James Hydrick, a bare-handed smasher of concrete, is two hours from his big "break" in the Long Beach Arena--and from, he envisions, setting the karate world on its ear.
In one of his own ears is a diamond earring. A flattop adorns his head. Smooth, square jaws and sunglasses complete the resemblance to Brian Bosworth, the flamboyant pro football player.
"My feats of speed and strength are somewhat awesome, they say," said Hydrick, who is wearing a black robe-type canvas uniform and turquoise slippers. According to one of the uniform's colorful patches, he also goes by the name "Sir James."
Arena workers on this late Sunday afternoon, setting up for the International Karate Championships that will start after Hydrick's attempted break, fear that the ton of concrete slabs might crash through the stage they have set up as a ring. "No way," Hydrick assures them.
Order Was Five Slabs Short
Hydrick, 29, of Huntington Beach, is expected to try to break 100 inches of concrete.
"We were supposed to have 20 slabs, but we only have 15," he said. "The people who made them accidentally broke some of them."
Still, the slabs of varying widths total 89 inches, more than enough. "The record supposedly is 31 inches," Hydrick said. He had hoped that the Guinness Book of World Records would be involved, but "they said it was too dangerous.'
Hydrick scanned the arena's vast emptiness.
"It's going to be packed," he predicted in a soft Southern voice. "A lot of people are coming for this break. This break has never been attempted."
A steel apparatus is carried onto the stage by Hydrick's well-muscled assistants. He will stand on the platform of this 11-foot-high "victory chamber" and punch down into the concrete.
"My punch has to have 1,124 pounds of impact per square inch," explains the 6-foot-4, 200-pound former kick boxer and South Carolina bounty hunter, who wants to challenge heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. "If it doesn't, my hand will break."
He shows his tattooed right hand, itself as hard as a brick.
Two teen-agers, Amber Courtney and Heather Jeppesen, are part of Hydrick's entourage. "We brought the video camera," Amber said. "I'm supposed to film it for him. He's a great person."
Steve Hurley, one of the men struggling with the chamber, said: "Downtown Huntington Beach loves him--all the locals, the boys by the beach. He's good to kids, that's all I care about."
As his workers begin to stack the 4-foot, 140-pound slabs, Hydrick admitted: "I know it's going to be a difficult break because I have too much pressure on me. I've made this break before in practice, but never in public. I've been worried that I might look like a fool.
"I'm just starting to do this stuff," he continued. "I plan to put on these breaking exhibitions around the country to raise money to help abused and neglected children."
Hydrick, who never went to school, says he was abused and neglected as a child.
"I've gone through a lot of hell," he said. "Records show that my mother abandoned me in a trash can when I was 1 year old. I was beaten by my father and stepmother with horsewhips and logs."
At 6, while living in South Carolina, Hydrick began to learn martial arts because "my sister and brother were getting beat so bad I had to find a way to stop it."
Hydrick has a 9th-degree black belt and is thought by karate authorities, including Dave Cater, editor of Inside Kung Fu magazine in Burbank, to be the only person besides Bruce Lee who can kick an object 11 feet off the ground. Hydrick, according to Cater, is "definitely a legitimate martial artist."
In the early 1980s, Hydrick performed feats of illusion on TV shows such as "That's Incredible" and "Ripley's Believe It or Not." He was once proclaimed as "the world's leading psychic" but later admitted that his powers were expert sleight of hand.
Off and on from 1985 to last January he has been imprisoned--wrongly, he says--in South Carolina and Utah. He produced a list from one prison in South Carolina that indicates he has a record of 149 escapes from institutions in that state and Georgia, usually by kicking down cell walls, bending bars or breaking handcuffs. Police called him Rambo.
"I never got involved in violence or anything illegal," Hydrick said. "I've had infractions of the law, but very minor ones such as receiving stolen property and jaywalking. I'm not dangerous in any way." He said he is not on probation or parole.
"Ooh, I've got that feeling in my stomach, that butterfly feeling," Hydrick said at 5:30. "It's like you know it's gonna happen. Victory is only moments away. I'm going to give it all I got."
Some of the men who are setting up the concrete also serve as Hydrick's bodyguards.
"Those guys are all black belts trained by me," Hydrick said. "Who doesn't need a bodyguard? A lot of people will be around me when I'm leaving the stage. I want to do my break and get out without being stopped."