Fighting The Good Fight
In developing Batman's singular method of hand-to-hand combat and choreographing the film's visceral fight sequences, director Christopher Nolan and fight arranger David Forman (The Last Samurai) were looking to find a style that marries the gritty intensity of street fighting with a disciplined martial arts approach. A kind of new fighting style not seen in film or an action RPG game.
"For Batman, everything is about function, it's about the most effective way of doing something," Nolan says, "so we needed a style that is brutal, economical and real."
"We really wanted something that would look as though Bruce Wayne-as-Batman had created his own style of fighting, something that was unique in style and look," Christian Bale elaborates. "A big part of the Batman persona is the aggressive, animalistic way he attacks his enemies. I wanted to show how devastating he is when he charges forward and attacks people, and his resilience in taking blows as well."
The director also wanted the combat to be more jarring and realistic than the graceful, balletic form of fighting that comes from wire work. "We've gotten comfortable seeing fighting portrayed in this graceful, dance-like fashion to the point where the violence loses its threat," he muses. "I wanted to take it back to a grittier place, where you feel the punches a bit more."
The Keysi Fighting Method, also known as Keysi or KFM, is based on a series of tight, controlled, efficient movements. An evolving discipline that was founded only 20 years ago, Keysi is an intuitive, low-grounded fighting method that requires superior leg and upper body strength, with a strong emphasis on mental focus and awareness. Unlike other martial arts developed for sport, KFM lends itself to combat in close quarters and can be applied to fighting in any environment, against multiple attackers from all directions.
"The Keysi Fighting Method is a very intuitive kind of martial art, but also very, very brutal," Bale relates. "It's all about going for the break straightaway. It's quite instinctive and it adapts to many different situations. So it truly looks as though this is Batman's own style that he's come up with."
"Christian is an excellent student," Forman attests. "We were very surprised at how quickly he absorbed the information when we gave him his first lesson."
Bale dedicated himself to five months of rigorous physical training to prepare for the demanding role. Achieving the necessary level of agility and fitness was made all the more challenging by the fact that he had lost 63 pounds - dropping to an emaciated 121 lbs. - for his previous role as a tormented insomniac in The Machinist.
"I completely destroyed my body," Bale admits. "I'd reduced myself to something almost less than human. I tried to do a push up and couldn't. I went down and I didn't come back up. I couldn't do one single push-up because I'd wrecked my muscles so much."
By the time filming commenced, Bale had gained back his former weight and added an additional 20 pounds of muscle to achieve his Bruce Wayne/Batman physique.
To film Bruce Wayne's down-and-dirty confrontation with seven prisoners in a Bhutanese jail, which takes place before he acquires the training to develop a brutally effective fighting method of his own, Forman choreographed a series of crude movements for Bale.
"This is where we see Bruce Wayne at his rawest," Forman notes. "He's got a lot of inner anger, so his fighting has to come from pure brutality. No formal techniques and nothing too technical."
Staging a realistic seven-on-one battle also presented a challenge. According to Forman, "It's difficult to choreograph a fight where you have seven characters assaulting one character and make it feel like they're all attacking him at once. We wanted the fighting to be as realistic as possible."
The first fight sequence filmed was Bruce Wa
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