The general buzz I’ve been seeing online is that Colleen Wing is the one saving grace of Iron Fist, the first true failure of the Marvel Netflix offerings. I’m here to disprove that.
(We all know the Meechums are the true delight of Iron Fist. I mostly kid of course.)
Fair warning, there will be spoilers.
First off, let me say that I have no issue with Jessica Henwick, the actress who plays Colleen. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all of the positive buzz online is because of Henwick’s skill as an actress and her ability to at least look believable as a martial artist. This woman was given a shit sandwich and made it look appetizing enough that most of the internet loves her character.
So why do I have a problem with Colleen Wing? Because she’s a terrible sensei. Her boyfriend Danny isn’t much better, considering he beats a student, but Colleen gets an extra helping of scorn from me because her abuse is much more subtle.
A prime example is after her “urban combat” training (where she runs around with a bokken or wooden sword in the middle of friggen New York) after beating on her students she’s verbally abuses them. In fact, at no point in the entire show do we really see her actually using encouragement, except for a brief bit after one of her students “graduates” and is sent to a super secret Hand training camp.
Yup. Colleen Wing is a flunky of the Hand, which makes one wonder why her dojo is failing? You would think the Hand, even a slightly impoverished branch of it, would find a way to keep one of its recruitment centers going, especially since it’s given them young operatives willing to work in multiple lucrative careers.
Another issue I have is the for a dojo that teaches Japanese martial arts all we ever really see Colleen employ is obviously kung-fu based moves. This can be explained by the fact he school teaches kempo, a Japanese interpretation of kung-fu, but it would have been so much more visually interesting to see her counter Danny’s overblown kung-fu with some karate or jujitsu.
Of course Colleen’s greatest sin is the one most people won’t recognize or understand because they’ve never trained in kenjutsu or kendo (Japanese fencing is case you’re wondering). Her greatest sin is not cutting off the red strings off the shinai her students use and properly oiling them. The shinai, not the students.
The reason this is a big deal is that it turns the shinai, which really only should be used by kendo practitioners who intend to hit each other dressed in full armour, into possibly lethal weapons. A shinai is four bamboo staves held together and if used properly will cause at most a bruise on unprotected flesh. If not used properly, say held together by strings so it can’t flex, it’s the equivalent of hitting someone with a club.
A shinai is supposed to be a stand in for a real sword that can be safely used for practice. Unlike the bokken Colleen goes gallivanting around New York with, a shinai is not shaped like a real sword and therefore should only be used in kendo where the intent is to hit each other. In kenjutsu, which Colleen is supposed to be teaching, the students should be using bokken for swinging practice as they are both heavier than shinai and shaped closer to a real sword.
The sad part is, a bokken is actually cheaper to buy than most shinai since there’s less work involved in making it, and from what I saw Colleen had plenty of them lying around. There’s no practical reason for her students to be using shinai and it might explain why she’s having cash flow problems.
Of course all of this comes down to the makers of Iron Fist not truly understanding martial arts and martial artists. In more capable hands Colleen would truly be the badass character the internet is imagining she is and I would be singing Jessica Henwick’s praises rather than saying she did her best with the turd sandwich she was given.
Do better, Marvel. Do. Better.