Skip to main content

Karate man breaks burning granite, lights arm on fire

American Combat Karate founder Richie Barathy rose to prominence in April of 1979, following this tameshiwari demo on The Tonight Show.

If you enjoyed this story from The MMA UnderGround, please check out more on:
Martial Arts on The Street
Dojo Storms
How To

Prior to the advent of mixed martial arts, the primary means to establish a martial arts' validity was arguing. Taekwondo adherents argued that legs are stronger than arms, so kicks must be better than punches, and so Taekwondo HAD to be the best. Chinese stylists focused on the superior, circular nature of their attacks, and the internal energy that flowed through them. And so it went until martial arts was like Lake Wobegone - all the children were above average. 

To back up the arguments, there were breaking demonstrations. Boards, bricks, ice, rocks, tiles, glass, and all manner of things that don't hit back were used.

It was an incredibly stupid way of demonstrating that a martial art actually works, and thus has, mercifully since fallen from favor. One of the more dramatic breaks made it onto Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, with many millions watching raptly.

The demonstrator was American Combat Karate founder Richie Barathy, who was by all accounts a tough guy, and in another era, setting aside his health issues, could well have demonstrated that he possessed real skills by actually fighting.

Barathy rose to prominence in April of 1979, following this tameshiwari demonstration on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The Long Island native stacked up a reported record-challenging 13 slabs of granite, poured a flammable fluid over them, and then lit the whole mess on fire.

When he drove his fist into the top one, setting off a chain reaction (breaks without spacers are far harder and far more impressive), he lit his arm on fire. An assistant then grabbed the arm in an attempt presumably to take it somewhere safe, but he struggle to keep his limb, eventually winning, after a brief, comical tug of war.

By the time the flames were out, it looked like it hurt, a lot. 

On the plus side, there was a new world record for breaking slabs of granite of that size, that were on fire. That is, if you can set aside rumors that the "granite" was composite granite, an engineered blend of stone dust and acrylic resins, that is lighter and can be much weaker.

Barathy later repeated the burning granite break with a kick, and lit his foot on fire.

In good news, by this point the crew had learned from their mistakes, and had a fire extinguisher on hand. Yet another time Barathy repeated the stunt with a head butt, lighting his hair on fire. And he had a lot of hair.

Also please note, the breaks didn't always work. Here some guy with his shirt off makes a lot of weird noises, and fails three times, before Barathy steps in and goes 1-1.

Barathy performed similar demonstrations on a wide variety of local and national television shows, including The Mike Douglas Show, That's Incredible, and of course The Tonight Show, entertaining and impressing countless millions of viewers. Host Johnny Carson said the burning rock/hand stunt was "one of the greatest demonstrations I've ever seen." 

As an aside, after the Demo on Carson, the host sat down next to announcer Ed McMahon and talked about it. Ed's son Lex McMahon, a decorated, retired Marine like his father, is one of the most respected promoters and managers in mixed martial arts; his Titan FC has been running since 2005.

On a sobering note, Barathy had contracted lupus erythematosus at the age of 14, and suffered experience health problems from it throughout his life. He suffered a series of heart attacks, and died from complications following a heart transplant surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Heart Center, at just 49 years old.

To repeat, Barathy was by every account a very tough guy, who reveled in testing his technique on the streets. Students of his training methods, particularly in strength development, included NFL star Mark Gastineau and two-time boxing world heavyweight title challenger Gerry Cooney.

Is breaking boards and bricks a stupid way of demonstrating a martial arts efficacy? Yes, very. And it rarely happens anymore. But to be clear, it was the times that were stupid, and not Richie Barathy, who was in fact a progressive pioneer in combat sports, and missed by very many.

Share your thoughts on Richie Barathy and breaking on The UnderGround forum.