But it is North Korea’s military battles that often attract attention on the Internet. The demonstrations included a mix of taekwondo and “sarioxa” performances, which were used to describe the trip as a part of a circus tour of Koreans.
As the North Korean players did to Mr Kim on Monday, the old circus performers attracted people with their dangerous performances, such as driving nails into a tree with a headband or just bending a steel bar around his neck.
During the Cold War, the armies of South Korea and North Korea had some sophisticated weapons, but when mutual animosity was high, both countries would hold martial arts demonstrations as defensive promoters. South Korea has largely abandoned demonstrations as the military modernizes, occasionally hosting them during Armed Forces Day.
In the north, kick-and-smash scenes of military power are a favorite form of propaganda.
Mr. Kim was so proud of his military stunt teams that he invited Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife to an event when the couple traveled to Pyongyang in 2019. The North wanted to show its displeasure in 2012 after former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak suspended trade between Koreas in response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, and released footage of commandos wielding axes and knives in Mr Lee’s name.
These demonstrations are usually carried out by members of elite factions assigned to defend Pyongyang, Mr. Kim and her safe homes and villas across the country. To the North Korean leader they are called “human guns and bombs.” When he was sentenced to death in 2013 on charges of treason and corruption, Mr Kim’s uncle, Jung Sang-tek, was arrested by the same faction.
“It is said in the North that each of these soldiers is trained to fight and win 10 people at a time,” said a Chan-il who withdrew from North Korea. But, like the North Korean children who rallied to do countless hours of training for the arena mass games, the North Korean players behind these fights posed a great danger to themselves.
Choi Wan-young, a taekwondo master in South Korea, smashed granite slabs in one head during a 2019 TV show called Got Talent. During the show, he warned the audience not to try it at home: when the boards are not broken, you will darken and then regain consciousness.