In a previous article, Showmanship and Martial Arts, I talked a bit about why good showmanship is important but rarely taught in Martial Arts. In this article, we’ll go into more detail about the basic concepts of showmanship and how to execute each of them effectively. Mastering these skills can also improve your Martial Arts overall.
Awareness of surrounding/audience
One of the most basic components of showmanship is to understand your surroundings and audience. Before you begin any demonstration, you need to be aware of:
- Where will the audience be in relation to you?
- What is your stage like? Is it level with your audience? Above? Is it carpet, wood, grass?
- How much room do you have to work in?
- What is happening around you?
Based on your surroundings, you may need to adjust what you are doing, not just for safety reasons but also for optimal showmanship. For instance, if you have a throw in your demonstration, you want to make sure the person who is thrown lands in a safe area. In addition, you don’t want to have your back to the audience all the time. And you may need to time it at such a point it overpowers any other sounds or events happening around you, such as music playing or other groups demonstrating.
Proper tension and use of ki
Nothing bugs me more than watching some Martial Artist not understand or use their “ki” correctly. “Ki” is a generic term used to describe the sound made as a person executes their form. It’s often a loud explosion of sound that sounds like the person is shouting. The sound itself can vary depending on the style, form and technique.
At its core, the point of the “ki” is to help the Martial Artist bring the appropriate tension to that point in the form and explode with power. It has to do with the whole body concept of Martial Arts, a topic we will go into in another article.
Logically, it needs to be a finishing blow that you’re exploding on energy. Why would you waste your energy before that point? And it needs to be timed with the execution of your blow otherwise you’re holding back on your power and defeating the purpose.
The problem is I see many Martial Artist who don’t understand these basic concepts. They throw a “ki” whenever it suits them (some of them after every little strike or blow). That would exhaust them in a real battle. Or they throw this extra-long “ki” that seems to go on for ages. Really? The worst though is when they execute the technique, come to a full stop and then yell “Aiiieee”.
Step with purpose
When you’re performing, you need to be sure of where you step and why. There should be no hesitation in your step. In addition, stepping with solid footing shows your rooting. As a Martial Artist, you should always be well rooted. If you’re not, you will easily be dislodged or knocked over. And that will ultimately cause you to lose your battle.
Even though you’re just performing, you still need to demonstrate good technique and solid stances. Step with purpose to show good stance, posture and technique.
Observation of yourself and others
One of the best ways to get yourself ready for any performance related skill, be it Martial Arts or sports or art, is to observe others who are masters (or at least better than you) and yourself. You need to be able to see yourself and others objectively in order to learn what they do and how they perform.
Observing others gives you the opportunity not only to learn from them but to also understand how the judges may view things. Every judge is different. And as much as I’d like to say all judges are fair; reality is that judges each have their preferences. Most judges in competitions work a particular circuit, meaning they will judge more than one event. If you can understand what are the things they are looking for in a form, you will have a better chance of picking the right form and demonstrating those skills.
Likewise, it is a good idea to try to film yourself and watch the video. You may feel as if you’re executing the form perfectly but in reality you may have some habits that you don’t realize you’re doing which can impact your performance. Perhaps you always lower your guard at a certain point or telegraph a move or step too narrow. Whatever it is, you won’t catch it unless you can watch yourself over and over.
Practice, practice, practice
One of the sayings my Grandmaster always says is “To learn something, you do it 1,000 times and then you start to count.” In essence, you aren’t going to perfect a form without practicing it over and over. And we’re not just talking about doing it a few times during class. When I’m getting ready for a competition, I am practicing every moment I can. Even while I’m walking or watching TV, I will be mentally reviewing portions of the form that I need to work on or practicing certain strikes or movements. The amount you practice will show on the floor and impact your final results.
Training not just for your basic style techniques but also for “soft skills” such as showmanship will only help enhance your Martial Arts. Utilizing these techniques is not exclusive to Martial Arts either. These techniques can be applied to many aspects of our everyday life: giving presentations, making speeches… living life.