoluted series of events brought her to Batman’s attention and convinced him to make Cassandra Cain the new Batgirl.

Cassandra Cain is often portrayed as the single best fighter in the DC Universe. Batman has claimed that if he ever fought her seriously, he would lose hands down. These skills don’t come free. She suffers from dyslexia and started out borderline mute. Despite her challenges, Cassandra Cain is one hero that no smart villain wants to fight.

You want to know more about our number one? The Cassandra Cain backstory is right here.

Who is your favorite superhero martial artist? Is there someone who is even better than these? Tell us in the comments.

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