Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior Is Entertaining, But Voodoo Is More Scientific.

Scene From An Episode Of Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior

I can think of no program suited for a general population educated in public schools that have learned little or nothing about what constitutes scientific methodology than Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior. I admit it is entertaining, but it is anything but scientific. They take warrior cultures from across the world and try and see who would come out on top in a lab where the students of those traditions wield their weapons against perfectly still gelled models of enemies. They try and compare short-range weapons medium range weapons and long range weapons of each culture. And those categorizations are where the science begins and ends.

Apples versus Oranges.

Let’s begin with a simple broad sword. You hire a guy who has devoted years of practice with a broadsword. Let’s say this is Joe Sixpack of Columbus Ohio. Keep in mind that a broad sword is just a sharpened piece of steel until it is wielded as a weapon. Similarly, the leg of a stool is just a piece of wood until someone breaks it off and starts swinging it. This is important, because no weapon by itself is a threat to anyone until it is in the hands of person. Let’s say Joe Sixpack swings his sword against a gelled model of a person in the “lab”. The technicians at the show are testing this weapon, the broad sword in the hands of Joe Sixpack, and they are not testing every warrior who ever used the broadsword. It is jut one person. In the hands of a different person, they most likely would produce completely different results. Joe Sixpack swings the broadsword and sinks it two inches into the gelled model. Some other warrior might cut the gelled model in half. In fact, they may have tested Joe Sixpack on a day when he feels weak or is tired or camera shy. The fact is, every time you put the same weapon into a different person’s hands, you have a different weapon. That said, on Monday Joe Sixpack is aggravated and filled anger and produces great test results. On Tuesday Joe Sixpack has a stomach ache and his mind on something else, the results would probably be very different. So the same weapon in the same person’s hands on a different day also produces a different weapon altogether.

Competency on Deadliest Warrior is measured using one person, not the countless millions in history who actually used the weapons. Suppose for example I decide to test a Japanese Katana and I put it in the hands of Master Tadashi Yamashita. He  certainly would cut the gelled model in half or produce a “kill” wound for the ER surgeon they have on the set. Now suppose I put that sword in the hands of a far more inexperienced student. The test might show that the sword itself isn’t that fearsome. Similarly, suppose the Katana does fairly well in Tadashi Yamashita’s hands. What if I could reincarnate famed Samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi? How well would Tadashi Yamashita do with a sword he has only used in his studio and at martial arts demonstrations compared with the sword in the hands of a man who has seen hard combat in actuality. Who do you think would prevail? Scientifically, the two people, using the same weapon, the same way, would still be comparing two completely different weapons. I mean, you might have a broadsword and I might have a katana, and frankly the weapon has far less to do with the outcome of a real fight than who wields it. The broadsword wielding martial artist would have his clock cleaned by a guy who is better at using a Katana that he is using a broadsword. It’s sort of like having a Judoka versus a wrestler. If the Judoka pins the wrestler does that mean Judo is better than wrestling? No. It simple means that the Judoka is better at what he does than the wrestler is at wrestling. You could run this test with real people a million times and all it would tell you is who is better at what he or she does than the other combatant. It says very little about Judo versus wrestling. David killed an armored Philistine giant with a sling and a rock. Would a peltast defeat an armored infantry warrior typically? Probably not as peltasts were used primarily to harass cavalry and infantry from a football field away. The fact is David was better with his sling than Goliath was with his sword.

This means that there is no scientific way to judge one weapon against another without considering the martial artist his or herself.

In one show they were comparing William Wallace with Attila The Hun. One of the weapons they were measuring was a throwing ball, a heavy iron or lead metal ball at the end of a chain and handle. The matial artist throwing the ball missed the target the first time and had to throw it a second time to hit the gelled person. They took this data and made the decision that since their “expert”  missed the target, the weapon therefore wasn’t as deadly as its counterpoint weapon. They never considered that perhaps the people who used this weapon in medieval Britain might have been really really good at throwing it accurately. The fact is they have no idea whatsoever how good the warriors were at using that weapon. They simply measured one guy’s throw and decided this was how it performed on the battlefield. The Mongols defeated armies that used gunpowder with their own crossbows and arrows. How could a bow and arrow beat a firearm? Well a Mongol warrior could ride a horse and firs seven or eight arrows a minute accurately on the run and cause far more damage that one guy with an ancient firearm.

That said, there are no real comparisons on the show because they fail to measure the performance of the user.

If you are testing a rifled carbine against a musket, you might lock down both weapons on a firing range, measure accuracy and mussel velocity. Certainly the rifled carbine would come out ahead. Wouldn’t it?

At Antietam, 75,000 Confederates using muskets inflicted almost the same casualties on 100,000 Yankees mostly using rifled carbines.

If Deadlist Warrior measured the musket versus the rifled carbine before Antietam, they would have predicted a Union victory. But muskets that didn’t shoot straight often killed the man next to one they were pointed at. Fired en masse, it often didn’t matter which side had the superior cartridges. It mattered whose round landed. In this case, my guess is that Deadliest Warrior would have been wrong.

Environment.

One of the funniest shows featured a Pirate versus a Knight. This was too funny. First of all there were many different variations on Knights: Knights in medieval England, and French knights and Knights Templar. Int his episode they didn’t consider the horse itself. They chose a man dressed like a Crusader kind of knight. And they pitted him against a pirate that was, I swear, a Las Vegas Treasure Island Pirate. You know, he dressed like Jean LaFitte, with the puffy shirt and the three cornered hat and the matchlock pistol tucked into his waste band and classic curved blade rapier. The fact is pirates did not have a uniform. They were bandits. They dressed the way they wanted to dress or dressed in what was available. Deadliest Warrior imagined that the Pirates here all prepared for combat in a Paramount wardrobe studio. They didn’t all have matchlock pistols. They didn’t all have rapiers. They fought with what they had and what they took when they took from their defeated enemies.

Like all the fake combat scenes they staged wit these two examples, everyone from the Africa Janga Warriors and Japanese Samurai and Pirates and Knights all did battle apparently in a Los Angeles wooded back lot. The fact is, if I took a Pirate and put him in a field against an armored Knight on a horseback, of course he is going to be at a disadvantage. But what if I took a Knight put him on the pitching deck of a Spanish Galleon? You bet, the Pirate would have an advantage.

Deadliest Warrior is untenably unrealistic primarily because they do not understand that environment is everything. No one fought in an air conditioned, lighting controlled lab on a smooth level marble floor. They fought in mountains and in the desert and in rain. Think about that for a second. How well did Ramses chariots do against the ancient Hebrews when they got stuck in the Sea of Reeds? Chariots built and destroyed empires. But these massive armored killing machines were worthless in mud. That was Moses’ intention, to use environment to his advantage. Similarly, when Deadliest Warrior compared a Ninja versus a Spartan, they didn’t think about environment. A ninja would never go up against an enemy in the light of day. They crept into castles at night, often disguised as concubines. They didn’t fight at Thermopylae. Ninja’s fought dirty, dishonorably, sneaky. So the comparisons they made were as unintentionally hilarious as they were practically useless.

The Knight “won” the encounter against the Pirate in that episode. But think about the Battle of Hattin, where Knights were out of water, thirsty, encumbered by their heavy chain mail, and they lost to mounted Arabs with no armor, no heavy swords, just their bows and arrows.

In the Battle of Lake Trasimene, Hannibal put his whole army in deep thick brush, almost impossible to penetrate. They sprung upon the surprised Romans and defeated the superior numbers of foot soldiers under Gaius Flaminius by trapping them in a long defile by the water. Again environment is bigger factor than is ever considered in the “lab”.

Generalship.

This part could go forever. But leadership and maneuver made a bigger difference in how these weapons and warriors performed than the weapons and warriors themselves. History is rife with examples of smaller, less well-equipped forces defeating bigger better-equipped armies. The Finns decimated a one million man Soviet Army in 1940 with no air force, no tanks and no machine guns. The devotion of the Confederates brought threadbare often barefoot ragtag soldiers to victories against much larger Union armies for years. McClellan inspired criticism. Robert E. Lee inspired soldiers.

Where a general puts his soldiers, how he moves them, how disciplined they are, these matter far more than the weapons. On January 23rd, 1879, Zulus with little more than Assegai spears and leather shields overran a 1300 man blooded British garrison in six hours. The British had Martini-Henry breech loading rifles. They lost.

Targets

When Karate came to the United States, there were lots of tameshiwari demonstrations, or board breaking. People were amazed that a man could break a board. But boards are breakable. Bodies are flexible. Boards have to be held very still and tightly. Enemies move around. Boards don’t hit back. People do.

Similarly, the still, quiet, inanimate gelled models of enemies in no way shape or form represent real combat that pairs up two individuals with varying abilities in the dynamic and unpredictable realities of man to man combat.

It’s laughable to strike against a gelled model that doesn’t evade, doesn’t scare anyone, and has no weapon and no fighting spirit.

Motivations

Emotion is everything in battle. Israelis fight knowing that home is either behind them or under their own feet. Israelis are painfully aware of what happened to Jews that didn’t fight back during the Holocaust. So when the Israelis attack, their motvations are far more emotional than political. Yet none of this is really tested on Deadliest Warrior, nor can it be. Like my boxing coach Asa Gordon said to me, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Confederates realized that if the Union Army won, their entire way of life would be ruined. No more free labor. They would have to pay sharecroppers (slaves) and they would have to buy harvesting machines and do all the work that slaves performed. So Confederates had much more to lose than Yankees. They fought harder as a result.

Hand to hand versus army versus army.

Yes, a Roman pilum is probably a better artillery weapon than an arrow. But thousands of Parthian arrows darkening the sky in a rain of death is not the same thing as a pilum or a rain of pila. Most combat in the ancient world was multiple combatants attacking each other, and only rarely one man versus another. So the company you keep, the soldiers you fight with, the numbers of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder with you and the the mix of weapons make the difference. War is fought in groups, and man to man combat inside of a war rarely makes any difference whatsoever.

There is also something to be said about the size of the armies clashing. Yes, the Mexicans defeated the forces of Napolean III on the fifth of May 1836. Then the French came back in force months later and kicked the tar out of the Mexican army.

The Red Army was in no way superior to the Wehrmacht. But Stalin put it perfectly: “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

Unpredictability.

People make mistakes. The sun gets in your eyes. Communications get fouled up or cut off completely. It starts raining. A stray shot kills a key commander. One army is exhausted after a forced march. Sickness decimates troop strength. I could go on, but battle is also decided by the things one can hope to prepare for but never predict. This is also not tested on Deadliest Warrior.

Idiot Trash Talking

The last thing that chaps my ass about the show is the decidedly dishonorable manner and trash talking that goes on the show. True martial artists rarely claim they have monopoly on the truth.  When I was 13 and took Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan, I thought it was the deadliest style of all martial arts. Many martial artists I met felt same way about their styles whether they be Isshinryu, Kung Fu or boxing. When I matured I realized there is no such thing as best martial art. You can train your whole life and a drunk truck driver from Pittsburgh will sucker punch you into a hospital. That’s the unpredictability of combat too. I understood that every martial art is just an idea. No martial art really exists until it is performed. And anyone who has competed knows that it is not the style that matters. It is not how you throw your sidekick versus how he throws his sidekick. It’s one set of martial ideas and another is another set of ideas. Period. Again until a martial art is applied, it’s just an idea. And mature martial artists are not stupid enough to actually think they have the better way. Mature martial artists would never dis another art or weapon in that lab. It’s not just wrong morally. It’s wrong practically. They would say “cool”, and want to learn something about the weapon they were testing against. Mature martial artists are curious and open regarding combat. They would consider any weapon as worthy and every martial artist as a brother or sister.

There is no such thing as a Deadliest Style or Deadliest Warrior. There are only martial artists, or warriors fighting for some reason of another, some armed, some unarmed, all adapting to their circumstances.

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8 thoughts on “Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior Is Entertaining, But Voodoo Is More Scientific.”

  1. I can’t even find this show entertaining. It’s so frustratingly broad in the generalizations that I can’t watch. The rediculous trash-talk between the so-called experts is nauseating. Might as well watch Pros vs. Joes.

  2. Sorry one more comment. Pirates vs. Knight was a failure for another reason. *Everyone* knows that the real contest of the ages is pirate vs. ninja. There are sites devotedto this. But the show is so out of touch that they even miss that nuance.

  3. agreed agreed agreed

    The problem is none of these guys, nor the producers have done any martial arts. And I have to say the trash talking belongs in the NBA, not there.

  4. These type of programs reminds us of the medieval times. I especially love the fight scenes where the people fight with swords. It really shows good physical work and the swords really fascinates me

  5. It’s entertaining to see how the weapons of different warriors affect the body, however to go as far as to determine who would win in a battle, this show just fails. Unless someone had a time machine and pitted the actual warriors against each other, there’s absolutely no way to determine (computer simulated or otherwise) who would win in a fight. And I do agree the trash talking is pitiful as well as childish.

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