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Home > Martial Artist Icons Behind ‘Tekken’ Characters

Martial Artist Icons Behind ‘Tekken’ Characters

Tekken's inspiration for its characters is more evident than one might imagine. Marshal Law fights another character in the ring.

The Inspirations Behind the Devastation

Tekken is one of the longest-running fighting games out there. With the only other competition coming from Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.  These games have remained a staple in the fighting genre with good reason. Each game has come into its own sense of identity. What makes Tekken so unique is that it was one of the first 3D fighting games. Most games of the same genre, including Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, were two-dimensional. This didn’t just include how each game looked but also the way they played. Traditionally, fighting games were limited to a front-facing angle and two planes of movement. Tekken changed things by allowing players the ability to circle around opponents. This allowed fights to take place from different angles, with players even being able to enjoy their selected stage and fighters from different angles. This also made it feel like players were part of an action film, acting as choreographers (choreographed fights in Tekken are a thing now). This is further highlighted by the fact that many of their characters are influenced or even inspired by real-life martial artists and or action stars.

The following list of characters is composed of fighters from the various entries in the Tekken series. It will be easy to see some of the obvious fighters on this list and who they were inspired by. Others will take a little more imagination and open-mindedness. This list was compiled in no specific order.

6. Forest Law and Marshal Law/ Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee inspired Tekken's Marshal Law. Bruce Lee takes a fighting stance shirtless.

Arguably, the most obvious fighter on this list should be obvious to anyone who has just taken a passing glance at Bruce Lee to know who this character is inspired by. Just in terms of design alone, Marshal Law (and his son, Forest) is a direct homage to Bruce Lee. Players can even unlock the same iconic yellow tracksuit that Lee wore in Game of Death. Tekken 6 is the most faithful one, with Law even donning the signature shoes that Lee wore, Onitzukas!

Character design aside, Law’s fighting style can be described as being reminiscent of Jeet Kune Do. This martial art was founded by Bruce Lee. Some of Bruce Lee’s own signature moves have even made it to Law’s move set, including his legendary one-inch punch. He’ll also let out Lee’s signature “ATA” with every punch and kick he deals.  

5. Lei Wulong/ Jackie Chan

Tekken's Lei Wulong was inspired by Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan is ready to fight in a comical stance.

Another obvious homage to an action star, Lei Wulong, is undeniably inspired by Jackie Chan. In many of his films, Chan plays a Hong Kong detective. Lei Wulong’s backstory is literally how he’s a Hong Kong cop. In his first entry into the series in Tekken 2, he enters the tournament in order to avenge the death of his partner, who died at the hands of Bruce Irvin. Outside of his backstory, Wulong’s move set is also heavily inspired by Chan’s style in some of his own films. Jackie Chan has always excelled in blending action with comedy, which is practically perfected in his film Drunken Master, which incorporates drunken boxing. Wulong heavily borrows from this style, making him unique within the Tekken series as many of his moves are unconventional, earning him infamy amongst the Tekken community alongside Eddy Gordo.  A majority of his moves will see him stumbling around like a drunkard, falling to the ground after every combo. 

4. King/ Satoru Sayama and Fray Tormenta

The character, King, was inspired by Satoru Sayama and Fray Tormenta. Satoru Sayama stands with a tiger mask and wrestling belt.

There’s a large number of masked fighters that could be thought of as inspirations for the feline masked fighter, King, but the most apparent would be Satoru Sayama. Literally, the two both wore masks that looked like cats. While King is meant to look like a jaguar, Sayama is more of a tiger. The underlying message is still clear. Both fighters are remarkably agile like cats, with Sayama being considered a genuine pioneer of MMA. However, what makes King unique is that he was influenced not only by one real martial artist but two. The second is Fray Tormenta, a Mexican priest who entered the world of wrestling in order to support an orphanage financially. King’s backstory is similar to his constantly being motivated to enter the King of Iron Fist tournament in order to fund the orphanage that took him in as a child. It’s also worth noting that the first King dies, but his replacement, a child from the orphanage he ran, takes up his mantle.

3. Robert Richards/ Sammo Hung 

Tekken's character, Robert Richards, was inspired by Sammo Hung.  His size yet great agility makes him the perfect inspiration.

Robert Richards can be best described as a modern-day Sammo Hung. Hung has always been known for his size. At a time when action films were dominated by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan, Sammo stood out due to his size. Despite how big he was, he was surprisingly agile and quick. He could do multiple backflips and aerial kicks that were all shocking to see from someone like him. Robert Richards inspires that same sense of disbelief from players when they see him fight. Aside from karate, Richards also incorporates tricking into his moveset. This involves a variety of flashy and aerial kicks from different martial arts, such as taekwondo and capoeira. Compare this to Hung’s ability to do flips and rolls almost effortlessly, and it quickly becomes difficult to tell them apart. Their other similarities include a sense of charm. When slim, Richards is constantly hounded by women over his looks since he looks handsome when skinny. In Sammo Hung’s case, he manages to typically end up with the heroine of each film regardless of how he looks.

2. Paul Phoenix/ Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris inspired Tekken's Paul Phoenix. Chuck Norris poses in a karate kick fashion towards the camera.

Yes, Paul Phoenix is based on Chuck Norris. There is no sense in denying this. From his demeanor and rugged charm to his friendship with Marshall Law, there are just too many connections to deny this influence. The main argument against this comparison is that Chuck Norris is disciplined in karate, whereas Phoenix uses old-school judo, which employs striking alongside throwing. Another argument is that Phoenix was more likely to be influenced by Polnareff from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. While they share the same flat top (Paul’s being more exaggerated), this isn’t enough to ignore Paul’s connection to Norris. 

As previously mentioned, both Norris and Phoenix have a certain ruggedness to them. For Norris, this stems from his background in the U.S. Air Force, whereas Phoenix’s backstory describes him as having been a drifter who made a living off of street fights. Another key characteristic of Paul’s is that he’s a biker. There are multiple endings that see Paul riding off on his motorcycle. Know who else rode bikes? Chuck Norris! In fact, Phoenix being a biker is a likely homage to Norris’s Delta Force. The film involved multiple stunts with a Suzuki SP600. Another strong point of comparison is the friendship of Paul Phoenix and Marshal Law, similar to the real-life friendship of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. Lee and Norris met through martial arts competitions and soon became friends, with Lee offering him a role in his film The Way of the Dragon. The games have something similar, with Phoenix and Law often getting into get-rich-quick schemes together, like forming a team in order to win the tournament.

1. Leroy Smith/ Ip Man

Ip Man inspired Tekken's character, Leroy Smith. Ip Man smirks at the camera in black and white.

Despite being the newest entry on the list, Leroy Smith is certainly the oldest, and so is his inspiration, Ip Man. Leroy practices wing chun, a martial art mastered and taught by Ip Man. The martial arts itself is focused on self-defense with emphasis on quick-fire punches. There is also more of a focus on parries and evasion rather than just blocking by itself. This is exactly how Leroy fights when played correctly. When first introduced, he was considered by an overwhelming majority to be overpowered, and it’s easy to see why. Utilizing the close range in which Wing Chun was meant to be used, Leroy’s attacks are a good way to end a match with a broken controller. While the two men are drastically different in physical appearance (obviously), their demeanor can best be described as disciplined. Another interesting thing linking these two together is the fact that Leroy’s moves were motion-captured by one of Ip Man’s nephews, further cementing Ip’s influence on Leroy’s DNA.

On a side note, fans of Tekken would do well to search for some fight scenes from classic action movies with their sound effects replaced by Tekken audio. These videos do an even better job of highlighting the various influences on these characters. YouTube channel Zenith is an especially good channel to check out for some amazing Tekken-inspired edits.

Tekken 8 – Dragunov Reveal & Gameplay Trailer (2023) Official Bandai Namco Entertainment America Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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A lover of gore and over the top violence, no movie can make my stomach squirm. The only thing better than a bloody death scene is a well choreographed stunt. Whether it be action or horror, if it has blood in it, then I've likely already seen it.
Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.