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Eight Questions to Ask Chi Masters Who Demonstrate Supernatural Powers - Critical Thinking Skills for Martial Artists

ChiDo you know what a skeptic is? The word has been given a bad name by people who want you to believe their crap so they can take your money.

A skeptic is someone who simply asks for evidence -- solid evidence -- before believing an extraordinary claim.

I am a skeptic. 

If someone wants to sell me a used car, I expect some evidence that the car is not going to break down when I drive it off the lot.

If a doctor wants me to take a medicine, I ask for information on the side effects and exactly why I need the medicine and how it will help me.

Chi 2If a martial artist or a "chi master" claims that he can knock people down without touching them, or have a push hands partner hopping and bouncing away with the slightest touch, I am going to demand evidence, and video is not evidence.

You will not get evidence from anyone who makes money off of fantasy. You will not get evidence from con artists and swindlers. Here is what you get:

1.  You are told "you just don't understand."

2.  You are told to have "faith." 

3.  You are given explanations that sound scientific until you have an actual scientist listen to it.

4.  You will get a lot of excuses about why the person cannot put his claim to a real test.

5.  If the claim is tested and it fails, you will get excuses about why it failed "this time." 

If you do not have critical thinking skills, you can be fooled. You can even fool yourself. 

Self-delusion is one of your biggest enemies. When you believe without evidence, you have no one to blame but yourself for wasting money on people who need you to believe their lies.

On the latest Internal Fighting Arts podcast, I interview Stuart Shaw, a martial artist in Australia who -- like me -- is offering $5,000 to any chi master who can demonstrate the ability to do amazing things with their chi, such as knock someone down without touching them or make them hop away by barely touching them in push hands. But the most amazing thing is that Stuart and I are both having trouble getting these chi masters to accept the challenge.

Here are eight questions to ask when anyone -- a chi master, a martial arts teacher, a preacher or priest, a doctor, a salesman -- makes a claim involving a supernatural power, an invisible being, or a product they want you to buy.

Critical Thinking Question 1 -- Is the information coming from someone with a financial interest in you accepting it?

If a martial arts teacher wants you to believe he can knock people down without touching them, is he making money from students who want to study this power?

I am told by a minister or priest that an invisible being loves me and will punish me if I don't love Him back. Is the minister or priest making money, or making a living, off of people who believe what he says?

I am told by a man who rings my doorbell that he was in the neighborhood blacktopping a driveway and he has some leftover material and could blacktop my driveway. I just need to give him $250 upfront.

I am told by a doctor that I need to take the maximum dose of Lipitor, even though I have never been told I have a high cholesterol problem. Is the doctor making money off prescribing this drug?

In each of these cases, the person may very well be misleading you.

Critical Thinking Question 2 -- How does the claim being made compare with what you have seen and experienced about how the world works?

Have you ever had anyone knock you down without touching you? Have you ever been able to bounce anyone away and make them hop and skip backwards across the room when you barely touched them?

Does the demonstration in this video align with the reality you have seen in the world?

 Are trained military warriors able to knock down enemy soldiers without touching them or make people fall or jump away by barely touching them?

Are cage fighters able to do this? Has anyone in the history of combat ever been able to do this?

Is an invisible being really watching you? If you do not get into a car wreck today, is it because an invisible angel is protecting you?

Is the claim contrary to everything you know about how nature works?

It is probably false.

Critical Thinking Question 3 -- What would happen if.....?

What would happen if this chi master tried to stop an MMA fighter from hitting him?

Would he be able to knock the MMA fighter down without touching him? Would he be able to bounce him away with a slight touch?

Here is an example of what happened when one chi "master" believed his own lie and took on an MMA fighter.

 What would happen if a psychic "healer" got cancer? Would he or she go to a Western doctor or would he simply use psychic healing?

What would happen if this chi master tried to knock me down without touching me?

Critical Thinking Question 4 -- How does the person respond when I express doubts about their claim?

If I tell a chi master that I don't believe his power actually works, does he tell me I simply don't understand?

If I ask a chi master to perform his power on me, does he make an excuse such as, "You do not have sufficient skill to withstand it?" Or does he make another excuse?

If I tell a religious believer that there is no evidence that their invisible being exists, do they tell me that I need to have "faith?"

Does the martial artist, chi master, or religious believer react with sarcasm? I challenged no-touch knockdown artist Richard Mooney, asked if I could come to his school for him to knock me down without touching me, and he reacted with sarcasm. Was that the right response?

Do their comments become personal? Do they criticize you personally? "Something is wrong with you if you don't believe this. Something happened to you in your life to make you a skeptic."

Instead of providing evidence, does the person act as if doubt and a request for evidence is insulting to him? Is doubt considered a negative thing?

He is probably lying to you.

Critical Thinking Question 5 -- What is the simplest and most likely answer to what this person is claiming?

A chi master knocks someone down without touching them.

What is more likely -- that he possesses powers beyond anything you have ever witnessed, or that he and his student are faking?

A tai chi "master" pushes hands with a student. Even though the master barely moves, the student hops away as if jolted with some type of power.

What is more likely -- that the master possesses a near-supernatural ability or is it more likely that the student is performing as the teacher wants and expects? 

The simplest and most likely answer is that they are faking. Otherwise, it requires evidence.

You suffer a serious illness and receive medical treatment at a hospital. Friends pray for you. Soon, you recover. Did invisible beings heal you or did the medical treatment heal you?

Which explanation is most likely? That one is probably the truth.

Critical Thinking Question 6 -- If the student does not react as the teacher wants, will the teacher lose face?

KreskinI was on stage with The Amazing Kreskin when I was about 19 (around 1972) and in college. He lined up a group of students at Eastern Kentucky University and told us, "When I snap my fingers, you will all begin clapping." He snapped his fingers and we all began clapping. Including me.

But as I was clapping, it dawned on me that I was NOT hypnotized and I could stop clapping if I wanted.

So I stopped. And for a few seconds, I was the only student onstage, in front of a large audience, who was not clapping.

I did not want to look like a jerk and I did not want Kreskin to look bad, so I began clapping again as if I were hypnotized.

Never underestimate the power of peer pressure, the desire to prevent your teacher from losing face, and the desire most people have to "perform" when given permission.

If Kreskin stands you in front of several hundred people and says when he snaps his fingers you are going to cluck like a chicken, the odds are good that when he snaps his fingers, you will cluck like a frikkin' chicken. And when your internal arts teacher says you will fall when he draws a circle of chi in the air, you and the entire class will probably comply.

All of us have invested time, money, hard work, and emotion into our teachers. Most of us are not going to make him look bad in front of outsiders.

Critical Thinking Question 7 -- Is an anecdote the only evidence?

Someone tells you that they were knocked down without being touched by their martial arts instructor or chi master. It felt "like I was hit with an electric jolt," he says.

Is there evidence beyond his memory?

A friend tells you she heard a ghost in the house last night. She swears it was a ghost. There was no one else in the house. 

These people are probably exaggerating and "embellishing" the truth.

We all do it. An illness becomes a "near death" experience when we retell it. An ex-spouse was "a real bitch" even though you cheated on her. We saw a ghost down the hallway at night when we were alone.

Human beings exaggerate, and often a memory is not even close to the truth.

A healer who claims to balance his patients' chakras has testimonials on his website from patients who say their illness was healed by his treatments.  

Joseph Smith said he was visited by the angel Moroni.

Joseph Smith claimed that on September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to him and told him of the golden plates that were buried near his home. On those golden plates was what would become the Book of Mormon.

Can you believe Joseph Smith's story? Millions do. And yet a lot of people -- millions upon millions of people who think Joseph Smith was lying believe that Paul spoke to Jesus on the road to Damascus. They believe it completely.

In an internal arts book that I have in my library, a well-known teacher, who does this for a living, tells the story of walking the circle in front of his Bagua master. He begins to feel his legs weighted down, as if sliding through mud. He looks over and his Bagua master is glaring at him intently. The Bagua master is using his mind to slow him down!!

Can you believe this story? I didn't, not for one minute. 

People exaggerate for many reasons. They usually gain something, whether power, money, prestige, or some other physical or emotional benefit. 

And that's why this statement is true: Anecdotes are not evidence.

Critical Thinking Question 8 -- Can the claim be tested? And in addition, can it be tested in a way that removes the ability for the person making the claim to cheat?

A chi master claims to be able to knock people down without touching them, and he demonstrates it with his students. How can that be tested?

For one thing, you can bring in someone who does not know what the master is going to try to do and see if the master can make them fall without touching them.

In a double blind trial, the person who is brought in to be knocked down has no idea what the "master" is going to do. The encounter is recorded and watched by a judge who also does not know what the master is trying to do. The judge has to describe what he sees happen and make a decision on what was achieved.

A double blind trial is the best way to test a claim by taking away the ability to cheat. It is the "gold standard" in clinical trials.

If there is no way to test something, should it be believed?

A skeptic says no -- an extraordinary claim should not be believed until it can be tested. But one thing that is usually not explained is that a skeptic will believe a claim when it is tested and proven to be true.

The beauty of science is this: when a scientist makes a claim, other scientists try to prove it false. Can a claim stand up to attempts to prove it doesn't work? Can your claim be tested? If it can be tested, and survives the test, it just might be true. If it cannot be tested (like religion) or if it fails the test, it is probably false.

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

When you do not ask these questions, you set yourself up to be cheated. Whenever you encounter someone making a claim that is unusual, ask these questions and let the truth guide your actions. Do not play along.

Do not believe anything that is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. When examining any claim, whether it is about chi powers, invisible beings, or the return you will receive on an investment, there is always good reason for doubt.

The Fantasy and BS Epidemic in Tai Chi -- The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Stuart Shaw

Podcast Logo 250YouTube is an amazing tool for presenting good information in a visual way. But it has also become a tool for the scum of the martial arts world to present fantasy and pretend it is truth.

The BS that is an epidemic in Tai Chi is not restricted just to the internal arts, however. You see martial artists of all styles, in nations around the world, pretending to have supernatural powers, including:

** The ability to knock someone down without touching them.

** The ability to make push hands partners hop and jump away at the slightest touch.

** The ability to set paper on fire.

** The ability to heal people with their chi.

And much more.

In the latest Internal Fighting Arts podcast, I interview Stuart Shaw, an instructor of Tai Chi and Sanda in the town of Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia. He began studying in the Chen Man Ching lineage, but turned his back on the system after seeing instructors push the fantasy elements. Stuart has created The Fajin Project, a Facebook page that calls out instructors who promote BS.

Listen to the podcast online or download the mp3 file by following this link:

You can also find the podcast and subscribe on iTunes:

How do you develop critical thinking skills? What questions should you ask when a martial arts teacher performs a supernatural feat? 

The next blog post will arm you with some key questions.

Boards Don't Hit Back -- Bruce Lee's Famous Line is Only Entertainment

Last Saturday at our practice, we took a few minutes to have fun with board-breaking. We tried different breaks from short range, the idea being if you are in close, can you generate enough power to do some damage to an opponent.

Here is the video that resulted.

When you put a video like this online, you will inevitably have someone reply with "Boards don't hit back." Sometimes a friend will say it in jest, but sometimes it is said by someone who is serious.

"Boards don't hit back" is a line that Bruce Lee said in "Enter the Dragon," when Bob Wall broke a board at the beginning of a fight with Bruce. 


Since 1973, some Bruce Lee "purists" and "Real Fighting" macho guys have pretended that board breaking is stupid.

They would be wrong.

Yes, boards don't hit back. Neither do heavy bags. Neither do makiwara boards. And neither does paper.

Did you know that Punching Paper was one of Bruce Lee's training techniques?

Here is a video I shot in 2006, showing my cute wife Nancy holding a newspaper page up very lightly with two fingers as I try to punch my fist through the paper. It doesn't count if you rip the paper. You must put your fist through the paper. Try this sometime.

When I first put the paper punching video on YouTube, a troll made the comment, "That's great if I'm ever attacked by a newspaper."

He didn't get it. And I'll bet he couldn't punch through a newspaper. It's harder than you think.

Of course, Bruce Lee also used a lot of tools extensively, including heavybags and wooden dummies. The last time I checked, heavybags and wooden dummies don't hit back.

Bruce even broke boards occasionally to demonstrate power.

This is one of the problems when people take an entertaining line from a movie and try to turn it into Holy Scripture. 

Heavybags, makiwara boards, board breaking, Bob bags -- it's all good for focusing your technique and your power. I can't break my training partner's face tonight, and I can't break his ribs. So how do I train to focus and test my striking power and my ability to break an opponent? I use the right tools.

So the next time someone tries to be an Online Know-It-All and says, "Boards don't hit back," tell them to come closer and let you use their face instead of a board.

As a Taiji teacher I respect -- Michael Chritton said, "The air doesn't hit back, either, and I punch it all the time."

Now THAT is a good line worth repeating.

Here is another board-breaking video my students and I shot last winter. Fun with a purpose.

Self-defense is serious business, but you can't take yourself so seriously. It takes all the fun out of the arts. And even at age 62, I want to have the power to break an opponent's face, but I'm still in it to have fun.

12 Animals of Hsing-I Chuan -- DVD Now Available for 2-Day Amazon Prime Shipping

12 Animals DVDI have been making my instructional DVDs available for the Free 2-Day Shipping with Amazon Prime, and the latest to be offered this way is my "12 Animals of Hsing-I Chuan" DVD.

The DVD takes an in-depth look at each of the 12 short individual animal forms of traditional Hsing-I (also spelled Xingyi). Each movement is broken down, and extensive fighting applications are shown for each of the animals.

The 12 Animal forms are:

1. Dragon

2. Tiger

3. Monkey

4. Horse

5. Chicken

6. Harrier (Hawk)

7. Swallow

8. Water Lizard

9. Chinese Ostrich

10. Snake

11. Eagle

12. Bear (Eagle and Bear are combined into one form)

Each of the animals has its own "essence" for fighting. The DVD includes 2 hours of instruction, including:

** Demonstrations of each form.

** A breakdown of each movement with an emphasis on internal body mechanics.

** Fighting applications of each movement that will enable you to use the 12 animals in real self-defense.

These are short forms but they are challenging and physically demanding. I teach them to students who have reached "black sash" level.

Here is the link to my "12 Animals of Hsing-I Chuan" DVD on Amazon. Check it out if you are an Amazon Prime member. 


Connecting Drill Number 1 - Slapping Hands

This is a fun drill that helps sharpen your reflexes and also helps you learn to connect to your opponent. It is one of several drills that develop the relaxed state of readiness and observational skills you need to move when your opponent moves and not be caught lagging behind.

This isn't the same as a sensitivity drill. This is useful against an opponent that is not touching you -- yet. If you can anticipate his action and "respond like an echo" you have a much greater chance of winning the encounter. When he moves, you move. When his attack arrives, you are already there.

Other drills involve stepping and deflecting and even working with a staff, but this is fun and works with any style of internal or external arts.

You stand with your hands in a "prayer" position in front of you. Your partner has his hands at his sides. He is not allowed to fake you out. He must try to slap your hands. He can use one or both of his hands to slap.

Your job is to be ready and "connect" with him, anticipating his attack, reading his intent and getting your hands out of the way.

It goes something like this.


For more than 700 other video lessons, ebooks and other material on the internal arts of Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua, go to and try two weeks free.