“The important thing is not so much the style of martial art but the style of the instructor. Watch classes. Basic ones and advanced ones. See if it will match your preferences.”
– Rob Colasanti, President, National Association of Professional Martial Arts
Buenos Aires – Everyone has their own cultural things they like to do. Some like music, some dance, some theater, or movies, or sporting events. I like a bit of all of the above, but one passion in particular is the world of martial arts. It started when I was a kid, I took judo classes as the “Y”, then later fencing classes. In high school, one of my friend’s father was an instructor in Taekwondo, and I spent a couple of years taking lessons from him. In college, I began taking aikido classes, and took them on and off over a period of about ten years. In 1998, I stumbled into a local kenpo studio when I was looking for an alternative to the gym, weight training and such being one of the most boring things I can think of to do. I really hit it off with the art, and the instructor, and later the head of the school, and became very involved in it, and, as long time readers know, achieved my first dan blackbelt almost two years ago now. Since then I’ve been a bit of a slacker in regards to working out, though getting back into it slowly – the school has a tournament at the end of January and I’ll be back in New York for that.
Last week, a martial arts spectacular called El Golpe del Dragón was held here in Buenos Aires at the Luna Park exhibition hall. I snapped up a ticket, Henry wasn’t interested, so he headed off to a major folklore music festival hosted by Mercedes Sosa and I headed off to an evening of demonstrations. It was a trifle long – with only a ten minute intermission the show lasted nearly 4½ hours. But it was great fun, and a chance to see some local schools show off in various arts – including demos of Shaolin Kung Fu, Karate, Sipalki, Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, Kenjutsu, Aikido, Sumo, Judo, Taekwondo, Kali, Capoeira, and a mixed martial arts system that seemed to consist primarily of Taekwondo and Hapkido.
I had good seats, and I managed to snap some interesting photos here and there, along with a few videos that turned out very nicely given the distance and lighting.
The evening opened up with Japanese Taiko Drums, performed by the Buenos Aires Taiko school, not a martial art, but a nice way to enter the show.
It was followed by a traditional Lion Dance performed by the Choy Lee Fut school, a show that’s great fun when well performed, as this was.
From there, we moved into the Shaolin Kung Fu demo – very colorful, and a nice mix of group form movements, plus some weapons demonstrations – I wish I’d gotten some good photos of those, and that the video of the staff fight had come out better, it was really a great demo. That was followed by a karate school that put on primarily mass movement demonstrations – sort of like the opening of a lot of martial arts movies – I have to admit this one was a little off for me – the instructor was very rigid, and many of the students didn’t seem prepared (and with 50+ students out there wearing blackbelts, a good number of whom, based on the way they handled themselves, probably not actual blackbelts but just wearing them for the demo).
A local Sipalki school put on a demo, most of it in near darkness, which might be a great way to train, but wasn’t a great way to watch a demo.
Followed by a Taichichuan demo, both individual and group – here, Maestro Liu Ming of the school went through one of the harder forms. This was followed by a kenjutsu demo, complete with samurai warriors in full armor – once again performed more or less in the dark…
The first half ended with a well choreographed Aikido demo from Shihan Leonardo Sakanashi of his family’s school. Intermission, after two hours, was a welcome stretch, followed by a return and a Korean drum intro.
And probably the most fun of the evening in some ways, a Sumo match – I was in near hysterics watching this, I must admit. This was followed by a mass judo demo – notable mostly for the inclusion of a good number of young children, a good advertising ploy. Then a school from the World Taekwondo Federation did a whole bunch of fancy kicks, board breaking, and over-choreographed fake fights.
The karate school returned with a demonstration of Kobudo, various weapons, but much the same feeling of everything being a bit too rigidly performed. Which was immediately turned around by a group of Kali artists dressed in, more or less, pirate garb, acting out a skit about how Kali came into existence, and then an International Taekwondo Federation school that apparently thought having three guys dressed like they were Mr. Smith from The Matrix doing a basic TKD form and then a row of guys along the side each breaking a board, somehow demonstrated what they were all about. This was followed in short order by a Capoeira demo, which normally I’d find fascinating, but it was both late, and these guys spent most of the time demonstrating their acrobatic abilities – in their mock fights none of them even got close to each other to show their skill – mostly they did a lot of backflips and running somersaults. Finally a mixed martial art school called sistema americana that seemed to consist of a mix of Hapkido and Taekwondo practicioners, all pretty much randomly doing their own thing – and also wearing Matrix style sunglasses, though not the suits…
Finally, the “main event”, or “closing event” – Sensei Nestor Varze from a local samurai style school, with great fanfare (in a separate video not linked here) that involved samurai, and flag waving, and much parading about, an intro that took nearly 25 minutes, spent five minutes setting a world record by breaking 52 blocks of ice with his arm(s) – the previous record apparently being 50.
You’d think cab drivers would keep track of when major events let out – but there wasn’t one to be found near to Luna Park when we exited – I walked to the Obelisco and found a cabbie just finishing up a midnight snack and snagged a ride home.