ARMA Editorial - May 2012
Fooling Ourselves

By Gene Tausk
ARMA Scholar

This essay is a continuance, in part, of a previous essay I wrote on martial arts and the paranormal/weird a few years back on the ARMA website. You can access this essay here: At the Edge of Accepted Knowledge in Western Martial Arts.

As stated, it has been a few years and the subject is worth a second look. Let's examine, therefore, the paranormal/weird and martial arts again. What is the situation now?

There is a now famous video on YouTube and other video sharing services which has become almost required viewing for all fighting arts practitioners.

If you have not seen it yet, here it is:

We see a man who, for the first minute or so of the video, effortlessly shoves his opponents away using "ki" or some other mystical energy. Call it The Force if you will. It seems as if his opponents are rag dolls, to be tossed away by this man's incredible, supernatural abilities. For the first minute, it seems as if we are watching Star Wars come to life, with a Jedi Master tossing aside his Sith opponents with ease, or at least, his Padawans.

Keep watching this video. The Ki Master has offered a $5000.00 challenge for anyone to take him up on his offer. An MMA fighter steps forward to take the challenge. The meeting place is set, the contract signed and the battle is on. How will the proven techniques of an MMA fighter (we see these techniques every night of the week on some TV show of either an MMA fight or an MMA fighter in training) work against the seemingly "proven" techniques of this Ki Master? How was this Ki Master able to throw his students around with ease? There can be no other explanation other than this Ki Master has indeed proven the existence of this paranormal energy that he can control.

Or so it seems. The fight itself lasts less than a minute. The Ki Master dances around the MMA fighter. His magic energy no longer seems to be working. Certainly the MMA fighter is not being manipulated with the same ease as the Ki Master's students. What is going on?

Fifteen seconds into the fight, we start getting answers. The MMA fighter lands a blow on the Ki Master. Look at the expression of shock on the Ki Master's face. He is stunned by this blow. The fight stops for a few seconds. You can almost see the expression of disbelief on the Ki Master's face. What is going on?

In less than a minute, it is all over. The MMA fighter begins to pummel the "Ki Master" into submission. The "Master" curls up in a ball, powerless to defend himself. If the fight had not been stopped, it is clear the so-called "Master" would have been severely hurt. There is no mystical energy, or at least if there is, it is not working. Jedi Master? Not even close. You could find more authentic Obi-Wan Kenobis at a Star Wars convention.

We look at this video with a combination of frat-party humor and downright disbelief. What in the world ever possessed this man to think that his bag of magic tricks would ever work against a trained fighter who understands the concepts and principles of real fighting? Did he really believe that he had a chance to actually win this encounter?

I would argue that he did. Somewhere, in the back of this man's mind, he seriously believed that he had this amazing ability and, that these powers would work when he called upon them. He did not need to train in fighting arts. He did not need to know the elements of fighting that are common to all real fighting arts (timing, distance, technique, pressure and, the most important, attitude). No, he just needed to call upon the midichlorians (sorry, I mean The Force) and all would be well.

This begs the question. How could this person have deluded himself to the point where he was willing to make an absolute fool of himself in front of the entire world? Was there no one to provide him with a "reality check?" Did he not have a friend or buddy to pull him aside and tell him that he was fooling himself and that facing the MMA fighter was a recipe for an ass-kicking of the worst kind?

This is the heart of this essay. Why did this person not have a reality check? What about the "Ki Master's" students? Were they as deluded as him? Did they seriously think that they were learning a real fighting art?

We can keep asking these questions forever and not get a definite answer or, for that matter, any answer at all. Yet, once again, this is the heart of the issue.

How, then, can we address this important matter?

There are three important lessons to learn from this episode. The first is a reaffirmation of the famous adage: "there is nothing infinite in the Universe except for our ability to fool ourselves." The human capacity for self-delusion is, indeed, infinite.

In simple terms, therefore, the "Ki Master" deluded himself. He sincerely believed and thought that he had these magical powers. But, he did not accomplish this on his own. From the video, it is clear that he had plenty of assistance from his students. Watch the video again. It clearly shows the man's students, obediently flipping and rolling and falling to the ground, apparently in agony, from the "Force" applications of this "Ki Master." The "Ki Master" received reaffirmation of his beliefs and self-abilities from the role-play of his students, who apparently went along with this venture. It was only when confronted by a challenger beyond the "Ki Master's" students that the whole illusion dissolved. The Ki Master's opponent was an unknown force. If the Ki Master's abilities really worked, then there would be no question that the challenger would have felt this mystical energy. Instead, the only thing that happened was that the Ki Master felt the very real power of the challenger's punches and kicks.

The Ki Master deluded himself to his detriment. He left himself in a self-affirming loop of fantasy which crumbled when faced with a realistic situation.

The second lesson is that the heart of any real martial art or learning how to fight is that a serious practitioner needs a reality check as often as possible. Fortunately, reality checks are quite available in the form of sparring with an opponent that is trying to hit you and hurt you (within limits of course). In other words, fighting against a resisting opponent.

There is no better way to learn just what works, and what does not work, when you are fighting someone who is determined to hit back. Every serious fighting art uses some form of sparring or free fighting in its curriculum. Every one. Judo, sambo, full-contact karate and taekwondo, wrestling, fencing, historical fencing, Historical European Martial Arts, boxing, savate, kickboxing… all of these arts force the practitioner to fight against an opponent who hits back. Compare this with wushu, tournament karate and tai chi. Who do you want backing you up in a real fight? The boxing champion who has a 25-1 record in the ring or the 3 x world Wu Shu champion who never punched another human being in his life? Be honest.

Think about it for a second. Let's say you have trained in a fighting art where all you have done is forms (kata, hyung, whatever) as your only form of training. You have never fought against someone who hits back. Now, step into a ring with a fighter who will be attempting to hit you. Are you ready for it? Be honest.

Chances are, if you are honest, you will freely admit that you will be faced with a situation with which you are unfamiliar and not prepared. It would be scary and, as Mike Tyson would say, any strategy you have in place would go out the window when the first punch from your opponent hit you. Are you ready for that first punch?

The Ki Master was not.

Without that real world affirmation of what works in a real fight, a person cannot call himself a fighter. In other words, without actually fighting, a person does not know how to fight. The Ki Master was called out by a real fighter and the results were predictable.

Finally, the third lesson is very simple: fighting arts are about fighting. They are not about mystical energy, magic tricks or parlor-room antics. If you are taking classes to learn how to fight, you should be spending your time preparing to enter combat.

Now, learning how to fight is more than just about physical techniques. Real fighters are just as prepared mentally as they are physically. A fighter who just learns physical techniques is, in essence, a dumb brute who can (and usually is) outclassed by a thinking fighter who is prepared physically as well as mentally.

Further, a true fighter has a knowledge of the law which tells him the consequences of fighting. Smashing a chair over someone's head in a barroom brawl can lead to civil and criminal prosecution.

Finally, a true fighter develops a code of morality which helps him determine when it is proper to fight. Every warrior follows a warrior code.

But, the above are all side benefits from learning a real fighting art. If all you are learning is how to make magic passes in the air, then you certainly are not learning how to sharpen your mental skills (not to mention physical ones) to prepare for a real fight. There is no need to learn about legal consequences since, as the Ki Master discovered, you are in no danger of actually hurting anyone. There is certainly no need for a code of morality since your magic passes will not actually be hurting anyone, so there is no need to explore the morality of fighting.

But, keep in mind, if one does study a real fighting art, then these side benefits come into play precisely because a person is learning skills that work in real situations. Learning how to use a knife or dagger effectively brings with it the mental sharpness (no pun intended), legal knowledge and moral code because of the very possible reality that a person trained in the use of these weapons can cause real harm. As such, this person has a responsibility in using these weapons.

So, our Ki Master missed out on three essential elements of learning and practicing a real fighting art:

1. A real martial art forces a practitioner out of the possibility of a self-deluding reality;
2. A real martial art forces a practitioner to face reality by facing opponents who will be hitting back;
3. A real martial art forces a practitioner to develop his mental skills, legal acumen and a moral code because a person trained in a real martial art has skills that can be used to harm a fellow human being.

So, to answer the question we asked at the beginning: a real martial art forces us not to fool ourselves. It forces us to move beyond our limitations and forces us to see the world as it actually is.

There is an old adage that "there are no atheists in foxholes." Perhaps we should add that "there are no magicians in a real fight."


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