Paradise, Martial Arts and Magnum PI
We recently got a new cable setup in the house, and I’ve been busy training to learn all the new channels. So, like every other modern man, I’ve simply resorted to flipping through the channel guide to find something to watch.
Then I came down to earth when I came across the classic detective series from the 1980s, Magnum PI.
During this episode, Magnum was fighting some gangsters and one of his opponents pulled out nunchucks and quickly knocked out Magnum’s friend.
Being the smart guy that he is, Magnum didn’t rush. Instead, he grabbed an ashtray and used the can to block the weapon’s many blows before finally knocking the attacker out with it.
For eight seasons, Tom Selleck plays private investigator Thomas Magnum, a Naval Academy graduate, former Seal and Vietnam veteran. Magnum lived on Tom Clancy’s beautiful estate as author Robin Masters.
In exchange for rent-free living on the estate and the use of Robins’s red Ferrari 308 GTB, Magnum handled security with Englishman Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, a former British Army Sergeant Major.
If working on the estate with all the big perks wasn’t enough to keep Magnum busy, he did plenty of other investigative work and had to deal with drug dealers, hitmen, terrorists, spies, and even the more mundane tasks like divorce cases. I can’t think of a private investigator or Navy man I’ve ever met who isn’t a fan of the show.
It’s important to note that while Magnum may have had fantastic adventures every week, the melee skills he used in nearly every episode were real-world self-defense. And looking back on the show, Magnum clearly showed his experience in military martial arts. After all, Magnum faced attackers wielding everything from martial arts weapons to bottles, bats and, of course, firearms.
Magnum learned his martial arts when the military was still using the WWII fighting gear developed by Charles Nelson and BJ Cosneck for the Navy and Marine Corps. These men taught martial arts for the battlefield and street fighting, not for sports.
But Magnum wasn’t the only one to show progress in close combat. Higgins, a veteran with more than twenty years of military service, was familiar with numerous martial arts, although he clearly relied on the self-defense methods taught by Colonel William E. Fairbairn. Magnum’s friends Rick and TC also proved what they learned in the Marines in countless fights alongside Magnum.
Magnum was a member of SEAL Team One operating out of Da Nang, Vietnam and served under the CIA Station Chief during the war (Magnum and his friends can often be seen wearing Da Nang baseball caps). Magnum didn’t learn hand-to-hand combat in a nice, clean martial arts school, but on the streets of Da Nang and in the jungles of northern Vietnam. Magnum never wasted time taking poses or trying to do specific moves. Instead, when he saw a threat and attacked. If he had the advantage of firearms or other weapons, he used them.
During their wartime service, Magnum and his friends escaped from an enemy prison camp and had to disarm the pursuers with their bare hands. In one case, while searching for a kidnapped friend, Magnum has to fight an accomplished martial artist from Japan. Although his opponents throw many powerful kicks, Magnum keeps attacking until the other man falls.
Although Magnum was a fictional character, there are many lessons to be learned from him. He and his friends were proud patriots who never regretted their service in Vietnam and understood the real dangers of the cold war and terrorism. They weren’t complacent either. Magnum and all of his friends used sports to maintain functional strength. Higgins even joined the boys on a rescue mission in Cambodia and was still up for action.
Hawaii teaches many martial arts to enthusiastic students, but the style used by its most famous fictional resident remains the best. On an island where the environment is as diverse as Hawaii, you have to be able to adapt to every possible self-defense situation. You cannot afford to be limited in your ability to protect yourself. The clever writers of the TV show obviously realized this and kept Magnum using his combative military rather than join the karate and ninja craze of the time.