As an Agent with the [Redacted] with a license to [Redacted], I’m fascinated by all forms of combat, and have studied fighting a lot. So when it comes to the fiction I like, you better believe that I’m down for seeing some two-fisted justice get laid out in comics, TV, and film! And something I’ve debated endlessly about with other Agents from organizations like [Redacted] is about why Spider-Man, the classic pencil-necked geek, was able to lay the smack-down on so many villains despite never having trained to fight a day in his life.
Let’s start with what I love about Spider-Man: he’s basically the perfect blend of Strength, Speed, Stamina, Skill, and Smarts. His powers and natural gifts as a scientist are nearly perfectly balanced in one complete package. He’s strong, he’s fast, and thanks to his Spider-Sense, he’s got some leeway to make mistakes and get away with it. If you want to talk about winning the lottery on powers, he basically got the deluxe suite. He may not be as strong as the Hulk, but he had more speed and intelligence. He might not be as smart as the Green Goblin, but he at least as tough and even without his spider-sense, was still able to edge out wins with speed and stamina. Whatever villain he faces, they might have he outmatched in a few areas, but typically when he combines all five of his attributes, Spider-Man is an extremely difficult guy to beat.
So at first, yes, his enhanced abilities and a whole lot of luck helped him survive many fights. Over time though, he learned through experience, and eventually, even sought out training.
But he didn’t learn to fight right away. He pretty much took the streets immediately and let experience become his teacher. Thankfully, Peter was sitting on a mountain of power and talent; even his most casual, uncoordinated punch or kick would have more power and speed behind it than a normal trained fighter. Even better, thanks to his powers, he could attack from odd angles and directions. Most martial artists are used to blows coming from around them, not above, below, or at speeds nearly faster than the human eye can register.
Peter Parker had no formal fight training in any major 1960’s martial arts such as boxing, wrestling, judo, or karate. He was a skinny, nerdy, introverted kid with a chip on his shoulder and had trouble in social settings. He definitely didn’t have a base of knowledge to work with, which is why his rapid progress is really cool to watch.
After getting his powers, though, his life changed overnight, and now, he was in mortal danger every time he put on the suit. This is the ultimate, “sink-or-swim” scenario; your first mistake can cost you your life.
(images from, “The Amazing Spider-Man #2” )
In Peter’s early fights, his inexperience showed. Despite having the near perfect blend of strength, speed, stealth, stamina, and smarts, he was still prone to rookie mistakes. In a lot of his early fights, inexperience was his primary weakness. Pulling out his camera pre-fight, underestimating the speed of the Vulture, and not being prepared for the Vulture’s brutality nearly ended Spider-Man’s career pretty quickly. However, thanks to Peter’s exceptional talent for science, in his early outings, his inventions could help make up the weight against tougher foes.
I like reminding people of this early time with the character because his powers may have come immediately, but the wisdom of how to use them did not. He had to grit his way through some rough battles to understand how to rely on his powers, how to trust them, and how to know their limits.
Over time, Spider-Man became very effective at using his enhanced speed, reflexes, strength, and stamina to take on much more powerful enemies than himself. This essentially was just his own unique style. His punches and kicks didn’t have the defined edge of technique that a martial artist would, but in truth, because of his speed and hitting power, didn’t need them. And honestly? He was a TERRIFYING opponent!
Titania, who was famous in her debut for beating the stuffing out of the She-Hulk, got messed up so bad by Spider-Man’s crazy style and abilities that she developed a phobia of him! As you can see from the art, he is all around her, attacking from bizarre directions using his crazy style and making her swing at nothing but air. If that wasn’t cool enough, he also waltzed his way through the entire line up of 80’s X-Men during that same run, only being stopped by mental assault from Professor X.
Spider-Man’s powers are unreal when unleashed. Through their raw horsepower and Peter’s willingness to learn through punishment in his early days, he became a force to be reckoned with as a fighter.
Even so, Spider-Man did occasionally get fighting advice from heroes like Daredevil, Iron Fist, Shang Chi, Captain America, and more. Raw talent and power can get you pretty far, but eventually, that road ends.
At one point, Spider-Man lost his Spider-Sense, and had to completely start from scratch with how he fights, since he was so dependent on using that extra danger sense to avoid injury.
Seeking out Shang Chi, the two helped him develop his own unique fighting style, blending Martial Arts philosophy and technique with his enhanced gifts, and dubbed it, “The Way of the Spider” or “Spider-Fu”. This was a definitely a level-up for Spider-Man; now, he didn’t need to rely on just his reflexes, luck, or the ability to overpower a foe. Now, he could rely on being a good fighter.
You can really see a difference here in fighting style: against Titania, he’s attacking from above and blow, tripping her, and making her miss. Here though, he’s staying in the pocket, going toe-to-toe, deflecting her shots, using linear attacks straight in, and relying on beating her through technique and power head-on.
God, I love Spider-Man! Rocky 3 is a fantastic film where Rocky Balboa has to re-learn how to fight from Apollo Creed. Creed tells him at one point, “It takes a big man to change”, and I couldn’t agree more. Peter overcame his loss by picking learning and creating a new way to fight using more technique, using his eyes and ears, and direct toe-to-toe action. That took a lot of talent, and shows that it’s not just Peter’s powers that make him a great fighter, but also his inner character that could humbly accept that he needed to learn something new and make that happen.
So Peter Parker is a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks for the early parts of his career, having to rely on natural talent and his powers to survive and thrive in fights. But in the middle and later parts of his career, he has improved on his natural gifts by getting training in fighting techniques, fighting theory, and developing his own fighting style. Spider-Man kicks %^*. It’s not just because he has great powers but also because he has a character of iron!