Tom Odula of the Associated Press recently reported on an intriguing trend in Kenyan culture. Apparently more and more women of grandmotherly age are enrolling in self defense classes to protect themselves from rape attacks that are rampant across the country.
Last year one Nairobi hospital treated 437 rape victims over the age of 60. Another hospital treated 223. These are two samplings that hardly represent all the cases occurring. Much as it is in other countries, many rapes are not reported due to the shame of the event and the belief that nothing can be done about it.
Unfortunately, for elderly women in Kenya, that belief has some truth to it.
According to most Kenyan citizens there is a distressing lack of interest by officials and police in addressing rape reports. When they do chose to pursue them, officers are easily bribed and coerced to look the other way.
Although rape cases are prevalent in all age groups (including children), the number of elderly victims is disproportionately high. Kenyan men believe that sex with an elderly woman can cure AIDS and bring good fortune. Some who are criminals also believe their sins will be cleansed and they will be absolved of guilt from their transgressions.
Matters In Their Own Hands
The situation is bleak. Many grandmothers in Kenya are responsible for their grandchildren as the younger generations are lost to HIV and AIDS. The grandmas realize that in order to preserve their family, they cannot rely on police and external prevention measures.
Sheila Kariuki and her fellow instructors are a rare spark of hope for residents. Kariuki has instituted a self defense program that teaches effective and manageable techniques. Concepts in her course include eye gauging, groin kicks, auditory deterrents, and strikes to the solar plexus. Students like 77-year-old Mary Wanguyi lead the way by training hard and setting strong examples.
These women understand that being kind or subservient to attackers is not an option when their entire family is depending on their survival.
This story is yet another indicator of the importance martial arts and self defense still have in global culture. Technology continues to advance (especially in developed nations), but crimes like rape are the same as they have been for generations.
Even today, in some environments, martial arts are seen as a man’s game. This is a mindset that needs to be eliminated completely. Strong women like Mary Wanguyi are an inspiring example of taking action and empowering people around her.
It’s a mystical business we’re in. As you know, the martial arts were born from Asian mystics and passed on to a select few remarkable individuals. Mastery over the arts will grant you superhuman powers of telepathy, iron body, and no touch techniques.
Or so we’re told on occasion.
A lot of people are surprised at the level of flimflam that is around today, and are shocked that people buy into such “astounding” feats (like this one and this one). But if you think martial arts chicanery is new, think again. Consider the 70’s and 80’s when martial arts were just starting to reach levels of high national exposure. Bruce Lee had come and gone and left a tumultuous blend of eclectic “masters” in his wake.
One of those wannabe’s was a man named James Hydrick, or “Sum Chai” as he liked to be called.
Hydrick began his rise to fame in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he started his first martial arts studio. Therein he taught students how to control and enhance their mental abilities. Through a series of impressive physical stunts (like jump kicking a basketball net) and mental demonstrations (like making heavy bags sway without touching them), Hydrick became a local phenomenon.
In 1981 Hydrick’s true star was born when he appeared on a show called “That’s Incredible”. On the show he demonstrated his best techniques and astonished audiences worldwide:
Hydrick’s combination of physical fitness, Bruce Lee persona, and mental abilities caused him to become a sensation. It didn’t stop there though:
“The tabloid newspaper The Star quickly ran an article on Hydrick labeling him “The World’s Top Psychic.” The glowing account labeled Hydrick’s powers as “incredible and staggering.” Other newspapers revealed that Hydrick could cure headaches and colds with a touch and answer questions before they were asked. A scientist and electrical engineer from the University of Utah after much testing also concluded that Hydrick’s psychic powers were indeed authentic.” – Unexplainable.net
Here was a man that seemed to bridge the gap between the real and unreal. University-proven and publicly displayed, what was there to doubt about Sum Chai’s powers?
Unfortunately there was one man floating around who kept a close watch on claims of this nature. His name was (and still is) James Randi. Aka the Amazing Randi. A professional magician turned seeker-of-facts, Randi routinely busted metaphysical hustlers, faith healers, and mentalists. He went so far as to create a $10,000 dollar prize for anyone who could demonstrate supernatural powers under controlled circumstances. (Later Randi would up the ante to 1 million dollars and establish his own educational foundation).
Taking note of Hydrick’s dramatic rise in popularity, Randi requested a demonstration on the “That’s My Line” television program wherein Hydrick could first demonstrate his abilities, and then try to recreate those results once Randi put down some simple scientific parameters. Watch what happens, and do take note of the host whom you might recognize:
Unseen in this clip are a few more details. First, Randi offered an alternative solution to the packing peanuts, in case they were indeed somehow ruining the psychic connection; he asked Hydrick to where an ordinary medical mask over his mouth and nose. Hydrick flat out refused. Furthermore, Randi had in place a sensitive microphone that was aimed at Hydrick’s mouth during a rehearsal the day before. During the test, Randi was able to detect strong gusts of air coming from Hydrick, even though they were visually undetectable.
Certainly Randi was no fool and had no concern about losing his money that day. He also went on to explain his theory as to how Hydrick operated: “Hydrick was simply blowing the page over, and he spun the pencil around by the same means. Not immediately evident are these facts, however: First, the blast of air from a half-open mouth takes time to get to the props, and Hydrick made sure he turned his head away from the pencil and the page after giving a sharp puff of air, so that he was facing away when the action occurred. Second, one blows not directly at the prop but at the table surface” – James Randi
The rolling dowel trick as seen in the “That’s Incredible” clip was also easily explained. The wood on which the dowel moved was slightly concave. As the dowel would reach the far end from the initial roll, it would slow down, allowing Hydrick to mentally “stop” it. Then he could draw it back since the dowel was naturally inclined to roll backward. The concavity was so slight however that the friction of the wood would allow it to stop at the close end without settling back into the middle.
Seemingly foiled, Hydrick began to realize his time was limited and that he had to make one last effort to regain his fame. A few month’s after “That’s My Line” he agreed to another test, this time with magician and investigator Danny Korem. It was during this interview that footage of Hydrick’s martial arts operation and personal physical prowess became available. It was also the last straw for his credibility:
In a move that is actually quite surprising for con-men, Hydrick fessed up to the ruse. He explained his system and his personal background.
As many manipulators and con-artists do, Hydrick came from an imperfect childhood wherein he was starved for attention. he also fell into crime and used his abilities to preserve his own safety in jail. It was this combination of want and reward that led him to create Sum Chai.
Currently Hydrick is serving jail time as a registered sex offender in possible connection with his kung fu students.
Certainly James Hydrick can serve as an excellent study in the mystery of the unknown and the willingness of people to believe. Furthermore, we should take this incident as a stern warning when studying the arts to question what we see and attempt to understand why we do what we do (and how we do it). Lastly, we should be very careful as to what claims we make, as James Randi is still alive and ready to make us prove it.
Who can resist marveling at weird and unconventional martial arts from around the world? I know I can’t. Turkish oil wrestling is a perfect example – so don’t look away.
MMA fighters and wrestlers are known for getting up close and personal with their opponents, but even they might wince at how ‘familiar’ turkish wrestlers can get. This is an oiled down, slicked up grab fest where someone ends up with a face full of dirt.
Discovering Yagli Gures
Turkish wrestling, known as Yagli Gures (yaw-luh gresh), first came to my attention while watching an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Worlds. Some of you may know him from his main program Bizarre Foods, but this is an offshoot. Andrew was travelling to Turkey to experience some of the amazing geology and natural wonders of the area, not to mention some of the truly remarkable underground cities. But before going off on any excursions, Zimmern had a date with tight greasy pants.
What is Yagli Gures Exactly?
I had to do some digging, but I found a few interesting tidbits about the history of turkish wrestling. Here is an excerpt from the premier(?) website for Yagli Gures:
“Every year since 1640 Turkey’s best wrestlers – men and boys – have gathered for their national championships on a grassy field near the capitol of the old Ottoman Empire (Edirne). The tournament is called Kirkpinar, or “Forty Springs,” in honor of a 17th Century wrestling legend.
About 1,000 barefoot grapplers compete, oiled up and stripped to the waist. The anything-goes style and the oiled leather trunks originated with the world-renowned Janissaries, an elite fraternity of body guards to the imperial Sultans. The modern stadium is located on the former site of the Sultan’s palace, and Turkey’s president crowns the champions on the final day.
For three days the field is crowded with simultaneous matches in eleven divisions, ranging from school kids to forty-year-old masters. The sun is hot and the fights are long. Only if there is no winner after a half-hour is the mach decided with a sudden death overtime. There are few forbidden holds, and grabbing of trunks is not off limits.
Despite the fierce aggressiveness, however, and the obvious opportunities for fouling, these Turks behave like blood brothers despite their hunger for victory. If one is injured, or gets grass in his eye, for example, it is his opponent who comes to his aid.” – http://www.turkishwrestling.com/
And here is a little bit about the garb and rules of winning:
“The wrestlers, known as pehlivan (from Persian pahlavan, meaning “hero” or “champion”) wear a type of hand-stitched lederhosen called kisbet (sometimes kispet), which were traditionally made of water buffalo hide, but now also of calf leather. They also douse themselves in olive oil.
Unlike Olympic wrestling, oil wrestling matches may be won by achieving an effective hold of the kisbet. Thus, the pehlivan aims to control his opponent by putting his arm through the latter’s kisbet. To win by this move is called paca kazik. Originally, matches had no set duration and could go on for one or two days, until one man was able to establish superiority, but in 1975 the duration was capped at 40 minutes for the baspehlivan and 30 minutes for the pehlivan category. If no winner is determined, another 15 minutes—10 minutes for the pehlivan category—of wrestling ensues, wherein scores are kept to determine the victor.” – Wikipedia
Hold on to your kisbet – here is some video footage of Yagli Gures.
So What Happened to Poor Andrew Zimmern?
Unfortunately I don’t have access to any video clips of Andrew participating in the event. You’ll have to take my word for it when I say it was messy.
First, Zimmern had a heck of a time putting the ‘pants’ on. He had two or three helpers trying to squeeze him in but it was still rough going. When he finally got onto the field, his opponents were gentle but firm in their victories. Judging from Andrew’s reactions, the whole experience must have been difficult and exhausting.
For anyone who has grappled before, you know how quickly the body can get fatiqued from all the pushing, pulling ,and tension. Just imagine that with the added grief of not being able to grip anywhere. Keeping stable and in a dominant position must amount to a ton of used energy.
Sport or Martial Art?
This is always an interesting question. Clearly, Yagli Dures is played like a sport. There are rules, regulations, penalties, and judges. However, there is also a significant amount of historical pedigree here. As stated in the above information, this wrestling is descended from the military gaurd of various sultans. Furthermore, the techniques applied in Yagli Dures have distinct combat applications (especially in the historical sense). All of that leads me to state comfortably that turkish wrestling could be considered a martial art…an unusual one. I don’t think i’ll be trying it though.