Back in my younger years I had a friend who owned a 67 Chevelle. In those days the Chevelle was considered the muscle car, a real street machine. Just one small problem: my friend's car only had an inline-six cylinder engine under the hood. Those sixes were good on gas but pretty lousy in the horsepower department. Yet people were afraid to drag race with this guy. Why? Because he had cool looking Cragar wheels all around, a header exhaust for his measly 250 cu. inch motor (which gave it a formidable growl when he hit the throttle), and a badass hood scoop. But on the strip this car was in a league with a Volkswagen. So the perception was that this car was an all-out racer, but the reality was that it had the performance of a scooter. Looks can always be deceiving.
Has anyone ever seen these exhibitions of extreme or tricking martial arts on TV? I'm referring to the choreographed acrobatic stunts that masquerade as traditional forms or kata. Every time I see someone twirling a bo like a baton at a hundred miles an hour I think of my buddy's pseudo racing machine. On some level it's impressive, it may look good, but hardly any of it is useful in a combative sense. I'd like to see some bunkai (realistic applications) for some of these moves. Black Belt Mama's article on The Great Kata Debate was one of her finest, and it includes a video of a youngster performing kata that's interspersed with more kiai (spirit shouts) than you would find in most Bruce Lee flicks. Very annoying. His parents must be stocked up on earplugs when he's practicing at home. They should've bought this kid a set of drums instead of karate lessons.
Admittedly, some arts are more demonstrable than others. Tae kwon do certainly comes to mind with its flashy kicking arsenal. Africans enslaved in Brazil during the 17th century developed capoeira which today incorporates movements that resemble a cross between gymnastics and breakdancing. Mind you, I'm not knocking either one of these styles. They're difficult to learn and probably impossible to master unless you're a certain body type. Both systems began as combative arts, but modern tae kwon do has for the most part been relegated to sport. Capoeira routines are typically set to music and chanting. No-contact "matches" between capoeira practitioners are always a crowd pleaser, but generally don't arouse much interest from the traditional martial arts camp.
There's a memorable scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones is accosted by a sword fighter. The would-be killer puts on a little show as he demonstrates his skill with some taunting air swipes only to be summarily blown away by Jones' trusty sidearm. Never bring a sword to a gunfight. As for my friend's prized Chevelle - he ended up wrecking it. Apparently he caved and tried racing somebody when he lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree. Miraculously he wasn't hurt, but he learned a hard lesson: It doesn't pay to show off.