The Demonstration

The Demonstration

It was a fall evening, late in the season, with the characteristic Northwest mixture of rain, cold, and pitch darkness. It was to be another in a long string of demonstrations originating somewhere in the distant past, continuing regular as the seasons, taking us to all corners of the Pacific Northwest.

Back then, Sensei was sensitive about his talents. People could beg or bribe to see his skills, but to no avail. On the other hand, if he took a liking to a someone, he would share all and on more than one occasion spent hours instructing, demonstrating, and refining for a new friend.

Some months previous, two young men visited our workout area as invited guests. They were athletic, and one had been an accomplished wrestler in high school. During the span of the afternoon, Sensei made believers of both, but more importantly, made two new friends. They were Christians from some church up north. They came from affluent families. Sensei, who was a common man, and loved common people, was invited to demonstrate his skills before a youth group at their church. Because of the new found friendship, Sensei was quick to accept, but later, dreaded his art and antics might be considered uncouth by the more affluent fellowship.

Demonstration night came, and we looked for a place to set up our equipment. We scheduled to start at 7:30 pm, but arrived our usual 30 minutes early. No one was around. Quite a disappointment, given we drove nearly two hours through horizontal rain to arrive on time. Finally, close to 7:30, people started arriving. The organizers, our two friends, finally appeared but had not yet decided where to have the show take place. Quick to react and improvise, we worked around the inconvenience and were nicely set up within minutes.

Despite the weather, people began pouring in. In short order, the room was filled to capacity. Curious folks drifted in from other events in adjoining buildings, a wedding member here, choir member there, a few wearing workout clothes.

I led off the demonstration with an overview of the martial arts, and how different arts developed in various countries stimulated in part by social issues and needs of the inhabitants. The message was that almost anywhere you went, fighting arts took root among ordinary people and reflected their great dedication toward perfection of discipline.

After my introduction, I demonstrated the Filipino stick fighting art of Arnis, after which my son did a demonstration of kicks and punches and Kata.

It was clear the audience was impatient for Sensei to come on. Out of deference to myself and the other demonstrators, he sat patiently behind a screen where no one could see him. When his time drew near, I gave a lengthy introduction, billing him as the greatest martial artist I had ever known.

He walked out in his blue satin Chinese style uniform, wearing his red sash. Even in this crowd of society's elite, his innate nobility radiated through.

"All of the compliments, the titles, the honors mean nothing. I don't teach Karate," he said in a mocking, half-sneering voice, baring his teeth as the word "Karate" dragged across his palette. "I don't teach Kung Fu either."

From out of nowhere came his imitation of Bruce Lee as he uttered the words, "Judo, Ai Ki Do, Tae Kwon Do, Goju Ryu, I don't teach any of those. What I do teach is discipline!"

"Take Bill. This man (pointing at me).  He knows Karate styles. When he came to me, he knew kicks, punches, blocks, tactics, and all of the weapons. But I could still beat him! Because I had discipline and he did not! Now, I've taught him discipline. Watch out!"

"When I talk to my Christian friends, they say how can I profess to be a Christian and teach people to fight, to stab, to kill? My reply again, is that I teach discipline. I call it 'Mind over Matter.' Your mind over your matter."

"How many times do we hear ourselves say that we are willing to sacrifice for the Lord, willing to forego consumption and pleasure to ease the burden of our poorer fellow man? How often do we say we are willing to pay the price it takes to be a good practicing Christian, or Buddhist, or Muslim in this difficult time? Like many things, its easy to say, hard to do. If you had the discipline I teach, you could do anything you decided to do. If you wished to be what you profess, you could, because with discipline, you choose what you want to do, then you truly do it, and nothing less. Tonight, you'll see what it means to have discipline."

The first part of the demonstration involved a series of spontaneous defenses and reactions to my random attacks. We had done this many times before, but in fact, had never choreographed a routine. As he had said in the past, "When you have talent, why confine yourself to a script." For a period of thirty minutes, he threw, twisted, tangled, tied, curled and disabled me into submission, no matter what attack I initiated. Before long, members of the audience were hollering out attacks for me to try on him. Eventually, Sensei tired of playing with me, then turned to the audience and asked people to come out and attack him. Of course, no one would, but Sensei always had the next move, and by then, he spotted the largest and most physically impressive male specimen in the group. At Sensei's urging the audience encouraged the strong man come up and attack. It was always an enormous crowd pleaser to have their local hero ending up helpless, on the floor.

After winning the crowd over, Sensei proceeded to his breaking demonstration.

Now, many people dismiss breaking demonstrations with uninformed comments like, "Bricks don't strike back."

Yes, bricks don't strike back, but the discipline of breaking is not the same as that of fighting.  Therefore, whether or not bricks fight back is a moot point. Breaking exercises the principles of discipline, concentration, commitment, and courage. Without developing these traits to their fullest, Karate has no substance. True breaking involves an almost mystical relationship with the target. One picks up the piece of wood, or the brick, and studies it closely. After careful scrutiny, somewhere in the artist's mind, the decision is made that "I can break this." It is set down on the stand, the artist focuses, and almost unconsciously, adopts techniques of power and breathing rooted in the shadowy wisps of time. The crowd, the sounds, and the environment drift into the distance. The demonstrator takes aim, breathes once, clearing his mind, then exhales. He breathes again, reaffirming commitment to the break. He breathes a third time, lifting his striking arm, then drives his energy and focus downward at the target, smashing it to bits.

There is no finer feeling than a successful break!

Sensei, as master of the iron hand, was especially theatrical that evening. Before I realized what he was up to, he had placed two heavy metal supports center floor. Crowning the supports was a bridge of cinder bricks, some standing on their sides and arranged to form an I-beam, rather than laying flat and horizontal. He expained, I do it this way to augment the difficulty of the break, that way you know  I'm for real.  From out of his bag, he pulled a can of lighter fluid and ignited the newly formed tower. I nervously eyed the overhead sprinklers.

"This is my discipline," he said, as he put his hand into the midst of the flames. Five seconds went by.  The crowd began to gasp.  Ten seconds. Was that the smell of burning flesh in the air? He pulled his hand from the flame, skin still smoking and steam rising from the surface. He postured himself into a solid breaking stance, concentrating completely on the target to be broken. He raised his hand and delivered a powerful hammer fist that resonated along the floor to the feet of all in the room. The bridge of bricks exploded downward.

Next came the rocks. No matter what people could say about breaking bricks and boards, and driving nails into pine, no one could argue that breaking rocks was anything less than awe inspiring. Sensei began passing the rocks to members of the audience. When they returned to the front, fully inspected, he laid them alongside the breaking stands. One after the other, he proceeded to pulverize them.

Then, he reached into his basket and pulled out a large boulder. It was huge! Turning to the audience, he said, "I found this rock today, I'm gonna try to break it!" As a courtesy to the audience, he passed it around for all to see, feel and inspect. When it came to the front, he placed it on the stand. He delivered a thundering blow, and the rock shuddered beneath the force of impact. But it did not break! Again, he struck, and again, and again. He got up, adjusted the rock's position, and attacked it with different strikes. After five minutes of striking, he turned to the audience and said, "I was thinking.  How much like some of you in the audience tonight, this rock is. It comes here as a rock, and chooses to leave as a rock. How many of you will fail to hear the message of love that I bring tonight? How many of you will fail to see the love of your brothers and sisters in this group tonight? I believe in the Creator, and I know that through the Creator's love for me, I will split this rock.

Then, in mocking self deprecation, he said, "I don't know when I'm going to break it, but I know I'm going to break it tonight, and I'm going to stay up here until I do. I hope all of you stay with me to see this through."

What followed was a demonstration of discipline, perseverance, humility, and commitment unlike any I had ever witnessed in the past. Sensei repeatedly smashed at the rock, never wavering from his commitment. Five minutes passed, then ten, and all could sense that with each strike, the rock was on the verge of breaking, but had somehow managed to resist one more time. Suddenly, a sound of submission emanated from the rock, as Sensei, driving his hand through the boulder, split it perfectly into two sections. With a smile of satisfaction, he picked up the two nearly equal halves of black stone, and passed them to the audience for inspection. The crowd was silent.

Though he learned his arts in the Temple, and his beloved masters were Buddhist monks, later in life Sensei always professed his Christianity. This was fundamental to everything else. In my writing this, he would want for me to tell, at least once, about his love for Jesus, his Lord and Savior. I hope I've done justice to his philosophy and his teachings with these words.

When the demonstration was completed, Sensei was surrounded by admirers from the audience. Off to the side was a professional looking woman, holding one of the pieces of rock which she was about to put into her carrying bag. I went over to ask if she was taking a souvenir. Her response was that she was a geologist, and recognized from the outset that this particular rock was one of the most difficult of rocks to split. It was her intention to take the rock sample back to the university lab, and have it tested for ability to withstand stress. She said she was certain that he never could have broken the rock without the Lord's direct intervention.

I responded, "Sooner or later, he always breaks the rocks."

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