Is there anyone across the vast tapestry of the Star Trek mythos with a fighting style as unique as that of James Tiberius Kirk?
I don’t believe there is. As captain of the fabled U.S.S. Enterprise, Kirk engaged in his share of fisticuffs, besting opponents— well, most of the time, anyway — with a slick combination of moves and guile that remains unmatched. I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone I’d rather have watching my back as we take on Klingons, alien gladiators, genetically-engineered supermen, and even, on occasion, his own first officer and best friend.
In unabashed celebration of James Kirk’s singular fighting style, I present to you 10 of my favorite examples of “Kirk Fu.”
“Where No Man Has Gone Before”
Kirk wastes no time throwing down right here in his very first filmed adventure as captain of the Enterprise. For this initial outing, he takes on his friend, Gary Mitchell, who’s been imbued with godlike powers. Despite this complication, Kirk wades in with both fists, punching and chopping and spinning his opponent all over the desolate surface of Delta Vega before delivering the knockout blow with a well-aimed phaser rifle strike and a handy chunk of nearby hillside. It’s this episode that also gives birth to the tradition of Kirk’s uniform tunic getting ripped to expose his manly chesticles.
On an idyllic, seemingly uninhabited planet, Kirk and his people run into knights on horseback, samurai warriors, Japanese warplanes, and even an old flame or two. Kirk also encounters his academy nemesis, Finnegan, who’s more than happy to pick up where they left off as cadets. Following one of the longest fights across any of the series, it’s Finnegan who helps Kirk to solve the mystery of this odd planet and those who want nothing more than to make every visitor’s dream and fantasy come true. And hey! There’s more of that torn-shirt action, too. If we’re not careful, this might become a trend.
It’s a battle for the ages as Kirk squares off against the commander of a Gorn vessel after they’re both transported to a barren planetoid by mysterious beings who call themselves “The Metrons.” Though the captain gives his best drop kicks and double fist-punches, none of his attacks have any effect, but Kirk’s not just a man of action; he has other mad skills! Using just the raw materials littering the landscape around him, he constructs a crude bamboo cannon and shoots a wad of diamonds into the Gorn captain’s massive reptilian chest. Yep, that’s going to leave a mark. Does Kirk close in to deliver the death blow? What...you mean you haven’t seen this episode? WHY NOT??
20th Century superman Khan Noonien Singh has no problem demonstrating his improved intellect and extra-enhanced physique against Kirk when the two face off in the Enterprise’s engine room. Khan might have the strength of five men, but nobody mixes it up like Jimmy T. Despite being out-muscled six ways from Sunday, Kirk holds his own against the genetically-engineered brute and manages some sweet moves. That’s right, fans — drop kicks and the famed double fist-punch are brought to bear yet again before the good captain emerges triumphant. As for Khan? I wonder whatever happened to him...
After Spock succumbs to the ancient Vulcan mating drive known as Pon Farr, he invites Kirk and McCoy to accompany him to his home planet to observe the ceremony, which will see him wed to his childhood betrothal partner, T’Pring. As if that’s not weird enough, T’Pring decides she needs to spice up the whole marriage thing, challenging Spock’s status as her husband-to-be and selecting Kirk as her champion to battle Spock to the death! What we end up getting is a fight so awesome that it needs its own special theme music; a funky tune that sets the bar for every subsequent Star Trek hand-to-hand squabble to this day. You can hear it right now as you’re reading this, can’t you? Things get even hairier when Spock (gasp!) kills Kirk! Or, does he? The suspense is killing me!
“Journey to Babel”
A shipload of ambassadors on their way to a conference where half of them are going to yell at the other half, and one of them might just be an assassin? The party crasher has already killed one person, and soon he sets his sights on none other than Captain Kirk himself! This leads to a vicious struggle in one of the Enterprise corridors with Kirk facing off against a feisty Andorian. Everything is a potential weapon in this skirmish, even the walls, from which Kirk pushes and kicks off as he puts the moves to his spirited opponent. Nothing’s going to keep him from winning this battle, not even a knife between the ribs! That’s why he’s the captain.
“The Gamesters of Triskelion”
It seems the word’s out about how humans in general and Kirk in particular make for pretty awesome fighters. After a weird transporter interruption sends him along with Uhura and Chekov to a remote planet, Kirk and his people find themselves unwilling conscripts for a mysterious alien race’s gladiator school. This gives Kirk several opportunities to demonstrate his fighting prowess, including an epic final showdown against three opponents for all the marbles and the lives of his crew. Two hundred quatloos on the newcomer!
“The Omega Glory”
If there’s anyone who can give Kirk a run for his money in a good, old-fashioned slugfest, it has to be another Starfleet captain, right? That’s exactly what happens when Kirk confronts Ronald Tracey, commander of the U.S.S. Exeter, who’s found himself in the middle of some serious Prime Directive violating as he seeks to unravel the mystery of why the planet’s native inhabitants have such prolonged life spans. Along the way, Tracey’s managed to kill several thousand of the indigenous population, and it’s long past time for Kirk to bring him down. The two captains end up in not one but two fights to the death, the second one pretty much just for the amusement of the locals. Kirk wins of course (because he’s awesome), but all of that simply pales in comparison to a Shatnerian delivery of the U.S. Constitution’s preamble. E Plebnista, yo.
“The Savage Curtain”
Kirk, Spock, Abraham Lincoln, and Surak walk into a bar. Okay, not really, but you have to think that would be pretty sweet, right? Anyway, when the Enterprise orbits a planet of molten lava called Excalbia, Kirk and Spock beam down to a lava-free area and are confronted by something that’s taken on the appearance of Lincoln and Surak, a.k.a. “The Greatest Vulcan Who Ever Lived.”
Together, this fearsome foursome is tasked by the planet’s local guy in charge with showing him how the Forces of Good differ from Those of Evil. A battle royale ensues, pitting Kirk and his team against some of history’s most dastardly bad guys — the Klingon Kahless, Genghis Khan, Zora (who?), and Colonel Green (huh?)! The final confrontation is a mix of makeshift spears, crude knives, and full on scrapping in the dirt, including one of Kirk’s better open field tackles as he puts the beat down on Colonel Green (who comes off as quite the punk), all while Yarnek the Excalbian looks on. Kind of creepy, don’t you think?
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
It took three movies for Kirk to bring the Fu to the silver screen, with renegade Klingon Commander Kruge serving as his punching bag du jour. Despite all the years which have passed since his glory days during the five-year mission, Kirk shows us that he still knows how to rumble, fueled as he is by the anger that Kruge is responsible for the death of his son, David Marcus. As the bizarre Genesis planet disintegrates around them, Kirk and Kruge are locked in a mano-a-Klingono tussle, which ends up with Kruge hanging off the side of a cliff, ready to plunge to his doom save for his death grip on Kirk’s leg. After rebuffing Kirk’s attempts to save him, Kruge meets his end after Kirk...say it with me, “Has Had! Enough Of! Him!”
Okay, that’s my 10. As always is the case with these columns of mine, this isn’t intended to be a “best of” list, so who’s got their own list of favorites?
This article was originally published on June 29, 2013.
Dayton Ward (he/him) is a New York Times bestselling author or co-author of numerous novels and short stories including a whole bunch of stuff set in the Star Trek universe, and often collaborating with friend and co-writer Kevin Dilmore. As he’s still a big ol' geek at heart, Dayton is known to wax nostalgic about all manner of Star Trek topics over on his own blog, The Fog of Ward.
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