21 September 2014

Burt Ward’s Karate Lessons

In 1965 Burt Ward did some karate demonstrations as part of his audition for the part of Dick Grayson/Robin on the upcoming Batman TV show. Those somewhat awkward screen tests are now on YouTube, of course.

Ward’s Wikipedia entry states that he had a black belt in Taekwondo—but that statement is followed by the ominous “[citation needed]” note.

In fact, back in November 1968, Black Belt magazine reported on Ward’s attempt to catch up to what his publicists were saying about his martial-arts skills. It says that “chopping a brick in half” for his screen test was “a trick he’d picked up from karate enthusiasts.”

Ward started to study with Young Ik Suh (1939-2013), a local Taekwondo teacher from Korea. At first he worked on the moves needed for the next day’s filming, according to the Black Belt article. But after Bruce Lee appeared on the show as the Green Hornet’s partner Kato, Ward felt he needed deeper knowledge.

Young therefore developed a six-month “Quick Course in Karate” to teach Ward the fundamental concepts and over 300 moves. The article is written in the same breathless prose the studio publicists would have used, and it’s unclear when during the show’s run those lessons took place. By the time the magazine appeared, Batman was off the air.

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