Penn and Teller: Two Morons Learn Martial Arts

Penn & Teller: Bullshit

In a recent episode of their hit Showtime series, stage magicians Penn Jilette and Raymond Teller warn viewers away from the universally fraudulent field of martial arts. Now a real expert martial artist rescues us from their half-baked debunkings.

For their own convenience, Penn and Teller divide the world of martial arts into three categories: traditional, mystical, and murderous. During the show, they interview and mock one representative from each category:

To support their otherwise meritless position, Penn and Teller rely on Marc MacYoung of No-Nonsense Self Defense. Although MacYoung is presented as a skeptical outsider here, he is actually the best known of these four, and is highly regarded within the martial arts community.

Having introduced the litigants, let us now review the case. Assistance is provided by a handy Truth-o-Meter, which I borrowed from the St. Petersburg Times.

Mugging of Penn and Teller

While facing a mugger with a gun, Penn and Teller say:

If we had invested in martial arts training, we could try to go all Bruce Lee on their asses. But a few years ago, we did the arithmetic, and we figured that Karate lessons–even kids’ Karate lessons–would cost us a grand or more a year, for each of us. And the hours we spent in class, and driving to the dojo, and practicing and sweating and bowing and Fuck that! We have a better, cheaper, and less risky self-defense system. [Penn hands over his wallet and watch.]


Throughout the episode, Penn Jilette uses the terms “martial arts” and “self-defense” interchangeably, despite the fact that his own sources (Ross and MacYoung) insist otherwise. Self-defense is one of many possible benefits of martial arts training; performance varies with the student and the school.

Exercise is another benefit. According to our 2009 survey, average monthly martial arts tuition is around 80 dollars per month: this is comparable to a standard health club membership, if you include a short monthly coaching session with a personal trainer.

Penn Jilette advises that obedience is a better self-defense solution. This may be true in the case of a simple mugging, and most martial arts instructors would agree. As for dealing with the threat of rape or violent assault…don’t ask a six-foot-six, 270 pound Hollywood millionaire.

Martial arts newspaper headlines

When outlining the content of the show, Penn Jillette says:

What we won’t be seeing much of are headlines like these: “Purse Snatcher Stopped by Passing Dojo Student”, “Rapist Thwarted by Black Belt Woman,” et cetera. Sure these stories exist, they must, but with all the people taking all these martial arts classes, shouldn’t we see these headlines all the time?…None of us could remember [seeing] a story like this in the news; when it happened, wouldn’t every dojo send out a press release?

Liar, pants on fire

As a former columnist for PC Magazine, Penn ought to know how and why these headlines appear, and why they do not appear more often: an exceptional sequence of events is required. First, a crime must be committed against someone who “knows” martial arts well enough to apply them under pressure (but not well enough to actually prevent or avoid the crime). Second, either the victim or a bystander must report this crime to the police. Third, the victim must specifically demonstrate or reference their “martial arts ability” (instead of attributions to luck or athleticism) for the report. Fourth, a media organization must observe this, and decide it is a newsworthy event.

When a martial artist stops a crime before it has even started, there is no headline. Martial arts help us to avoid becoming a victim, by teaching us to stop acting like a victim. As Geoff Thompson has explained, few criminals are interested in trying their luck against a hard target.

When a crime goes unreported, there is no headline. On those few occasions when I’ve been personally assaulted, I never bothered to call the police. A good friend of mine was attacked by a gang and stabbed in the gut, and he didn’t call the police either–as he recalled, it was just a light stabbing, and filing a report wasn’t worth the hassle. This happens all the time.

When a martial artist keeps their mouth shut, there is no headline. Most are taught to exercise discretion–either out of humility, or to avoid challenge matches and unwarranted scrutiny from law enforcement. As an innocent victim, nobody will demand to know why you hit back; as a self-identified martial artist, you may be expected to turn cartwheels around your attackers, and punished for anything less.

When the story isn’t compelling or advertiser-friendly, there is no headline. This last point warrants no further explanation.

Strip mall Karate dojo

Penn Jilette helpfully translates,

“Dojo” is Japanese for “storefront in strip mall”.

Mostly true

OK, this is mostly true.

Penn and Teller introduce Healing Tao instructor Dean Saxer,

Dena has been teaching the ancient Chinese practices of Chi Kung and Tai Chi ever since the powers of chi healed her osteoporosis. That’s what she said. We don’t know why she’s here on Showtime, rather than presenting her double-blind study on the curing of osteoarthritis through Chi Kung to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Barely true

Dena is not presenting to the AMA because this is a settled issue. The safety and efficacy of Qigong as an arthritis treatment is well established, in theory and practice. Common objections, that the theory is not acceptable and the observed results are unimportant, fail to impress this writer–or the many practitioners who have found relief through these practices.

Before providing his opinion of Qigong, Penn Jilette should first learn how to pronounce it correctly. If this is prohibitively difficult, he could instead browse the 3000 search results in PubMed (assuming that he can spell it correctly).

Dena Saxer Tai Chi

Dismissing the effectiveness of Tai Chi Chuan, Penn Jilette says:

And this is going to repel an attacker? Maybe if he’s afraid of French mimes.

Half true

After mislabeling martial arts as systems of self-defense, who have Penn and Teller selected to test the fighting capacity of Tai Chi? An elderly female theatre major, whose primary interest lies in the therapeutic aspects of the art. Sacrebleu!

If nothing else, this decision explains the title for their TV series. It is also a wasted opportunity; I would have paid good money to see Penn attempt a hands-on investigation of Chen Bing, or any of a hundred other masters who take fighting applications seriously.

Karate colored belts

Marc MacYoung explains the significance of belts in the martial arts,

It turns out there has never been a accepted standard for what a black belt means, or any other color belt for that matter. Simply put, martial arts is a business, and the belts are its primary product…For two or three thousand dollars, not including belt testing fees, equipment fees, and all these other hidden fees, you can get a black belt in one year, guaranteed.

Mostly true

This is standard practice in modern, commercial schools. It is far from universal, however. Note that of the four martial arts experts on this show, only one of them actually awards belts!

Sensei Mike Reeves

After learning that senior students not only assist in teaching, but also mop the floors and change the light bulbs in Mike Reeves’ dojo, Penn complains:

“Wait a second, that’s like paying your gym membership to scrub the showers. But this isn’t unique to Mike’s dojo. This is all dojos around the country…What’s the Japanese word for suckers?”

Mostly true

The word in question is giri, and it can be translated as “obligation”. Unlike colored belts, this practice does have a historical precedent. Giri generally includes, but is not limited to basic dojo maintenance duties.

The plain fact is that if students will not perform these simple tasks, they must pay for someone else to do it. Veteran students tend to give their dojo as much respect as their own home, and if sweeping the floor is not exactly an honor, it is hardly a punishment either.

Self-defense law

Responding to Damian Ross’ bluster, that producing killer students makes him proud, Penn and Teller declare,

According to the legal definition of self-defense, ‘A person must use no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances.’ Otherwise Damian, your students are looking at manslaughter charges.


The standards for legally permissible self-defense vary by jurisdiction: city, state and country.

Breaking boards with a Karate chop

Revealing the secrets of board breaking, Penn Jilette states,

Now breaking even one board is damn near impossible if you whack the board [against the grain]. But if you turn it, you’re splitting it between the fibers. Still, even with soft pine, breaking a stack of five takes a hell of a whack, unless you put pencils, chopsticks, or some some separators between them. Now you’re just breaking one board after the other, separately.


Penn actually understates the widespread duplicity of Karate and Taekwondo breaking demonstrations! (More on this subject here.)

In his parting cheap shots, Penn inquires,

What’s the point of all these crazy [Tai Chi] moves?

Dena responds,

They teach you to listen to your organs, and after awhile, your organs will talk to you…I’m not kidding.


After taking great care to present Dena as a faded fruitcake, Penn asks two other people whether they believe her wacky claims. Their answer, unsurprisingly, is no. But what do you think? Can organs really talk?

Are Penn and Teller out of their depth here? Or do you agree with their conclusion, that martial arts are bullshit?


  1. I like Penn and Teller and I like Bullsh*t overall. But I have noticed on many episodes they just totally miss the mark.

    They crucified life coaches in one episode by selecting very, very fringe elements of that profession. In another, they defended WalMart’s business practices by ignoring key facts. They attacked the obesity issue (claiming it isn’t an issue) by focusing on the use of BMI as a measurement of health while totally ignoring any real evidence against their position.

    So here we have the same issue. They track down a poor representative of Tai Chi as a martial art and go after quips made by interviewees (that “killer student” vs reasonable force thing) to supposedly support their position .

    And maybe it’s because I’m an internet junkie, but I read lots of articles about MA using their skills to protect themselves.

    Of course, the most obvious oversight is automatically linking self defense and martial arts. While these should be strongly connected imho, we know that this not the case.

    So it’s okay to be fat because the BMI is BS, but it’s not okay to study MA because you either A) are incompetent to defend yourself or B) are a “killer”.

    wtf Penn? I love ya, but this is Bullsh*t.

    Thanks for posting this, now I need to go hit something. 🙂

  2. I think you’re right. Penn seems to hate martial arts because martial arts are exercise. So he created this 30-minute rationalization, and now he wants everyone else to accept his illusions and delusions as truth.

    He really ought to pick on someone his own size. Did you notice he didn’t dare mention MMA even once during the entire show? I guess we’ll never know whether Fedor Emelianenko is bullshit. Ha ha.

  3. An insult to the whole world of martial arts.
    They really miss the point, and they do so by giving totally screwed up “facts” and mocking an old woman practicing tai chi.

  4. Most martial art schools out there make people too complacent

  5. I stumbled on this article, and looked at it because I’m a Penn and Teller fan. I read as far as Penn saying lessons would cost a grand or more a year, and you disproving that by saying the AVERAGE cost is $80/Month. What’s that? An average of $960/Year. That’s $40 less than a grand, on average. And if that’s the average, some would cost even less than that. You’re absolutley right. I’ll never listen to those morons again. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  6. I’ll second that, DJ. “Making your MA street effective” is one of my favorite books and helped me look at my art in a new way, more practical way.

  7. John, Penn said that martial arts are self-defense, and that acquiescence is a superior solution to the problem of self-defense…among other stupid things. We are surely impressed with your math skills, but they do not address the main topic of the post–not even the main topic of the single paragraph you managed to read before stumbling away.

  8. John, you missed the authors point. He first pointed out that martial arts had the benefit of exercise and then went on to show that the $80/month fee was comparable to a standard health club membership. He wasn’t trying to contradict the associated cost of the martial arts, rather validate it.

    I’m a P&T fan as well and look forward to seeing the episode, but it does sound like they missed the mark a bit, although I would agree that a large percentage of the dojos I’ve seen are McDojos. I would have to agree that if you just want exercise there are better, cheaper, and more efficient ways to get it. I would also have to say that if you just want to learn to protect yourself there are better, cheaper, and more efficient ways than to join a traditional dojo. But if you want both exercise and self defense training in a traditional environment, then by all means find a well balanced/traditional school that offers both and enjoy the experience!

  9. Thanks Phil, the links above will allow you to watch the entire episode online.

    I don’t mind it when people say that martial arts ought to teach effective self-defense. I agree with it. But not to the point that I will pick up an apple, and toss it away as a “failed orange”. That’s OCD, not reasoning.

  10. I was making a joke.

    I get it.

    I also get what Penn and Teller are trying to say. I’m just amused at how seriously you guys are taking it.

    Have fun with this. I’m going back to the dojo now.

  11. So when Penn and Teller review martial arts, they’re making important points while having fun. But when we review Penn and Teller, we’re “whining” and “taking it too seriously”. (Unless we agree with them, in which case we’re having fun too.)

    Golly, I think there is an echo in here!

  12. I find it interesting his comment about buying a black belt. First off I’ve not heard of most systems awarding a black belt in a year. The fact that commercial schools charge money is a given – unsure if his point is black belts are worthless because some systems award them fast or they cost money?

    Maybe it is the old way versus the new way of teaching? A club versus a business? Or kind of like the state school versus the private school or even the modality (such as brick and mortar vs. online)?

    The fact that there is some salesmanship and smoke and mirrors as in every other business venture that seeks to fill a need demonstrated by the public – I’ve come away perplexed on what the argument against the black belt is here.

  13. I presume that Marc MacYoung is against a black belt “test” that nobody ever fails, so long as they pay all the fees. This kind of program does exist here in Seattle, but I believe it takes two years, and you do have to attend the classes at least.

    Anyway, if you aren’t starting with the presumption that a black belt ought to have some universal meaning, then you shouldn’t care what other people are doing with it.

    Last week, Penn spoke out against regulating the fast food industry, because they are just “giving the public what they want”. So burgers are OK but black belts are not?

  14. Whenever someone steps forth and gives a dose of reality on a subject, people of that subject cry foul.

    P&T made sense. (As they had with their Bottled Water and other BS episodes)

    “There’s an old saying about religion. ‘A fanatic and a believer can share the same pew.’ You also can find ‘Easter and Christmas services only’ attendees sitting in the same pew. Basically, all kinds of people can be attracted to the same thing — for many different reasons. I use this particular point because a strong parallel can be drawn with the behavior of people defending their faith and those who think the martial arts need ‘protecting.’

    Before we continue, there are some things that need to be said. First, when someone self-identifies with a group, there is a tendency to feel protective about it. Both about your choices and the group itself. This is especially common when you have gained benefit from what that group has to offer. And that brings us to the martial arts. Simply stated, there are many great benefits that one can gain from the study of martial arts: self-discipline, focus, concentration, health benefits, self-confidence, self-control. Yay! Good stuff.

    Having said that: The martial arts will not GIVE you any of these.”…..Marc MacYoung

  15. This conversation is too funny! True P & T make some good points – especially with some martial artists that are full of themselves but to (hopefully) the majority of them like me that started karate to learn how to fight (read self-defense) – I succeeded. So I would say martial arts gave me that… and will give anyone else that works at it – the same thing.

  16. To sterotype a subject is a common thing.

    For those who are the subject, they get of the offensive (or defensive)

    Sterotyping does have some truth to an extent

  17. Interesting, when I get time I must watch these episodes.

    Penn complains about senior students moping the dojo floor, eh? I guess he never had a humanities or social science course in college that discussed the role of tradition or ritual.

    Heck, my wife attends a paid fitness class and all the students help drag out the equipment and also help put it away after the class.

    So what’s their point again?

    I also have studied under or know folks who have studied under instructors who hammer home the notion of not fighting if mugged–many instructors stress giving the crook your car, wallet, etc. Sure, there are bad instructors who might teach people to beat up anything that moves. However, based on your post and the comments, it sounds like Penn & Teller did something that they criticize sham psychics and mystics for: Cherry picking.

    “Cherry picking is the act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.”

    As for board breaking, well, I may disagree. There are many types of board breaks including breaks involving spacers. There are also solid stack breaks, speed breaks, and air breaks. As for the spacer break that P&T criticize – might be nice if they understood what they were criticizing.

    I was taught that a large stack spacer break measures penetration, accuracy, and control. Power and the P&T physics trick is really not the purpose of a large stack spacer break. The higher the stack, the harder it is to maintain control and hit the sweet spot as your foot or fist moves through the stack. Incidentally, physics can explain why it gets so difficult and could just as easily be used to defend a stack break with spacers.

    If taught by an instructor who understands that breaks are part of the overall equation and that they measure such things as speed, accuracy, and power–then they have a place. They also teach the student how to develop a power shot and use it on an attacker. Yes, you could do that with focus mits and pads but I would argue it still works.

    Having been to many TKD tournaments I will concede that there are TKD instructors who have no idea how breaking fits into their curriculum. For some it’s a tournament-style parlor trick that wins trophies for the school. It’s also most often mis-taught at the proverbial McDojo.

    Anyhow, when things slow down I’ll have to watch the show!

  18. Board breaking is one of those non-necessities for self defense and some martial art styles.

    It is over rated, over hyped, over glorified

  19. Bob, that is a good point. You can break a stack of boards by carelessly throwing yourself at them, but that is only because boards aren’t trying to hit you back.

    JohnS, this is what a defensive statement looks like: “Anyone who criticizes the show must be a martial arts fanatic or a true believer.”

  20. Ah, dear Chris!

    Breaking is only part of the entire package.

    Sort of like learning self-defense via Billy Blank taebo. Yes, your are going through the motions but you are missing other important aspects.

    I think breaking is a tool that has it’s place if it is taught properly. If it is not then it becomes what JohnS called it.



  21. Breaking is not done in many other martial arts or defense studies

    Beyond the excuse for “pro breakers” is the fuel of ego and false self confidence, coupled with another add-on learning curve, with a dash of mysticism.

    Breaking, in reality, doesnt make one a better fighter nor defender

  22. Pingback: Striking Thoughts
  23. Like the comments about board breaking. Like Bruce Lee said “boards and bricks don’t hit back”.

    Man, I do not want to fight that pregnant lady!

  24. Sifu Z Calls Bullshit on Penn & Teller

    Penn & Teller accuses martial arts of being bullshit on their TV show “Bullshit”. As a life long practicing martial artist and avid fan of kung fu and other fighting sports I’m compelled to take offence. Furthermore, I’m the protégé of The Amazing Randi and big fan of Penn & Teller. I’ve toured with Randi throughout Europe and appeared as his opening act in support of his lectures. I’ve also lived and studied with Randi. I have never been confronted regarding my practice of martial arts in the years I’ve known him.

    The reason I bring Randi into this is because the shows namesake comes from Randi’s lectures where he typically ends a winded intellectual rant on metaphysics with the superlative… “bullshit”.

    Let’s set the record straight. The people represented on the show as martial artists firmly deserve their bullshit status. Anyone in the industry that overstates their claim is guilty of such. Randi was on TV’s That’s Incredible show exposing martial arts fakir James Hydrick. I began my study with Randi during this time. I’m also well aware of the high level of bullshit that exists in the world of martial arts. I was looking forward to the airing of this episode in hopes of P&T setting the record straight. However since I didn’t get a call I expected the worst.

    The message I got from P&T is that ALL martial arts is bullshit. If this is not what was meant then I suggest another martial arts episode for clarification. Even to imply that all martial arts is bullshit makes no sense. The practice of martial arts is vast and includes many European disciplines including; fencing, wrestling and boxing. Martial Arts has a rich and sorted history with roots embedded deep in almost every culture. It’s been around long enough for religion and many other myths to infiltrate their origins.

    Again I want to back pedal a bit. Martial Arts needs a good douching. Martial Arts is big business and the face of it is like a never ending rerun of Karate Kid. The UFC is perhaps the most popular form of contemporary martial arts. An argument can be made against the validity of mixed martial arts but the fact remains that a skill is being developed and the origin of that skill set comes from martial arts training.

    Perhaps P&T were referring to the politics of martial arts. But the politics of anything that’s popular and been around for a long time are bound to get tainted by bullshit. Is juggling bullshit? Is prestidigitation bullshit? Is theatre bullshit? The answer is no. There is however a great number of people out there with wildly differing ideas as to what a legitimate martial art practice entails. As with all areas in our life basic common sense needs to be exercised to determine what is real and what is fake. The stuff we see in the movies is for all intensive purposes fake. Knowing how to escape from a violent choke hold is a real skill.

    I’m a short guy. I met Penn in the early 90’s in Los Angeles. He is a huge man. Big hair, big hands, big pinky finger painted black. The guy is fucking huge. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would ever attack Penn. He’s also a tricky fuck. You never know what that huge tricky asshole (said affectionately) is going to pull. He might shoot you in the mouth with a .357 handgun or something. Many people are just not as physically endowed as Penn Gillette. The rest of us non giants have to devise ways of surviving being trampled and guns are overkill in the grocery line. Communication is optimal but not always practical. Moving in a martial manner (efficiently and responsibly) saves the day.

    The examples of what P&T gave as sound martial arts advice is actually the same initial advice given by martial arts schools worldwide. “When you see trouble go the opposite direction. Run“. But in reality you don’t always have the option to turn and run. The 911 attacks are a great example of this. Learning how to fight or defend yourself with your bare hands is a skill that should be appreciated and not marginalized by overnight Kung Fu Masters and Las Vegas magicians. Rape prevention, confidence building, self defense, and sport pugilism are all legitimate aspects of martial arts training.

    Why not call martial arts “exercise”? Simple, the human origins of exercise are rooted in martial arts. Mans method of fighting had to evolve over time. The same could be asked of the term “exercise”. Why not just call it “martial arts”? The reason is that the words have different implications. And the costumes worn are completely different. Why not buy a gun? Simple, guns are of little use as a tool for defense. Guns are predominantly a tool for assault. Bullets have no degree of sensitivity.

    No doubt about it. There is a ton of martial art bullshit out there. I’d like to have my own tv show to sort through them all and separate the men from the fairies. I’ve asked myself if its worth being involved with a practice with so much misconception surrounding it. But the benefits are so overwhelmingly obvious and quantifiable that sound reasoning dictates my convictions.

    This is Penn & Tellers 8th season. I am delightfully amazed at the success of the show. Out of all the episodes I’ve only disagreed with the “Second Hand Smoke” and the “Martial Arts” issues. That’s a fucking great track record. I’m giving it to you now… Attahboy P&T! But this season (so far) is falling short in the research department and you can’t make up for that with big tits alone. No… you can not! Making a blanket statement that “Martial Arts Is Bullshit” does at least one of two things; it disgraces me as a martial artist and it disgraces what is otherwise an important show. P&T had the opportunity to clear the field of bullshit that plagues martial arts but instead added more bullshit by not offering a fair perspective on a practice that is socially invaluable and in deep need of clarification.

    Sifu Z

  25. Personally, I wasn’t expecting a fair and balanced treatment, I just hoped they would focus their criticism on the many areas where it is warranted. Instead, we get the erstwhile Libertarian Penn ranting about how the martial arts business is…a business? And that if martial arts really worked, the newspaper would say so? This is truly weak material.

    They are not really critiquing martial arts, they are commenting on the inaccuracies of the mainstream perception of martial arts–perceptions that were created by careless media presentations…just like their own.

  26. “As a life long practicing martial artist and avid fan of kung fu and other fighting sports I’m compelled to take offence.”

    Boo Hoo.

    I have been a martial artist for 0ver 45 years and I did not take offence.


    Because I realise that P&T hit along the very stereotyping and BS martial arts have come to project.

    Rape prevention, confidence building, self defense, discipline, excercies, health, etc., can be obtained WITHOUT martial arts training.

    In other words;

    People, like my parents, grandparents, siblings, etc., had survived without being martial arists, and obtain the many things that martial artists claim what they get out of martial arts. Simply, there are more in the populaton, who ARE NOT martial artists.

    P&T has these series in part, to bring out BS and ENTERTAIN.

    As Chris stated:
    “They are not really critiquing martial arts, they are commenting on the inaccuracies of the mainstream perception of martial arts–perceptions that were created by careless media presentations…just like their own.”

    Martial artists need to stop crying about this and go and break some boards in a corner

  27. Iain Abernethy asks on a different forum, how I can state that Qigong as an arthritis treatment is “well established.” For the record, I am not an arthritis sufferer myself. (A surgeon told me that I should be one, but that is a story for another day.) I have heard the personal testimony of many arthritics, who have no reason to lie about their partial or complete recovery. Those who insist upon a journal reference can find one, in thirty seconds, on Google.

    For some skeptics, scientific studies are still not enough–they demand another double-blind study conducted by Caucasians. (No matter how many studies are completed, one more is always needed.) These individuals never offer to finance the test; nor do they even seem to comprehend what “double-blind” means in the context of external or self-administered Qigong treatment. But I digress. It is well established.

  28. well looks like Pen and Teller are just selling their program by being the rigth wing wakos
    Great post I my self starting teaching tai chi on cruses as a part time job I love it so much that now I have been teaching my friends and family and see a remarkable improvement on everyones life,
    thanks for the great content keep up the good work

  29. I am a fan of MA with all the various styles. Many have stated on here P&T are BS and I would have to agree, having watched all their shows it is what their not saying that is important. Their whole stand point is bias for the show to even happen so they then cherry pick the arguments which back up that bias. Many good things come from MA, which you can get them elsewhere, except the improving oneself for oneself aspect. Check out Chris Cruddellis “Mind Body and kick ass moves” a great introduction to various MA with some great characters and experts. No nonsense approach and plainly put by Chris.. Just a side point on the board breaking, although useless for self-defence maybe it has more to do with testing the techniques and showing which have been mastered?

  30. I am usually at odds when I read somewhere, that someone, is a “fan” of MA.

  31. I thought part of a virture of martial arts was tolerance or patience. I cant believe that people who claim to be a martial artists allow words and a program ruffle their shorts.

    I still dont know why some people have their panties in a uproar. The population by large and majority, are not martial artists. Therefore, anything said about martial arts does not pertain to their social life. Big deal, martial arts had been made fun of and picked on. There are truths about this in a stretched stereotype manner.

    Stop whining and get over it.

  32. I’ve been taking MA for over 35 yrs. I’ve seen alot of McDojo’s that make money from stupid moves you can find on youtube. Most gyms are about making a profit and not the members themselves. They over charge and get you into the black belt club and charge you more. Most “Eastern” MA that grades with black belts like Karate, Tae kwon do, etc are about making money.
    You want to find something more fierce and has a real long traditional form of MA that isn’t about making money, you can try Khmer Boran Pradal Serey from Cambodia if there is a club near you or try a MMA school that train towards competing. People are trained to be stupid. Penn and Teller just proved that some things are bullshit.

  33. Ever noticed the ones who cry the most appear to have something more to loose?

  34. Isn’t the author of this article doing the exact same thing as Penn & Teller?

    Penn & Teller has an episode about MA, and that it is Bullshit.

    The author doesn’t agree on some (or most) of the issues/points/history (you get the point) that they talk about in the episode , and he therefore wrote this article to show what parts of their show that is “non-factual” (i haven’t seen it).
    As the title of the article says (“Penn and Teller: Two Morons Learn Martial Arts.
    (Moron = Idiot = “Someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about”) = Bullshit)
    Which means that he says that they are bullshit and that they don’t know shit, the same opinion they have about MA.

    P&T:BS! = Thinks that MA is Bullshit, Points out why it is Bullshit. (They see it one way, but that is just their Point of View and their version of translations*, a.s.o.).

    Article: Thinks that P&T are Bullshit, Points out why they are Bullshit. (Same thing, Author of the article sees it one way, but that is just his Point of View and his version of translations*, a.s.o.).

    * Translations: Author said “can ALSO be translated as” which means that neither way is the wrong way.

    Which means that the author does the exact thing that he accuses them of doing.

    I find that kinda funny…and ironic…
    And yes, iam doing the exact thing too, which means that Everything Is Bullshit!


  35. Which means that the author does the exact thing that he accuses them of doing. Saying that something/someone is/are talking Bullshit.*

  36. No, the author of this article is not doing the exact same thing as Penn & Teller.

    They are entitled to a one-sided viewpoint and presentation, sure. Criticizing martial arts is not the problem–in fact, I’ve done far more of it than they have. Tearing down a straw man is the problem, and P&T are grasping at straws here.

    I do not subscribe to the theory of subjective reality. The difference between my presentation and theirs is: I am willing and able to support and defend what I have written, whereas Penn Jilette could not do the same, even were he so inclined…because the show was bullshit.

  37. P&T was not bullshit. Those who have to whine and say that P&T are bullshit, are themselves bullshit and are in denial.

    Here are the facts which makes, what P&T (although they made it hardcore funny upon stereotyping), have a accuarte account on





  38. @ Erik.

    I am a martial artist. I have studied various martial arts since 1965. I have experienced, studied, come to know about martial arts, not merely on a practicing manner, but as a scholar and hobbyist.

    I pull no punches in defense, hence I will not pull any about martial arts in its entire subject.

    Everything martial artists claim to achieve from martial arts, the grand-mass public already does without it. Teaching, learning, applying defense is not an exclusive right that martial artists so commonly think they have.

    All one has to do, is step out of the common thinking trap and examine it from other perspectives. Allowing a logical and rational, straight forward approach without biased attachment. This is hard to do for many people as this is like questioning oneself about being wrong in decision or thinking.

  39. “The Martialist,” Phil Elmore, on Penn and Teller on martial arts:

  40. Do you think Teller really broke all those boards or what it a trick?

  41. If you are involved in Martial Arts and enjoy it, that’s all that matters. I believe what Penn and Teller are trying to debunk is the idea that Martial Arts can realistically be used in a fighting scenario; or that it has mystical other worldly powers. Yes some of the practices seem odd such as having people clean up the dojo even though they pay monthly dues to be trained there; but everything looks ridiculous when you are not a part of it, such as lawn bowling or competitive ribbon gymnastics. But I think it’s wrong to piss on the whole episode when it made some valid points; if you are going through martial arts with the idea that you are becoming a “warrior” you are wasting you money. If you are a martial artist because it has magical healing or summoning powers like an RPG video game, you are also probably wasting your money. I think if you enjoy Martial Arts for what it is, then keep doing it and tell Penn and Teller to go suck on some dude.
    Also, someone asked why they did not bring up MMA in their episode; probably because MMA does not claim to make you a street ready fighter but a fighter inside a ring. MMA is for people who like to fight and want to find an outlet for it that won’t get them arrested or killed. It does not market itself as self-defense but as a program for people who like to fight and want to compete in the sport of fighting.

  42. I think they tried to do far, far too much in one episode. Martial arts have their own culture, parlance and a huge variety of styles and training methods. Would be very hard to have someone jump in and figure out where to start and how to compare and contrast things to “prove” or debunk something. What arts are primarily exercise (tai chi) and which are using MA as a vehicle for teaching cultural values (Aikido etc) which are sporting arts (judo, TKD) and which are geared towards self-defense or combatives?(Krav Maga, Marines combatives, Kali, JKD etc) For every example I gave above you could probably name a few examples that contradict the norm. Poorly taught Krav Maga that won’t help in self-defense, well taught TKD that might…it’s a pretty dense sub-culture to wade into. That being said, they did appear to ignore MacYoung’s information on differences between types of arts and training methods in order to make the points they seemed to want to make.
    If they had kept to a single subject in the MA, I would have been happy. There is a ton of bullshit in the MA, and it sometimes hurts people who think they have learned to defend themselves. If they had just set out to debunk pseudo-science like “chi” or shady business practices like awarding 8 year olds black belts, or “no-touch knockouts”, I think they could have taken the time to set that up properly and had a field day. A whole show on MA tricks like using chi to make yourself unable to be moved or projecting chi into an object, that could have been set up well and been amusing, but they were a little all over the place. Bad instructors, straw men arguments, and a smirking, joking appraisal that bugged me even when I agreed with them.

  43. These guys can be funny, but of course need to constantly find new topics to make shows about. Everything is bullshit, right? Exhibition activities are one thing, but to question all martial arts as a way of defending yourself is silly. If they want, they can come down to my BJJ studio and see how well they do grappling against any of our blue belts, let alone higher belts. How long before he’d tap? About 30 seconds? I know women in that class that could tap his ass out. Just because he’s tall, doesn’t mean shit.

  44. If they want, they can come down to my BJJ studio and see how well they do grappling against any of our blue belts, let alone higher belts

    Silly comment. “Atypical” *sigh*

    With respect- ted;

    They (P&T) dont have to come to your school.

    They had survived their lives WITHOUT going into martial arts.

    This IS the point.

    The mass population are not martial artists nor train to be martial artists, YET, survive

    Everything martial artists claim to achieve from martial arts, the grand-mass public already does without it. Teaching, learning, applying defense is not an exclusive right that martial artists so commonly think they have.

    My parents, siblings, realtives, cohorts, ALL survive without having to step in a martial art school

    Anytime, anyone speaks out agianst something, it is always the zealots of that subject-group, who seem to so defend it, even to a physical means.

  45. Remember, controversy sells, so most TV programs/movies go over the top. This creates a buzz and sells tickets. Witness the popularity of this post. People get all bent out of shape, and that was what was intended from the very beginning, when they produced the show. Relax, and don’t take things personally.

  46. Yes Matt. Controversy sells and gets noticed.

    It is even wthin the Martial Art community itself

    It is always on the main-stream media about any subject.

    Relax, and don’t take things personally. EXACTLY!

  47. I know this a couple weeks late, but a few thoughts:

    There is an old saying that basically goes “bring me fish, sake, and rice and I will teach you.” If the martial arts instructor is spending all his time fishing, cultivating rice, and making sake then he doesn’t have the time to prepare the lessons to teach you. In the modern age, this is why students are obligated to clean the school, something that P&T called out as bullshit.

    If you are being robbed and can survive by throwing your wallet and running away, then do it. If their goal is to kill you and you can get away, then run. If you can’t get away and you have absolutely no knowledge of grab escapes, quick stunning strikes to vital targets to aid escape, etc you have a very slim chance to survive. If you have this knowledge you have a slightly better chance. No guarantees in life, but years of MA training might help you save it. Not to mention the respect, focus, and discipline that can improve said life.

    But if P&T wants lump all MA schools together, then I can say that since some colleges are degree mills then ALL universities are bullshit too.

    I’ve trained with a school for 20 years. At this school you don’t get a black belt until the other black belts agree unanimously to allow you to. After all, you are setting an example for junior students and children and carrying on the knowledge of the school. This is probably why most of our black belts stay on for years after getting the belt (in some cases, decades). In my case I didn’t receive the belt for 9 years.

    An expose on McDojo’s and martial arts fraud and politics would be wonderful, lumping us all into that category is ignorant.

    By the way, I’m aware that 80% of martial arts is exactly what P&T says it is.

  48. As with any subject, there is going to be controversy.

    Even between martial artists, there is controversy

  49. “Last week, Penn spoke out against regulating the fast food industry, because they are just “giving the public what they want”. So burgers are OK but black belts are not?”

    There is a very big difference there. The fast food thing will mean people are forced by government with threats of fines and jail to do things (ie not sell fast food of some kind).

    No one is forcing anyone to take a martial arts class. You should be fee to take a martial arts class of any kind. I know Penn would agree on that.

    He is just saying, your probably not getting what you think your getting.

    The best martial arts I participated in were Scholastic Fencing and Caporiea. The goal of both was participating in some sort of game. It was fun and didn’t pretend to be something it wasn’t

  50. I do not believe Penn feels any need to express a coherent philosophy through his entertainment show.

    Burgers are OK. Burgers produced so cheaply and carelessly that they can be sold for 99 cents, at a profit, are OK.

    Black belts produced so cheaply and carelessly that they cannot fight (or “self-defend”) well are not OK.

    Well, if they are not OK, then what is to be done? It was months ago that I watched this episode, but IIRC Penn implies we should uphold a certain standard…and another word for that is regulation.

  51. The MA are starting to become much better self-regulating as a community, IMO- the popularity of MMA means that even casual fans have seen how martial athletes train and are familiar with modern training and high-percentage techniques for fighting and self-defense. Instructors never know when the prospective student they are talking to as studied another, perhaps more combat-oriented art, so they are less likely to exaggerate their skills. I once saw a kung fu instructor get tapped out by a 2 year BJJ student. Oops. The internet lets us look up any martial art we want and get an idea of why and how it works- good and and bad examples of an art demonstrated. People today can see a chubby McDojo Sensei showing punching from the hip or who hasn’t even sparred in years ( he can’t spar with his students as he is too dangerously advanced) , much less fought, and they smell BS. If they want to learn to fight they are able to make some better decisions about where to go. When medical studies repeatedly show “Chi” to be just another placebo effect, people read about it and then when they see Youtube gurus claiming to fight with chi, they know it’s BS. People who claim to have titles, belts or associations to well-known teachers can be easily looked up and called out if they are dishonest. And MA message boards are getting better at staying away from pointless art vs art debates and more towards a universal disgust with dishonest or bogus instructors. Used to be so easy to be a bad MA and make a good living off teaching nonsense. I think it’s good all around.
    It’s not an art against art sort of conversation, but rather arts being honest with people about what is it they are learning, how or why the training works, and what it is designed to do.
    If you teach Tai or Bagua, even as a fighting art, make sure your students know that the time frame for being able to use it effectively is not the same as if they went to a boxing gym. Doesn’t mean the art isn’t valid, just involves a different timeframe for usage. Let people know the difference between a drill to teach an attribute, like chi sao, and an actual fighting situation in which it may or may not help out with. Point out what aspects are taught a certain way not because they serve a training purpose, but because culturally, that’s just the way it’s always been done.( Drives me crazy when perfectly good techniques are rendered useless by being taught in a way that was appropriate hundreds of years ago, but are completely contrary to proven, modern training protocols. Wing Chun and Bagua are good examples of this, and some of Kali as well.)
    I have been to a few capoeria schools to watch them- it’s a cool art, and I have always been impressed that most of the teachers always come out and say that it’s a performance art, that has elements of fighting in it, rather than a self-defense or fighting art. It can do those things, they say, but it is trained in way that puts the focus on one aspect above another. Wushu teachers are also typically honest about that as well. For every art there are going to be students looking for what it offers. Performance arts are valid. Cultural arts are valid. Self-defense arts. Just be honest about what it is you are doing. Don’t sell an art meant to teach a medical practice from the middle ages as a self-defense art. That’s not honest.
    The arguments about the validity of chi and chi gong studies is illogical. If multiple groups peer review a study at a Chinese hospital and show the only studies ever to show effectiveness of chi therapy were so seriously flawed as to be useless, and no one else has ever to been able to replicate their results- then you are sitting on a pseudo-science based on your emotional need to believe it’s true- probably because you have invested time into it. It’s an opinion based on faith and emotional need- not logic or proofs. Chi qong may still be helpful to one’s health, but not because of chi- or anything else that can’t be felt, touched, observed, measured, or replicated. Refusing logic and reason to hold onto emotionally satisfying but dis-proven beliefs will always hold you back, regardless.

  52. I am so grateful with my training in martial arts. It is my ultimate weapon against crime and violence and now I am the teaching my children. It is something we do every weekend and it is already our form of bonding. Protection is something I what to assure in them and I am pretty sure that they will only use the skills in good things.

  53. If martial arts are bullshit, why has every culture developed them? Why do police, security personnel, military members and others continue to train in martial arts if its such a supposedly useless and outdated practice?

    Let me say I love Bullshit!, and as a show with a skeptical, secular viewpoint it was probably the first of its kind and a huge breath of fresh air. However, for a show that often beams with pride over its “crack research team”, there wasn’t much in the way of in-depth inquiry and research being done in the world of MA. P & T basically state two things: 1)MA is useless, stupid, a waste of time and money and it simply doesn’t work and 2) when MA does work, it is too dangerous to be trusted to your average citizen.

    It’s apparent that Penn has a disdain and disinterest in MA as a whole(he seems to have antagonistic feelings towards anything involving exercise or fitness), and he wasn’t really interested in learning about them. This is evidenced by how suprised he is when combat instructor Damien Ross states that he doesn’t believe in chi. In Penn’s mind, all MA’s are Asian in origin, all believe in esoteric concepts like chi, all use a belt system, and all are taught at strip mall McDojos. Of course, it’s not uncommon to find people who don’t believe that Western styles such as boxing or Olympic wrestling are “martial arts” because they are Occidental. His quips about the “silly” names of MA amounts of oafish Western bigotry towards non-European languages, not funny but pretty sad. Finally, there’s the hypocritical stance on combat effective MA. In the gun control episode, Penn beamed with pride at an elderly shop owner lady who displayed her arsenal of handguns. In the MA episode, Penn is uncomfortable and disturbed by a pregnant woman learning unarmed fighting techniques at Ross’s class. So, a woman using a firearm that hurls metal projectiles with enough velocity to kill or cripple a person is ok, but a pregnant woman learning how to defend herself with her hands is risky and wrong? Huh? Marc MacYoung makes a valid point in the assumption that a student of more aggressive combative MA is the defender and not the offender. Yeah, I get that….but doesn’t that sound like the rhetoric of gun control advocates who want to remove the 2nd amendment so that criminals don’t have access to guns(FYI, I don’t even like guns or gun culture, but I will defend constitutional rights). MacYoung is right in that instructors should be able to weed out the violent thugs and jerks from their classes, and emphasize the importance of personal responsibility. Gun owners are expected to be responsible, and MA practicioners should be expected to be responsible as well.

    In short, this could have been a good episode. Penn could have began the show by saying “martials arts CAN be bullshit”, as he has done with several issues that can dissolve into grey areas. Instead he states, without question that ALL martial arts are BS. He is either grossly misinformed and ignorant of MAs as a whole, or is highly hypocritical and overreative towards MAs that do work(guns ok, empty hands not ok). I expect better of someone who holds skeptical inquiry and research in a high regard.

  54. It’s just comedy fella’s. And quite funny I reckon. It’s good to be able to laugh at ourselves aye..? 🙂

  55. The people that aren’t amused are likely being reflexive- they know that the joke is on them. Being insecure, they attack the messengers, rather than ponder whether they do any of the things being made fun of, and whether there might be a better way of doing things that isn’t so easily mocked, debunked, or logically disassembled.

  56. @ Jon. I’ve held off from replying to your comments but now is a better time than any to call B.S. on YOU. Every comment you make is antagonistic. Your perspective on martial arts is ignorant and arrogant at best. But more annoyingly you are not making any sense. You are coming off like an angry know it all teenager. If you feel your MA is better than everyone else’s you’ll need to demonstrate that in your literary character. Real martial artists (and most adults) understand respect. Everyone has something valid to offer and I’m waiting for your contribution. Aloha.

  57. I have a general dislike of Penn & Teller. It’s worth noting that they are magicians, not logicians. Their profession is built around bullshit and that’s what trains and qualifies them to detect it elsewhere, but when they’re given the choice to either present clear, logical truth or fall back on their training in misdirection and entertainment, they usually choose the latter.

    An entry level course in rhetoric and logic is usually enough to enable someone to spot the logical flaws in their arguments. The one that really rankles me in this episode is their ridicule of the lady who says that her organs speak to her. They re-frame her words to mean something other than what they were intended to mean. For example, here’s a few metaphors built on the same “my organs are speaking” concept.

    1) “My stomach is telling me that it’s time to go eat.”
    2) “Johnny is a sex fiend; his dick calls all the shots.”
    3) “Dude, after my workout yesterday my muscles were screaming in pain.”

    Linguistically, we speak of physical sensations as a conversation between our brains and bodies. It’s just part of the way we talk. Seeing Penn and Teller take something as natural as a turn of phrase and pervert it to ridicule somebody just makes me angry.

    Occasionally, when I’m relaxing, I’ll play a mental game where I try to follow my pulse around my body; I’ll pay attention to my neck and try to feel the heart beat there, and then I’ll move my attention to my fingers, my toes, my knees, my stomach, and so on. If I focus enough and tune out all of the other signals in my body I can usually feel it just about anywhere. It’s not a stretch to believe that a slightly kooky lady can focus her attention to the point where she can catch the subtle signals that tell her what’s going on with her organs – that she can hear them “speak” to her. I think Penn and Teller can see that, as well – they just choose to ignore it and resort to fifth grade bullying to boost their ratings.

  58. Id, like to see a breakdown of the statistics they quoted on injuries, non contact versus full contact,. severity of injury (there is a difference between spraining your little finger in training or getting your skull fractured by an iron bar in a street fight) etc

  59. I am glad you are defending the arts.

    But it HAS to be said.
    The cost of martial art training should be very little.

    it should be available to everyone because if it was, so many more lives would improve.
    past a certain .. threshold, society would improve.

    I am in the UK and it’s not so expensive here.
    but those US figures, apalling.

    it should be as cheap as it is in China

  60. Penn & teller tell it like it is.

    Egomaniacs have to defend themselves for being that way

  61. Dena [not Dean as mistyped above] Saxer was said to have cured her osteoporosis but then in the next sentence Penn wondered why she didn’t present her study on curing osteoarthritis to a journal. So which was it– osteoporosis or osteoarthritis Dena claims?

    Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density severe enough to be given that medical diagnosis. Depending on which bone area was evaluated for bone density (or, more rarely in exercise studies, a bone loss blood, or (my preference) 24-hour urine, lab test), the severity of the osteoporosis, and what exercises were done, indeed there are well-done studies published in peer-reviewed journals showing a slowing, less often reversal (mostly for biochemical/metabolism reasons), of osteoporosis.

    Osteoarthritis is less medically called degenerative joint disease and involves said degeneration plus local immune skews, most obviously inflammation. Depending on which joint(s), the severity of the OA/DJD, and what exercises were done, indeed there are also well-done etc showing a slowing, less often reversal (due to inadequate exercise choices and commitment, also for biochemical/metabolism, reasons), of osteoarthritis. On the other hand, there can also be exacerbation of the OA/DJD with some exercises, depending on how much they are stressing and the response to the stressing. Does the exercise cause better stabilization and increase useful function of the joint or does the exercise cause tearing down more?

    Admittedly osteoporosis and OA/DJD can be in the same individual, which is especially likely in older adults. And there can be reasons in common for both, usually some biochemical/metabolism problems and lack of appropriate exercise.

  62. Lol, just a butthurt little wannabe crying to mommy because the big bad Penn and Teller said mean things about the moronic things he believes in (just like Christians waahh and moan about them). You martial arts guys are friggin’ hilarious. I absolutely laugh at you. A lifetime of garbage, and all I need is a 200 dollar gun and 5 feet distance. Do all your little Power Rangers moves and feel all cool and awesome, while I live my life and drink beer and enjoy junk food, and a 15 cent 9mm round is worth more than all the training you idiots do combined. When all that exercise and training wears your bodies down and you can’t walk when you’re 60, I may not be in great shape, but I won’t be bedridden.

  63. Where do u live that a “light stabbing” is normal??? This happens all the time? WTH? Not where I live.

  64. Martial art training and self defense training have two very different outcomes from somewhat related roots in techniques and their applications. No traditional empty hand or classical weapon martial art is intended to be applied against an opponent with a firearm and empty hands against a classical weapon is high risk. God made all persons equal, Samuel Colt made the great equalizer.

    Regarding T’ai Chi Ch’uan, it is truly a martial art, one of the few “internal” ones. Most are “external.” As such, its application against an opponent is not readily visible by watching its practitioners doing forms. The slow forms develop movement patterns that become ingrained and automatic in the practitioner in addition to developing balance and other health benefits. When its techniques are applied against an opponent properly, they are applied with speed, power, and are very effective. A lot of so-called T’ai Chi is taught sloppily, as a form of moving yoga, and with little if any thought as to its martial applications. T’ai Chi is an ancient internalization derivative from Shao-Lin Kung Fu developed by Daoists in China which later developed into the several styles extant today.

    “External” martial arts as we have come to know them originated over a thousand years ago from an Indian Buddhist, Ta Mo, who brought Zen to China and instructed the Buddhist monks and students the rudiments of what eventually became the roots of Shao-Lin Kung Fu to improve their health since they suffered from a serious lack of exercise. The martial training he introduced was primarily for that purpose since he had learned it in India as a comprehensive system which had those benefits as part of its intended objectives. As a martial system it also quickly found a secondary purpose for defending themselves, the temple, and surrounding villagers. From that point on, it developed over time into a huge body of arts and portions of Shao-Lin got exported to other places in Asia, notably Okinawa, Japan, and Korea, which then added their own version of Shao-Lin subsets into their extant military weapons arts.

    All modern militaries incorporate physical stamina, endurance, health, and practical combat into their martial training. They are the modern equivalent of the older arts commonly known as the classical martial arts from Asia as taught in the US and around the world.

    Thus, the classical Asian martial arts are legitimate, They are deeply rooted in training for the health, stamina, and techniques for effective martial applications from their time. An unhealthy person with little stamina, endurance, or strength was and still is nearly useless in a military or martial environment. And, they are an “art” as much as any other activity considered an art.

  65. Thanks for sharing this, your thoughts are seldom realized but are highly relevant=)

    Some people involved in martial arts training for self-defense training purpose, while others are for career-building & health, or both. Whatever be the motivation, the core of martial arts and self-defence must be fully understood by the trainers and the students.

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