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Epic karate fail imparts important lessons

Karate black belt Sudarshana Deshappriya fails miserably on talent show audition, and never quits.

This story is a small part of a large effort by to understand what works in martial arts, and sometimes, to examine what doesn't. The process is to study what happens on the street, or in this case a television studio, rather than what happens in the arena. If you enjoyed it, check out the library on:
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Prior to the birth of modern mixed martial arts in 1993, determining the superiority of each martial art was accomplished by argumentation and demonstration. The arguments were endless.

Legs are stronger than arms, so taekwondo is obviously the best, they said. Chinese arts are circular and harness internal power, so are more sophisticated, they said And so it went - everyone was better than average.

Buttressing the endless arguments were demonstrations of the supposed power of martial arts. Arrows were snatched out of the air, immobile students were showered with the most dramatic attacks, and then there was tameshiwara. A wide variety of objects were broken - boards, bricks, cement blocks, glass, roofing tiles, ice, burning cement blocks even - using the hands, feet, head, and sometimes in China, the nether region.

Then Art Davie was inspired by Rorion Gracie's jiu-jitsu efforts to develop a concept as simple as wheels on luggage - if you want to demonstrate what martial art works best, have exponents of each martial art fight. In time, truth will emerge. That stands in stark contrast to proving a martial art is great by breaking inanimate objects.

This is not a new concept. In an iconic scene from Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon (1973) documentary, the title character watches a board-breaking exhibition, and replies, "Boards ... don't hit back."


However, some practitioners of more traditional martial arts still mistakenly believe that the breaking of bricks and boards has something to do with actual fighting ability. In this video from 'Sri Lanka's Got Talent', we see an exceptional instance, where the bricks actually win, via TKO.

What Happened

32-year-old karate black belt, Sudarshana Deshappriya, went on Sri Lanka's version of the 'Got Talent' series, aiming to showcase his martial arts skills to the world. On a special board, he dropped down into full splits, with his groin over up-pointed nails. Then his students hoisted him up onto two cross-sections of tree trunk, on a platform, and broke objects over his body. And then it got more dramatic.

Deshappriya took a clay tile and broke it over his own forehead. That caused him to flip upside down and fall directly onto the back of his head, leaving him in a stunned state. He was helped to his feet by other students from the dojo, then staggered forward, and attempted to break more bricks while dropping into a split. The black belt was finally saved by a judge, the great actor Jackson Anthony.

It has to be seen to be believed.


This is a complex story.

Sudarshana Deshappriya has a disability, and had to work twice as hard as the rest to get to where he is. Despite having little money, he volunteers in his community. Despite showing signs of concussion, he tried gamely to continue with the demonstration.

“We respect your strength and we love that strength,” said judge Anthony. “That’s why we stopped it. You are talented - a warrior - and this is enough to prove that.” 

The second male judge, former cricket star Tillakaratne Dilshan, said, “There are ups and downs at any given time, but you tried hard to achieve your target and I appreciate that. And I’m happy you stood back up and tried to complete your act.”

The female judge, musician Soundarie David Rodrigo, was also positive and supportive.

“I applaud the fact that you got back up…my verdict is ‘yes,’" she said, adding, "but please be careful.”

Shortly after Anthony changed his no to a yes, and Deshappriya unanimously made it through to the next round.

The Lessons

1. Martial arts disables itself with breaking demonstrations

If you can hold splits with your groin over nails while students break things over your arm, don't show anyone. Martial arts breaking demonstrations have nothing to do with actual fighting ability.

Compounding the problem, in many of these demos, the kind of objects used, and the way they are set up and laid out, is such that they are much easier to break. These type of stunts are often just parlor tricks.

If you want to actually demonstrate that your art works, then there should be people with talent in that art who can and do actually fight.

2. It's too easy to laugh at others

Due to his disability, Deshappriya had to work doubly hard to earn a black belt, and finally got his shot at fame, in front of the entire nation. It was a disaster, yet he still gave it his greatest effort, heroically. It is too easy to laugh at others, and that is exponentially truer on the social network. It would be a better world if we try to, as the great saying goes, "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." 

3. Respect kindness

If the demonstration had taken place in the USA or the UK, Simon Cowell would have unleashed snark in the megaton range. However, that was not the case in Sri Lanka, where the judges movingly offered support and encouragement.

This author's experience is anecdotal only, but the kindest fight fans seen in 30+ countries are in India, where during local vs. international fighter bouts, they loudly cheer for both sides. That stands in stark contrast to, say, Brazil, where chants of "Uh vai morrer (You're gonna die)" are commonly directed at international fighters. That too has its charm, but still, in a world that is so often so cruel, respect kindness.

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