A Martial Development Meta-Investigation
I can see inside Vyacheslav Bronnikov’s head.
Not because I possess the disputed X-ray vision skills–though if I did, I would probably keep quiet about it. No, I’m just saying that I may understand what Bronnikov was thinking when he did what he did.
I should back up, and tell the tale from the start. Derren Brown is a renowned ‘psychological illusionist,’ a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behavior. Imagine a younger, more talented, and more personable version of James Randi…
For the past ten years Derren has created TV and stage performances that have stunned audiences, debunked the paranormal and encouraged many to improve and enhance their own mental abilities. His first show appeared in 2000, Derren Brown: Mind Control, and followed with Trick of the Mind, Trick or Treat and a series of Specials including the controversial Russian Roulette and the hugely popular Events.
In the second episode of his latest television series, Darren Brown Investigates…, the illusionist set out to test The Bronnikov Method of human potential development. Created by Vyacheslav M. Bronnikov, this system–based in ancient Tibetan Yoga–promises to awaken dormant human skills and abilities, among them the ability to see while blindfolded, or indeed with no eyes at all.
Derren traveled to a Bronnikov seminar in Belgium, accompanied a woman who has been legally blind for more than a decade. As for what happened next…
My first experience with board breaking was a total humiliation. I was a ten-year-old Karate student, with six months of practice under my orange belt, when my sensei decided we should all break some wood. He asked each of us to acquire a stack of boards, one square foot by one inch in size, and bring them to our next class.
As a bright but naive child, I had no idea that the practice of tameshiwari, or breaking, was an instrument of martial arts fraud. I only knew that it looked cool, and that it required focus–or so my teacher said.
The good folks at Aikido Journal recently picked up one of my self-defense anecdotes, considering it an interesting example of real-world Aikido technique.
Well, some of them did, anyway. One reader posted this amusing retort:
“I hereby motion for more examples of self-defense where at least one punch was thrown at the author.”
Yes, I was practicing martial arts in public, but I wasn’t looking for trouble. I wasn’t looking for attention, just wanted to enjoy a beautiful fall afternoon at the park.
I was only twenty minutes into an outdoor routine (that is, an indoor routine stripped of any provocative elements) when I heard a group of teenage boys approaching behind me. I continued to mind my own business, but they were not content with theirs.
Did they taunt me with the standard Bruce Lee kung fu yelps? Well, of course they did; and I ignored it, just as I have ignored it three dozen times before. But unlike three dozen times before, this group did not have a few laughs and keep walking.
They dared each other to throw a rock at me, and that I could not ignore.
The meme works as follows. You post five things about yourself. Four are untrue. One is true. All are so outlandish, implausible or ridiculous that no one would be inclined to believe that any of them are true. And despite the pleas from your readers, you never divulge which is true and which are fabrications. You then tag five other people (four seriously and one person you are pretty sure would never participate).
1. I once challenged more than twenty members of a rival Kung Fu school.
Around a decade ago, I attended a seminar with a famous Shanxi Xingyiquan master. Aggressive and direct, Xingyi is one of the few boxing arts known to have been used in preparation for organized warfare. Its emphasis on straightforward practicality was combined with enough subtlety to earn a reputation as one of the original Chinese “internal” martial arts.
After the seminar was over, I bought a T-shirt to commemorate the occasion. According to the text on the back of my new shirt, I was now an unofficial member of “The International Association of Defensive Martial Arts”.
Nevermind that we had spent the last 6 hours eviscerating each other with spears, sabers and bayonets, metaphorically speaking. Nevermind that, according to the principles of Xingyi and all other respectable combat arts, the use of purely defensive techniques is forbidden. Despite all this, in public, we were expected to present ourselves as practitioners of self-defense. Not offense.
Oops The Samurai
(Hat Tip: Ikigai – Blogging the Martial Way)
As a complete list of my own training failures is far too long to recount, I’ll share just one here.
When I hear a professional martial arts instructor advising their students to be more natural, I cannot help but feel contempt. Could any help be less helpful?
What is the most natural method for safely evading a knife thrust, while simultaneously positioning oneself for an effortless disarm and throw? How does one naturally reverse a guillotine choke? People who know the answer to these questions don’t need an instructor or a class; for the rest of us, more detailed guidance is appropriate.
With that said, I am a strong advocate of “natural breathing” for martial applications, in contrast to the more exotic approaches advanced in some dojos.
Outside the school gym, two men sat idly on a bench, waiting for Tai Chi class to begin. “If anyone were to attack me,” the first student offered, “I would simply run away, living to fight another day.”
A faint smile crossed his companion’s face, as both continued to enjoy the summer sunset. Allowing a respectful pause, the second man finally replied: “And how fast can you run?”
While it is true that a fight requires two consenting parties, a brutal beating does not. There are times when strategic retreat is not an option. We all know that martial arts experience is valuable in such times, for everyone.
But did you know that martial arts training offers special benefits for the kind and gentle?
With his proclamation Cogito ergo sum, Descartes set the stage upon which most Western philosophers have played for the last four hundred years. Under his model, the human being is composed of two distinct entities: mind and body. Some thinkers agree, and others disagree, but few challenge the validity of the model itself, and its silent implication that nothing lies between.
Following George Orwell’s advice, I will begin by stating the obvious: East Asian martial arts training was never meant to be performed within this framework.
Although Descartes’ model allowed for each aspect to influence the other, he did not recognize the full breadth and depth of the mind-body relationship. So, like the atomic model of physics failed to explain observable and repeatable quantum phenomena, Descartes’ atomic metaphysics obscures the potential of high-level martial arts. When authentic traditional training is reformatted to fit into the duelistic model, the result is typically and predictably Bull-shido.
Theory and Application, and Nothing More
Two tragic outcomes result from the application of duelistic mind-body theory to martial training. First, the Complete Martial Art is defined as one containing both Theory and Application—and where Theory is given undue precedence.