What Kind of Creature Is Pokémon’s Hitmonlee?

Hitmonlee kicking a Rhyhorn in the Pokémon anime.

The Pokémon franchise is host to several species of the titular monsters, all of whom have rather eclectic inspirations. Many of the creatures are stylized takes on real-world animals, while others apply the same idea to cultural concepts and inanimate objects. Still, there are other Pokémon that defy all classification, making even diehard fans wonder what exactly they’re meant to represent.

One such example is Hitmonlee, who doesn’t immediately resemble anything at all. Though many are familiar with the real-life martial artist the beast is based on, that doesn’t go far enough in explaining the entire premise of the 106th Pokémon. The reality is that it’s one of the more esoteric creatures in the series, with the exact thoughts that went into designing it being far beyond a mere fantastic take on an animal.


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Hitmonlee Is Inspired by the World’s Most Famous Martial Artist

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As many gamers already know, Hitmonleee is a walking, kicking homage to deceased martial artist Bruce Lee. The etymology of the creature’s name is a combination of the words hit, monster and Lee, making it sound rather rudimentary when put together so blatantly. Likewise, the Pokémon’s female counterpart Hitmonchan is named after Jackie Chan, who started his acting career as a Bruce Lee ripoff before taking on more comical roles. In Japan, Hitmonlee is known as Sawamular, an homage to kickboxer Tadashi Sawamura. With this in mind, it would seem that Hitmonlee represents the idea of a kickboxer. Sawamura was known as the “Demon of Kickboxing,” which might explain the Pokémon’s monstrous, somewhat inhuman form.

This seems to be the soundest theory, especially given the Pokémon’s otherwise nondescript design. The brown humanoid creature has claws on its feet like some sort of animal, but what specific type of animal is unknown. While Hitmonlee has eyes, it doesn’t have any other facial features. Its body also has cream-colored segments that somewhat resemble the wrappings worn by kickboxers and other martial artists. That’s why it specializes in physical attacks instead of elemental ones as a fighting-type. This aesthetic also gives the visual effect of a coiled spring, which makes sense given its potential to evolve into the spinning Hitmontop. One theory derived from this is that the creature is actually an anthropomorphic version of a punching bag, with the inanimate object taking on elements of the same kickboxers that would use it.

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Other Influences on Hitmonlee’s Unique Design

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Pokemon Go - Tyrogue, Hitmontop, Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan

There are some other, more esoteric possibilities as to what Hitmonlee could be meant to represent. For instance, the Xingtian in Chinese mythology bear a heavy resemblance to the Pokémon, with these headless men essentially being animated torsos in the same vein. The Xingtian are known for their use of melee weapons such as axes, which is perhaps what Hitmonlee’s violent fighting nature is pulled from. Other mythologies around the world have similar tales of headless beings, though this still feels like a stretch. Another theory is that, if Hitmonlee represents any animal, it would be a worm. This is backed up by its lack of features, brown/cream coloring and segmented body. Unfortunately, its limbs and the fact that its feet have claws make this a fairly easy idea to debunk.

The best explanation is again the most obvious: the humanoid Hitmonlee and the other monsters in its evolutionary family are not based on any type of animal. Instead, the powerful Pokémon represents kickboxing and martial arts as a whole, with some of its more atypical design elements merely being there to look cool and not make it a literal shoe. The idea of a kicking foot personified might also have been a big part of Hitmonlee’s creation, as it only has claws on its feet and not its hands. To this day, Nintendo and Game Freak have been very coy about just what the kickboxing Pokémon is supposed to represent, with the only definitive answer being its name and how it homages a martial arts icon.


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