Black belt kicks his way through talent show, but falls to restrictions
RAF LAKENHEATH — If wood could feel fear, few things would be more terrifying than Darren Hart’s right heel.
Half-inch-thick square boards, held in the hand of a willing assistant during the martial arts master’s demonstrations, are defenseless against him. He gives them a calculating look to judge their height and distance, spins quickly and POW! They are split in half and flying across the room.
It’s that kind of dynamic power — and flying splinters — that moved Hart, a resident of West Row adjacent to RAF Mildenhall, through the initial rounds of “Britain’s Got Talent,” one of the U.K.’s biggest talent contests, before it ultimately doomed him.
Taped on a small, highly decorated sound stage, the talent show’s producers wouldn’t allow Hart to perform his most kinetic martial-arts skills, which include smashing wooden blocks and kicking an apple off the tip of a sword.
“They said a lot of the stuff was too dangerous to do,” said Hart, who made it through the first two cuts of contestants and into the last 100 out of 50,000 entrants before being cut from the show. “They didn’t want the wood to break the background.”
Modeled after the popular “America’s Got Talent,” the British version features the acerbic Simon Cowell on a judges panel with former high-profile newspaper editor Piers Morgan and TV actress Amanda Holden.
Britons with virtually any type of talent are able to try out for the show. When Hart’s wife heard about the casting late last year, she encouraged him to go for it, he said.
Hart definitely has a talent. In 2005, at age 34, he became the youngest person outside of the Korean peninsula to earn a fifth-degree black belt in Kuk Sool Won, earning him the title of master.
Now 35, Hart has won numerous United Kingdom, European and world titles in martial arts and wood-breaking, and teaches Kuk Sool Won to students at the RAF Lakenheath fitness center, something he has done since 1989.
Part of Hart’s skill set as a Kuk Sool Won master includes his ability to smash through wood blocks, perform lightning-quick high kicks and wield sparring weapons in fast, flashy displays. He took those talents to the show.
It wasn’t his first foray into television. Hart was cast in a “Gladiator”-like game show that aired in 2002 called “3 Kings,” in which contestants had to battle a trio of “kings” in a castle to win a prize.
Hart tried to get onto the show as a contestant, but when producers saw his resume, they cast him instead as the “King of Pain” alongside the kings of skill and strength.
At the “Britain’s Got Talent” auditions, Hart was in a pool of about 50,000 contestants, he said. Making it through that, he got to a round of about 2,000 contestants, and to the final 100 before the judges gave him the ax, he said.
The restrictions on his displays stunted the power of the performance, he said, and judges told him he had limited appeal.
“They said I had great skill, but I wasn’t marketable enough,” Hart said.
Still, as a rising contestant, Hart said he thinks he’ll be on the show when it airs in the summer. He even filmed a promo for the “extras” version of the show where he punches through a wooden block with the show’s logo on it.
To join one of Hart’s classes, which run Tuesday, Friday and Sunday nights for adults and kids ages 5 and older, contact the RAF Lakenheath fitness center.