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Remaining Centered in the Heat of Battle and the Three Internal Harmonies

My opponent in this match provided an example of NOT using the Three Internal Harmonies.

He was in his twenties -- young and cocky. I was in my late forties. I could tell by the way he carried himself and the way he looked at me that he thought it was going to be easy. He thought he was going to kick my butt.

It really made him mad a moment after the match started when I swept him to the ground. He hit the wooden gymnasium floor hard, and when he got back up, he was STEAMED

I always loved to spar in tournaments. It was great competition, and it refined some of the skills you need for self-defense on the street. Even in "no contact" tournaments, a lot of contact was made. Ribs were cracked, jaws were jacked, gashes were opened up sometimes. Damn, it was fun.

In a tournament match, I never lost my cool. If my opponent scored on me, I would congratulate him. 

"Good shot," I would say. The referees loved the sportsmanship. I never got angry. If my opponent was good enough to score a good shot on me, he deserved a pat on the back. And then a roundhouse kick to the head, heh heh.

This young karate guy I sparred in 2001 was one of those guys who proves the validity of the "Three Internal Harmonies" concept in the internal arts.

When you are successfully using the Three Internal Harmonies, your "heart" or "spirit" is in harmony with your "intent," or your logical mind.

If you are afraid or nervous, your spirit (Shen) is weak. If you are courageous and calm, your spirit is strong. You have the "fighting spirit."

When your logical mind (Yi) is strong, you clearly see your opponent's techniques, his strengths and weaknesses, and if your energy (Chi) is strong, you take advantage of them by applying strength (Li). In the internal arts, it is expressed this way: the Shen harmonizes with the Yi, the Yi harmonizes with the Chi, and the Chi harmonizes with the Li. 

When your "heart" and your "intent" is strong and in harmony and your "energy" is strong, you can then use your "strength" and skillfully defeat your opponent.

A Cincinnati tournament in 1983 - the Eye of the Tiger.

This is the best example of what the Three Internal Harmonies really means. There is nothing mystical about it.

At this tournament in 2001, this strong, cocky young man came at me hard. But when I swept him, he lost his cool. He became angry and his "intent," or logical mind became scattered with anger. His "heart," or emotional mind took over. He was no longer in harmony. He couldn't focus his strength or technique and became out of control.

I never could understand why guys would get angry in tournament matches. I met a lot of really great competitors with good attitudes, but I have to admit -- I enjoyed it when my opponents got angry. It was a good sign that I was going to win.

As the years passed, I grew to enjoy sparring so much, I stopped keeping score during the match. It didn't matter to me who won any particular point. The judges would stop us, they would rule on the point, then tell us to resume fighting.

I remained calm and centered, and took each point as it came. Sometimes, at the end of the match, I was surprised to find that I had won.

The lesson of the Three Internal Harmonies can be applied in self-defense, but also at work and even in your personal relationships. When faced with an impossible deadline at work, when faced with an angry spouse or child at home, simply understand that you have the ability and the skill to solve the problem, focus your calm attention on the problem at hand, and get to work.

The Three Internal Harmonies can really help you out when someone is trying to kick your butt. But this concept is intended to be used not just as a method of fighting, but also as a way of life.

Pulling the Internal Martial Arts Out of the Pre-Scientific Past

Light 2
Steve believes he is shooting light out of his hand to "lift" me spiritually.

Steve said he could emit light from his hands and "lift" me spiritually if I would "receive the light." It is a practice called "Sukyo Mahikari."

"You emit light from your hands?" I asked.

"Yes, would you like to try it?" he replied. I said sure.

I sat down in a chair facing him. He sat across from me.

"Close your eyes," he said. "This will take about 10 minutes."

I closed my eyes and relaxed. Steve, a mild-mannered, soft-spoken man about my age began praying in a language I had never heard. After a moment of prayer, he held up his hands and began shooting light out of them, I suppose. At least that's what he thought he was doing.

I peeked once during the 10-minute session and there was no light coming out of his hands. Maybe it was beyond the visible spectrum. So I cooperated, relaxed, and tried to be receptive to whatever happened. Nothing happened.

At the end of 10 minutes, he prayed again in tongues and then told me to open my eyes.

"Did you feel anything?" he asked with a hopeful look on his face.

"No, I was just relaxed and being receptive," I replied. He seemed very happy with that. 

I had not felt a thing, and I can guarantee you that Steve was NOT shooting light out of his hands, visible or invisible.

"You are a nice man," I told him, shook his hand, and rejoined my wife Nancy and daughter Harmony, who were walking around the Health and Wellness Fair with me.

This happened last Saturday in Davenport, Iowa. Mixed among the booths for hospitals and various healthcare companies were "health and wellness" claims that were simply beyond rationality. Among them -- acupuncture and chi healing.

How does a nice, middle-aged, obviously intelligent man believe he has learned to emit light from his hands? He went to Chicago to take a course to learn how to do it. I hope the course didn't cost very much.

I have taken a little heat over my recent Internal Fighting Arts podcast with Dr. Harriet Hall. Chi believers think it was unfair. I even received an email from a "skeptic" who said it was too one-sided. I disagree. It was exactly the interview that a lot of people in the internal arts still need to hear.

The people who were most critical of the interview earn money from acupuncture or some other form of "energy healing." To expose these practices as devoid of scientific merit is to threaten their income.

I think some people were offended that I compared belief in bogus science to belief in religion. It is not my intent to offend my friends. I am simply offering a different viewpoint, and insights that are based on my discussions over the years with believers of ancient "science" and religions. There are many parallels in the thought processes, and the way people defend their beliefs when the evidence is not there to support the belief. 

And so this debate was happening as I attended the local Health and Wellness Fair and came upon the only booth that involved acupuncture and energy healing. It was a business out of Iowa City and it also offered Feng Shui, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Past Life Regression, Reiki, Shamanism, Healing Touch, ThetaHealing, Tarot Card readings, Emotion Code, Access Bars, and Angel Card Readings.

A sweet older lady at this booth told me about the Angel Card Readings.

"We spread out three decks of Tarot cards," she explained. "You select some of the cards. Then we get in touch with your angels and they give you advice."

I wanted to ask why angels would need Tarot cards as an intermediary, but I suppressed my Inner Smartass.

"Do you really believe angels communicate with you?" I asked.

"Oh, I KNOW they do," she replied earnestly.

And that's what they all say:

"I KNOW acupuncture works."

"I KNOW that chi can heal you."

"I KNOW that Jesus healed me of my drug addiction."

"I KNOW that you can remember your past lives."

I found it almost embarrassing that acupuncture and energy healing were part of this booth's offerings. All internal martial artists should be ashamed that we are caught up in this nonsense. Far too many of us incorporate these bogus, superstitious beliefs into our arts and tell gullible students that it is based on "science" that is "thousands of years old."

Astrology is thousands of years old, too, and there is evidence that acupuncture was patterned after astrology. One researcher who was trained in acupuncture calls it "astrology with needles."

When I first started banging the drum of critical thinking in the 1990s, I was told to shut up by some internal arts teachers, especially Tai Chi teachers. Most of them simply turned their heads when instructors made claims of miraculous chi powers. I didn't turn my head, I challenged them. 

Now, the number of critical thinkers in the arts has grown, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

The internal arts are martial arts, based on unique ways of moving and unique ways of dealing with the force of an opponent. They are based on a calming, centering philosophy. I do qigong as a stress management, centering technique. There is nothing wrong with that. Problems arise when you begin to pretend that qigong can be used to treat medical conditions. It might get someone's mind off of pain for a while, but it cannot help you heal from anything. 

Just because Chen Wangting might have woven some old Chinese folk medicine theories into his art does not mean we can't move beyond it. Honor his legacy, yes. Acknowledge this was part of the founding of the art, yes. But we must also acknowledge, out of honesty and intellectual integrity, that all of these TCM theories were developed in pre-scientific times, in the days when the Chinese believed they could heat a turtle's shell and tell the future by the cracks that developed in the shell. They were developed by people who believed you could write a petition to the gods, burn the paper and the message would rise to heaven to be read by the gods. It might be as valid a belief as eternal reward or torture, but it is equally lacking in evidence.

The five elements do not actually relate to specific internal organs. The "flavors" do not really relate to the elements and organs. No human being can hold their hands close to me and "assess my chi." 

And Steve cannot shoot light from his hands. It's time to move beyond this silliness, and that is the purpose of the most recent podcast.



Acupuncture, Qigong and Jesus -- Why Traditional Chinese Medicine is Like Religion

Religion-alternative medicineThis isn't going to go down well with my friends who are acupuncturists, qigong instructors, and Christians.

I know a lot of very good people in all three groups. Hell, I used to be a Christian, and I have practiced qigong since 1987. I use qigong for stress management and to help maintain my center in a hectic, crazy world. I studied acupuncture for two years, had all the equipment, and even practiced on people. I don't do that anymore.

I am a skeptic.

That means I need evidence before I believe something, and I have not seen evidence that the medical claims made by proponents of alternative medicine and TCM work very often beyond what you would expect from a placebo.

I wasn't always a skeptic. My mom raised me to be a Christian, but I left the faith around age 20, when I discovered Eastern philosophy. I gave the concepts of chi and acupuncture a shot -- a very open-minded shot -- as I studied qigong and acupuncture. I wanted them to be true.

Being a skeptic means that I am not opposed to anything. I am open to evidence. If you make a medical claim, a religious statement or scientific statement and can back it up with proof, I'll believe. But I can't take your word for it. Sorry. 

That drives some Christians crazy, and it also doesn't sit well with some people who believe in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Last week, I interviewed Dr. Harriet Hall, the "SkepDoc," for my Internal Fighting Arts podcast. Since most of my interviews are with internal arts instructors, qigong masters and philosophers, some statements had been made along the way that made me feel that my audience needed to hear an alternative view on alternative medicine.

Dr. Hall analyzes clinical trials and investigates the validity of "complimentary" and "alternative" medicine (CAM). She is a retired physician and Air Force flight surgeon who knows how to apply critical thinking skills to medical claims. 

I did a couple of days of research before the interview. I learned a lot about clinical trials, science-based medicine, and the lack of evidence for chi healing and acupuncture, two of the biggest pieces of TCM.

When the podcast went online, it triggered comments, complaints and arguments from Chi Believers. A pattern emerged in some of these comments, and after promoting the need for critical thinking skills in the internal arts for a couple of decades, a new thought hit me like a two-by-four.

TCM and the belief in Chi is a religion.

Chi Believers use the same arguments that some Christians use when defending their beliefs against an atheist. Trust me. I have debated some Christians and the same talking points are used and the same strategy is employed by chi believers.

Let me walk you through some examples:

Skeptic Statement -- There is no scientific evidence that God (or Chi) exists. 

Religious response -- "You can't use reason and logic to determine if God exists. That is arrogant."

Chi Believer response -- "Acupuncture (or qigong) can't be tested by 'Western' science." 


Religious response -- "You simply don't understand. I have studied theology and have put a lot of thought and study into this. I know God is real."

Chi Believer response -- "You simply don't understand. I have studied and practiced (acupuncture, chi healing, etc.) for years. I know it is real."


Skeptic Statement -- But you can't prove that Acupuncture (or chi healing or prayer) works.

Religious response -- "I know God is real because I have a personal relationship with him. Jesus has worked miracles in my life."

Chi Believer response -- "I know that (acupuncture, chi healing, Reiki, etc.) works because it has worked on me."


Skeptic Statement -- There is absolutely no evidence that anyone has ever been cured of an illness or disease by God (or acupuncture or chi healing).

Religious response -- "I know many people that Jesus has healed through prayer."

Chi Believer response -- "I have seen patients who have improved from my (alternative medicine) treatments."


Skeptic Statement -- Randomized, double-blind clinical trials show that acupuncture (or chi healing or prayer) does not work.

Religious response -- "Modern science does not worship God. There is a conspiracy to persecute Christians."

Chi Believer response -- "There is a conspiracy among 'Western' scientists and doctors to discredit alternative medicine."


Religious response -- "You are closed-minded to evidence of God, which is all around you."

Chi Believer response -- "You are closed-minded to evidence of chi."


Religious response -- "There is something wrong with you. Something happened in your life to make you hate God."

Chi Believer response -- "You are a fascist nazi and a nihilist prick." (This was actually said to me. I had to look up nihilist. It is someone who dismisses all religious and moral principles, usually with the attitude that life is meaningless -- hardly my beliefs. Believing in truth over fantasy is sort of a moral principle, isn't it?).


Skeptic Statement -- Modern science can test any medical claim. Alternative medicine (and existence of God) either can't be tested or fails the tests.

Religious response -- "People have believed in Jesus for 2,000 years. I guess all those people were wrong and you are right."

Chi Believer response -- "Acupuncture and chi healing has been done for 5,000 years. It wouldn't still be used if it didn't work." (I tell them in that case, Astrology must work because it is thousands of years old).


Skeptic Statement -- There is a lot of violence in the Bible -- children and babies are killed by God in many parts of the Bible. 

Religious response -- "You are misinterpreting the Bible. You can't cherry-pick scripture. It is about peace and love."

Skeptic Statement -- Scientists can measure energy down to the sub-atomic level, but they can't find evidence of chi flowing in our bodies.

Chi Believer response -- "You are misinterpreting the word Chi. It doesn't mean a literal energy, it means (then they proceed to rationalize, forgetting that acupuncture relies on a literal energy flowing through meridians)."


Skeptic Statement -- We can measure all types of energy, but we can't see or measure chi and we are supposed to believe that invisible beings are watching us?

Religious response -- "You can't see air but you believe it is there. You can't see atoms but you believe they are there."

Chi Believer response -- "You can't see air but you believe it is there. You can't see atoms but you believe they are there."


Skeptic Statement -- Would you take your infant daughter to an acupuncturist if she became really sick (or take them just to a faith healer)?

Religious response -- "God works through doctors. We are not opposed to doctors." (Ummmm, Christian Scientists are)

Chi Believer response -- "Our medicine is complimentary. It is designed to be used with modern medicine." 


And so on, and so on. In both religion and chi belief, reason and science are batted away like mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus. There is something wrong with the person asking the questions, you see.

I have been teaching the internal arts for nearly 20 years. During that time, I have tried to convince internal artists that critical thinking skills are crucial. We end up asking more critical questions about a new car purchase than we ask about alternative medicine. If a "master" or a black belt tells us something is true, or if it is in a book on the internal arts or qigong, we are ready to believe. The writers of books and magazines, and the people who practice alternative medicine for money, can make it sound very scientific and very convincing. Creationists are also smooth at confusing people with pseudo-scientific talk and phrases that confuse listeners (on purpose) but sound like real science. It isn't.

Once we believe, and invest time, money, and emotion into a belief (whether it is religion or alternative medicine), it takes a lot of internal strength to receive new information and realize that you need to adjust your beliefs to reflect facts.

Not everyone is that strong. Some people are, however, and that is why us skeptics continue to ask questions and shine a light on what real science says about certain beliefs that can only be accurately described as "magical thinking."

The Internet has caused the numbers of critical thinkers to increase. When I was a child, and even a young adult, I could not hop online and check out my mom's religious claims or my kung-fu instructor's medical or metaphysical claims. Now, children and adults can do that, and that means good information is only a mouse-click away.

That is why I wrote this blog post. I can be friends with people who believe unproven things, but if there is a problem here, I don't think it is with the person who demands scientific evidence -- modern scientific evidence -- when they ask questions about medical claims.

It has become increasingly obvious as I grow older, and less willing to believe anything I am told, that both chi believers and the deeply religious, when faced with questions of science, reason and logic that threaten their beliefs, will put themselves through very similar intellectual gymnastics to rationalize what is not there. 

Is Western Science Conspiring Against Traditional Chinese Medicine? The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with "SkepDoc" Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall, M.D., the "SkepDoc."

I love the internal arts and qigong, but I am skeptical about the claims made by Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Being a skeptic means that my mind is open to scientific evidence, but I will not believe something that is not proven through the same scientific method that proves all legitimate medical and scientific discoveries. You don't get a pass just because you practice TCM.

There is no such thing as "Western" science. The rules of science are the same in every country, including China. 

So is there a "Western" conspiracy against chi healing, acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, and other alternative medicines?

And what does real scientific research tell us about these practices, particularly those we focus on in the internal arts?

I interviewed Harriet Hall, M.D. for the Internal Fighting Arts podcast. She is a retired family physician and Air Force flight surgeon who now researches and writes about Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). She writes a blog -- -- and she has an incredible series of videos on YouTube that explores science-based medicine and CAM.

Here is the podcast -- you can listen online or download it to your computer. It will be on iTunes in a few hours.



Is Acupuncture Bogus Science? The SkepDoc Explains Why Science Rejects It

Next week, I am interviewing Harriet Hall, M.D. on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast. I have interviewed a Qigong "Master," and I have had one guest who claimed that the elderly students studying tai chi and qigong with him have all had a big change -- their hair color turned from grey to black. Every one of them.

I studied acupuncture for two years. I have practiced qigong for 28 years. But I am skeptical of the claims they make for healing illnesses.

Dr. Hall is known as the "SkepDoc." She is a retired family physician and Air Force surgeon who now writes about pseudoscience for publications such as Skeptic, the Skeptical Inquirer, and the Science-Based Medicine blog.

If you believe in acupuncture, or if you don't believe in it, you should watch Dr. Hall discuss why it is rejected by science. This is the third segment in a 10-part video series on Science-Based Medicine.