Whenever an action film becomes a big hit there is always a rush to emulate the heroes of the film. Whether it is buying film merchandise or real life items like cars, firearms, and clothes people get into a film whole heartedly. Martial arts films are no different as people run out to the local dojo to train in the art that helped the hero save the day. Most honest martial arts instructors will explain that it takes years to learn a martial art, and that those films are seldom a good example of how any martial art really works. Film makers are seldom satisfied with reality and feel a need to improve upon even the most impressive real life situations. The exception though is when knowledgeable people are involved with a project and its creation and reality become part of the fantasy.
The James Bond series is a good example of a blend of fantasy and reality. The fantasy side of James Bond is he is able to accomplish what normally takes a whole team of operatives to do in real life espionage assignments. He doesn’t have to deal with any of the dirty or boring parts of intelligence gathering (read sitting in an uncomfortable place, drinking coffee and waiting for extremely long periods of time). Many agents of the CIA and British MI6 will tell you that a lot of what they do is boring, but can still become extremely dangerous in a blink of an eye. For many agents an assignment involves slogging through the mud of some third world hellhole not dinning at the finest restaurants in some of the world’s most beautiful cities.
What the fictional 007 does draw from reality is his martial arts forms. With the exception of one film, You Only Live Twice where 007 learned Ninjitsu (taught to Sean Connery by real life martial arts expert Donn Draeger) the martial art of choice for the British spy in over 20 films is combat Judo. The martial arts form allows Bond to take on much larger opponents, and use their weight against them in personal combat. In From Russia with Love Bond was able to take on a well armed assassin, and turn the tables thanks to his Judo training. For a spy dealing with an ever changing battlefield, pre-world war II Judo is the perfect choice, because it allowed him to be flexible, and different techniques can be seen scattered throughout the films. This form of Judo is nothing if not practical and for a spy operating alone in the field there are no second chances. Bond was able to quickly defeat enemies and move on with the mission.
The reality of James Bond’s world comes from his creator Ian Fleming who drew from his many adventures and experiences in the world of espionage. Before Fleming wrote twelve novels and nine short stories featuring James Bond, secret agent 007 he would have many adventurers of his own. Educated at both Eton College and Sandhurst military academy Fleming would also go on to learn languages and work as both a stockbroker and journalist. Like Bond he enjoyed, many activities like scuba diving, mountain climbing, auto racing as well as smoking and drinking. When World War II began Fleming was an army reservist part of the famous Black Watch regiment, but transferred to the intelligence branch of the Royal Navy by its director Rear Admiral John Godfrey. Like his favorite character he would achieve the rank of Commander and take part in the planning of many operations in the European theater of the war.
Many of the code names for these operations would later become names of Bond novels, and several of the characters of his books are said to be based of real people Fleming met while working in the British intelligence community. Nobody is exactly sure who Bond was based off of, but it is believed he was a combination of several colorful characters Fleming knew. He also helped setup the structure for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which would later become the CIA. During this time he was exposed to the many commando units who were using Judo as part of their unarmed combat training. Fleming would command his own unit of raiders and made sure to include Judo as apart of their training.
Though it is only rumored that Fleming trained a secret Camp X in Canada which trained spies and commandos in close combat, assassination techniques, and sabotage a recent book says it more likely he just visited. What is clear though is Fleming learned well from what he saw, and he brought that to his writing. Fleming who helped to create the modern intelligence agency would spend the post war years creating a fictional world of spies and terrorists.
Though fictional Bond’s martial art of choice is still taught to intelligence operatives and remains the best choice some 50 years later. Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) the United Kingdom’s Special Forces branch still use many of the commando tactics learned in WWII today. WWII combatives which include Judo have stood the test of time on screen, and on the battlefields of the world. Fleming and his peers didn’t have the luxury of looking good on a mission. They needed what worked against the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, and Judo was the choice of the founders of modern espionage.