Sylvia Browne told parents that their dead missing child was alive, and vice versa. Uri Geller was unable to demonstrate his spoon-bending abilities on The Tonight Show when presented with utensils he couldn’t manipulate beforehand. And Sally Morgan looked at a picture of what she thought was a woman’s dead relative and began decoding messages from her. It turned out the woman had given a picture of herself.
But when it comes to public failures, the most bloody spectacular are those suffered by Chi Kung practitioners. The bloody part is literal, as they are turned into six feet of cuts and bruises when their magic powers fizzle.
Proponents boast that their practice harnesses the gracefulness of Tai Chi and the power of Kung Fu, then elevates them both. There may be some genuine martial arts and self-control taught. But for an insight into how spacey the idea can be, consider this description of its initiation ritual: “You open the top of your head and feel the white light power of the universe come into your body.” For maximum white light power, it advises doing the ceremony under a full moon.
One form of Chi Kung calls itself Yellow Bamboo, and it claims to be able to harness chi for protection and healing. It asserts the power to knock people over without touching them, or to withstand attacks without raising limbs. Unlike most spectacular claims, these are testable. In one YouTube video, a Yellow Bamboo guy stands unmoving on a beach while an attacker runs toward him. The stated ability is being able to use chi to deflect the attacker without touching him. Two of the three attempts failed. The third succeeded, as the power of Yellow Bamboo with combined with diving out of the way.
Chi Kung has fared no better in the attack mode. George Dillman had one of his prized pupils, a eighth-degree Black Belt, attempt to knock over someone without touching him. This was tried successfully on some of Dillman’s students before moving onto a skeptic. Despite various hand and arm contortions, assorted grunts and grimaces, and escalating frustration, the skeptic remained motionless. Dillman’s first ad hoc reasoning attempt was that the skeptic’s negative energy might be impacting Chi Kung flow. Perhaps sensing it would be a fatal blow to a defensive tactic if it doesn’t work when the victim doesn’t want it to, Dillman quickly changed tact. He asserted the person on the receiving end had stifled chi with tongue or toe placement. Curiously, he hadn’t taught these techniques to his students, yet the skeptic was able to unknowingly tap his anti-chi properties.
The worst victim of chi’s failure/his stupidity was a fellow in the Philippines who chopped his forearm with a machete, thinking magic powers would prevent injury.
When a Black Belt fails to knock over someone who is offering no resistance, it speaks poorly to the martial art’s potency. Still, Chi Kung advocates insist it can be used to explode an opponent’s organ or even kill him thorough a time-release illness. Ethical reasons prohibit putting either of these to a scientific test. But even the lesser abilities have no studies in their favor, only anecdotes and testimonials.
While these cases were all initiated by Chi Kung practitioners, challenges sometimes come for Jiu-Jitsu artists, who bemoan seeing martial arts reduced to extravagant claims and mystic chants. Chi Kung practitioners occasionally accept these challenges and attempt to ward off Jiu-Jitsu experts with their thoughts and glances. I’m normally not much on fortune telling, but the results of these encounters are predictable.