One Day at the Dojang, pt 2

As previously mentioned, the martial arts has played a big role in my life for many years.

Eventually, I ended up opening my own dojang (Korean martial art school). It was small, and somewhat unconventional (in regard to marketing) compared with the larger schools in town, but it fit me.

One day, within the first year of our existence, we were asked if we would be interested in providing a demonstration at a local elementary school. Of course, I jumped at the chance. I asked several of my more advanced beginners if they would be willing to accompany myself and my assistant instructor and they graciously accepted.

Now I needed to decide what the demo would include.

A martial arts demo is, from the dojangs point of view, marketing in a thinly veiled disguise. It is important to be impressive. That’s what you’re there for.

One thing Korean martial arts are known for is their “breaking” demonstrations. (And yes, I have heard the jokes about being attacked by trees.) One theory as to the origin of this practice is that ancient warriors wore a type of wood laminate armor, and so warriors would practice striking through wood in order to be ready to defend themselves. Regardless of the history, the fact is that the ability to focus your strike to going through a type of material your brain is telling you you shouldn’t be going through is a very valid type training.

Now, there are many ways to make breaks look more impressive than they are. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to do this, but they do.

I have known martial artists that will saw partially through the wood, create air pockets inside ice sheets, use porous concrete, place large spacers between the layers of material to be broken. All of these techniques lessen the skill needed.

Knowing this, I wanted to make sure that we had a really good demo that noone could find fault with, while still keeping the hoped for “awe” factor high.

My assistant Marty and I discussed it for a while and decided that we would have the junior members of the team contribute a few minor breaks, and then I would end with something we were hoping would be spectacular.

For the breaking material I decided on paving brick. If you are unfamiliar with this, it is basically the long side of a cinder block. In previous attempts I had broken three stacked one on top of the other held up by two cinder blocks. However, I wanted to nail the break, and didn’t want to have to try more than once, so I decided to go with only two. I decided to go from a deep horse stance and use the classic “knife hand” strike.

I purchased some bricks and verified that it wasn’t going to be a problem, but Marty informed me that I was making it “look too easy”. What he meant was that to people that had never tried to break three inches of concrete with the edge of their hand, the fact that I was doing it without much “apparent” effort deminshed the technique.

We sat and thought about it for a while, and then one of us, I don’t remember which, stated, “You know, if the bricks were on fire, that would look cool!” To which the other immediately agreed.

So then we were left wondering, how do you make concrete burn? Neither of us had ever tried anything like this before. Well, after a bit of discussion, I told Marty to place the bricks in about an inch of gasoline and let them soak overnight and through the day the next day. After I finished at the day job, we’d go over to the dojang and give it a shot.

At this point, I would like to point out that I still consider Marty one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known, and while I might not be the smartest in the room, I don’t consider myself too much of a slouch. Which leads me to ask: what happens to grown men’s brains when fire is added to the equation?

The next day, I met Marty at the dojang several hours before the first class. I dressed in an old dobak (or gi, or simply a martial arts uniform, whatever you choose to call it) in order to make sure the sleeves could be rolled up to stay out if the flames.

We then set the stage for the break. We placed a blue plastic/canvas tarp under the cinder block stand because we didn’t know how long the (hopefully) broken pieces might burn after the break. We then retrieved the still soaking patio bricks on the cinder blocks and got ready to light them.

I set up in a deep horse stance and rolled up my right sleeve. I focused and placed my hand on the brick and envisioned my hand slicing through the two 1.5 inch concrete bricks. I then nodded and Marty flicked the wheel on a lighter and touched off the bricks. I needn’t have worried that the bricks wouldn’t burn. They must have soaked up enough gasoline to fuel a hybrid across the country. Although the flames were a bit higher than I had anticipated, I was in the zone and completed a beautiful technique if I do say so myself. My hand sliced through the bricks as the flames licked my forearm with a delightful warmth and the four pieces of the two bricks hit the tarp. And burned.

And burned.

And burned.

Now, in case you’ve never used gasoline as an accelerant, let me warn you that it burns with an abundance of thick, black, oily smoke.

After watching it burn for a few seconds, it became apparent to both Marty and myself that it wasn’t going to go out any time soon.

The smoke had filled the building and was roiling out the open windows and door. I told Marty to go grab the five gallon water jug off the water cooler.

Marty grabbed the bottle and ran back over and doused the flame. Well, that was the intention anyway. In reality what happened was it sputtered and washed some of the burning gasoline and a lot of suet off of the bricks and onto the tarp and floor.

Marty, thinking quickly, ran over to the wall and grabbed the recently charged fire extinguisher and had at it. Finally, the fire was out.

Black smoke continued to empty out of the building. Through the haze, we saw the burnt tarp, the black suet on the walls and floor and the puddles of water and white flame retardent.

“I guess we should probably cancel classes tonight, Marty.”

“Yeah, probably,”

The cleanup took quite awhile that night and ended up costing a bit too. But I have to admit, it probably would have gone quicker if occassionally the work hadn’t have been put on hold while Marty and I laughed our fool heads off. After all, it was just another day at the dojang.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering…. yes, I did do the flaming brick break at the demo. And it did go over very well.

After that first time, however, I figured out you only had to spray a bit of lighter fluid to the top surface immediately prior to the break. It burns off quickly and can be smothered easily. However kids, don’t try it at home, and probably not at the dojang either.

Comment Pages

There are 10 Comments to "One Day at the Dojang, pt 2"

  • Scott Roche says:

    Famous last words, “Hey y’all (or youse guys depending on your latitude) watch this!”

  • See, kids? Marketing research CAN be fun! Oh, and so can … uh, the other thing.

  • Lordy! That is crazy man. I had no idea you were such a bad ass. You are my own personal Chuck Norris!

  • Charlie Blanchard says:

    That’s priceless!! An easily understandable, and in retrospect absurdly funny, demo gaff. Wiping away tears of mirth and quietly grateful that no one was hurt.

    I am glad that the demo went well. 🙂

    • odin1eye says:

      I was pretty sure you could appreciate that one! What is it with guys and fire and being all manly? Thanks for the comment! Means a lot from a fellow practitioner.

  • Kim Hampton says:

    Thank you so much for saving us from an incredible amount of pain! We were planning to do this outside, but the wind kept burning out the flame, so we were checking to see if there was something we could do to keep the fire burning in windy conditions. This pretty well told us to give it up.

    • odin1eye says:

      😀 Glad I could help! Actually, outside in the wind, with nothing but dirt underneath, soaking them in gasoline, might do the trick. Just keep plenty of water handy! Thanks for the comment and I hope you enjoyed!

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