One really irritating thing about kung fu, is the sad fact that many very skilled and impressive people feel it necessary to claim to be more amazing than they really are. Someone who has studied and trained hard at some martial art for years, is going to be strong, fast, and skilled. Some martial artists gain amazing control over their bodies. One I knew for instance could fart at will, which is limited in use, but a demonstration of control, none the less. Others can send a man flying with a small movement. Some can withstand being punched very hard in the throat. Some can grasp a vertical pole, and hold their whole body out straight, horizontally. For many, though, this is never enough. They have to claim to be super-human.

Here are some daft tricks to watch out for:

  1. Smashing burning things. The performer, for such he is, squirts lighter fuel onto the thing he is about to smash, and lights it. The audience gasps as the big bright yellow flames leap up. He puts on an expression of desperate concentration, and then punches through the flames with such speed that there is no chance in hell that he will ever get so much as singed. These flames are not very hot. Any fool can do this.
  2. Smashing tiles. For a host of reasons, this is not as difficult as it might seem. To make things easier, however, many performers bake the tiles to the point at which they become very easy to break. I have seen assistants break the tiles accidentally while placing them down, so fragile had the tiles become.
  3. Smashing solid wood. Crowds marvel at some performers' ability to smash solid lumps of pine. True, these men do indeed breaks solid timber, and this timber looks like pine. It is not, however, the pine with which the good folk of East Grinstead panel their kitchens, that which the Beatles sang about in Norwegian Wood, no, this is "monkey pine" or birana (not sure of the spelling) wood, which is far too weak for making furniture, but it's just the thing for smashing to bits in order to impress people.
  4. Smashing ice. If a human were to punch a thick slab of solid clear ice, then he would experience pain, perhaps swelling, but not the shattering of the ice. If, however, he took the trouble to smash some of the centre section of the ice up, in advance, with a hammer, then re-freeze this area together again, then he will probably find it within his capability to punch the slab apart, and to impress the impressionable.
  5. Smashing paving slabs. Stone and concrete is very resistant indeed to crushing. You can build a very tall wall of stone or concrete blocks, and those at the bottom will not get crushed despite the weight of all that which is above them. However, if force is applied some other way to these materials, they often fail. If you get a paving slab, hold it upright, so that one edge lies on the ground, then let it fall on to flat ground, you will probably find that this shatters it into several pieces. In terms of tensile strength, concrete is rubbish. If you place a paving slab on the front of the torso of a lying man, then that man can bend his body slightly, so that the ends of the slab are on him, but not the middle. Quite a large area can still be in contact with the man, to spread the impact. Hit the slab in the middle and hey presto! - one broken slab and one unharmed man. A miracle this isn't.
  6. Smashing stacks of tiles or slabs. Look at the stacks carefully. They never stack them so that there is no gap between the tiers. Instead, they always stack them with little spacers down the side edges, which keep the middles of the tiers apart. Breaking the top layer is as easy as daft trick #5 (above). The next tier down now has the two hard edges of the first tier pressing down on its middle, plus the weight of the first tier, plus the descending hand of the martial artist, all bearing down on it. I have seen tall stacks of concrete slabs broken down to about half-way down the stack, then, after a pause, the bottom layers have collapsed under the weight of all the broken layers above them - without any extra force from the man's being applied. Despite this flagrant charlatanism, the audience applauded.
  7. Lying on beds of nails. Amazingly or otherwise, after many years of kung fu training, the skin on the back of a kung fu master, remains very much like the skin on the back of anyone else. It is no tougher, no weaker. It is just skin. If a man were to put his whole body weight on a bed of nails, the nails of which were needle sharp, varying lengths, and placed six inches apart, then he would need steel skin to withstand bepuncturement. However, ordinary nails are not tremendously sharp, and some people even blunt them further with a little tap from a hammer. The beds of nails you see men lie on have tightly-spaced nails, all of the same length. If a man lies on such a bed, then as long as he gets on reasonably carefully, he will find that he can spread his weight across many nails, and that none will puncture him. Any fool can do this with a tiny amount of practice. What is required is not years of dedicated mystic training, but just a willingness to put up with discomfort and a few scratches.
  8. Smashing a stack of burning concrete slabs, on the chest of a man lying on a bed of nails. See numbers 1, 5, 6, and 7, above.
  9. Moving a man without touching him. I've seen this done many times. Get a volunteer from the audience, preferably with a gullible-looking face. A good subject would be someone who has been hypnotised a few times. Get him to stand where everyone can see him. Make him feel exposed and nervous. Tell him what you are going to do. Stand in front of him, and look menacing. Hold your fist right in front of his solar plexus. This works especially well if you have just publicly used that hand to smash something. Pick the guy who clapped most. Move very slightly towards him with your whole body, then away. Repeat this a few times. Near enough anyone will rock slightly away from you when you advance. People have a strong sense of personal space, and a strong instinct to back away from threats. He will then start to swing back towards the vertical. You retreat during this swing, causing him to over-correct, and he will lean forwards. If you have picked a good subject, then the fact that he has rocked once will amaze him, and further convince him that he is not in control, and he will swing more. Even if the hypnotic effect of this trick doesn't work, very few subjects will be brave enough to just stand there and look at you contemptuously. They will feel obliged to waver. Indeed, simply standing perfectly still, when you know that hundreds of people are looking to see how still you are standing, is difficult. Once you think hard about standing still, you'll find it a challenge.

There are many tricks. Beware of any martial artist who claims to have super-human powers. I would add now that no matter how skilled a man is at fighting, he is still vulnerable to being hit over the back of the head with a cricket bat, while he's reading the paper.


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