Nancy and I watch the TV series "Billions," and last night one of the characters told the story of James Davenport, an evangelist preacher back in the 1700s in the American colonies. He traveled and held revivals and preached fire and brimstone, hell and damnation.
He said he could tell if someone was "saved" or not just by looking at them.
James Davenport became known for his "Bonfire of the Vanities." He would urge his followers to throw books and other material goods into the fire. He was once charged with disorderly conduct because of his behavior and was convicted in a Hartford, Connecticut court. His punishment was simply to be sent back to his hometown.
Davenport kept preaching and holding his bonfires, and he began encouraging his followers to also throw their fancy clothes into the fire. Fancy clothes, he said, was a false god, it symbolized their vanity and kept them away from God.
One night, in front of a group of followers, he took his own pants off and threw them into the fire.
A woman in the congregation grabbed the pants, pulled them from the fire, gave them back to Davenport and told him to get hold of himself.
This act by the woman broke the spell Davenport had over his followers, and they walked away. His behavior was simply too bizarre. He died in 1757 at the age of 41.
What does this have to do with Tai Chi and internal arts instructors?
I studied with an instructor that I really liked. and I tried to ignore some of the things he said about chi. He said we could read a person's aura and we could direct an opponent's chi over us so they could not attack us.
Okay, maybe you can and maybe you can't, I remember thinking. I'll just go with it and keep an open mind.
Then one night in class, he told us how he created his style. A disembodied Voice spoke to him in his room. He spoke with the Voice for three days and the Voice outlined his entire system of internal kung-fu.
I stood there, around 35 years old, and his words had the same impact as if he had thrown his pants into the fire.
Suddenly, I looked at him in an entirely new way. Why would someone insult the intelligence of these students, and me, a 35-year old professional journalist, by making this type of claim?
A few years ago, I was talking with another Tai Chi instructor who told me that all of the senior citizens in his class had their hair color change from grey to black by doing Tai Chi.
He actually said this. And he was serious.
He might as well have thrown his pants in the fire.
You have to keep it real. There are people who are motivated to believe and to say very unusual things. Who knows what the motive is? It could be to build a reputation, or they honestly believe their stories, or they have an issue that you can't explain.
Keep a clear head and do not check your brains at the door of any martial arts school. Keep your wits about you when you read martial arts books, or watch videos.
Question authority. And that includes martial arts instructors. That especially includes people who claim to have been "healed" by the internal arts, or claim to be able to heal others, or claim to have witnessed and felt supernatural things.
You don't have to be rude. Just ask a follow-up question or two. Make sure you understood them correctly, and then make a decision on just how fast you need to depart.
And if you are teaching, understand that there is a line you cross when you begin spewing fantasy. Some people will fall for it. Some people will give you a little slack for a while, but for a lot of us, your delusion lights a raging bonfire.
Keep your pants on.
--- by Ken Gullette