Martial Development

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Tips for a Successful Martial Arts Demonstration

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Last weekend, I attended the third annual World of Martial Arts demonstration in Seattle. The event featured local Karate, Hapkido, Iaido, Tai Chi, and other groups.

Karate demonstration
Karate demonstration

As in previous years, the show had some positive qualities, and a few negative ones. In the spirit of constructive criticism, I would like to offer some suggestions to participants in future demonstrations.

  • Every spectator should have an unobstructed view of the action. Seating your audience in chairs where they cannot actually see the demonstration is obscene. If you are performing in a flat gymnasium or some other ad hoc arena, pay special attention to the seating arrangements.
  • Some of us have never heard of your style of martial art, and a brief introduction would be appreciated. Speak loudly and clearly—and briefly—about its history, its unique characteristics and benefits.
  • If you decide to give a verbal presentation, stick to what you know. Do not attempt a detailed comparison with other schools—or even worse, a criticism of their methods—unless you have the requisite breadth and depth of experience. Pompous pronouncements such as “ours is the only school based in scientific principles” are more likely to result in scorn than admiration.
  • We came to see an exciting show, not to observe your boring daily practice routine! If your solo forms are visually impressive, then feel free to perform them for us; if not, do something else. Alternatives include breaking, weapons, freestyle practice, and applications with a partner. Audience participation is usually fun too.
  • Only the most experienced and emotionally mature students should be asked to perform dangerous applications in front of a live audience. When we see one of your students abusing another—for example, by hyperextending their elbow in an arm bar without waiting for the tap—it makes your entire group appear negligent and incompetent. Needless to say, we will not be signing up to join your school.
  • Since you’re already taking photos and video of the exhibition, why not share that media with the audience afterwards? This gesture serves two purposes. First, your audience can focus on the demonstration itself, rather than on recording it. Second, some of us will use that media to help promote your school; it’s free word-of-mouth advertising. With online services like Flickr and Youtube, sharing this material is fast and easy.

In summary, please show respect for our time and attention. A successful martial arts demonstration should first and foremost serve its audience.  As an example of a performance done well, I present another video clip from last year’s Taiji Masters Showcase.


Chen Zhenglei, Chen Bin and Jack Yan demonstrate Chen style Taiji

Categories: Tai Chi · Teaching · Video

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