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Drawing a Crowd: Organizing Martial Arts Demos

By Christopher Thurne

In the Christian martial arts field, demonstrations can provide one of the best means for promoting a martial arts ministry.

Generally, martial arts demonstrations can promote a martial arts style, recruit more students to a class or simply display students’ progress. But demonstrations create opportunities for evangelism and ministry.

Michael McClure, sixth dan in Golden Dragon Kung Fu, said he’s for anything that spreads the Gospel, which was how he became involved in demonstrations.

“I was first introduced to martial arts demonstrations as a drawing card,” Michael McClure said. “The idea was to attract a crowd with the martial arts and then preach the gospel.

“In my own work, I have come to use martial arts demonstrations as sermons,” he said. “I first find the text that the Lord would have me to present. Then I would derive a topic from the text. Next I would find a martial arts demonstration that would illustrate the truth that I am preaching. Thus the sermon and the demonstration are one.

“I have found this to be, not only an attention getter and sustainer, but a wonderful tool for cementing the truth in the minds of the hearers.”

A demonstration can be as elaborate or simple as needed, and can be given as frequently or seldom as resources allow. Brian Bryan, eighth dan in Tae Kwon Do and founder of a Christian martial arts demonstration team called The Combat Team, said they give about 100 demonstrations a year.

What to Demonstrate

The demonstration could include anything from breaking wood or concrete to weapon forms or sparring. It depends, in part, on the audience and, in part, on the abilities of the demonstrators.

Grandmaster Edward B. Sell, ninth dan and leader of an evangelistic demonstration team known as the Sell Team, suggests demonstrators keep it simple; demonstrators shouldn’t try anything that might injure themselves, their teammates, or the audience.

McClure said his demonstrations are tailored to his Biblical message.

“The demonstration is an illustration of a Spiritual truth,” McClure said. “If I am speaking on the Hebrews 4:12, I would do a sword demonstration. If I am speaking on Hell, then I would do a fire break. If I am speaking on I Corinthians 15:58, I would do a rooting and tension demonstration and so forth.”

Sell said everyone can contribute to the message of the demonstration.

“At a church function, have each team member recite a bible verse and explain what it means to them,” he said.

Sell also said to check with the host of the demonstration.

“If the event has a theme or a purpose, ask the host what message they would have you to give,” he said. “Show that your school is a user-friendly martial arts school concerned about the community.”

Get the Audience Involved?

A demonstration can make an impression the audience, and one way to keep the audience’s attention is getting them involved in the demonstration. Sell said audience interaction can help educate or reinforce the message of the demo.

But the demo team should consider if the audience should be involved and, if so, how involved they should be.

“This is a difficult question for me’ McClure said. “On the positive side, people do like to be involved. There are some things you can do like teaching people simple wrist release techniques or simple blocking or yielding moves that get the audience involved.

“But, on the negative side, I have had people whom I did not know, challenge me during demonstrations.”

Bryan said his team involves the audience by asking them to cheer, or they may use audience members to hold for some of the breaks. Bryan said they only use audience members for the breaking when there is not a chance of audience members getting hurt.

Getting a Team Together

Depending on the demonstration the demonstrators can include instructors, black-belt students, or low-level colored belts. The team could be prearranged or it can create when an opportunity arises. The team may also be a solo act.

“I have done many solo demonstrations,” McClure said. “This eliminates much of the possibility for error, but it also limits what one can do.”

Sell said he has three types of demonstration teams: Team A is a world class presentation team consisting of all advanced and well trained black belts; Team B is a mixture of senior students for demonstrating at public schools, churches and civic events; and Team C is a mixture of advanced and inexperienced students of all ranks for local events, nothing beyond first dan feats of skill.”

“A specialized demo team is a great idea,” McClure said. “Obviously, this would allow a greater variety of techniques and stunts to be performed; therefore, one could do more in the way of illustration.

“I do not limit participation to black belts. Unquestionably, one or more additional black belts can add great depth to the demonstration. However, it is often a good idea to have students participate. It gives them experience, encourages them to go on in their training.”

McClure jokes the students also give the leader of the demonstration someone to use as a victim, or partner.

Organizing the Demonstration: Location, Location, Location

“The purpose of the demonstration must be foremost,” McClure said. “Once this is established, the next, obvious step would be date, time and location.”

Summer camps, churches, schools; virtually anywhere can be used for a demonstration.

Sell said the performance area should be no smaller than 20” X 20” and the spectators should be at least 15 to 20 feet away from the stage area. An elevated stage, if available, should have plenty of “error room” from the edges so the demonstrators don’t fall off the stage, Sell said.

Sell said the feats of skill may have to be modified depending upon the terrain; the distance between stage, the spectators and breaking objects. He said to make sure broken boards, bricks or concrete will not fly in direction of the spectators.

If possible check out the location in advance. Find out how much space you have, what technology you’ll have available like microphones or projectors, find the stage and where the audience is in relation to it.

Organizing the Demonstration: Prepare the Material and Practice It

Once the location is decided the specifics of the presentation should be established. Long before the actual demonstration, the team should know who their audience will be, what skills they plan to demonstrate, what materials they need, how long the demonstration should run, and what message they are going to deliver.

A message about Christian parenthood will not be very effective if the audience is mostly children, which is why it is essential to know what the audience will most likely consist of.

Bryan said a demonstration team should also know how the demo presentation is going to be presented,”

“Normally we will do the demos and the weave the message inside the demo,” he said. “We will do a few breaks and then share and continue to do this throughout the whole demo. It keeps the attention and gives the audience time to process what you are sharing with them.”

Once the team knows exactly what they will demonstrate they need to collect the necessary materials, McClure said.

“Experience has taught me not to depend upon others for this, but to obtain my own boards, blocks, vegetables and any other props that will be used.”

If the demo includes breaking, the team should make sure there is enough wood, bricks or concrete for the demo and for rehearsal. The team will also want to establish who will need to hold for the breaks.

Demonstrations can be brief or prolonged, but whatever the length the demonstration should hold the audience interest throughout the entire demo.

McClure has done demonstrations as short at 10 minutes and as long as two-hours, but he said a two-hour demo requires a very impressive performance to maintain the audience’s attention. He said generally 30- to 45- minutes will probably get the job done.

Sell said the team should work out their timeframe with the host of the demonstration.

“This depends on the host’s request, but the best time limit is between 20 to 35 minutes,” Sell said. “Longer would be too long, unless it is an evangelistic presentation; then you need to add time for the message and altar call, plus ministering to those who respond. Working with the military, we have some very tight schedules. I strongly suggest that the team rehearse.”

McClure said any demonstration team should get ample practice to ensure a good performance.

“I have seen demonstrations fail because of inadequate practice,” he said.

It’s also a good idea to include a question-and-answer session with the audience so they can find out more about your martial arts ministry. Sell encourages a question-and-answer session after the demo when the audience can come to talk.

Advertising for Demonstration and During the Demonstration

A demonstration will only work if the demo team has an audience.

“Advertising is a great idea for getting the target audience which is desired,” McClure said. Posters, radio advertisement, the Internet, and television are all good ways to advertise a demo, McClure said; although television ads are usually too expensive.

“Newspaper advertising for this type of event is not usually a good financial investment,” he said. “Although, I don’t say it absolutely should not be used.”

Sell said teams can print simple, easy to read flyers with limited text to publicize the demonstration.

He also said the team may want to have business cards available for those who might approach after the demo.

“I suggest that you use my “5-Ws”: Who you are, what you are, where they can find you, when they can find you and why they need the services of your school.

Websites can also be used to publicize your demonstration team. Bryan’s team uses a website,, to both publicize their team and make themselves available for people interested hosting a demonstration.