The Dangers of Magical Thinking in the Martial Arts

By Jeff Westfall via Violent metaphors

Recently on Facebook I saw a video of a Finnish martial artist named Jukka Lampila who called what he did Empty Force or EFO, and claimed that with it he could control an attacker without touching him. His Facebook page proclaims him the founder of EFO. The video begins with clips of Lampila fending off ‘attacks’ from his students. blue_hands_on_glass_250pxHe waves his arms; sometimes he twitches, and in each case the ‘attacker’ seems to be magically thrown to the mat without ever being touched by Lampila. He also shows an example of ‘controlling’ someone on the ground. He kneels calmly beside a supine student with the back of his hand gently resting on the man’s chest. “I don’t need to use any energy” he asserts as the student appears to try with all his might to regain his feet to no avail. It is a sad display of martial arts charlatanism.

Unfortunately for Mr. Lampila, a group of skeptics were in attendance this day, and several of them volunteered to be ‘controlled’ by Mr. Lampila. His chosen method was to have the volunteer try to push him. He failed in each case to stop them from doing so. The skeptics were admirably polite, giving Mr. Lampila an ample number of opportunities to prove his claims and not demonstrably gloating at his failures. When one of them calmly asked him if he would like to demonstrate his defense against a punching attack Mr. Lampila declined. He later invited everyone to pay for and attend his seminar the next day!

I’ve been involved in the martial arts since 1971. I’ve been teaching martial arts since 1975. In this time, and long before I became aware of formal scientific skepticism I grew to see that a lot of people are drawn to martial arts styles that are based on pseudo-science. The arts that are the biggest culprits by far are the arts that base their claims of effectiveness on developing and manipulating a purported form of internal energy.Tantra_prana Whether you label it Chi, Ki, Prana, “The Force”, or Empty Force it has never to my knowledge been proven to exist through robust, double-blind, replicated scientific experiments. If it is energy, where are the scientific instruments that can detect its levels? Is this energy chemical, radiant, nuclear, kinetic, electro-magnetic, mechanical, or ionizing? Is this energy in the form of waves or particles? At the risk of building a straw man, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that practitioners and apologists for these arts would say that science doesn’t know everything, and that “chi power” is as yet unexplained by science. If this were plausible, wouldn’t it follow that a large number of physicists would be pursuing a future Nobel Prize by attempting to prove the existence of this vital energy?

In the last 43 years I’ve seen quite a few ‘demonstrations’ of this power. I have yet to be impressed. Mostly what I’ve seen were sad carnival sideshow tricks, many of which I can easily explain if not reproduce, without resorting to magic. The rest were feckless displays like that of Mr. Lampila.

I assert that on the rare occasions when practitioners of these styles defend themselves effectively it is through properly applied principles of leverage and body mechanics, and not the magical power of Ki.

This phenomenon raises further questions. First, what possesses people to train in such a system of martial arts? Second, what is in the minds of people who already train in such systems and continue to do so after seeing their ‘Master’ embarrassed as Mr. Lampila was in the video?

As for what draws people in the first place, I will cite what scientific skepticism has taught me.

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