Steven Seagal: A Polarizing Action Star
Steven Seagal is undoubtedly one of the most divisive action stars in the history of cinema. While I am a fan of his early work, it’s clear that he’s past his prime. Instead of poking fun at his current state, let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit his career during its heyday, before I was even born.
When was the last time Steven Seagal appeared in a movie that was released in theaters? As far as I can recall, it was the first Machete movie, where he played the villain. Since then, his filmography has been filled with direct-to-video movies. I haven’t seen all of them, but the ones I have seen were, to put it mildly, underwhelming. It’s evident that Seagal has put on some weight, and his goatee seems to be his new signature look. Moreover, his acting skills haven’t improved over the years, as he essentially plays the same character in every movie.
Seagal’s Unchanging On-Screen Persona
This phenomenon of playing the same character is common among action stars, but it’s particularly true for Steven Seagal. He’s always the tall, stoic tough guy who dominates every fight, complete with his peculiar running style. It’s hard to take him seriously once you see how he runs. The point is, he’s the same Steven Seagal in every movie he’s in.
His most popular role is arguably Casey Ryback from the Under Siege movies. I’ve only seen the first one, but it’s the role that has stuck with him the most. I haven’t seen his television series, but from what I’ve heard, it’s essentially Steven Seagal surrounded by a bunch of yes men, which doesn’t sound appealing to me.
Seagal’s Most Memorable Movies
Let’s take a look at his most popular movies that were well-received during his time as a movie star. In my opinion, his best movie is 1990’s Hard to Kill, his second film after his Hollywood debut in 1988’s Above the Law. While I enjoyed Above the Law, I personally prefer Hard to Kill.
Under Siege is entertaining, but that’s mostly due to Tommy Lee Jones’ phenomenal performance as the villain. Gary Busey was also fantastic in the movie. Sometimes, it’s the villains who make the movie, and in the case of Under Siege, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey were the real stars. Sure, Steven Seagal did his usual thing, but it was Jones and Busey’s performances that stood out.
Seagal’s Martial Arts Legitimacy
Rewatching Hard to Kill made me ponder Seagal’s legitimacy as a martial artist. First and foremost, I do enjoy him as an entertainer. Most of the time, I find his movies entertaining. What sets him apart from other martial artist actors is his use of aikido, a Japanese martial art he has been practicing since he was a young teenager.
Aikido is often considered the least effective of all martial arts, perhaps because of the way Seagal has popularized it. In his movies, he rarely gets aggressive or throws flashy kicks. Instead, he waits for the bad guy to come at him, using aikido’s principle of redirecting an opponent’s energy against them. Seagal’s particular style of aikido, called tenshin, emphasizes arm-breaking.
Seagal is a 7th-dan black belt in aikido and has been an instructor for decades. He was the first Westerner to own a dojo in Japan, an impressive accomplishment. You can find videos of his demonstrations on YouTube, such as a 1992 seminar where he tossed around his students, who were coming at him at full force.
However, the way his students attacked him raises questions about aikido’s effectiveness. Their attacks resembled a drunk man’s bull charge, which doesn’t require much skill to counter. This lack of realism in training is why aikido is considered ineffective for self-defense.
Seagal’s Impact on MMA
You won’t see any aikido masters fighting in the UFC, but you will see Steven Seagal training top fighters like Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva. It’s become a running joke among MMA fans that Seagal claims to have taught both fighters superb techniques. The best thing he did was recommend the crane kick for Lyoto Machida, which he used to knock out Randy Couture. He deserves credit for that one. However, during their training videos, both fighters often look confused when Seagal shows them aikido techniques. It’s clear they knew those techniques wouldn’t work in the Octagon, but it’s always fun to learn new things.
So, what are your thoughts on Steven Seagal? Overall, I enjoy him as an action star, and by definition, he is a legitimate martial artist. However, it’s the martial art itself that’s questionable. While there are more legitimate martial artist actors out there, Seagal remains fun to watch and listen to, especially when he runs.
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