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The thoughts and viewpoints on this blog are my own and represent my skeptical, critical-thinking approach to martial arts, combative training, film, the field of cognitive science, and random subjects.
Updated: 4 hours 2 min ago


Fri, 2014-04-11 12:16

One of my friends recently asked me why I seem to be so obsessed with chi.  "You're always writing about it," he said, "putting it down all the time.  Why can't you just agree to disagree and let bygones be bygones?  Why don't you just do YOUR thing, and let them do THEIR thing in peace?"
It's a valid question.  I've probably written a half dozen articles about chi, Reiki, no-touch knockouts, and pressure points over the years.  I've watched hundreds of videos, read an encyclopedia's worth of articles, and I've interviewed or had discussions with numerous proponents about this subject.  And I still don't get it.  How can so many otherwise intelligent people fall for such magical thinking, such blatant B.S., such hyperbolic hogwash?

Let's say you're a one just automatically assumes you believe in Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.  They'd give you more credit than that.  Or if you're a historian, people don't naturally assume you believe that aliens built the pyramids.  Those are considered fringe beliefs, outside the norm.  But in martial arts there are a lot of people who believe that ALL of us believe in chi, use chi to hurt others, work hard to develop our chi, and even use chi to heal those with injury or illness.  When the average, uninformed person sees a chi demonstration they come away believing that there is a magical force that can defeat petty fists and feet.
I have tried reasoning with these practitioners, using a fact-based, (as opposed to a faith-based), approach, calling upon science and critical thinking.  I have pointed out the numerous failures of proponents to prove that chi or chi-related powers existed.  I reminded them that James Randi has a standing offer of BIG bucks to anyone who can demonstrate supernatural abilities in a controlled setting.  All to no avail.  As B.J.Thomas once sang, "I just can't help believing."
So, since I can't join 'em, since I can't help them see the light, I guess the only thing left is to have a little fun with them.
Hey, I'm not laughing WITH you, I'm laughing AT you.

They all made fun of Randy when he couldn't blow out all his birthday cake candles when he turned 6.  
Well, he's been practicing ever since. _________________________________________________________________________________

Matches?  We don't need no stinking matches. _________________________________________________________________________________
This is exactly how I feel when acid indigestion occurs. _________________________________________________________________________________

Watch out!  I have an asterisk, and I know how to use it! 
 That's nothing, I have 4 parenthesis!! _________________________________________________________________________________
Larry, please quite saying "WHEEEEEEE" everytime I use my chi.

I'm starting to detect a trend here...
See, there it is again...

Why is everybody flying away?
The infamous sneaky rear chi attack! _________________________________________________________________________________
Knock Knock.  Who's there?

Reigning patty-cake champion Natalie faces stiff competition for the first time in 25 years. _________________________________________________________________________________

Unstoppable chi vs ummovable chi...
this is how black holes are created! _________________________________________________________________________________
The tattoo on his back reads "Gullible" _________________________________________________________________________________

Honestly?  I don't know if this is a chi-focusing antenna or an insulting hand gesture. _________________________________________________________________________________
Suddenly Earl can't remember if this is a chi workshop or a square dancing seminar.
This is my chi ball.  
There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Intimidates the hell out of the bad guys.


Fri, 2014-04-04 17:31
Ore-May IX-Nay on the I-Chay

"It matters less to me what your specific beliefs are than that you have carefully arrived at your beliefs through reason and evidence and thoughtful reflection.” 
Michael Shermer

"If Uri Geller bends spoons with divine powers, 
then he's doing it the hard way."
James "The Amazing" Randi 

"Teaching thermal physics
Is as easy as a song:
You think you make it simpler
When you make it slightly wrong." 
Mark Zemansky

I just saw a spoon bender on TV.  But, unlike Uri Geller who claims to have special powers, this guy was just an illusionist.  I don't mean anything negative when I say he was "just an illusionist."  In fact this guy's close-up magic was superb, and to the uninformed it must have looked like a mini-miracle.  But at no time did the guy claim to have supernatural mental abilities.

Uri is different.  Over the years he has claimed to use his mind to read other people's thoughts, identify hidden objects, dowse for oil, and bend spoons...lots of spoons. 

Uri's easy to make fun of.  He was debunked years ago, and he's been proven to be a fraud so many times that it's not even interesting any more.  And yet he still has followers, people who pay good money to obtain just a tiny speck of his power.

Uri even sells a home kit to help people develop their ESP, mental power, and telekinesis.  You know, in case you need a spoon or two bent.   

Some people will watch Uri or some other illusionist perform a parlor trick, and they will immediately wonder how the trick was done.  Let's call them skeptics.  Others will see it and think to themselves, "I wish I had that power."  Let's call them believers. 

The brilliant physicist and lecturer, Richard Feynman, once met Uri Geller and said, "I'm smart enough to know that I'm dumb." "Feynman was intelligent enough to realize that a good magician can make it seem as if the laws of nature have been violated and even a great physicist sometimes can't figure out the trick." (1)

Famous skeptic Michael Shermer once said, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

This brings me to chi.  One could argue that chi is a mind/body power.  That a skilled, focused, patient and persistent, well-practiced individual could use the power of his mind to affect the physical world via supernatural or unexplained ability.  In fact I recently watched a video that a friend sent me which purported to explain fact the title of the video was "What is Chi."

Now, if I sent you a book or video with a similar title, for instance if I sent you something called "What is Heat," you would probably expect me to describe heat, maybe show you examples of heat...a steaming cup of coffee, a raging fire, some smoldering charcoal, a river of volcanic lava, a pot of boiling water, the Sun in our own solar system, something like that.  You would probably expect me to perhaps define what heat is, using terminology the layman could understand.  For example: "What-is-Heat:" from the Physics Classroom
  • The degree of hotness or coldness of a body or environment.    
  • A measure of the warmth or coldness of an object or substance with reference to some standard value.   
  • A measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles in a sample of matter, expressed in terms of units or degrees designated on a standard scale.    
  • A measure of the ability of a substance, or more generally of any physical system, to transfer heat energy to another physical system.    
  • Any of various standardized numerical measures of this ability, such as the Kelvin, Fahrenheit, and Celsius scale
Then I'm guessing that you would expect me go on to discuss the physics of heat, what's actually going on at the molecular level as a result of molecular motion.  How heat is really about the "internal energy" of an object.  How heat is interchangeable to the concept of work.

However, if in the presentation I told you, "I don't know what heat is.  I only know that it's sometimes pretty and sometimes destructive.  That my finger burns when I touch something hot.   I only know that when I turn on a gas stove or start a campfire I can cook something with heat.  That's all I know."  If the presentation said those words you would probably conclude that the presentation was a waste of your time.  This person, you would say, knows nothing about heat and should not have weighed in on the subject if he was not prepared to explain it in terms that made sense, that might expand our knowledge of heat, and help us create heat on our own heat.

However, on the video "What is Chi" the presenter did exactly that.  He described chi using vague, vacuous, and poetic words.  He talked about "animation" and breathing and thought control and directed energy.  But he also said that he couldn't really explain it.  The presenter said that all he knows is that it works.  It's like a light switch, he said, in that the light comes on whenever you flip the switch.  He said that when he turns on the dishwasher the dishes get clean.  That was good enough for him.

Well, it's not good enough for me.  Not by a long shot.  I'm like the guy who watches the spoons bend, and I think "I wonder how he does that trick."  I'm the skeptic.  I'm not saying it DOESN'T happen by supernatural means (though I kinda sort am at this point), I'm saying I need an explanation in order for me to ditch the science and the physics.

So far, in all of my reading on the subject, in several interviews and one-on-one chats, in hours of watching one video after another purporting to show chi manipulation to move a person or an object, to extinguish or to start a flame, to hurt someone or heal someone, I've never yet read a rational explanation of what's going on at the molecular level.

The people who believe in chi, who believe they've seen it in action, who believe that they themselves have felt chi being used on them or have used their own chi on others, seem content to accept it by faith alone.  "Don't ask me how it works," they tell me, "it just works."  

Well then, hand me that spoon.


Wed, 2014-03-19 02:01
If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding! You can't have any pudding if you don't eat your meat! Pink Floyd

Everyone, please take your seat.  Remember posture is important, so let's all sit up nice and straight.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in slowly, hold it, now let it out.  Good.  Now, place both palms on the table, but away from your silverware and napkin.

Before we begin our training session tonight let us utter our student creed.  Say it with me please:  "I come to the table to dine. I study what others are unwilling to learn.  I practice so that I might achieve perfection.  I sit apart from others who cannot grasp the importance of the dining experience.  I am committed to the style and my teacher."

Excellent.  Now, shall we begin? 

These techniques have been handed down over many generations.  As a master of fine dining I have a passion for sharing these skills with others, but I don't want you to think these skills are easy.  Sure, I make it look easy, effortless, but I've been doing it diligently for many many years.

Style is important.  Never forget it.  Precision, focus, and concentration in every instant, every action, that is key.  Take your napkin in your right hand, and with a graceful flourish open it and place it on your lap as we have been practicing.  Remember, you will never fully master these moves, but perfection, like the pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow, however elusive, is our goal.

Again using the right hand, take the soup spoon and practice eating the hot broth.  DO NOT SLURP!  DO NOT BLOW ON YOUR SOUP!  What are we?  Heathens?  That type of behavior may be well and good for a fast food establishment, but not in here!

On to the salad.  No, not THAT fork...use the other one.  

There may come a time when you are faced with the ugly truth, the harsh reality of eating.  Having this unique set of specialized skills will help you survive those unpleasant episodes, but only if you practice.  Remember too that the movements are 90% mental and only 10% physical.  You must first visualize and then realize.

Some people have questioned the style.  They cannot understand why we practice eating in such a strict sequence, such a rigid structure.  They cannot comprehend why we follow the pattern carefully, adding nothing, improvising nothing.  Why we so zealously adhere to form.  

They do not grasp how important it is to learn these techniques until they become automatic.  

Now, picking up your steak knife and fork let's cut the meat.  No clatter.  Gentle but firm.  It's all about style.  Good.  Try it again.



Sun, 2014-02-23 16:45

You do an eclectic celebration of the dance! You do Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla! Or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd! Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna!... but you keep it all inside.
The Birdcage
Some martial artists love kata.  Others have a love/hate relationship with kata--they do it grudgingly.  Me?  Mine is more of a hate/hate relationship.

When I was a young martial artist I did kata (forms, patterns).  It was a requirement for rank.  But here's the thing--I didn't like it.  Never.  All I wanted to do was fight.  Boxing, kickboxing, stick fighting, grappling, bag work, conditioning, that was my thing.

Fighting, for me, was exciting.  Fighting was alive.  If I had wanted to do choreographed movements I would've taken a dance class.

I believe that there were valid reasons for my conclusion about kata:

1.  Kata are man made--they were not handed down to mankind on tablets.  They were designed by simple, mortal men, some of whom knew little about exercise physiology or human anatomy.  Knowing this makes it hard for me to believe that one man's set of movements is superior to those of another man.  

2.  Kata are full of ritualized movements--maybe the hands form a triangle, or perhaps the pattern follows the shape of the letter 'H'.  In several kata it's very very important to start and stop the kata at the same exact spot.  In some cases the moves mimic those of animals such as monkeys, tigers and cranes, or perhaps imaginary beasts such as dragons.

3.  Kata do not represent reality--reality is chaotic, messy, disorderly, and unpredictable.  The best we can do is try to determine the probability of specific movements and try to be ready to neutralize and counter them in the event we must defend ourselves.

4.  Kata contain silly, unrealistic movements--leaping up and spinning 360 degrees will get you killed in a street fight.  Long stances do not allow mobility.  Flying side kicks are easy to see coming and easy to shut down.  Standing full-on facing an opponent seems reckless.

5.  Kata spend too much time focusing on idealized movement and over emphasize precision--Posture is often very upright and statuesque.  The moves seem to try and express some concept.  Much like dance choreography:  The dance steps of Bob Fosse are easy to recognize--just watch the movie Cabaret.  Some dancers say that Fosse's moves are challenging and exhausting.  Or just watch the hyper-dynamic moves from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and be amazed at the choreography by Michael Kidd.  I get tired just watching some of the dance sequences.  Fosse's moves are not 'better' than Kidd's...just different.  They are expressions, interpretations, and idealized movements that demonstrate joy and exuberance or convey an emotion or a sense of what is going on with the plot of a show.  That's all. 

Do some kata contain real fighting techniques?  Well, just look at the incredible work of Iain Abernethy.  He has extracted specific techniques and training sequences from various Japanese kata and teaches these around the world in packed seminars.  If one is going to do kata, it is at least important to understand how to apply the movements.  

As a young martial artist I just wanted to jump straight ahead to the applications and skip the rest.

Following are random quotes about kata from all over the internet. 

Drink your milk, eat your broccoli, do your katas. It's good for you.

Kata - Choreographed steps that simulate fighting multiple opponents. 

Look over right shoulder – move left foot to turn 315 degrees into “T” stance – shuto block with left hand.

Kata practice develops fighting spirit and fighting rhythms.

For a time, during the samurai occupation of Okinawa, practice of karate was not allowed. Kata were viewed as permissible as dances, but close examination shows them as the textbooks of karate handed down for centuries from the original masters. 

Stop looking for the obvious applications look for hidden movements.

It must be noted that the number of kiai points contained in each kata should in no way be used as a means of evaluating the importance, or the difficulty, of each individual kata. 

Katas were not designed for fighting. They were designed to stop an attacker quickly and efficiently.

When a buddy of mine tried to sneak up on me from behind recently, my automatic response was straight out of Pinan Sandan.

Do them diligently and you have a highly effective art that can meet a variety of situations; not just the cage, not just the dojo, not just the street. 

In this fast paced, fast food, I want it now environment that most North Americans are used to, kata may seem out of place. Yet I assure you it is not, but it is only after many years of hard work and dedication that the true value of any kata will ever be reveled to those who truly seek it. 

When the moves become automatic then you can defend yourself without having to think about it. Knowing what each move in a form is supposed to do really helps as well. 

This kata also introduces the student for the first time to two new concepts. One is the "leaping step", this is where the student is required to follow up a technique, in this case a jodan-mae-geri-keage (upper level front snapping kick), with a "leap" forward into a kosa-dachi (cross legged stance), the distance traveled will usually be equal to one full length zenkutsu-dachi (front stance) in distance. 

There are many techniques in kata that are simply too dangerous to practice with another person.

Kata usually deals with a surprise attack and the techniques are used as a last resort. 

During an unexpected and dangerous assault, students stated that the scenarios practiced with moves from a couple of katas were instinctively brought into play. 

To finish the kata from the last movement, leave your right foot in place and withdrawing your left foot stand up and face forward in a hachiji-dachi (natural stance), now bring your left foot half way in towards your right foot, and then your right foot half way in towards your left foot, and at the same time bring your hands to your sides, standing in heisoku-dachi (attention stance), rei (bow), now step out with your left foot, then your right foot and stand once again in hachiji-dachi (natural stance). 

I believe in the use of kata. I was grabbed once from behind while at a party store, and my body automatically went into a technique learned from kata. It saved my life.

Knife Hand Strike with both arms - close hands into Fists,
Squeeze, Twist, Open. 
Knife Hand Strike with both arms - close hands into Fists,
Squeeze, Twist, Open.
Knife Hand Strike with both arms - Double Open Hand Guard Position, Don't Squeeze, Crane Hands.

American missionaries were probably the first to refer to the well-trained, athletic young men as "Boxers," because of the martial arts and calisthenics they practiced. The Boxers' primary feature was spirit possession, which involved the whirling of swords, violent prostrations, and chanting incantations to Taoist and Buddhist spirits.  The excitement and moral force of these possession rituals was especially attractive to unemployed and powerless village men, many of whom were teenagers. The Boxers believed that through training, diet, martial arts and prayer they could perform extraordinary feats, such as flight. Furthermore, they popularly claimed that millions of spirit soldiers would descend from the heavens and assist them in purifying China of foreign influences. The Boxers, armed with rifles and swords, claimed supernatural invulnerability towards blows of cannon, rifle shots, and knife attacks.


Mon, 2014-01-27 05:25
UP IN THE ATTICI am my own creation. I create my own stars - and reach them."Isabella Poretsis 

"How can I be sure
In a world that's constantly changing?"
Young Rascals

This old storage chest is mine.  Sure, it's covered with dust; after all, I've had it stored up here in the attic for decades.  I still remember the day so many years ago when I received it from a leading proponent of the style.  "Lock it away," he told me, "don't change anything, not a thing."

So, I've kept it here all this time, away from all the passing fads.  

The world down below is hectic and changing, but up here in the attic, in a place thick with cobwebs and the faint smell of mothballs, in the deep autumn shadows, in the sweltering summer heat and the long winter days, everything stays the same.

The chest looks worn, and the metal hinges are covered in a flaking rust, but I like to know it's there.  I'm not exactly sure how old it is, or how long it has been since the style was folded up and neatly stacked inside.  All I know is that it was some time in the distant past, when the world was so very different than it is today, when tradition meant something, when people still respected the old ways.  

Some people don't even own a chest like this.  They'll try something on for size, and throw it away immediately if it doesn't fit. 

Not like in my day.  

Back then the style was a one-size-fits-all.  It didn't matter who you were, or what your capabilities or limitations were.  You didn't just try the style on for size.  You didn't put it on and dance around in front of the mirror, spinning around, showing it off, seeing how good you looked.  And you most certainly did not mix and match from another style, trying to be fashionable.  

It just wasn't done.

No, the style was the style, whether you were long or short, big or tall, thin or thick.  Fashion was never considered.  It was not made to be tailored.  It was complete and finished.  Nothing to be added, nothing to be removed.

Personally I like that slightly mildewed, musty smell.  It reminds me that in a world that is constantly changing, some things stay the same.  

Why are so many people so fascinated with change?  They seem so eager to ditch the past and embrace the future.  Don't they understand that it is the past which provides substance and context, history and tradition?  Don't they have any respect for all the hard work it took to develop the style?  Don't they understand the foresight, the discipline?

Don't they get why it was stored away for perpetuity?  

I've known a few who kept their own chest for years and years and then one day, out of nowhere, on a sudden, fickle whim, they opened it up, pulled the contents out and began sewing and trimming, altering and dyeing, and in the end you couldn't even recognize it.  

Don't they know that change and choice and self-expression are simply wrong?  

Don't they realize that the style never goes out of style?


Sat, 2013-12-28 02:49
"You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same."
Jonathan Davis  

"The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. 
They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. 
But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
Carl Sagan

I like seeing how people express laughter via their keyboards.  Some just do a simple smiley face emoticon.  Or they use the standard 'LOL' or 'ROFLMAO' which I thought for sure would have gone out of fashion by now.  A few use the more modern 'BWL' (bursting with laughter) version. Others go for the more traditional 'ha ha ha.'  Some offer 'bwaaa ha ha,' which always sounds to me like a Lex-Luthor-plotting-to take-over-the-world maniacal laugh.  Some, for whatever strange reason, give a whimpy sounding 'tee hee.'  Some nerd friends say 'w' or 'wwwww' which stands for 'warau' or 'to laugh' in Japanese.  I've even seen 55555, because the number 5 in Thai is pronounced 'ha.'  

The reason I bring this up is because there sure is a lot to laugh about in my beloved martial arts.  People wear funny outfits.  They perform funny looking moves.  They make funny expressions while making funny sounding noises.  

So whether you lol, 55555, or tee hee, here are some of the silliest things from the mad world of martial arts.

THE CAT STANCE... Still striking fear in the hearts of bad guys.

I mean seriously, has there ever been a sillier looking move? 

 I stand's the 2nd silliest looking move.
GUNG FU, IT'S SLIGHTLY MORE AWESOME THAN BOWLING!  _____________________________________________
with swords!
They make the Orphans look like the Turnbull AC's!

He is SO going to kick your butt!_____________________________________________
WHEN I GET DONE WITH THESE EXOTIC LOOKING MARTIAL ARTS WEAPONSThey'll look lovely hanging in my living room.
THE WALL OF DEATH!   You just know that this guy has mastered all of these doohickeys!  
And if you have a couple of hours he'd like to demonstrate each and every last one of them._____________________________________________
HE HAS HIMSELF RIGHT WHERE HE WANTS HIM... He's going to make himself tap out any second! _____________________________________________
Seriously, I'll pay ten bucks to the first person who can tell me what the HELL this guy is doing. _____________________________________________


 WAX ON, WAX OFF 2014:

BUT WORDS ARE INADEQUATE_____________________________________________
 Well, these guys I love! _____________________________________________