Kevin Shelley is a fitness instructor and MENSA member who says he has an IQ of 148. He also holds the world record for most wooden toilet seats broken by the head in one minute, a remarkable 46, which he achieved on a German television show in 2007. We chatted with him about breaking things really fast with you forehead.
Smashing wooden toilet seats with your head is a pretty unusual pursuit. How did you get into this?
I held a couple of martial-arts records for breaking with a forehead strike, and the Guinness Book of World Records people in Germany asked me if I would come over and try to break the record, which was 42 in 60 seconds. They flew me out to Colonge, Germany, and I spent a week there. I worked for about 20 minutes, which included one very painful minute.
Did you think you were going to break the record?
The whole time, I was just hoping to give them a good show because they flew me over and gave me a little walking-around money. I thought maybe I’d get 30 or 35. I ended up getting 46. I actually broke 48 because I broke two of them after the buzzer went off. In every show I’ve done since, I ask them to stop me when the buzzer buzzes because I can’t hear it.
How do you practice for something like this? Is breaking a toilet seat any different than breaking something else with your head?
There are a couple things as far as the actual technique of breaking something with your forehead. You have to have the science down. I’m not someone who tries to put a lot of mysticism into martial arts; it’s all just physics. I’ve also built up a nice little calcium deposit on my head at the point of contact. Everything else is hand-eye coordination. In the case of the toilet seat, getting the object up to my head is the hardest part. Doing that 46 times in 60 seconds is exhausting. Cracking it with my head is the easy part. If it’s possible, the day before the show I’ll do a run-through for 30 seconds, take a break, and then do another one. I try to get the mechanics of going from object to object as fast as I do. But that’s the only practice I’ll do.
Is it as physically punishing as it looks?
Doing this stunt for 60 seconds is like the end of a long running race, and then sprinting for a minute. It’s so draining. I’m an in-shape guy. My resting heart rate is in the 40s. But after I’m done, I’m physically exhausted. I look like I’m going to pass out. That’s not because I smacked myself in the head 40 times. It’s because I sprinted for 60 seconds.
You’ve gained a certain level of recognition for these stunts. Did you ever think that would happen?
God no. Back in the 1990s, I was working as an elementary-school teacher, and martial arts was something I did on the side. I loved breaking and weapons, the flashier side. I saw a show in 1998 called Guinness World Records Prime Time, and it had a guy breaking boards with his hand. I thought it was lackluster. My students could break them faster. I wrote a letter saying that they should showcase the best martial arts, and that I could break boards faster with my forehead. I didn’t think anything of it, but pretty soon I got a call from the Guinness people asking for video of me breaking boards with my head. I sent them one of me breaking ten boards in about 8.5 seconds, and then they asked me out to Los Angeles. That was my first record: August 16, 1999. Thirty-one boards in 30 seconds.
Do you worry about concussions?
I don’t have concussion worries. I had an MRI after a motorcycle accident a few years ago and everything looked good. The actual strike doesn’t jar my head. Unlike football or boxing where your head is moving around, I’m bringing the breaking material to my skull. Sometimes I’ll see sparkles, but it doesn’t really hurt in that classic “I’ve hit my head” fashion. I’ve boxed in the past and getting hit with a boxing glove in the head is way more painful than taking lumber to it. I get a big goose egg. Sometimes the skin will break, and nothing bleeds like the scalp. I did a show for Italian television and I was bleeding all the way down my face. I’ve done the stunt with a headache, and it didn’t make it worse. It didn’t make it better, but it didn’t make it worse.