Do Not Empty Your Mind When Doing Tai Chi

The Monkey Mind

Some people believe you should "empty your mind" when practicing or performing Taijiquan. Some also believe that Qigong and Zen meditation is about "emptying" your mind.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

These practices are mindful, not mindless. You don't empty your mind, you focus your attention.

If I am practicing a form and empty my mind, I'm thinking of nothing, including the movements I'm performing. That is an empty practice and your movement will reflect it.

However, if I calm my mind -- if I replace thoughts of my schedule, my bills, and other daily activities with thoughts of the movement I am performing and the body mechanics and jin that give my movements their internal strength -- that is when my practice benefits the most.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you are doing in the present moment. If you are in a business meeting, that means paying attention to whoever is speaking and focusing on the item at hand. If you are talking with anyone, including your significant other, being mindful means paying attention to what they are saying, not letting your mind roam to other things. When doing Qigong, mindfulness means paying attention to your breath or to mental visualizations of energy. In Zen meditation, it means focusing on the present moment, being aware of everything around you without judgment.

Chen Xiaowang, at the beginning of a form or standing practice would say, "Calm down." Then he said, "Listen behind you." That meant that you should be aware in all directions.

This mindfulness should stay with you all day, being aware of everything around you, and the task in front of you. Someone who practices mindfulness will not be seen walking across a street absorbed in their phone. 

Most of us have a Monkey Mind. It jumps from one thing to another, in frantic motion. To become mindful in any activity, the first priority is to calm the Monkey Mind so you can focus on the task at hand.

My new book, "A Handful of Nothing," contains 88 short Zen stories. Some people mistakenly believe it is about emptying the mind. It is not. Zen is about being aware of this moment and remaining mindful.

Some people even watch TV with their phone in their hands. "I can multitask," some people will brag, but they are mistaken. Multitasking is a myth. It causes students to get lower grades. Adults who multitask perform less efficiently.

Have you ever done something, working on a project or writing something, and you get in the zone, focus on what you are doing, and suddenly you realize a lot of time passed and you didn't notice because you were focused? That's being mindful. And that is the focus you should strive for in everything you do, including any martial art.

--by Ken Gullette


Ken Gullette Shows You How to Be a Chi Master and Ignite Paper by Focusing Your Qi Energy

I was listening to a podcast last week when I heard a well-known Tai Chi teacher say there are chi masters in Asia who we have seen ignite paper with their Qi. Some other fantastic claims were made on the interview. 

Here is the truth: noboby can ignite paper with their Qi. 

Some charlatans pretend they can ignite paper with their Qi. But it's a trick.

When an adult goes to a magic show, and a magician saws a women in half, and you see the woman's body being separated, and then in a moment the body is reconnected and the woman is walking off the stage, no rational adult walks away telling everyone, "Did you know you can be sawed in half and then you can be reconnected? I saw it happen!" 

If you tell them, "Hey, man, that's just a trick," the believer will say, "You just don't understand. You have to open your mind!"

Nobody with an ounce of intelligence says that after seeing a magic show. What they actually say is, "I'd like to know that trick."

However, demonstrate a magic trick and call it "Qi powers" (or Chi Powers) and you will have millions of people believing it. 

When I heard this Tai Chi teacher talk about igniting paper with Qi as if it were true, I decided to show you how it is done. Here is my video. Enjoy and please share this with those unfortunate souls who have lost their critical thinking skills. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Let me show you how to focus your chi energy, and then I will teach you step-by-step how you, TOO can be a chi master.

A Quiet Mind is Crucial for the Practice of Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua

My favorite Zen joke is this one:
How many Zen masters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
The answer: A green tree in a quiet forest.
I love telling that joke to people who don't know Eastern philosophy, just to see the puzzled looks on their faces.
A Quiet Mind is a Difficult Goal

The chaos that our minds endure each day is no joke.
We are all on the move every day. We are bombarded with messages, texts, emails, photos and social media posts, advertising and calls. If you watch the news or see online news headlines, the negativity can really disrupt your mental tranquility, if you have any to begin with.
When we take time to practice our martial arts -- which is too little time for most people -- our minds are still jumbled with activities at work, deadlines, what to pick up at the store, what our spouses and partners need, or what our children are up to.
Or, we just dive into our practice and start working on a form or techniques.
But if you are going to get the most out of your internal practice, you must quiet your mind.
A quiet mind is at the center of internal arts practice.
A quiet mind does not mean a blank mind.
It does not mean a mind that is detached and "meditating."
A quiet mind is a state of calmness and attentiveness, when you are able to "get in the zone" and focus on one thing.
To get to a state of mental quietness, you often need to spend some time meditating and calming yourself, mentally and physically.
A Quiet Mind is Important Even in Self-Defense
Ken Gullette (blue shirt) in a full-contact match.
You learn a lot by competing in tournaments. I learned the importance of a quiet mind when I competed in sparring.
A lot of guys would face off with me and appear angry. If I got a good shot in on them, they would often act angry.
In Chicago tournaments, even though they were technically "point" tournaments, there was a LOT of contact. Gashes were opened up, ribs broken, and I even had a throat injury when an opponent punched me in the throat. He was not penalized and the match went on. It was often brutal.
It got to the point that I realized the angrier and more frustrated they became, the easier it was for me to win.
And that is when I began intentionally calming my mind during competition. I got to the point where I did not even keep score in my head.
Every time the judge told us to get ready, I relaxed my mind. The goal was to simply deal with my opponent at that time, whatever he did.
A quiet mind that is not concerned about winning or losing can focus a lot better on the flow of the situation.
Whoever scored a point did not matter as much. When my opponent scored, I would say, "Nice kick," or "Great punch."
And then I would deal with the next point.
I enjoyed the matches a lot more when I let it flow, and not having thoughts careening and bouncing through my mind, and the desire of winning, allowed me to quiet my mind.
My Advice for the Start of Your Practice
Standing 3At the start of your practice, take five minutes for Standing Stake (Zhan Zhuang) or any of the Qigong exercises in the Qigong section of the website (or DVD).
I generally choose Standing. I put part of my mind on my Dantien and I focus on energy coming into my body and to my Dantien as I inhale.
When I exhale, I imagine the energy gathering and growing warmer in my Dantien.
Any stray thoughts or concerns that pop into my head are allowed to streak through and leave, as I calm the mind. If I find other thoughts intruding, I don't criticize myself, I just re-focus on my breathing and the mental visualization of the energy coming in and storing at the Dantien, getting warmer.
Sometimes, after a couple of minutes, I change, and when I exhale I imagine a ball of energy going from my Dantien up and through my right arm, across the space between my hands, into my left hand and through the arm, returning to the Dantien. All this is done while exhaling.
On inhalation, I imagine more energy coming to the Dantien.
After a while, other thoughts might stop entering and your mind feels more calm.
At that point, launch into a form and remain mindful to the calmness and the body mechanics of the movement. Stay focused on the "intent" of each movement and the proper mechanics of the body.
Study the Internal Arts Like a College Course
If you are taking a history course in college, and you sit down at your desk to read the next chapter, you will not make much progress if your mind cannot focus on the material. Your comprehension of what you are reading will be limited.
The same is true of the internal arts.
It is my opinion that the health benefits of the internal arts come from:
** Exercise that boosts your cardio, flexibility and muscle strength,
** Mindfulness, calming and centering that reduces physical and mental stress.
Some of your best progress and insights will be gained not during a class, but during your own personal practice. But it will only come if you quiet the mind and focus thoughtfully and deeply on the material you are practicing.
Let Me Know How it Goes
If you do not currently focus on quieting the mind at the start of your practice, try it the next few times and let me know how it feels.
We can lose sight of this in our hectic modern lives. The internal arts are intended to help you bring it back.
by Ken Gullette
Try TWO WEEKS FREE on my membership website and have instant access to more than 850 video lessons teaching you Chen Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and Qigong Step-by-Step with No Mystical Mumbo Jumbo! Click this link to find out more!

A Real-Life Use for Qigong -- Getting a Cardiac Stress Test

Pet Scan
The cardiac stress test machine was similar to this.

I went in to the hospital yesterday for a cardiac stress test. After a freak side-effect from a medical procedure nine years ago this month, my left pulmonary veins shut down, meaning my left lung is virtually useless. Doctors at Cleveland Clinic tried to stent one of the pulmonary veins, tore the vein and accidentally pierced my heart with the wire.

That set off complications that I have survived, barely it sometimes seems. But my chi is strong, right? Still, I sometimes have to get tests to make sure nothing is getting clogged up.

Cardiac stress tests have changed. They used to hook you up to electrodes and put you on a treadmill.

It's All in Vein

Now, they stick an IV in your arm, hook you up to electrodes and slide you into a tube, as if you're getting an MRI or something.

They pump radioactive crap into your vein and then take pictures. The new pictures are supposed to be a lot better than even the ones they took during my last cardiac stress test three or four years ago.

"Are you claustrophobic?" the nurse asked before sliding me into the tube.

"No," I replied.

But as they slid me in (my head remained partially out of the tube), they told me I would need to lie very still for about 30 minutes.

Me? Lie still for 30 minutes? Okay, I'll give it a shot, I thought.

How to do Qigong During a Test

I closed my eyes, relaxed, and began doing qigong.

Using reverse breathing, I put part of my mind on my Dan T'ien and focused on my breathing.

With each inhalation, I imagined air and energy coming into my body and collecting at the Dan T'ien.

Each time I exhaled, I felt my Dan T'ien growing warm.

It only seemed like a couple of minutes when the first set of pictures had been taken, but almost 10 minutes had passed.

I did the same thing during the second set of pictures. Relax, remain aware of everything around me, and put part of my mind on my breathing, Dan T'ien, and feeling of warmth.

Second set seemed like only a couple of minutes, too.

Shoot the Juice to Me, Bruce

Then the third set, when they pumped in the drug that made me feel as if I was exercising hard. I began breathing hard to keep up, but relaxed and just went with it. In my mind, I visualized doing Laojia Erlu.

Within a couple of minutes, the heavy breathing eased and before long, the test was over.

Qigong can help you in many ways.

If you are suddenly faced with a tense moment or a crisis, an unreasonable boss or an upset spouse, or someone cutting you off on the highway, you can relax, put part of your mind on your Dan T'ien and your breathing, and keep part of your mind focused on the problem at hand. 

I have found that this has helped me in many real-life situations that would normally result in stress and tension -- even when you get poked and shoved into a tube and pumped with radioactive chemicals.

So remember to do qigong during these moments, and shine on, with or without radioactivity. :)

-- by Ken Gullette

Check out Ken's Qigong DVD -- 90 minutes of exercises to help you remain centered and manage stress. 

Are You Getting This Important Benefit from Your Qigong Practice?

Broadsword 1998I stepped into the ring, holding my broadsword and feeling butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to do well in my first tournament performance as a black belt.

It was February, 1998 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and at 45 years old, I had studied different martial arts for 25 years, had been in the internal arts for more than 10 years, and had practiced qigong diligently for more than a decade.

"Just get into the zone," I told myself as I calmed down and prepared to do my broadsword form.

God, there are a lot of people, I thought.

"Settle down," my inner voice said. "Detach. Rise above the pressure."

It was the worst advice I could have given myself.

A few movements into the form, I turned to my right to do a sweeping cut and noticed a young boy was walking across the ring, just a few feet from me. 

Within another movement or two, I completely spaced out and forgot where I was in my form. For a flash of a second, I was mentally Broadsword 1998-2paralyzed, then I made up some movements, wrapped up the form, and bowed out.

I did not place in weapons forms that day.

I was disappointed at myself. After using qigong in my life so effectively during the past decade, why was I so nervous and unable to hold it together when performing for the first time as a black belt in front of a jury of strangers and a gymnasium full of spectators?

Shouldn't I be a bit more "one" with the universe? Shouldn't I be able to detach my mind? 

Last night, a member of my website -- a man who is becoming a friend -- told me how he was very nervous during a recent karate test (which he also studies) and had the same thoughts about how qigong is supposed to help him remain calm in those situations.

But here is the real secret of qigong practice.

It does not prevent you from being human.

Qigong is not intended to prevent the normal human emotions that we all experience. The key to effective qigong is that you do not hold on to emotions like fear, anxiety, greed, and other negative thoughts. 

To suppress negative emotions is to give them even more power.

And that is where the mindfulness component of qigong comes into play. It is actually an important part of our quest to calm and center ourselves -- to "be in the moment."

When you are "mindful," you are completely in the moment, giving attention to the people or the situation that needs your attention. Your mind is not wandering, and if it does, you simply bring your attention back to where it needs to be.

The negative feelings, the butterflies in the stomach, the fear of failure -- it's all part of the experience. No one ever brags about doing well when nothing was at stake. We don't sit around in our golden years reminiscing about all the boring times we had. 

The best moments in life -- when you are most alive -- happen when you are testing your comfort zone and feeling every sensation.

And so I realized that calming and centering were not enough. I needed to be in it.

Over time, I developed a joy of being in the moment, whether that was a happy moment or whether I was about to perform in front of a panel of judges and a crowd at a tournament, or whether I was going to be grilled in a job interview by a panel of staffers and VPs.

When I was being interviewed by a panel at the University of South Florida in 2007 for the director of media relations position, I sat down, smiled and said, "Take your best shot."

I enjoyed every moment of that interview, fielded all their questions, was honest and let my creative mind flow. I started a month later.

I want to experience it all -- to be in the now and fully feel the experience:

  • To enjoy demonstrating my arts in a tournament and show martial artists something different.
  • To enjoy the competition of sparring without being overjoyed or upset about individual point calls by judges.
  • To enjoy the "competition" of a job interview, and display my experience and knowledge in a creative way.
  • To be in the moment in a tense personal or job situation, where I can take care of problems without exploding.

Qigong helps us relieve stress, calm our minds and body, and helps us to center ourselves. The goal then should be to recapture that calm, centered feeling in times of tension or crisis.

You should not think of qigong as a way to detach your feelings or your mind from the moment. That is not living.

A key part of qigong is mindfulness: the joy of living and being part of everything; the unpredictable nature of challenges that are thrown at you, then learning from them so perhaps the next time, you can handle them even better.

I got better at tournaments. I still got nervous occasionally, but I felt it fully, I experienced it completely, and I sure did have fun.

-- by Ken Gullette

Check Out Ken's Qigong DVD with Exercises for Stress Relief

Want a more in-depth interview on Mindfulness? Check out Ken's podcast interview with Mark W. Muesse


Iron Wrapped in Cotton - How Tai Chi, Internal Arts and Qigong Help Develop Your Internal Strength

Ken-ClevelandClinic-2-webSeven years ago today, I had just commemorated Halloween in a drug-induced stupor, in the ICU at Cleveland Clinic, with a breathing tube down my throat and another tube coming out of a hole in my chest. I had to take strong sedatives, because of my gag reflex. I choked and gagged on the breathing tube, so the only way I could handle it was to be doped up. 

My condition made the horror movies showing at Halloween on the Chiller network even more bizarre. There was one movie, playing once a day, that I have not been able to find in the years since this happened in 2009. Nancy says I was hallucinating, but it's remarkable how much I remember of this terrible time, despite the sedation I was under.

I went into the hospital on Oct. 22 for what I thought was a one-hour procedure to try to find out why I had been coughing up blood for about 8 months. But when doctors discovered my left pulmonary veins had closed up, causing my terrible breathing difficulties that year, they tried to stent one of the closed veins, tore it, and pierced my heart with the wire.

The cardiologist came out to see Nancy in the waiting room and said, "There is nothing more I can do for your husband."

That isn't the way it was supposed to go. Cleveland Clinic sent a team of doctors into the operating room and they worked to save my life.

Remaining Centered in the Midst of Crisis

So, as I was drowning in blood that kept building in my lungs for the next several days, Nancy and my daughters, and some friends and sisters, were distraught, thinking that I was about to die. They maintained a cheerful attitude around me, but they would go out into the hallway as I was coughing up jet streams of blood, and they would break down in tears.

Meanwhile, I was in bed trying to wrap my mind around it all, remaining determined to push through it, and keeping my mind on my goal of competing in a martial arts tournament that was coming up in five or six months.

I also put part of my mind on my Dan T'ien and continued to center myself through the procedures, the uncertainty over whether I would live or not, whether I would see my grandchildren grow up, see my daughters develop in their lives and careers, continue to laugh and love with Nancy, and whether I would ever practice kung-fu again.

I did not worry about any of that. I used my internal arts and qigong training and I calmed myself. I needed to be ready for that tournament in late March.

"It is what it is," I reminded myself. Just relax, don't fight it, and heal. If I died, I would be the last to know, so it was not something I worried about. And I never once, not for a moment, considered changing my religious views (I am not a believer in invisible beings and was very comfortable with that, thank you very much).

Misguided Ideas about Chi

When I first got sick earlier in the year, the side effect of a medical procedure, I weighed 206 pounds. When I finally hobbled out of Cleveland Clinic late in the first week of Nov. 2009, I weighed 156 pounds and could hardly walk, I had lost so much muscle and so much strength.

Occasionally, I will get an email from someone who tells me that obviously, I was doing Xingyi or Taiji wrong, or I wouldn't have been sick. Obviously, they say, I didn't cultivate enough chi.

I try not to insult their intelligence, although they deserve it, and remind them that perhaps I am alive because I had cultivated strong chi.

That thought usually doesn't occur to them. I wonder what they will think when they grow older and come down with a serious condition or illness. Will they blame a lack of chi cultivation? I don't think so.

As October turned to November in 2009, one doctor after another would come into my room and tell me that I would not be alive if I had not been in the excellent physical shape I was in when I arrived.

By the time I left to make the long drive back to the Quad Cities (against doctor's advice but I wanted to go home), when I arrived home my ankles were swollen. I could hardly walk to the bathroom. I could not walk down to my basement office to work on my website. It was a very long recovery. 

Bad News on the Road to Recovery

In the years since, as I have struggled through a loss of muscular strength and a serious diminishing of my breathing capacity, I still have to remain centered and work hard to wrap my head around the fact that I am not as young and strong as I used to be. As a teacher, I can still try to improve, but I can't go toe-to-toe with younger, heavier students and spar or get thrown like I used to. It is occasionally frustrating. I am wrapping my head around the concept of being more of a coach than a fighter.

For a couple of years, the impact of all this left me in heart failure, with a weakening heart that was at 25% of pumping capacity. My cardiologist told me that I could "drop dead at any moment with no warning."

That sort of news will play with your head, no matter how centered you are.

I went to the Mayo Clinic in 2010 for a second opinion. Two doctors told me that my heart would fail within three to five years. 

Still teaching and practicing seven years later.

It is now six years later, and thanks to various factors, including medication, my heart is beating normally most of the time, and my EKGs always look normal. I continue to practice, train with my students, and try to improve my internal arts skills.

Iron Wrapped in Cotton

One of my Facebook friends said I should write about how the internal arts and qigong helped me get through all this.

I think the greatest benefit I have obtained from my practice is better physical conditioning and an ability to ride the ups and downs of life. The mental workout you get from doing these arts and from practicing qigong can help you to remain calm in a crisis. Physically, I believe in cross-training, both cardio and weight-training.

The "internal strength" that I teach includes body mechanics that make your internal arts stronger, giving you the "iron wrapped in cotton" that good internal movement is known to possess. You appear relaxed and smooth, but underneath, there is a powerful martial art that can break an opponent.

But those are the physical benefits. There are mental benefits as well.

You cultivate self-discipline when you work to improve at an art over decades, setting small goals and achieving them one by one.

You cultivate an innate calmness when a crisis happens -- the ability to center yourself and remain focused on the problem at hand. You cultivate an ability to ride the crests and troughs of life without being capsized. This happens when qigong becomes more than just exercises you do. It happens when qigong becomes a way of life.

This is the type of internal strength that is even more valuable than the physical strength that comes from good body mechanics. Your mind, your attitude, your ability to maintain humor during the occasional loss or tragedy -- this is the "iron wrapped in cotton" that I have found to be the greatest benefit after 43 years of martial arts practice.

I have not needed to use my self-defense skills since I began studying martial arts, and I may never need to use them, but every day, every single day, I use the internal strength skills that I have gained from my training.

Five Minutes of Zhan Zhuang in the Morning Produces Benefits All Day

Standing 2Do you make a habit of practicing Zhan Zhuang -- "Standing Stake?" It can change your life. 

This is my little Standing spot, in the corner of a 3-season porch, just a few feet from a tree in my backyard. This morning, light rain was hitting the roof, and I could hear birds and the little shrieks of squirrels as I relaxed, breathed, and felt my energy melt into the floor.

You don't have to believe in the scientific reality of chi to get a lot of benefits out of Zhan Zhuang. The benefits come from calming the mind, relaxing the body, focusing on your breathing, and holding the solid structure of Taiji. 

I recommend starting your day this way, even if you only have time for five minutes. Later, as you go through your day, your goal should be to recapture this calm, centered, relaxed feeling when you encounter a stressful moment, as we all do every day. Whether it is someone driving like a crazy person, or an inconsiderate boss or customer, or an angry spouse -- make it your goal to recapture the feeling of Standing instead of reacting with tension or anger.

You will notice a difference, and so will your body.

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.



An Interview with Qigong Master Ken Cohen -- The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast

Ken Cohen 3
Ken Cohen

This is the first podcast interview I have done with someone who is described as a Qigong Master.

I became aware of Ken Cohen in the late Nineties, when I saw one of his books in a public library next to Alan Watts' books on Taoism.

Ken's website describes him this way: "...renowned health educator, Qigong GrandMaster, and practitioner of indigenous medicine. He is the author of the critically acclaimed books The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing and Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing, as well as numerous Sounds True audio/DVD courses and more than 200 journal articles on spirituality and health. Ken speaks and reads the Chinese language, and his academic training includes graduate study of Taoism and theology."

Ken is also a student of William C.C. Chen and has also studied Chen Taiji and Taoism.

I have practiced Qigong since 1987 and find it to be beneficial, although I am skeptical about some of the "science" used to explain it. But I respect Ken's work and the interview turned out to be informative and thought-provoking.

Listen to the interview with Ken Cohen online or download the file through this link to the Internal Fighting Arts podcast on Audello.

You can also subscribe to the podcast by going to the Internal Fighting Arts podcast on iTunes.


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.