Okay, I want to start this post by recommending a new martial arts related television series. Human Weapon is a new show on the History Channel. (Finally, my favorite channel covers my favorite subject!)
Every week the show takes us to another location around the world and exposes us to a new different type of martial art. (Anyone familiar with this blog can guess that I’m obviously stoked about the premise.)
In the series first episode, the hosts, Jason Chambers and Bill Duff travel to Thailand to learn more about the sport of muay thai. On their journey, they visit Lumpinee stadium, train at Fairtex Gym (Thailand), practice breaking with the Thai military, work out with hard-core fighters at a rural gym, and even go deep into the jungle near the Burmese border to visit a camp where a traditional, combat-based version of the art, called muay thai chai, is practiced.
The first show (televised Friday) was excellent, showing much more of the art than is usually shown in the mainstream media. The history, tradition, and cultural significance of muay thai was explored, as well as some of the strategies and scientific principles behind the techniques.
I would have liked more in-depth coverage into the Thai training methods and a behind-the-scenes look at the competition in Lumpinee Stadium, but otherwise, the show was really well done.
Most impressive was the coverage of muay thai chai. I’d heard that there was a combat version muay thai that emphasized self-defense and inflicting injury over the sport version, but I’ve never seen it examined until this show. (The art’s use of elbows and impalement techniques are truly vicious.)
I do, however, have one criticism about the show. It’s not a big deal and I shouldn’t let it bother me, but on a show that I like this much, it’s like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa… it distracts and drags the rest of the show down.
For some reason, (probably ratings) the Human Weapon producers decided that they needed to add a reality element to the show.
Jason Chambers has a mixed martial arts and kickboxing background, while the other host, Bill Duff is a collegiate wrestler and professional football player. It seems the producers thought that it would be a good idea to have one of the hosts to fight an expert in the featured martial art, at the end of each episode.
The premise of the show then becomes that the hosts have to learn about the art in order to defeat the expert. Of course they only have several days to travel the country and interview a few people. There’s no possible way that they could actually become a threat to any true champion.
The whole thing comes off as contrived and phony. Even a non-martial artist can see that these guys don’t stand a chance.
For example, in the first episode, Chambers is chosen to fight a tough-as-nails, former Lumpinee muay thai champion. When the big fight finally arrives, the match turns out to be little more than a glorified, exhibition between the two.
A crowd surrounds the ring, the fighters enter with traditional flair, and there’s even an ambulance brought in for dramatic effect, but the actual fight is little more than an semi-contact, sparring match.
The scenes are heavily edited and shown in slow motion in order to give the impression that the two are really fighting, but in the end, it’s obvious that the Thai fighter has taken it very easy upon his opponent. After watching the brutality of the fights earlier in the program, you never believe that the fight is real.
This bit of fantasy really detracts from the authenticity of the rest of the show. The History Channel would have been better off doing what it does best; focusing on history, tradition, and culture. There’s enough fascinating material in the study of martial arts to keep people interested without having to resort to cheap ratings tricks. Human Weapon would tread better on the high road.
And this is the gripe I have not only with Human Weapon, but also another television favorite, The Ultimate Fighter. Both shows have bought into the reality television fad when they would actually do better simply focusing on the art and training methods of their fighters.
Let’s get something straight about reality… If two dozen people were really stranded on a deserted island, they wouldn't goof around with silly challenges or council meetings, they’d be too worried about finding something to eat.; Donald Trump would never really hire any apprentice that pulled bizarre stunts unless they were on T.V.; And (no matter how good looking he is) the Bachelor would never really have two dozen women hanging all over him unless he was the star of the show! Reality shows are NOT about reality, they’re about illusion.
Now I don’t care one way or another about Survivor, The Apprentice, or The Bachelor, but it makes me nauseous to watch these otherwise good shows based on the reality (illusionary) premise. Neither Jason Chambers or Bill Duff would ever want to enter the ring against a Thai champ. Few MMA fighters care to even see their opponent before a fight, let alone eat breakfast across from the guy. (How weird is that?! Living and training next to your future opponent?)
The reason these shows do this is to build the drama. They hope that something interesting will happen by placing people in unfamiliar circumstances. Usually, it just creates immature behavior and unnatural responses.
I understand that the ratings show that many people like this sort of spectacle, but personally I find it distracting and cheap. It also creates false expectations and misrepresentations of the combat arts. In my opinion, the arts have enough to offer without resorting to this sort of distortion.
Of course, the difference between reality and illusion in the martial arts goes a lot further than a couple of television shows, but that’s all for another post.
Until then, keep training,