Anthony ‘The Arrow Catcher’ Kelly

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Blitz Magazine, February 2016

Anthony’s adventures in catching deadly projectiles began sixteen years ago, while sitting on the couch.

“I used to do a lot of training with this particular young guy, Andy Johnson, and one day I felt too tired to train, so I suggested we sit down and watch a movie. The movie was called, The Last Dragon. It’s an eighties classic; I swear, that movie changed my life.

“Anyway, it starts with the hero having to catch an arrow that he selects; it’s a specific arrow with a specific flight. I said to Andy, ‘I’d love to catch an arrow.’ He said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He was a bit out-there, like me.”

Andy Johnson remembers that conversation well.

“I used to train with Anthony at his place in Armidale in the yard, on the back deck. We were watching this movie [The Last Dragon] and you see [the arrow] on a fishing line. The hero, Bruce Leroy, ducked one, blocked one, and caught one.

“Anthony said, ‘That’s pretty cool, but it can’t be that hard’.

I said, ‘You’ve got to try that.’

He asked me, ‘Have you ever shot one?’

‘No.”

Not to be discouraged by a lack of experience, both men went into the backyard to discuss the proposition further.

“[Andy] had to learn to shoot,” says Anthony. “I had to learn the stance and figure out the hand position – so I wouldn’t get killed.”

The plan was taking shape.

“We put a stick in the ground, I walked back fifteen meters and shot arrows at the stick,” Andy explains. “Then, we thought ‘We’d better systemize this,’ so we put a line on the ground so we knew where we were shooting from.

“The aim was to take out as many variables as we could. I shot at the stick for half an hour, and then Anthony went about a meter forward from the stick and about a meter to the side. I’d aim at the stick he’d jump in and try to catch.

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“Once he started to hit a couple [with his hand], he started to get there. The technique was that he had to get used to coming over the top and catch and spin to take the inertia off. If you caught it like a tennis ball, the arrow would go straight through your hand.”

The most remarkable aspect of the whole episode was the fact that it proceeded without incident.

“After five minutes he got used to jumping, and once you knew where the arrow was going to be – not coming toward you – it flew just out to the side. That’s when the next step of confidence came, standing where he needed to.

“He caught about six on the first go. Within about forty-five minutes [of learning to shoot], we were catching arrows. We watched the movie at ten, caught the first arrow by eleven, and ducked off for lunch at twelve.”

While the process sounds somewhat cavalier, keeping training sessions intense and brief was integral to keeping them safe.

“We practiced every day for no more than five to ten minutes to keep the risk of getting shot down. If you it for three hours, like anything, your concentration deteriorates and you lose focus. You only need both of you to miss and someone gets it through the hand, wrist or chest. If you can [catch an arrow] three or four times, you can do it any time.”

Naturally, an extraordinary feat truly becomes extraordinary once it is witnessed by others.

“Two or three weeks out from his martial arts school presentation, Anthony decided to demo it,” says Andy. “He got t.v. crews [to attend], but the Chinese restaurant the presentation was held in had bad lighting and the cameras couldn’t pick it up. The third time, they got [the arrow catch] exactly.”

Once in possession of video proof, Anthony sent it in to the Guinness Book of Records to have the feat verified. Their response was enthusiastic, to say the least.

“Next thing, we’re on a flight to Madrid to the largest Guinness conference in the world,” says Anthony. “I’m from Armidale in rural New South Wales – I’d never been out of Australia before!”

Anthony and Andy discovered that in Madrid, the variables had multiplied.

“It was the first time we did consecutive arrows,” Andy says. “We’d never practiced it in that scenario. Prior to Madrid, [Anthony] had only caught six at a time. In Madrid, we had forty arrows and ended up shooting for two minutes. It was pretty hectic. You had to be switched on or, in front of a studio audience, somebody was going to get an arrow through the chest.”

Things got off to a shaky start when Andy and Anthony began their segment with a demonstration of their unarmed skills.

“We had to do a bit of a demonstration before we started, and we were both as nervous as hell. I accidentally hit Andy and gave him a blood lip.”

Fortunately, the wayward punch did not affect Andy’s aim.

“I threw a punch, he blocked it and came back, [hitting me] on the jaw. I kept going; I’ve been hit before, but I knew I had to switch on and shoot arrows.”

The pressure of an international television audience was considerable, in addition to the unfamiliar circumstances the boys were working with. That said, old-fashioned, disciplined training proved to be the decisive factor.

“On the first attempt, I caught six [out of ten arrows],” says Anthony. “We didn’t realize that we were allowed three attempts! Then, on the second [attempt], I caught all ten.”

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***

 Anthony Kelly holds black belts in fifteen different styles and is well-versed in over forty others. He is also the most accredited coach in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Guinness themselves are the ultimate testimonial, given that he holds different records for a number of outlandish and extreme feats of skill and reflexes.

“I met Anthony about twenty years ago, through the National All Styles tournament,” says Glenn Coxon, martial arts veteran, kickboxing promoter and fellow Guinness record holder.

“In 2011, I got a phone call from Guinness in Italy and was asked to go on their show to try and break my own record.”

Glenn holds the world record for the most boards broken in one minute. He set that record ten years ago and his total – three hundred and fifty nine – still stands.

“When I got to Milan, I ran into Anthony in the lift.”

Glenn and Anthony soon discovered that while their skills may have been remarkable, they were far less exotic than many of their counterparts.

“Walking into the hotel restaurant after a day on-set is like walking into a freak-show. You’ve got the woman with world’s longest fingernails. The two tallest female twins in the world (both of whom are seven-foot-four); you’ve got the world’s three strongest guys.

“The world’s smallest man and the world’s smallest woman, not to mention a priest from New York who was the world’s greatest knife thrower. Also, there was the ‘Great Nipplini.’ His trick was to pull a cartload of scantily clad women along with chains attached to his nipples. There was also a chap named Kubayashi, who was the world’s fastest – and greatest – eater. He was as skinny as a rake.”

Coxon makes the distinction between Anthony and the rest of the Guinness crew simply and adroitly.

Guinness is a mix of people who run the spectrum from skills to freaks. A lot of things [Anthony] has done are really dangerous. It scares the hell out of me that one day he’s going to get it wrong. When I saw him in Italy, he was catching tennis balls at eighty kilometers an hour.

“A few weeks ago, the tennis balls were travelling at two hundred kilometers per hour. He had bruises all over him where he missed. He was coughing up blood. One of these days… Catching arrows, if you get it wrong, it’d go through your eye, through your brain and out the back of your skull. It wouldn’t make for good t.v.”

Danger aside, Anthony was not to be deterred. A more spectacular, even more obscure feat was forming.

“I met the Guinness record holder who can hold his breath for the longest time,” says Anthony. “Stig Severinsen; I think he’s up to about twenty-two minutes. It got me thinking, ‘How do we move under the water?’ I had an old spear gun lying around and I thought, ‘I could have a crack at this.”

Unfortunately, the spear gun did not lend itself to record attempts quite as well as the traditional bow and arrow.

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“You couldn’t believe the trouble we had. I had to get weight belts to hold me underwater, goggles that wouldn’t fog up, there were spears flying everywhere whilst holding my breath…”

The stunt was a success, however, and that record has never been successfully challenged. His students at his day job where he teaches as a student learning support officer discovered that his spear gun activities have achieved a degree of notoriety on-line.

“Just the other day I was in a youtube ‘Top Ten Craziest Stunts. I was [ranked] number eight.”

Anthony has also spent time catching other objects, including tennis balls and shuttlecocks traveling as fast as three hundred kilometers an hour, not to mention paintball pellets – unexploded – that travel at three hundred feet per second.

It’s the dangerous stunts that exert the greatest fascination, however.

“Out of all his records, nothing is as exciting as spear guns and arrows,” says Andy Johnson, the original archer. “It’s that element of danger.”

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***

Feats of speed and skill like catching arrows are part of the fundamental skill-base integral to the ordinary practice of martial arts.

“I have a program I developed, ‘Reaction Training.’ I’ve coached over four thousand students this year, as well as coaches for sports like netball and rugby. I teach them how to get the most out of their athletes. It’s mainly a lot of skills from martial arts.”

Demonstration of an outlandish feat of skill and reflex is a means for convincing students of both the value and veracity of his system.

“If you demonstrate the extreme, you can then bring it back to reality to enhance people’s technique and skill. I can open and close my hand easily eighty-five times in five seconds. Doing that, the hand would strobe. I think anyone would be able to see the value of that specific skill. For instance, it’s good for gripping a ball in netball.”

Anthony grew up with heroes like Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali who were athletes that made their disciplines into vehicles for their humanity.

“I want to show that we’re normal people who are trying to be the best we can be. I’m trying to change the perception of what martial arts has to offer, and that’s my reason for pursuing records. It shows people that if you pursue things, they are achievable.

“I’m fifty-one, and I’m doing things like catching tennis balls traveling at over two hundred kilometers per hour. I do it through a belief in myself and a commitment to pushing my body and mind. I practice those things through martial arts training.”

Anthony’s primary art – the one he teaches – is Chinese Kung Fu.

“I teach a style called Hung Kuen, which is the masculine style. Wing Chun is actually the female, and I am also an instructor in that. I teach wushu forms, spear, broad-sword, that sort of thing. For my own two hundred students that I teach every week, my focus is to help them be as fast and strong as they can be for any sport they want to play.”

For Kelly, catching arrows was a logical progression from breaking boards.

“[Breaking] got me into arrow catching, would you believe,” he says. “Through my research, I found old books to with Dim-Mak, or pressure point fighting. It explores candle punching, board breaking and paper training.

“You’ve got three swinging boards, and you can choose to break the first or the second or the third, depending on how you hit the first one.”

Within the complex, esoteric skill is a simple, practical principle.

“It’s to do with the transfer of energy through matter; you can see that it’s possible. That makes you ask the question: where is the line between possible and impossible?”

It’s a line that Anthony has spent some time traversing, his movements often charted by the Guinness Book of Records. Most of those experiments have begun with that simple, deceptively innocuous question, ‘What if?’

He finds his answers through the perennial virtues of the martial arts; persistence, hard training and refining simple skills towards the ultimate outcome.

 

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