Derren Brown Proves No-Touch Knockdowns are Real, and Fake

In the proceeding video, mentalist Darren Brown knocks a martial artist down from behind.
That proves his skill is real.
On the other hand, Darren Brown did not touch him.
That proves his skill is fake.
As for Darren Brown’s explanation, “It’s all in your mind,” that proves…what?

Darren performed this “mind punch” in a carefully controlled and scripted environment.
That proves the punch is fake.
Such no-touch demonstrations have been repeated dozens if not thousands of times, by other people (e.g. Shi Ming), in other arenas.
That proves “empty force” is real.
Nobody has employed this supposed ability in the UFC. That proves…what?

Psychic ability, or “psi”, has been tested to rigorous standards in the laboratory, and confirmed.
That proves it is real.
Noted scientists dispute the test results.
That proves it is fake.
The US and Russian militaries have conducted serious inquiries on these skills. That proves…what?

Common sense to the rescue
I could go on, but you get my point: such debates shed more heat than light. So I choose to hijack my own discussion thread here, and focus instead on a reasonable, pragmatic, common-sense response.

As martial artists, we should seek a harmonious yin/yang balance of skills, and avoid harmful extremes. Whether or not no-touch force really exists, current evidence suggests that we should not concern ourselves with its use. Cultivating too much sensitivity would leave us in a weakened state, unable to resist conventional threats. For optimum results, external and internal cultivation must be matched.

From my reading, that fairly represents the consensus view of the online martial arts community. It is practical, and theoretically sound.

Now, let me explain why it is complete and utter hogwash.

Questions and answers
Force contains information, and the transmission of force is a form of communication. Every transmission requires two parties, a sender and a receiver. The ability of the receiver to detect and interpret communication is sensitivity.

The question is, How much sensitivity is too much? At what point does this asset become a liability?

The correct answer is: never. If you have sensitivity than you can use—more information than you are profitably able to act upon—then you simply do not use it. The data, perceived instantaneously, does not slow you down. The information does not make you weak; no, an absence of strength does that!

The proof of our martial perfection
Suppose we are only half as sensitive as we ought to be, given the demands of our activity. Suppose that we miss half of the subtle cues that would allow us to avoid injury, and minimize our own expenditure of force.

Why not just declare sensitivity to be yin, or “internal”! Thusly, we could prove that our middling performance is yin/yang balanced, and internally/externally harmonized.

Or maybe, in our shortsighted and tautological defense of clumsiness, we would only prove ourselves too clever by half. That’s the real deal.


  1. Training too hard comes with risks many people understand easily: like injuries and excessive tensions and lack-of sensitivity.

    Soft-traing and sensitivity drills come with risk too: we risk being so open and vulnerable that we can be susceptible to hypnotism and false-belief systems. That’s part of what Mr. Brown demonstrates.

    It’s something to keep in mind.

  2. S. Smith,
    Have you ever been hypnotized against your will? Scott Adams, a trained hypnotist, claims this is impossible. Quoting his explanation:

    Let me stop here and give you some facts about hypnosis. It’s widely misunderstood.

    We talk of people “going under” hypnosis, or “going to sleep.” Both are misleading. A subject under hypnosis is fully aware of his environment. He’s awake, for all practical purposes, and can ignore any suggestion that might be objectionable. In the history of hypnosis, there’s no reliable record of anyone following a suggestion he thought would be harmful to himself or someone else. The subject doesn’t lose control.

    So what does happen?

    I describe the state of hypnosis as acquiring a power. The subject has all of his regular faculties operating plus he gains some more, if he has no objection to those new powers. For example, a subject under hypnosis would get a little extra power in one or more of these areas:

    1. Extra relaxation
    2. Extra imagination
    3. Extra focus

    Those extra powers don’t sound like much, but they are.

    Some people have a problem with the idea of hypnosis because they don’t want someone else having control over them. That’s the wrong way to think of it. A hypnotist is more like a coach, or a tour guide. He shows the subject how to unlock his extra powers. He doesn’t “control” the subject.

    What’s in it for the hypnotist? Lots. For one thing, you learn to read body language at a level that borders on psychic. You go beyond the obvious stuff like crossed arms and who is leaning toward whom, and see meaning in everything from skin tone, to breathing, to pupil dilation, and even choice of words. Never lie to a trained hypnotist.

    The other super power you get from being a hypnotist is the knowledge of how to weave it into your normal life. You can’t turn people into puppets with hypnosis, but it does tell you how to get in synch with them in a way that they are more likely to trust you and want to have you around. That’s handy in every walk of life. And you can tell if what you’re saying or doing is having a positive or negative impact as you are doing it. That helps a lot too.

    But the best super power that hypnosis gives you is a different world view. Nothing in this life makes sense if you assume people are rational most of the time. Hypnosis teaches you how easily people’s memories and impressions can be altered. And it’s not just the gullible people, it’s all of us. It’s humbling. And it’s the most useful skill I’ve ever learned.

    So I ask you, who is more vulnerable? Those martial artists who are familiar with hypnosis, or those who are not?

  3. You’re both exactly right. All power and ability has a dark side to it.

    The powers of hypnosis are as Scott Adams has explained. Nice explanation BTW. But Steven is correct, too.

    Opening yourself up in qigong, meditation, or hypnosis makes you vulnerable in the process. You’re putting yourself in the hands of someone trained (as Scott Adams says) to notice the slightest details about how you’re reacting to what is being presented. As a neophyte yourself, you’ll likely miss the cues you’re being given in the teaching. That’s part of the process of learning these disciplines. You’re being molded and learning how to mold yourself.

    But can the teacher or hypnotist resist using those abilities in unethical ways? Maybe, maybe not. You can be manipulated on a level that you’re not ready to understand. And contrary to what Scott Adams is saying, you aren’t fully in control of the process. He seems to be underestimating that a bit.

    Good post.

  4. Dave, you seem to be saying that the teachers themselves are the threats. Am I understanding you correctly? Have you personally been “attacked” by a qigong or hypnosis instructor, against your will, or is this strictly a theoretical concern?

  5. To be clear, the question is not whether predators exist in the qigong and meditation communities, but whether a lack of sensitivity is any protection.

  6. I didn’t say they were threats. We need to get away from black and white terms. Teachers are human like anyone else. They all have faults and training of this type rarely takes away those faults.

    All i will say is that it can be very hard for some (notice this caveat) people who develop these abilities to not use them at least occasionally to their own benefit.

    Subtle skills can lead to subtle manipulation. Opening yourself up to certain realities makes you vulnerable to those realities.

    It can happen. You need psychic self-defense just like physical.

  7. Is a lack of sensitivity a type of protection in these matters? Yes and no.

    People who lack sensitivity will be likely be open to other types of manipulation than those who are sensitive.

    You see this in cults. The cult leader will lead some sheep with new-agey talk and others by yelling at them and threatening them. Control is established both ways. But the ways are different.

    Marine boot camp and hypnosis in a psychologist’s office are related and lead to a shaping of a person’s mentality but they also have their differences.

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