vicemag: David Lee Roth is the Best Martial Artist in RockWhen...


David Lee Roth is the Best Martial Artist in Rock

When a reporter with Metropolis, Japan’s leading English magazine, asked David Lee Roth if he was studying kendo while living in Tokyo in 2013, the Van Halen singer and solo star was quick to correct him.

“No it’s not kendo. It’s kenjutsu. And I’m going for my menkyo kaiden and I’ve been doing that since I was 12,” he explained. “Today, I’m the master of the six-foot staff – it’s actually a shower curtain rod, but it just looks great in the lights and I use it on stage.”

If there’s such a thing as a Platonic Form of the rock star who incorporates martial arts moves into his performances, then Diamond Dave is certainly the closest thing to that ideal that we’ll see in our lifetime. And the quote above is a perfect example of what makes him so brilliant. Whereas Elvis, the most infamous musical martial artist, took himself too seriously and ended up making a mockery of the disciplines he loved with his coke-fueled karate rants and heart attack-courting katas, Roth does the opposite. He takes his martial arts far more seriously than he takes himself, and it makes his onstage antics playful instead of try-hard or sad. There’s a gleeful, unchained exuberance to DLR’s iconic kicks and split jumps, a guileless desire to show off all of the cool shit he’s learned that might make him look a little goofy, but doesn’t really embarrass himself or everyone he’s ever trained with.