Featured From the Archives: A Brief Introduction to Demo Teams

Wow, what a week! I don’t know if the planets aligned for you as horribly as they did for me, but let’s just say there’s a bottle of Fireball in my freezer that will soon be empty. ;/

I was intending a different post today, but as the sun is now creeping lower toward the horizon and I have all of maybe two brain cells left, I decided it was time for the back-up plan. Hooray for archive-diving! I have plenty of writing/publishing/editing related posts I could recirculate, but I haven’t touched on one topic in a long time. And I’ve noticed the bio pertaining to this part of my life keeps showing up in my stats feed, so perhaps there’s some curiosity out there as to what I mean when I say I’m a “martial arts demo team expert.” Perhaps some of you are even thinking, “what the heck is a demo team?” Today, you’ll get to find out.

The following post will make the most sense to fellow martial artists, but for those of you who have wondered about my various online bio claims, here’s a glimpse into my martial artist past and my particular specialty in that realm. (You’ll notice it’s again related to storytelling. And yes, some of it translates into my current job choice as an editor.) Enjoy!

Demo Teams: A Brief Introduction

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 7/20/12

I’ll be the first to admit that my views on the martial arts — especially demo teams — are a bit progressive. And as such, probably rankle the feathers of the traditionalists out there. For the record, let me just state that I’m not devaluing traditionalism. Quite the opposite actually. There’s something powerful about being a part of a legacy that’s steeped in the history of thousands of years, having been passed down for generations upon generations. That said, I also think that tradition without innovation can cause a style to stagnate and eventually disappear into the dust of ages. So, yes, I’m a progressive martial artist, but it’s not meant to offend.

When you reach Sam Dan (3rd Degree) in Tang Soo Do, there’s an underlying expectation that you begin to specialize in something. You’ve already semi-mastered the basics (no one’s ever perfect, after all), you can competently defend yourself and can adequately pass your knowledge on to others. Now it’s time to find your niche, to declare your martial arts identity, if you will. Some specialize in self-defense techniques, some in empty hand forms, some in specific weapons. Others choose to extensively research the history behind their art, and still others focus simply on the intricacies of instructing.

My specialty is demo teams.

What is a demo team? At their heart, demo teams, short for demonstration team, are a marketing tool. Anytime you give a performance geared toward attracting new students, you’re essentially using a demo team in its most basic form. The vernacular may vary from school to school (I’ve heard them referred to as Performance Team, Demonstration Squad, Creativity Team, etc) but the principle is always the same. And they’re very poorly utilized by the vast majority of schools out there.

Usually, they are thrown together last minute with volunteer students. They’re rarely given much rehearsal, and there’s usually even less thought behind the organization or presentation of the performance. Which gives you, not surprisingly, a highly disorganized group of students milling around looking lost, boring displays of generic techniques, and absolutely no originality. Some of you may be shaking your heads right now, thinking I’m being overly judgmental, but admit it, we’ve all seen these types of demos. Performances comprised of kids in rumpled uniforms who can barely form a straight line, displays of adequate-at-best techniques, poorly practiced routines where students end up flinging their weapons all over the place, absolutely no music except for the chaotic ki-haps of the students or maybe the counting of the instructor, and my favorite: people breaking boards any civilian could flick in half with a couple fingers, they’re so thin. There may be one or two high-ranking students that really dazzle, but overall, I think we can all agree that these types of demos are, in a word, uninspired.

Every audience is comprised of only a few things — the family of the students, who will cheer no matter how bad their person does; fellow martial artists vaguely curious how your style differs from theirs; the hecklers who think it’s amusing to shout horrible impressions of the Karate Kid at you; and potential students. That’s it. Really. So in any given audience, you maybe have 25% that can be enticed into enrolling. That’s a pretty small window in a lot of venues. How do you reach this small minority of potential customers? By entertaining them.

We live in a society flooded by the martial arts. It’s included in every action-oriented movie or TV show. It’s in nearly every video game on the market; it’s even crept it’s way into literature. So the mystique is gone, folks. It’s no longer enough to show the world what your classes look like on a daily basis. We’ve all seen it a thousand times. We’re not impressed. Doesn’t matter if we train in the martial arts or not.

Give us something original, something flashy, something that makes us pause in that parking lot or mall, or gets us in the door to your studio’s open-house. In short, give us a performance. None of this last minute, non-rehearsed, reliant-on-cute-factor, traditional uniforms stuff. What you need is a dedicated Demo Team — the elite of your student body, trained to perform, proficient in things like musicality, synchronization, advanced techniques, and storytelling/acting. These are the people who impress. They’re the ones who will entice new students to walk in the door, who will make the hecklers shut up, get the other martial artists to nod in appreciation and floor their family with their abilities. They are your secret weapon. And every studio has them. Unless you just opened your doors yesterday. In which case you have white belts. And white belts are never impressive. Sorry.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting what I’d call a master class in demo teams à la me (you can find this master class via the Index above, if you wish). I’ll go over every aspect involved in my style of “professional” grade teams, including how to create your team, the principles of musicality, staging, and storytelling, and the intricacies of performing — all in regards to martial arts demonstrations. For those of you more interested in my advice/opinions on writing, don’t worry, those posts will be mixed in too. I even have one dedicated to art, (The Genesis of a Logo Design), upcoming on the schedule, for any who were starting to doubt whether I’d actually tackle that subject. 😉

For now, I will leave you with this video of my most popular demo, “The Dream Sequence.” As with all recordings, there’s something lost in the translation that would have been better experienced in person. But it will still illustrate my particular demo team style, and what I hope to impart to you in following posts. Is it the most brilliant thing ever? I wouldn’t say so. It’s actually rather slow, and I was shocked by the acclaim it received. Is it entertaining? Hopefully. After all, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? To entertain.

(Before you ask, yes, the little boy on Wheelies is part of the routine, not some random bystander. And yes, I am in there, though I challenge you to figure out which performer is me. 😉 )

 

 

Life Lessons of the Martial Arts: Revisited

This week has been a little on the rough side. I’m not going to divulge the details, other than to say it’s not a week that will be remembered fondly. I’m actually still in the process of recovering from the emotional fall-out, and that generally includes a remedy of three things: chocolate, uplifting music that will bolster my shattered confidence, and remembering the lessons I learned while training in the martial arts. To that end, I’m going to do something unprecedented and re-visit a post I did about this time last year.

There’s a stigma in the martial arts that once you stop physically training, you’re no longer a black belt. While there is some merit to that argument — since, without practice, your self-defense skills rapidly become rusty — I humbly disagree. Those that learn the real lessons of the martial arts never lose them. They might not be able to do the most impressive jump spinning kick anymore, and they might not remember all their forms, but they still practice the things that make them better people, that make them black belts. Instead of an outward display, it’s internalized, crossing over into every aspect of their lives. So even though I’m currently on hiatus from my physical training, I don’t consider myself a former black belt. The intangible gifts I was given through Tang Soo Do are ones I’m grateful for every day, and they will continue to shape my life, my relationships, and how I conduct myself, whether or not I ever return to my training.

Which is why I felt this post needed to surface from the archives again. It’s not just an argument for why everyone should train in the martial arts, it’s a reminder to myself. These are things I strive to embody, and I know with absolute certainty that the situations referenced above would have played out quite differently if it weren’t for a few of these qualities. So thanks, Tang Soo Do. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

And since I couldn’t say it any better than I did in that original post, I give you:
 

Life Lessons of the Martial Arts

 

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally posted on 3/1/13)

 
Last week I mentioned how I apply a tenet I learned in the martial arts to my everyday life, and since it’s about time I branched away from writing/publishing to show my other categories some love, I think that’s a topic deserving of elaboration. What I’m about to say won’t be news to any of you that have trained, but to those of you unfamiliar with the martial arts, it may be enlightening.

There are three reasons that automatically come to mind when someone says they want to start training:

  • Discipline
  • Fighting/Self-Defense
  • Exercise

And for the most part, that sums up 90% of anyone’s motivation for enrolling. But there’s a lot more to the martial arts than that. Yes, it will help your unruly child learn to respect their elders and shut their mouth without the aid of duct tape. Yes, you will learn self-defense and how to fight. And yes, you will lose weight and tone muscle from all the exercise. But you’ll also miss the much richer elements of personal growth that society never glorifies if you only focus on those three things.

I learned a long time ago that you can easily spot someone who’s made it to black belt. Partly because all martial artists have a certain way of moving; a certain poise and grounded familiarity with their body that screams “black belt” a mile away. And partly because of the way they conduct themselves. There’s a reason they say martial arts is a way of life. It’s because, by the time you reach black belt, your training has gone beyond the physical techniques and has become an ingrained part of your outlook on the world.

Every style has their own philosophies and tenets, but I think there are several that are universal. Not because they’re part of an unwritten code of martial arts brethren, but because they’re the principles that make someone a better person. Things that should be common sense but that have been lost over the years to the majority of society. What are they? Let’s take a look and find out.

Integrity:

In a world where selfishness reigns, it’s refreshing to find someone that actually understands this word. And I would bet that 9 times out of 10, that person is/was a martial artist. Why? Because this is one of the core principles instilled by training. It’s also one of the first that spills over into everyday life. Integrity can be anything from keeping your word, to doing what’s right even when it’s not easy or for your own benefit, to taking responsibility for your actions. This is an attitude that translates to success in everything from school, to personal relationships, to career. A person with integrity is someone that can be counted on, and that’s a sure-fire way to the top of any pack.

Humility:

The second tell-tale sign of someone who’s spent time in the martial arts is humility. People who have learned this have an easier time connecting with others. Nobody likes a braggart, and arrogance is a one-way ticket to alienating all your potential allies. Martial artists learn the fine line of being confident in their abilities without the need to brag. (Well, most do anyway.) And that translates into things like leadership roles, community involvement, and personal satisfaction. Just like integrity, humility is a trait that instantly earns you respect and appreciation, without having to demand it.

Perseverance:

News-flash: life’s hard. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel and just give up, becoming complacent with whatever hand you’ve been dealt. Getting a black belt isn’t easy, either. It involves dedicating yourself to intense workouts, potential injuries and having to hit the floor hard. A lot. You will get knocked down, and you will get hurt. But you also learn how to get back up, how to roll with the punches, and how to achieve any goal you put your mind to, one step at a time. I think the parallel should be obvious. You can apply that same philosophy to anything in life, be that earning a college degree, starting a successful business, or just being present for your family. With a little perseverance, anything is possible.

Situational Awareness:

Self-defense is becoming more and more important, especially for women and young people. So many horrible acts of violence could have been averted if the victim had been more aware of their surroundings, or had avoided putting themselves in danger in the first place. Yes, the martial arts are about fighting, but more importantly, they’re about learning how not to fight. They teach you the self-control to walk away from situations that are turning ugly, and they teach you not to do so many of the stupid things that get people in trouble, like going places alone in the middle of the night, taking drinks from strangers that you didn’t see mixed, or getting in random cars with people you don’t know. The first act of self-defense is knowing how to assess the risks around you; a lesson I wish we taught in schools.

Altruism:

This one may come as a little bit of a surprise to those outside of the martial arts family, but it’s actually a pretty big element in our training, especially the higher ranks. Most styles promote giving back to the community, whether that be the studio itself or the community at large. Some even use it as a criteria for advancement. Which is why you’ll find a lot of black belts volunteering in their communities. The idea of paying forward the time and effort that was given to you, of showing pride and commitment to the people and places around you, is one that translates well into other aspects of life. You don’t have to join the Red Cross, or Habitats for Humanity, or some other grand organization of do-gooders to make a difference. Simply volunteering in your child’s classroom, helping a coworker with a hefty project, or donating your time at a library/care facility will make the world a better place. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all learned that a few moments of selflessness can make all the difference to someone in need? Maybe we wouldn’t see so much violence then.

Those are just a few of the positive affects I’ve seen the martial arts have. Every student will choose the lessons that resonate most sincerely with their own lives, and may not need every one, but you can guarantee they’ll be given the tools just the same. Whether you’re thinking of enrolling your child in the local studio, or whether you’re considering it for yourself, take a moment to think about what I’ve said here. Remember that it’s not just about learning to punch, kick, yell and break things. It’s about learning to be the best version of yourself. If that doesn’t convince you the martial arts are worthwhile, then I’m not sure what will.

And to my fellow martial artists out there, what lessons have you learned in your training? Share the ones I missed in the comments below. 😉