In the US: Fridays, 10pm, The History Channel
In the UK: Probably on The History Channel, too
Now here's interesting. You spend ages waiting for an “anthropology and fighting” documentary series and then two of them turn up at once. One's British, one's American. Which one's going to be better?
Like BBC3's Last Man Standing, Human Weapon sees some Western athletes head off to other countries to learn about the fighting arts and culture of the country - and then pick fights with the natives in their own games.
But while Last Man Standing has chosen to focus on little tribes in the middle of nowhere that learn slightly obscure martial arts (fights with the soles of the feet in India, endurance running on shoes made of recycled tyres in Mexico, etc), Human Weapon focuses on more well known arts, like Muay Thai, judo, karate, as well as some more obscure arts like the ancient Greek pankration and the skills learnt by the US Marines and Israeli commandos.
The main area of interest is also different. While Last Man Standing is more geared up to teach us about the culture of the tribes being visited, Human Weapon is assuredly a martial arts programme. Its two hosts are professional martial artists and most of the programme explores techniques and history of the arts - it even explores different styles of the arts being examined.
Despite its overblown title, it's actually quite a thoughtful programme than doesn't hype things up too much, which makes it more like BBC3's previous martial arts show, Mind, Body and Kick Ass Moves. And there's more than enough culture in there to tick The History Channel's educational boxes, although I'm also not totally convinced about its accuracy: it occasionally makes bizarre claims such as Muay Thai being one of the few martial arts to employ knee strikes. Ooh aye? Do you really think so? Ask a karateka or a jitsuku about hiza geri then, my friends.
However, unlike Last Man Standing, you don't feel invested in the stars' journey: we don't get to know much about them as people, although they seem like nice guys, so we don't especially want them to win or feel anything if they lose when they have their eventual showdown. The fights also seem far less convincing than in Last Man Standing, with the pro fighters clearly slowing themselves down to avoid utterly crushing their opponents in the first ten seconds. So as viewing material, it's actually less engrossing, even for the martial artists among the audience.
Human Weapon's definitely worth watching if you have an interest in martial arts. But surprisingly, it could learn a few lessons from the Beeb (as could the Beeb from it).
- August 31, 2007: Series Review: Last Man Standing
My series review of Last Man Standing