Martial Arts Weaponry

 BBFC Archive: Policy

Martial arts weaponry banned during James Ferman's regime

The following was a response to letter on the subject  of the treatment of martial arts films at the BBFC

The Policy was quickly shelved as soon as the next administration took office.

The weaponry cuts from this era are now routinely waived on resubmission.


Enter the Dragon DVDWe understand and sympathise with the frustration that the Board's policy on nunchakas can cause for aficionados of the martial arts and the unique skills of proponents like Bruce Lee. Unfortunately we do have to accept that films like Enter the Dragon are not seen only by those who wish to admire these virtuoso displays, but also by those who may see merely a very visually exciting and effective way of causing extreme damage.

When martial arts films started to appear in this country in the early '70s, it soon became apparent that the nunchakas demonstrated in the films were being added to the arsenal of violent gangs. As a result of concern on the part of the police and judiciary it was decided that this very dangerous weapon, which has no legal use in this country outside the martial arts class, should be removed from violent films in order to discourage its spread. This has been a consistent policy ever since and, whether as a result or not, nunchakas have not become as common here as they are in America. The weapon was subsequently proscribed by the Home Office so that it is now illegal to carry nunchakas unless en route to a bona fide martial arts school.

In recent years the Board has modified its policy to some extent so that the weapon is no longer removed on sight. Essentially it is the glamorous use of the weapon in a violent film that concerns us, and the basis for this concern is not that nunchakas are uniquely dangerous, but they are relatively unknown and are relatively easy to make. Though few indeed could hope to match Bruce Lee's technique, it is not so difficult to wave nunchakas around in a fairly impressive way, as we have seen in numerous American videos over the years. The result is a weapon that gives a visual impression of its potential and imbues the user with a particular sense of power.

The Board is not alone in its opinion. Our communications with the police, magistrates and educationists confirm support for our policy. The BBC removed all clear sight of nunchakas from the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles programmes before screening them. It could be argued that these were aimed primarily at children, but our concern with this weapon centres equally on adolescents and young men who are more likely actually to use such implements.

It may well be that, over time, nunchakas do become so well-known that our policy can no longer be reasonably maintained. We are not convinced that this time has yet come but we do continually review all policies and adjust them as the situation demands. It must be said that the present moment, when there is so much public concern about screen violence it hardly seems an appropriate time to liberalise on any form of violence in videos, especially given the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 and amendments to the Video Recordings Act, which require the Board to be particularly aware of the address and appeal of videos.


BBFC Archive  James Ferman Director of the BBFC: 1974-1999
 Nunchakas The BBFC attitude to martial arts weaponry
 Anime Interview with a BBFC examiner
 Horror An interview with Richard Falcon speaking about the BBFC treatment of horror in 1995
 Blasphemy Ruling European Court of Human Rights upholds BBFC ban of Visions of Ecstasy in 1996
 The Ferman Chainsaw Massacre remembering the defunct website 'Ban the Board of Film Censors'
 Confessions of a Censor by Ros Hodgkiss, retired film examiner
 Sinful Days in Soho by Maggie Mills, retired film examiner
 Monster Love Carol Topolski tells of being a film examiner under James Ferman

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