Famous for featuring uncompromisingly brutal violence, the fight scenes in the films of Steven Seagal are bound up with the eternally perplexing issue of realism in the cinema. A piece of conventional wisdom in the realm of action aesthetics is that editing is a dead giveaway of phony, inauthentic action. This conventional wisdom is nowhere more pervasive or more dogmatically asserted than in discussions of martial arts cinema, where the comparatively long shots and long takes in the paradigmatic fight scenes of Bruce Lee are considered the gold standard for realist action aesthetics. No less the cinematic pedagogue, Seagal turns this conventional wisdom on its head by utilizing an editing-based action aesthetic which I have previously termed martial suture (http://offscreen.com/view/action-aesthetics-pt1) for the purpose of communicating the combative efficacy of the Japanese grappling art of aikido (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aikido).
Due to the practical differences between striking-based versus grappling-based martial arts, it is only natural that different martial arts styles necessitate different visual styles. Thus, as a supplement to David Bordwell's well-known "pause-burst-pause pattern" as explicated in Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment, the rhythm of martial suture – in line with the rhythm of grappling – tends to follow an attack-defense-counterattack pattern where, first, an attacker tries to grab, throw a punch or kick, or strike with an object; second, the grab is neutralized, the punch or kick is blocked or caught, or the strike is slipped or blocked; and third, having committed to and missed an offensive attack, the attacker is countered with a grappling technique. The building block style of martial suture is thus the perfect aesthetic corollary of the building block style of grappling, as the step-by-step moves of a given grappling technique are captured in a seamless shot-by-shot flow of images.
These combative and aesthetic principles can be witnessed in the featured image – an animated gif taken from a fight scene in Seagal’s supremely underrated 1990 actioner Marked for Death. As can be seen in the featured gif, martial suture neither obscures the execution of the technique nor cheats the skill of the performer; rather, martial suture maintains the clarity of the execution of the technique and provides a visceral impact upon its successful execution.