Sunday, September 20, 2015


Here's a clip of Joe Rogan talking with biologist Rupert Sheldrake about threat awareness in the martial arts. Rogan lamented the ineffectiveness of certain "self-defense martial arts", quoted Musashi, and extolled the virtues of expanding human potential resulting from a lifetime pursuit in the martial arts. But he largely sidestepped Sheldrake's important question of whether someone could be trained to develop an intuitive sensitivity to threatening intent. Although not a practitioner, Sheldrake delves briefly into the aspect of threatening intent in his book The Sense of Being Stared At from the martial arts perspective. The following involves an investigation of a so-called ancient technique called to-ate — attacking someone without physical contact from a distance:

In order to rule out the possibility that the person attacked was responding to visual or other sensory clues, or to suggestion, the researchers kept an "attacker" and a "receiver" in sensory-shielded rooms, three floors apart. The "attacker" was a Chinese qigong master. They videotaped the receiver, and measured his skin resistance and his brain waves, by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG). In a series of trails, the qigong master directed to-ate at the receiver at times randomly chosen by the experimenters. In many of these trail periods the receiver visibly recorded and showed alterations in EEG and skin resistance. The results of these randomized, double-blind trails were highly significant statistically, indicating that the to-ate involved an "unknown transmission"; that is to say, a form of transmission currently unknown to science. From the point of view of the qigong master, what was being transmitted was ki or chi.

I must warn you that Sheldrake is not without controversy in the scientific community as some of his theories are held as quackery or the stuff of woo. However, the previous example was actually in reference to a 2000 study conducted by medical-imaging researcher Mikio Yamamoto at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba, Japan.

In the past I've trained with the blindfold prop with limited success. Maybe my psi abilities are subpar. There are blind practitioners in grappling styles, such as I've posted about, but striking arts for the most part require physical sight to work. Not everyone agrees, though. Ninpo exponent Glenn Morris recounts testing for rank while blindfolded that involves avoiding a strike from behind delivered by the master wielding a shinai (light bamboo practice sword):

I crawled forward, sat on my heels in seiza [seated-kneeling position], closed my eyes and reached out with my feelings to connect. The first surprise came as I encountered "nobody home." Hatsumi [the master] was in mushin [state of no-mind] and I was in deep s---. As far as my body was concerned, no one was behind me. (There is more than one level of disappearing in this art and sometimes you don't connect things until you experience them. I had expected to be able to feel him.) I watched the white light behind my eyes and waited, saw a flicker in the phosphorous, and rolled. The sword smacked into the floor where I had been kneeling. Victory.*

The historian Donn Drager discusses the subliminal sense a medieval Japanese warrior would acquire called kan-ken futatsu no koto, a type of intuitive "seeing" that enabled him to deal with an opponent laying in ambush, or in a more practical example, "to step instantly over a log, body, or rock lying out of sight behind him in the path of his backward movement." Draeger maintains that this skill is developed through meditation and tireless practice. I still train and even meditate. But I won't be donning a blindfold in the dojo anytime soon.

* Glenn Morris 1993. Path Notes of an American Ninja Master. North Atlantic Books.
Donn Draeger 1973. Classical Budo. Wheatherhill, Inc.

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