Movement, Martial Arts, and Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Since we practice movement every day of our lives, it is easy to overlook the complexity of this task.


Voluntary movement, by definition, begins as an act of will. Willpower directs the brain, to signal the muscles, to exert force, to reposition the body in space, adjusting these commands in a real-time response to ongoing sensory feedback. And an accidental failure at any point in the sequence can foul up the end result, causing us to move poorly, freeze in place or topple over.

If an attacker could somehow introduce malicious commands or false information into our system, they could lead us to self-destruction. Fortunately for our individual liberty, there is no way to breach these communication pathways from the outside…or is there?

The Man in the Middle Attack

Actually, this stratagem is commonly employed in information warfare, where it is known as the man-in-the-middle attack (MITM). Most communication channels that assume security (instead of proving it) are vulnerable to such an attack.

An MITM attack is executed by intercepting and modifying a message sent through a trusted channel. These attacks are not restricted to electronic communications; they work equally well in face-to-face interactions. For example, consider this San Francisco nanny scam, summarized here by Bruce Schneier:

Here’s a story of a woman who posts an ad requesting a nanny. When a potential nanny responds, she asks for references for a background check. Then she places another ad, using the reference material as a fake identity. She gets a job with the good references — they’re real, although for another person — and then robs the family who hires her. And then she repeats the process.

Look what’s going on here. She inserts herself in the middle of a communication between the real nanny and the real employer, pretending to be one to the other. The nanny sends her references to someone she assumes to be a potential employer, not realizing that it is a criminal. The employer receives the references and checks them, not realizing that they don’t actually belong to the person who is sending them. It’s a nasty piece of crime.

The connection between mind and body is the ultimate trusted communication channel. You trust your senses, but have no way of independently verifying the information they provide. Your muscles follow the mind’s commands, but never question the source.

Imagine for a moment that man-in-the-middle attacks could be employed in personal martial arts. What forms might they take, and how would you defend yourself against them?


  1. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but mentalism is supposedly a way to interfere with one’s thoughts with your own. I’m not sure how one could formulate a self-defense against a mental attack, but I’m hoping that if individuals with such abilities exist, they would not be wasting their time bothering with a person like me.

  2. “The connection between mind and body is the ultimate trusted communication channel. You trust your senses, but have no way of independently verifying the information they provide. Your muscles follow the mind’s commands, but never question the source.”

    Is that always true, i.e., that the muscles follow the mind’s commands? That takes a monolithic view of “mind” . . . there are different levels of awareness, of which waking consciousness is but one.

    Check out the work of Benjamin Libet for interesting information on conscious awareness of movement coming after the innervation of the muscles.

  3. What an interesting and thought provoking article, thanks for sharing. I am an Ericksonian hypnotherapist and many cases I have dealt with over the years actually spring to mind while reading it.

    Any communication can be interrupted and utilised for malicious and non malicious reasons. I do so both in my professional capacity as a therapist and also when performing mentalism on stage (I have studied mentalism and magic now for the past 26 years).

    Sometimes, some of the most incredible pieces of (apparent) mind reading are nothing more than a play on words etc., as far as therapy goes, if the subconscious mind interprets a communication in a literal sense it makes it a command. Fortunately, we have the conscious (rational and reasoning) mind to filter such things out, however, sometimes (such as when a person receives an imprint) the communication can slip into the subconscious as a direct command.

    One such occasion which would serve as an example would be a client who visited me because she had no sense of smell. She had no memory of being able to smell, however under trance I discovered that she could smell up to the age of 8 years old. When I spoke to her subconscious mind I discovered that she awoke one night to an awful smell and said to herself, “I wish I couldn’t smell that”

    As the subconscious mind takes everything in the literal sense it fixed it that she could not smell any more.

    Despite the fact that this happened some 20 years previous to seeking help from me, she had seen Doctors, Surgeons and specialists who had failed to help her. It is my belief that the reason was that they were looking for physical issues rather than a * communication breakdown *

    One of the most amazing cases of this nature actually relating to movement is the story of Milton Erickson who was paralysed with Polio as a young boy. He spent years (literally) strapped to a bed only being able to move his eyes.

    After watching his little sister learn to crawl and then walk he decided that if he could teach himself to move his little finger then he would be able to teach himself to walk… and that is exactly what he did!

    The secret is in how you do it and it can be applied to martial arts (or anything you want to learn or practice) and although there are many factors involved, it really is very simple to achieve great results.

    As far as interrupting someone’s internal thought (or communication process), yes it is entirely possible and there are many way’s of doing it….

    Once again, thanks for posting this article 🙂

  4. The man-in-the-middle-attack is part of martial-arts, to do this just have some man get with some friends to memorize the material needed to have a courthouse or other group, do the certification. A person can get with friends for that act of mutually certifying each other, as a method of generating legitimacy.

    An actual Tai Chi practitioner will be able to conceal their-own root from another person, which will prevent the solid-push. The Tai Chi Competitions, with sparring can with the chance of losing develop the reputations of people, which have some competence. The typical perverter will promise a martial-art to fill every need, then alter a martial art, with great-complications resulting.

    A perverter of martial-arts which does intercept the technical information, will attempt to establish a presence on a scale, which will cause difficulty for any legitimate practitioners of Martial Art. The perversion will fall apart inside the presence of all legitimate comparisons, an example is where a pervert attempts to find a solidly place to shove a Tai Chi practitioner.

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