• Jackie Bradbury

Magic and the Martial Arts

I was training in Arnis with a friend who is a very highly skilled Kung Fu player as well as a bad-ass in Presas Arnis.


I joked to him about his using his "magic kung fu" powers in Arnis training. Another friend overheard this, and added the words "bullshit" to the end of my statement.


It's been a running joke for several years now.


The thing is, my other friend heard me say "bullshit", when I didn't say it, and didn't mean that at all.


I meant "magic" in the sense of Arthur C. Clarke's third law:

I admire kung fu - or rather, the kung fu players I know and have trained with.  I am very impressed with how they move, and I envy it a bit (only so many hours in a day, folks), and I don't understand how they do it.


Because I don't understand it, that makes what they do magic to a bumpkin like me.


Regarding claims of "real" magic in the martial arts - things that happen that are supernatural in nature... well, color me a skeptic.  I've never been impressed with the idea of ghosts, or magical creatures, I don't believe that psychics are real, that you can make anything move with nothing but your mind, or in levitation.


Long story short, well, I'm a big X-Files fan, and I always identified with Dana Scully, even if in the context of the show she was often wrong.

In some corners of our martial arts world, the idea that training can give you supernatural, magic powers is very, very attractive and some of us capitalize on that idea. That we can train hard, and somehow, become special not just by our skill set, but by acquisition of actual magic powers that regular people can't and won't ever have.


This idea is supported in our popular culture.  Ninjas and mystical monks and the like... heck, isn't that what "Iron Fist" is (sort of) about?  How his martial arts training gave him a special magic power?


In the real world, we have the famous case of James Hydrick - who ended up being much, much worse than a simple fraud, even if he was a legit martial artist by all accounts.  He claimed that his training gave him magic powers. Below is the video of James Randi exposing his so-called magic powers learned from the martial arts as the fraud it was.


It's long, but worth your time to watch:

Hydrick is the extreme, though.  Most of the time, things that seem supernatural have perfectly mundane explanations and most of us don't pretend any differently.  Take breaking, which is a learned skill, and there's nothing supernatural or magical about it, even if some of us pretend like it is.


So yeah, if you're making claims of having magic powers because of your martial arts training, I'm going to look at you with extreme skepticism.


At the same time, though, I admit there are things in the marital arts world that are completely legit, but I don't understand how it works.  It seems like magic to me, even if it isn't. There are a lot of things in this world that we know are true, even if we don't quite know why (such as why we sleep).


It's fine to not understand how things work, but as soon as people start claiming it's actually "magic" - as in the supernatural - then it starts becoming shenanigans.


So what do you find "magical" in the martial arts world?  Have you seen things that you can't explain?  Are supernatural abilities possible to obtain, or are you a skeptic like me?  Let us know in the comments!

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