[20 July 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
Travel. History. Kicking butt.
That’s “Human Weapon,” the new History Channel series that each week follows two Americans—mixed martial arts fighter Jason Chambers and former pro wrestler Bill Duff—as they visit a different land, learn about its culture and take a crash course in its signature fighting style.
No, you haven’t seen anything quite like this before on the tube, including each episode’s culminating hand-to-hand showdown between one of the hosts and a native master of a martial art.
“The reason we need two hosts on this show is because there is a very real element of danger,” Chambers said. “I’ve split my finger on episodes. I’ve had hematomas on my leg. I’ve fractured my ankle. Bill’s got cuts and bumps and scrapes. I mean, if we’re not bruised or bloody, we need to do another take.”
Still Duff understands why some viewers may regard the threat of bodily harm on “Human Weapon” as somewhat exaggerated.
“Even I’ve been guilty, when I was younger, of looking at a kung fu guy in competition and saying, `Oh, I could beat him up.’” Duff said. “But the truth is, when you’re in their country, in their culture and doing their deal—and I played professional football for eight years and wrestled for 15—it’s a lot tougher than you think it is from the couch.”
So did these guys know what they were getting into?
“(The producers) lied,” Chambers said. “They were like, `Want to travel the world?’ I’m like, `Cool.’ They’re like, `By the way, we’re going to punch you in the face.’”
In Friday’s premiere Duff and Chambers travel to Bangkok, Thailand, where they get down with the centuries-old fighting art of muay thai, also known as the Science of Eight Limbs.
The “eight limbs” consist of a fighter’s use of both fists, both elbows, both knees and both feet.
What, no head-butting?
“Actually in the early days of muay thai, you could use your head, you could eye-gouge, and you could bite,” Duff said. “It was outlawed in the `20s and brought back in the `30s with boxing regulations.”
As much as muay thai fighting fascinated Duff and Chambers, the legend behind it also grabbed them.
“In muay thai, they have a hero—every martial art has a hero or folklore—where one of their brethren was taken hostage by the Burmese,” Duff said. “And the Burmese king said, `If you can defeat 10 of my men, you will be set free. If not, you will be killed.’ So, one after the other, the hero took them down—all 10—with muay thai.”
Easier than trying to pick up muay thai and other fighting styles—including karate in Japan, savate in France and Krav Maga in Israel—was the experience of the “Human Weapon” audition process. But it was a little strange, too.
“The audition was kind of like `Fear Factor: The Home Game,’” Chambers said. “They really had no clue what they wanted. They had us sparring, they had us rolling around ... and then we had to eat some really weird (stuff) to kind of see how we would react to different cultures.”
Eat what, exactly?
“Man, it was rotten beans and this old egg with some weird salts and spices,” Chambers said. “I mean, it was just the most putrid combination. There were only two or three people out of the 24 people at the last casting session that were actually able to get it down. About four or five vomited. I was smart. I just downed it and called it a day.”
Besides being physical opposites—Chambers is 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds; Duff is 6 feet 4 and 280 pounds—Chambers believes it was the “glaring personality differences” between himself and Duff that cinched them as co-hosts.
“They put Bill and me together for a couple segments,” Chambers said. “And he was kind of a big, quiet, fumbly guy with some of the things we did, and I made light of the situations. But it was also cool, because he was able to keep me more grounded.
“Bill went to school in the Bible Belt. He’s married, settled down. He’s definitely the History Channel’s core audience. And I think that I’m what they’re trying to pull in, someone a little younger. I’m definitely the most outgoing, outspoken person that the History Channel’s going to have on for a while.”
You’ll get no argument from Duff on that.
“Jason is usually making all the jokes,” Duff said. “With me, you get more of the honest thing. So if it hurts, you’re going to see that it hurts.
“Some of these (fighters), you know, they see me, and they’re, like, `Oh, look at the size of this guy.’ They just come up, and they let me have it. A lot of them just considered me a crash-test dummy.”
It didn’t occur to Duff to turn and run, except when the fighting discipline called for it.
“Krav Maga in Israel is actually the best one for that, because a lot of their techniques do involve striking and then running away,” Duff said. “They actually practice running away through a crowd. They call it channeling, and it’s to get every opponent in front of you so no one’s behind you, so you actually have an exit.
“We actually did that, and it was very difficult, because you want to stand and fight. And what they do is they’ll have one guy come at you with a bat and another guy behind him with a knife and then two guys behind him with no weapons. And then you realize it doesn’t matter how big or tough you are, you’ve got to get out of there—period. There’s just no fighting that.”
With some extra effort, Duff faired better against man’s not-so-best-friend during an early morning run with Chambers and a group of muay thai fighters in Bangkok.
“Everyone is like a mile ahead of me,” Duff said. “And that’s when I got really concerned, because I’m literally being followed by a pack of dogs in the backstreets of Bangkok with nobody around.
“I look back, and Bill’s 10 feet away,” Chambers said. “I look back, and Bill’s 100 yards away. I look back, and Bill’s a little white speck back there. And then, all of a sudden, I see Bill hauling (to catch up). And I’m like, `What’s the matter?’ He’s like, `Man, I almost got bit by a dog. I had to kick it.’”
“I don’t think PETA would have liked it, though,” Duff said.
“They were just stunt dogs,” Chambers said. “We just recruited some rabid dogs to help motivate him.”
“Human Weapon” premieres at 10 p.m. EDT Friday on the History Channel.