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This was not the worst martial arts demo of all time

Bruce Lee said famously, "boards don't hit back." However, sometimes they do.
Boards ... do hit back

Boards ... do hit back

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Martial Arts on The Street

WARNING: No small children were seriously harmed in the making of this video.

Prior to the advent of modern mixed martial arts in 1993, exponents from different styles of martial arts convinced the public that their approach was particularly sound via three main avenues - anecdote, argumentation, and demonstration. The last one took a number of forms.

It was popular to demonstrate moves on one or more students, who stood around, Matrix-like, as if time and physics had stopped, while sifu/sensei/sabumnim waved his arms around in some seemingly deadly fashion. Another popular demo was to break things. Breaking a baseball bat with the shins is impressive, but breaking a single 12"x12" pine board is so easy it barely qualifies as a parlor trick.

In the documentary Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee explained to Bob Wall that, "boards don't hit back." It has since become a maxim among snarky non-traditional martial artists. However, it turns out to not exactly be true.

What Happened

In July of 2013, in Leslie, a small town next to Glenrothes, Scotland, a man wearing a black belt from the I.T.S. Taekwondo Club tried to demonstrate his ability at a Primary School gala day. The boards didn't hit the instructor back, but one of his young students was not so lucky.

The Korean word 'taekwondo' is made up of three words. Tae means "to kick or destroy with the foot." Kwon means "punch or smash with the hand or fist." And Do means "way or art."

The man tried to demonstrate both Tae and Kwon, with unfortunate results. Over and again, the board didn't break at all, although multiple board holders got their fingers hit. Then, when a single board finally did break at last, a piece flew away, striking a young student in attendance.


The Lesson

Demonstrating that your art is effective by breaking a single board is ridiculous. And failing while attempting to do so compounds the absurdity. 

If you want to convey to the public that your approach to unarmed combat is effective, you can do something simple. Don’t rub boiling oil on your arms, or lay on a bed of nails, or have wood broken over your body. Those are demonstrations of physics. If you want to show that people who study your martial art can fight, then fight skilled people.

In his defense, this was far from the worst demo in martial arts history. Those are reserved for cases where a student was seriously harmed - cut with a sword, have a spike thrown into the neck, or students forced to leap from atop multi-story buildings.

But that's another story ...

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