The Dangers of Magical Thinking in the Martial Arts

Again, while I am busy at my other blog, here is a Reblog.
Keep your defenses up…be a Perpetual Skeptic

Violent metaphors

This post comes courtesy of Jeff Westfall, someone I’ve known and respected as a leader in the martial arts community since I moved to Indiana in 1992. I’m absolutely delighted that he agreed to share his insights into pseudoscience in the martial arts with us. You can read details of his background on his school’s website here. –Jenny

I’m Jeff Westfall for the Martial Brain

Recently on Facebook I saw a video of a Finnish martial artist named Jukka Lampila who called what he did Empty Force or EFO, and claimed that with it he could control an attacker without touching him. His Facebook page proclaims him the founder of EFO. The video begins with clips of Lampila fending off ‘attacks’ from his students. He waves his arms; sometimes he twitches, and in each case the ‘attacker’ seems to be magically thrown to the mat without ever being touched by…

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3 responses to “The Dangers of Magical Thinking in the Martial Arts”

  1. Black Ops Mikey says :

    The blog article asks the questions:

    First, what possesses people to train in such a system of martial arts? Second, what is in the minds of people who already train in such systems and continue to do so after seeing their ‘Master’ embarrassed ….

    It offers an opinion:

    Perhaps we have an instinct to seek out simplicity.

    The form of martial arts is magical thinking and, as such, is simply another religion: A body of belief based on faith — and as in so many cases, based on empty faith devoid of scientific basis and easily disproved.

    In the latest Analog, Edward M. Lerner in his guest editorial asks, “Are We There Yet?” about science fiction futures which never materialized (such as flying cars [horrors!], robot servants [with unlimited hacking potential], limitless fusion power [putting power companies and utilities out of business] and colonies in space [problematic healthwise]. The problem is that systems are chaotic in the real world, but that’s not the real basic point. The point is that the present is complex (which company will you choose for your smart phone? How will you edit, arrange and back up those thousands of pictures you’ve taken? What kind of auto will you choose for transportation?)

    These days, there is a segment of people who can’t cope with the modern complexities: They would like to have a society of the First Century A.D. or even the Bronze Age, albeit with a few technologies available, such as the telephone, auto, refrigerator, electric range, electric lights and power mower. Most of the other innovations they would like to see buried because they want simple.

    Religions often promise simple. You go back to the Bronze Age and sort of adapt it to where you live today. Life needs to flow at a lower pace. Life events need to be manageable. All those nagging questions of science like why is there a massive black hole at the center of every galaxy need to be suppressed in favor of life without questions, only manageable pre-boxed simple answers. They would have healing as magic, source of personal power based on the force of will, living neat and orderly.

    Unfortunately for them, life is messy and there aren’t ready made answers in either Bronze Age religion nor in magical thinking martial arts. It doesn’t work in the real world and is therefore very wrong.

    One of the things about which we need to be very skeptical about is the concept that there really is simple in life — there isn’t, particularly when you realize each of the 7 billion human brains on this planet have over 100 billion neurons with tens of trillions of connections between them, ever changing, with quadrillions of different conscious thoughts each day, some few of them actually being brilliant to lead us into an even more complex technological future.

    There is a term for those who strive for the status quo through this magical thinking: Losers.

  2. eSell says :

    I like that answer–a search for simplicity. You talking about people wanting a Bronze Age world w/ a bit of tech reminds me of most of the sci-fi on the SciFi channel; everything is basically Medieval, but with a few features of super-advanced “sci fi” tech.

    And the whole “magical thinking” makes me think of all the hours of Oblivion I’ve played–there, magic WAS science, and a mage was simply a “scientist” working to unlock the secrets of the universe.

    The only people who get hurt through Martial Arts Magical Thinking are those taking the class–if they get mugged and try to Force push (like a frekin’ Jedi) their attacker away, they’ll just end up black and blue and sans their wallet. It is called a MARTIAL art for a reason, for it relates to “war or fighting”. We live in a brutal world.

    • Black Ops Mikey says :

      Sorry, it’s now the SyFy channel but you are right about the Medieval future tech (with exceptions like Lost Girl and Being Human, which are horror / fantasy and the requisite Monster of the Week [including such things as Flying SharkaSaurus]).

      It’s getting so the traditional networks have better science fiction, which is really sad.

      One wonders if there will ever be another series like Babylon 5 (although SG-1 was fairly sophisticated and entertaining: “O’Neil, is not the Bible the basis for Western Civilization”; “I guess”; “Have you not read it?”; “Yes… some of it… I’m waiting for the movie to come out.” and there’s the quip about fixing alien tech at the South Pole: “We could McGiver it into place”.)

      It’s like network executives are counting on viewers tuning in, based on the executives’ magical thinking.

      To me, the worst of all worlds is the Martial Arts made for TV movies (often with some supposed “science fiction” thrown it) where righteousness is determined by the protagonist winning in the Martial Arts fight. Wait! What?! It’s hard to believe that personal integrity is based solely on Martial Arts (especially if, as in real life, the bad guys win). Would the media have us believe that to get the best qualified top politicians in office with the most integrity, we need to pick those who have at least a second degree Black Belt?

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