James Bond Scuba Fight Realistic?

Recently, on a dive boat in the Philippines in-between dives the conversation turned towards the question if if the famous James Bond “Thunderball” underwater fight scene was realistic or not …. and I know a dude who is both a scuba instructor and a life-long martial arts practitioner, my mate Jeremy. I asked him what he thinks …. so why don’t you re-watch the famous scene from Thunderball, and read Jermey’s well-informed take on it:

Today a friend of mine asked to look over the underwater fight scene for the James Bond movie Thunderball and do a write up on my thoughts. Being both a PADI dive instructor and a lifelong martial artist the thought was intriguing to me.

Thunderball was originally released in 1965, well before I was born. I remember watching it as a young boy and thinking the scuba diving was very cool. I guess that is one of the motivating factors for guys my age to want to get into scuba diving. It puts us one step closer to being 007 ourselves. My scuba diving journey started 21 years after the film’s theatrical run and continues to this day.

My martial arts background also started with a movie and with local Pro Wrestling promotions. Just like every other kid in the 70s and 80s Bruce Lee was the MAN. We all wanted to be like him. It was 1976 by the time I could watch Enter the Dragon. At the time, Bruce Lee was long dead. When I saw how this one man used his body as a weapon and through perfect movements overcame incredible odds on his own I was hooked! I begged my dad to sign me up at the local dojo. I never regretted it and my training guided me through life.

Now 40 years later I have 2 black belts in striking martial arts and I am now training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. In addition to my personal training I own and operate one of the fastest growing Mixed Martial Arts News reporting sites in Asia www.mma-japan.net . I am also a commentator for Japan’s oldest MMA Promotion, Pancrase, on UFC FightPass. Most of my time is occupied by training, fighting, writing about fighting, or talking about fighting to millions of people all over the world.

That is enough about me, now let’s get into this scene in Thunderball. If you would like to watch it you can do so on YouTube:


I suppose I should start by saying I am not a Tech diver. I am very much a recreational diver and dive instructor. There are many out there with much more technical diving skills than yours truly. (Keep in mind your tech diving skills are worthless when I put you in a choke 😉 )

It starts out with a bunch of guys parachuting into the ocean with double tank rigs and spear guns. Something that I’ve never done myself by it is not out of the question I guess…

Next the scene cuts to some other divers in black wetsuits with humongous underwater scooters. I guess they are the bad guys. Looking at their trim, buoyancy, and finning technique, I would not say they are experienced divers. Same goes for the good guys. They are decked out in red wetsuits and about the same level of diver as the bad guys. The first thing that strikes me (hehe get it?) is that this is obviously not very deep at all. All the colors are clear. You have good guys in red and bad guys being pulled along by brightly colored scooters. As you well know the deeper one goes, you will start losing colors. Next think I notice is the music. Are the divers, supposed to be hearing it? I never understood that…

The third thing I noticed is that the brilliant attack plan of the good guys was to charge right in to the group of bad guys. Not strategic, not let’s sneak up on them. Just “Johnny from The Karate Kid” them. Meaning running straight in at your enemy with your hands down while sticking your face out. It never ends well.

That goes about as well as you’re expecting it too. It turns out that the brightly colored scooters are armed with harpoons that are gas fired. It makes a loud sound as they are fired. The good guys are not so lucky. Their weapons have a squeeze bulb on the end to pump in air? Underwater? Seriously look at 1m 58s. The guy pumps the spear gun bulb.

From that point on there is mayhem. The bad guys seem to have the upper hand. At one point a bad guy is in close enough range to use his dive knife to slice the regulator hose of a good guy. He could have gutted the guy, but instead decided to cut his regulator hose. The good guy doesn’t follow his open water training and perform a calm, emergency assent to the surface while saying ooooooooooooooooommmm… (CESA). Instead opts for the panicky and jerky kicking quick assent.

It seems like all will be lost on the watery battlefield until the scene cuts to us US Coast Guard helicopter hovering low over the water and then to a scene of James Bond getting geared up to jump into the fight whilest fending off the sexual passes of the guy helping him get his gear on. Then Bond drops an entire meter to the water’s surface. While he is underwater he is trailing a large yellow cloud. A. large. Yellow. Cloud.

It goes back to the scene of the group fight. You see several are coupled up and trying to stab one another. They are flailing around with their arms and legs. Ideally if a bad guy is trying to stab you with one knife, you’d want to use your Brazilian Jiu-jitsu here. First you’d want to isolate that hand that has the knife using wrist control. If you are smart you would start out with two hands on his wrist. Next you would want to establish control of his hips and his posture. You could go full guard around his hips to keep him from wriggling away from you and making you lose your wrist control on the knife hand. Next your best move would be to break his posture. This means you’d have to hook around his head with one of your arms and pull his face down to your chest.

Before releasing your hand to brake his posture down you want make sure he cannot get that knife hand free. Here is what you need to do. While holding on to his wrist you want to stick your thumb into the sleeve of the wetsuit. Once that is done you want to use your thumb to flip that wetsuit fabric up on to your fingers. Now you can pull the wetsuit sleeve tight and effectively control that entire arm with one hand. You now have one hand you can use to break his posture.

The reason you want to break his posture down and put his face on your check is 2 fold. 1 His face is now covered by your chest so he cannot see. 2 with his posture controlled and his knife arm controlled he cannot create space to stab you. From there you now have option for many attacks. You can also simply turn off his tank valve, start attacking the knife are with different key locks or just break it. You also have a plethora of chokes you’re set up for from that position.

In the scene from Thunderball, a yellow cloud powered James Bond goes around knocking off scuba masks and pulling out regulators. The bad guys having not paid attention in class at their open water training did not demonstrate any of the basic skills like mask clearing or regulator recovering that you are required to know to pass an open water class. Instead the panic and shoot to the surface.

At this point, James Bond gets into an underwater knife fight with a couple more baddies. There are 2 occasions that he is in prime position to gut they with the knife but instead they swim around as he cuts their regulator hoses. They too go squirming to the surface.

The scene cuts to one of Bond going into a hatch underwater were he takes off his tanks and puts them on the corpse of one of the fallen baddies. This trick causes three more baddies to follow him into the hatch because they can see his tank rig inside. James Bond then sits of an explosive in the hatch to kill the three men while he’s only about 2 meters away. I am not sure that is how underwater explosions work. We’d have to ask a tech diver about that. But from a purely physics point of view I would say no.

Next James Bond takes out several other baddies with some kicking techniques while wearing slip on fins. If you have ever tried to punch or kick in the water on your own you should understand exactly how difficult it is to do. If you add slip on fins to that mix it becomes even more difficult. It’s not impossible but highly unlikely that you’d be able to incapacitate an attacker with a kick like the ones we are seeing in this scene. Mainly because of the effort it would take to generate the movement of a tactical kick, but also because the opponent would see it coming! Clearly in underwater fighting your grappling would server you a lot more effectively once your harpoons and knives ran out. One thing that holds true in diving as well as in fighting is that every move you wake expends energy and air. You need to make sure that each movement has a purpose. You do not want any wasted movement or flailing.

Following that scene another of a group of people fighting underwater with knives takes place. The interesting part about this scene is it is very much like a scene that would be used later in the climax of the Bruce Lee film, Way of the Dragon. In this scene, James Bond and his band of merry men are battling the bad guys underwater. In between each exchange the cinematographer shoots a scene of the see life watching the fight. In the movie, Way of the Dragon in the scene where Chuck Norris (before the wig), fights Bruce Lee, the directory switches between action and a kitty.

Now in the Thunderball scene James Bond finally wises up and sees that a shark has shown up to check out the action. Bond uses this to his advantage and starts stabbing everyone in the scene. It seems that he could have done that in the first place but now we are already over 7 minutes into this fight. He’s got to wrap it up. Then just when you think this is going to be over someone shoots that shark with a spear. To me it looked real. YIKES!

A lot has changed in both martial arts and in scuba diving since 1965. Recreational scuba diving has become a lot safer with advancements in training and gear. In the fighting world, the differences are like night and day.

Since 1993 when the UFC brought the reality of Mixed Martial Arts to the US we have seen a huge improvement in fighting. Before it was all about what style you came from and where you trained. You would often talk with your buddies about this syle vs. that style. We wondered who would come out on top.

After the UFC showed us that most of the stuff that you used to see in Kung fu movies really would not work in a real situation, people started to adapt. As a lifelong Martial Artist, I knew that every style had its holes. It still does. Back in the day Tae Kwon Do guys couldn’t punch. Wrestlers had no stand-up game. This all started to change in the 80s and 90s.

These days the best fighters train Mixed Martial Arts rather than adhering to just one style. See a weakness in your game, go train that. If you suck at punching, train with a boxing coach.

Terrible at take downs, train with a Judo coach. Ideally you want to have a well-rounded game by being good at standing and on the ground.

I think at some point we’ve all watched an old Elvis movie and thought to ourselves, “If I got in a time machine and went back to then, I’d kick everyone’s ass!” It’s true. The one constant in this world is change. It is important to look for areas of our sports and ourselves were we can make improvements and make changes for the better. Try martial arts, try scuba diving. You’re never too old to start. Avoid underwater battles though. Those suck.

About the Author:

Jeremy Deschner has been in Japan for 22 years. He is fluent in Japanese. He is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Aikijitsu from the Texas Karate Institute. He is currently training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Japan.

He owns and operated www.mma-japan.net

This site is reporting on Japanese MMA and Pro Wrestling events in English. Jeremy is also a commentator for Pancrase MMA which can be seen broadcast of UFC FightPass www.ufc.tv