Film Review: Empty Hand: The Real Karate Kids

Empty Hand Poster
Empty Hand: The Real Karate Kids


by Marc Zirogiannis

Empty Hand: The Real Karate Kids is a true story, from Kevin Derek, chronicling the journey of four young karate competitors; Ashley West, Cole Miles, Ashley King and Giovanna Caputo; as they prepare to fight against their toughest rivals and compete in the AAU Karate Championship, the biggest National Karate tournament of the year.

While there have been many fictionalized films that have used the highly competitive martial arts tournament circuit as their backdrop, from the highly successful Karate Kid Series, to critically acclaimed, Phillip Rhee’s Tae Kwon Do Action film, Best of the Best, Empty Hand is one of the best. It is authentic, pure, and well paced. Despite being a documentary, it engrosses the viewer as much as any of its fictional counterparts.

This film is an exploration into the private lives of the featured competitors, and their families. From the comfort of their karate dojo, to rigors of a highly charged tournament atmosphere, Empty Hand makes the, relative, emotional and physical struggles of the competitors palpable to the viewer.

As a 2nd Dan Black Belt in the WTF/JiDoKwon Style of Tae Kwon Do, a certified Referee, and a person that has been around martial arts more than half my life, I found the film to have very personally captured the essence of the journey of real martial artists and the spirit of true martial arts competition.

While my comfort zone is Olympic Style Tae Kwon Do, the film beautifully provides an under current of the essential and universal messages and benefits of traditional martial arts practice, whether they be founded in Karate or Tae Kwon Do. True study of the martial arts isn’t, simply, about the sport, or the victory. It is about the struggle to be the best person that you can be. It is about the journey of self-exploration every martial artist embarks on when they commit to the path from white to black belt and beyond. The film captures the commitment, not only of a practitioner, but also of the practitioner’s family, towards the achievement of a common goal that goes beyond the mere achievement of a medal or trophy.

The film also adeptly captures the sense of camaraderie and respect that exists in the Dojang and, throughout the martial arts community. Fellow practitioners, and even competitors, become part of an extended fraternity that sets them apart from society at large.

Empty Hand manages to entertain and to teach without being overtly preachy. I strongly recommend this film for Tae Kwon Do practitioners of all ages, and beyond.

To order the film, visit Empty Hand.


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