Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun
Dai Andrews swallows swords for a living. His one-man show, which he has performed in more than 30 countries on five continents, features the swallowing of two 24-inch blades, a 12-inch dagger, a set of 15 swords that he swallows all at once, a two-foot-long pair of forceps, in addition to neon tubes, needles, a sword heated with a blowtorch, and a saber blade that is curved 120 degrees, from point to hilt (for which he holds a world record).
"While the initial question is always, 'How?'" Andrews says, "I think from a human standpoint, the question is more, 'Why?'"
Andrews can answer the 'How?' question easily, explaining the techniques he's mastered from Eastern martial arts and meditation which allow him to harness the extreme physical control it takes to stick sharp swords down his esophagus without, well, dying. "I've studied kung fu in China, meditation and yoga in the Himalayas, and Muay Thai, which is also called thai boxing, in Thailand." The actual sword swallowing he learned as a young teenager from a mysterious American sword swallower in Pennsylvania, known to Andrews only as Dobbs.
"I auditioned for him, and he agreed to teach me. During the process, he was restoring a boat, and he was going to sail around the world. Two or three months after I finished the apprenticeship, he sailed away, and I've never heard from him again."
It's the 'Why?' that's a little harder to explain. He points to a study conducted on the Wallenda family, who for generations have performed death-defying circus acts -- including, this summer, when 33-year-old Nik crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope. "They were all found to have severe adrenaline deficiencies," Andrews says. "The member of the Wallenda family feels the same walking a tightrope hundreds of feet in the air as you would feel playing a game of touch football.
"I would say the same for myself," he says. "When I compare my first skydiving experience to someone else's, they were, like, "'Oh, my god, that was amazing!'" and I was, like, "'It was really pretty.'"
But Andrews knows that sword swallowing isn't actually like touch football -- and he knows he's not invincible, especially as he struggles with Essential Tremors, a chronic, degenerative nerve condition, which causes his hands to shake on occasion. "I've hurt myself a number of times, but never bad enough to require hospitalization," he says. Recently, for a reality TV show, he taped a video camera to his sword. They had to do a bunch of takes, he says, which resulted in some internal bruising.
"For the risk involved, to be honest, It's not such a big deal, because by the time you get to sword swallowing, you're also doing fire eating or walking on broken glass or a bed of nails," he says.
The most dangerous thing with sword swallowing is being overconfident, Andrews says.
"Most sword swallowers tend to hurt themselves in their sophomore years, five to ten years in
You have it, and you think you're smart and brave, and you run the risk of not paying attention to all your variables. Trying to swallow a sword when you're distracted -- that's the most dangerous thing that can happen."
Andrews' professional career is as busy as ever, as he begins filming a reality show with the Hellzapoppin Sideshow Revue for Animal Planet and continues to enhance his own act. For his newest trick, Andrews, using kriya yoga techniques he learned from a saddhu in India, will swallow a fishbowl full of water (complete with goldfish) and will, in a single, crystal clear, arching stream, regurgitate it back into the bowl. Just like "Jackass," only elegant.
• VIDEO: Side-show skills: sword swallowing