The Many Styles of the 'Human Weapon'

History Channel travels the globe in search of the best style in martial arts.

July 20, 2007 — -- When Jason Chambers signed on to co-host the History Channel's new show "Human Weapon," the show's producers conveyed the excitement, telling him about the adventure and exotic locales.

What they did not harp on, according to Chambers, was the fact that he was "going to get punched in the face by a lot of Asian men."

"Human Weapon," premiering tonight on the History Channel, takes Chambers and co-host Bill Duff around the world in search of the history and tradition behind 13 martial arts styles, from French Savate streetfighting to Cambodian bloodsport Bokator.

Each episode focuses on one of the fighting styles and will culminate in a hand-to-hand fight between one of the hosts, who has had a week's worth of training in the discipline, and one of the school's masters.

"The show is about finding why these arts started and where they started from," said Chambers, who is a mixed martial arts fighter that has been training in some form of martial arts since he was 6. "But basically, it's also going to be a whole lot of me just getting my butt kicked."

Necessity Is the Mother of Flying High Kicks

After filming nine of the show's 13 episodes and delving into the history of each discipline, a slightly worse-for-wear Chambers has found one thing shared among all styles.

"All these arts have evolved from war; all out of necessity," Chambers told

"For instance, when Ferdinand Magellan came over to the Philippines, the Spanish took away all the people's machetes. So they used what was around: vines, branches and tree sticks. That's how Arnis [Filipino stick fighting] was born," he said.

John Whitman, a fourth degree black belt in Israeli Krav Maga and president of Krav Maga World Wide, believes this is why the styles vary from one part of the world to another.

"The systems were developed with specific things in mind. Tae Kwon Do today isn't so practical," Whitman told, referring to the leaping and high kicking that characterizes the discipline, "but the reason it was developed in Korea is because oftentimes foot soldiers and peasants had to deal with trying to hit soldiers on horseback."

More recently, the harsh Israeli street fighting known as Krav Maga was developed in the 1960s to combat the very real and growing danger of war with its neighbors.

"There's no pretty stuff in Krav Maga," explained Whitman, who's been involved with Krav Maga for 16 years. "The thinking was losing is not an option. So if someone attacks me I need to be aggressive as hell. That's reflected in Krav Maga."

While some ancient arts, like Tae Kwon Do, are willing to sacrifice practicality for tradition, "Human Weapon" will also look at those, like practitioners of Krav Maga, who literally fight to stay alive.

Building to Building, Hand-to-Hand in Modern War

In a world of satellite-guided missiles and cyberterrorism, proficiency in hand-to-hand combat seems less and less necessary. According to Whitman, however, with many armies switching their focus from purely military to policing actions, the need for martial arts is greater now than ever.

"It's not go in there and if you see someone you shoot," explained Whitman, who had an employee helping to train soldiers in Iraq. "These guys [soldiers] are being told to be more open and communicative, rather than sitting in Humvees. They're being asked to mingle. In some ways that's a good thing, but it potentially exposes them to more danger. Now it's a lot closer, and they may need to use hand-to-hand techniques before they can get to their weapons."

In response to such a threat, the U.S. Marines in 2001 adopted martial arts training as part of their basic combat training.

During one episode of "Human Weapon" that focused on the Marines' training, Chambers got up close and personal with the style of fighting that is currently used on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, and learned that the style's greatest asset is its flexibility.

"They're always mixing things up. They have different people come in for seminars," explained Chambers. "They have kind of a hybrid now, but that's the future of martial arts. You have to evolve."

Something Primal

For civilians, the hugely popular Ultimate Fighting competitions have proved to be an evolutionary catalyst for martial arts. "Human Weapon" spends one episode getting to know mixed martial arts, a style that has developed over recent years simply through trial and error.

"It is a sport and approach to martial arts that draws the best from boxing, Muay Thai, judo, Brazilian jui jitsu and other practical styles," explained former mixed martial arts fighter and owner David Roy. "Through live practice and competition, techniques that work are adopted and ones that do not are dropped."

But mixed martial arts has been forged through years and tears and buckets of blood by men who were not fighting for their lives. Whitman believes people choose to fight because their interest in martial arts competitions and shows like "Human Warrior" is nothing less than "primal."

"My theory is this: You and I, we're not allowed to raid the next village, and we're still looking for some outlet to test that courage. Some guys find that arguing as lawyers do it, some guys think finding the best business deal does it. But none of those are as primal as you and another guy duking it out," he said.

According to Andrew Frazer, a black belt instructor at New York Jui Jitzu, the human connection is the attraction:

"It's very pure. Hand-to-hand is universal; any man can practice it. The thing we all have in common is our human body."