Showmanship in Martial Arts

Showmanship in Martial Arts
Being on stage and in front of a crowd is not for everyone. Certainly true for many Martial Artists. But there comes a time in everyone’s Martial Arts development where you will be asked to demonstrate what you’ve learned. This could be informal such as situations where you’re part of school demonstrations or asked by some family member to show them what you’ve learned. It could be far more formal if you choose to participate in competitions or tournaments.

Whatever the situation, having good showmanship skills will make all the difference when called upon to showcase you skills. Showmanship, however, is not something traditionally taught as part of Martial Arts.

To understand why, you must first understand a bit of the culture where most Martial Arts derive from. In the Asian cultures, there are strong prevailing concepts of selflessness and humbleness. Look at the famous legends, such as Mulan. She didn’t go into battle because she wanted to prove to everyone she could be a warrior and could be as good as the boys. She did it to save the burden of her father’s responsibilities. If you read the original legend, you’ll know that after the war, she returned to her quiet, female life and never sought credit or recognition for what she had accomplished. Likewise, if you study Bruce Lee’s life, you’ll note that he didn’t purposely get into conflicts because he had to but rather he fought to defend something he believed in.

Wish such iconic figures and history, it’s no wonder that most Martial Artists and thus most teachers are ill equipped to teach showmanship. It is important to note though that having good showmanship is not exclusive from being a good Martial Artists.

In fact, some may argue that they are often one and the same. Martial Arts is about storytelling. When you perform a kata or form, you’re describing a battle. When you execute a movement, you’re constructing the components of a story. When you spar, you’re composing a masterpiece that has a distinct start, middle, and end with one of you the victors.

The main difference in showmanship and Martial Arts is the focus. In Martial Arts, your focus is on yourself and your opponent. You must concentrate on what’s happening within the battle (be it with a real opponent or just one in your mind). In showmanship, your focus is on your audience. You need to be able to convey the message and story to those observing without using any words.

Learning good showmanship involves some very basic concepts. By learning these concepts you will not only strengthen your demonstration ability, you may even improve your Martial Arts overall.

  • Awareness of surrounding/audience

  • Proper tension and use of ki

  • Step with purpose

  • Observation of yourself and others

  • Practice, practice, practice

I go into more details about each of these in the next article. So come join me there: Achieving Good Showmanship

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