The venerable Dave Lowry examines the pitfalls of using your martial art in public, whether it’s to perform a demonstration or to answer a friendly challenge. Consider yourself forewarned.
A few years ago, a female MMA champion was being interviewed by a reporter for a sports network. By “reporter,” I mean one of those officious media types, hungry for attention and determined to behave in any way necessary to make some exciting viewing. This particular guy did some probably fake “trash talking” to the woman, telling her he didn’t think she had the power of a man and so on.
Again, this being the media, all the talk could have been scripted. One thing probably wasn’t, however. The woman performed a hip throw on the guy, dropping him like a wet sack — and word was that he sustained some broken ribs.
I mention this as a way to bring up the subject of demonstrating a martial art in public when untrained participants are involved. As I’ve noted before, the absolute stupidest risk you can take in one of these situations is inviting a spectator to “help” with your demonstration. Nothing good can come from this.
LET’S SAY you select someone from the crowd during your judo demonstration and give the person a quick lesson just to show onlookers how any of them can learn this art. The selectee then gets to throw you or one of your students.
At this point, there are two possible outcomes. The volunteer successfully throws a member of your demonstration team, thus illustrating that your students are so inept that they can be overcome by a person who’s had only a few minutes of instruction. Or the volunteer tries to throw one of you and is injured in the process — which makes your art look like a terribly dangerous pursuit. How does either one make judo or your dojo look good?
THE SITUATION becomes more complicated when you’re put on the spot by an interviewer or by circumstances beyond your immediate control. In 1962 a senator named Robert Kennedy visited Japan and watched a demonstration of aikido put on by Gozo Shioda, one of the senior exponents of the art at that time. Accounts differ. Some say that Shioda invited one of the senator’s bodyguards onto the mat, other stories maintain that the bodyguard was skeptical of aikido and still another report has it that the senator himself suggested the contest.
No matter the setup, it led to a towering bodyguard standing there against Shioda, who was barely 5 feet tall. Shioda was famous for his very physical, very tough aikido. In a real fight, my money would have been on him. But this, of course, was not a real fight. It was a demonstration. An unplanned one. What was Shioda to do?
His solution was an excellent one. He kneeled on the mat and had the bodyguard do the same. He then had the man take his wrist and try to move him. With precise control, Shioda moved so that the bodyguard flopped forward onto the mat. Embarrassing but not dangerous. Shioda repeated it a few times, spilling the bodyguard again and again. The senator and the crowd roared with laughter. Shioda’s demonstration of extricating oneself from a potentially awful situation is the most impressive budo I ever saw him do.
IN THE LATE 1950S, a reporter traveled to Japan to film a newsreel about aikido. His skeptical sidekick, outfitted in training clothes, faced Koichi Tohei, then the senior instructor at the Aikikai. This was to be a “match” of sorts. The sidekick tried to tackle the master. Tohei was in an even tougher spot than Shioda. He had to avoid being pinned, avoid being dragged down and avoid hurting the untrained man. At the same time, he couldn’t allow his art to be dismissed as phony or inadequate. Basically, what he did was dodge and spin away, staying on his feet as he neutralized the attacks without hurting the man.
Many years before, by the way, a ninth-degree judoka named Kyuzo Mifune did exactly the same at a demonstration during the occupation, when a big officer in the U.S. military asked for a chance to try to throw the martial artist. Mifune, outweighed by at least 100 pounds, proceeded to elude attack after attack, slipping away from each one and finally smiling at the officer, who collapsed to his knees after his efforts. Then Mifune reminded the man that he’d heeded his request before the fight began: “Don’t hurt me.”
WE’VE COME a long way since those days. The martial arts no longer are seen as exotic or mysterious. Skeptics are much more likely to “see if that stuff really works.” And news personalities have become entertainers. Politely asking questions and listening to the answers is boring compared to trash talking for the sake of the audience. There’s an air of theater now that must be satisfied.
That said, perhaps you should think about how you’d handle such a situation. If your response would be to try to avoid entering into circumstances that made that situation a possibility, I’d consider that a very good reply. It means you’re using strategy in your approach to your martial art, which is vital for understanding it.
Even so, these things happen. It’s very difficult to demonstrate that your art does, indeed, work without injuring the instigator. If you do that, you look like the bad guy, the bully who hurt an untrained person just to show off or prove the effectiveness of his style. If you allow him to nullify your efforts, your art looks weak.
That’s why this is a moment for which you ought to be prepared. Getting caught in such a predicament is a sign that you must be more serious in your training. It is, however, also a moment when you must assess your priorities. What is most important? Your image as a powerful, talented martial artist? Your pride in your art and its public presentation? Your concern for the safety of an untrained person who is placing himself into an interaction with you?
Not easy questions to answer. Good ones, though, to be asked.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Lowry has written Karate Way since 1986. For more information about his articles and books, visit blackbeltmag.com and type his name in the search box.
It’s very difficult to demonstrate that your art does, indeed, work without injuring the instigator.