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.

"SkepDoc" Dr. Harriet Hall Dies at Age 77

Harriet HallDr. Harriet Hall, known as the "SkepDoc" and a former guest on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast, died unexpectedly on January 11, 2023 at the age of 77. She had been in poor health including heart issues for the past three or more years. I was very sorry to hear the news. She was an intelligent person with integrity.

Dr. Hall was a critic of "alternative" medicine that so many people involved in Taijiquan seem to believe in. She did a lot of good work bringing critical thinking skills to the discussion of science and medicine. As Dr. Steven Novella wrote about her:

"....Harriet has been tireless in her efforts to help educate the public about how science should inform the practice of medicine, and how medicine, and even common sense, can go horribly wrong when we abandon good science as our guide. Among her many contributions, Harriet is remembered for coining the phrase, Tooth Fairy Science, which nicely crystalized and communicated one of the many core problems with alternative science. To paraphrase, you can study in detail all of the aspects of the Tooth Fairy phenomenon without ever getting to the core question – the only question that really matters – does the Tooth Fairy actually exist?"

Dr. Hall was a family physician and a former Air Force Flight Surgeon who retired at the rank of Colonel.

I have been a skeptic about alternative medicine since I studied acupuncture in the late 1980s and early 90s, and attempted to learn how to read someone's "aura" and other bogus things as part of my Traditional Chinese Medicine studies with a former kung-fu teacher. I opened my mind and gave it a shot, studying acupuncture for two years. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the traditional "science" behind acupuncture is superstitious fantasy. If acupuncture works in some cases for minor pain or nausea relief, it is not for the reasons explained in TCM.

Among the points Dr. Hall made in our podcast interview:

** Our ancestors, and people in China, evolved in an environment without books or, of course, the internet. They relied on personal experience and information from others to learn about the world. As a result, we are programmed to listen to stories and anecdotes more than scientific research.

** There is a lot of bad research coming out of China. In fact, you cannot trust medical studies on alternative medicine from China.

** Many studies of alternative medicine are financed and supported by organizations with a financial interest in the outcome of the studies.

** If alternative medicine was proven to be true, it would be called "medicine," not "alternative medicine."

** Skeptics are not closed-minded, they are completely open to evidence.

** Belief in something like alternative medicine can be similar to belief in a religion, where it causes the believer to reject evidence that suggests they believe in something that is not true.

** Medical doctors are not necessarily scientists, and many of them lack the rigorous training in scientific methods that help them evaluate the true validity of clinical studies. 

** If a medical treatment works in Beijing, it should also work in Dallas or it is not medicine.

** Alternative therapies such as "breathing in colors" and healing sounds are unfounded and their claims are ultimately false.

** Misinformation about TCM can cause harm if it leads to people rejecting legitimate treatments.

There were so many important points made by Dr. Hall in our interview that it is important for anyone interested in the internal arts or TCM to listen. You can listen online or download the podcast with Dr. Harriet Hall through this link.

Some people in the world of Taijiquan and TCM got angry with me after I released this podcast, and I can't help that. Evidence is evidence, and when someone makes a medical or scientific claim, it is our responsibility as intelligent creatures to demand valid, rigorous evidence before we believe. So as I can imagine Dr. Hall saying, "Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out." 

I am sorry she is gone. We need more people like her, not fewer.

--by Ken Gullette


After Two Years of Being Careful, Covid Finally Finds Me

Ken Bob 5-26-2022
Bob holds Ken up during a practice while Ken has Covid.

I have been careful to avoid Covid for more than two years, masking up, avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance, and getting my vaccines and a booster.

Because I have one functioning lung, and since I developed this condition I have also developed asthma, it was not a good ldea to catch a virus that attacks the lungs.

I was successful in evading Covid, but then we take one trip to Philadelphia to attend a 4-day Chen Taiji workshop, and Covid catches up with me.

I suppose it isn't "if" but "when" we will get it. 

Only a couple of people on the planes to Philadelphia wore masks. Only one or two people at the 4-day workshop wore masks. Most people in the restaurants and historic tourist attractions around the city were unmasked. We let our guard down. We took off our masks.

Two days after we returned from Philadelphia, I got together with Colin and Justin to practice outside at the park. I felt fatigued. Usually, if I'm a little tired before a practice, just moving and practicing gets me fired up. But not this time.

The next morning, I was so fatigued, I got up but kept going back to bed to rest. I even took a short nap after lunch. I never take naps! I can nap when I'm dead. 

My nose started running and wouldn't stop.

Finally, early in the afternoon I whipped out one of our home Covid test kits the government sent us several weeks ago.

I tested positive. The next day, with the fatigue persisting, I tested again. It was positive.

We knew Nancy would not escape it. When I tested positive we started sleeping in separate bedrooms, but we knew it was too late. Within a couple of days, Nancy felt like she had a head cold. She did the home Covid test and sure enough, it was positive.

It has been 10 days now since I tested positive. My energy has mostly returned, but my lungs are still suffering a bit with a lot of phlegm and deep coughing spells. I'm not sure where Covid ends and my other lung issues take over.

Nancy feels back to normal.

I suppose the moral of this story is: if we let our guard down, Covid will catch us. But if we are vaccinated and boosted, we can stay out of the hospital and the morgue.

One of my conservative friends said, "You got Covid. That means the vaccines don't work."

No, actually that means the vaccines do work. I have one lung and asthma. I'm 69 years old. I got Covid. I didn't get sick enough to be hospitalized. I'm still alive.

This actually proves the vaccines and boosters are doing their job. Since Covid hit the world in early 2020, I have listened to the scientists, not the politicians. I listen to Dr. Fauci. I have tried to follow their lead. But like most of the country, I have been ready to unmask and get back to normal during the past several weeks. Even though I knew Covid cases were rising with new variants, I took a risk. 

I wish now that I had worn my mask at least on the airplane. It's a very small price to pay to keep from being sidelined for more than a week.

I'm hoping to resume my live classes this week. I might take it a bit slowly, but I'm hoping the worst of Covid is behind me.

-- by Ken Gullette

Treating Early-Stage Covid-19 Patients with Traditional Chinese Medicine - the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Dr. Stephen Jackowicz

Covid-19Can Traditional Chinese Medicine help patients who test positive for Covid-19?

Dr. Stephen Jackowicz, the chair of the doctoral program at the University of Bridgeport's Acupuncture Institute has treated more than 90 patients in the early stages of Covid-19, all of them testing positive and some of them very ill.

None of the patients progressed to the point of hospitalization. 

It is important to note that Dr. Jackowicz does NOT claim a cure. Using over-the-counter products that anyone fighting virus symptoms needs (Tylenol, Kaopectate, Ensure or Glucerna, etc.) and courses of herbal medicine using TCM practices, he says patients recover faster than without this treatment.

He is the interview in my latest Internal Fighting Arts podcast. It will be of interest to other TCM providers, regular medical doctors and nurses, and anyone concerned about the virus that has changed all of our lives in 2020.

I am a skeptic when it comes to TCM. I think a lot of claims are made that cannot be supported with solid medical evidence. Dr. Jackowicz does not make those claims. I would not have done this interview if he did.

This is episode 52 of the podcast. Listen or download through the player below, or find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or other podcast distributors.

I think you will find this interesting and informative.


Is Tai Chi a Healing Art? Interview with Author of Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi - Peter Wayne

HarvardTai Chi is a martial art. Every movement is a powerful fighting application for self-defense.

But is it also a healing art? Does it have benefits that are more powerful than normal exercise, and if it does, do those benefits come from the slow, controlled nature of Tai Chi and the mindful, meditative components and from the flow of chi?

I would guess that more people consider it to be a healing art than a martial art. But is it really? Or when it is done in slow motion, is it one of the most low-impact exercises that elderly people can do to get them moving and to get their minds off their problems?

Do we think of it as a healing art based on outdated stories and science that doesn't hold up?

And do clinical trials show benefits that can be attributed simply to exercise and calming meditation, or is it something more? Are the health benefits of Tai Chi anything special?

Almost a year ago, I bought the Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, by Peter Wayne, Ph.D. I began asking Peter to appear on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast last August. After the podcast last month with Dr. Harriet Hall, the "SkepDoc," and the heat I encountered from some in the Tai Chi community following that interview, I thought it was time to balance the scales and talk to someone who is obviously more inclined toward the "traditional" view of the art.

Last week, I was finally able to talk with Dr. Wayne for an hour. The result is this podcast, the 24th in the series.

Don't miss the final five minutes, as I clarify part of the interview and have some final thoughts that wrap up some of the issues raised in the past two podcasts.

Follow this link to listen online or download the mp3 file to your computer -- the Internal Fighting Arts podcast 24 - Peter Wayne.



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.



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.