While I was working out in the gym the other day, I was listening to the Joe Rogan Experience and he was interviewing the philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris. They had an interesting conversation, but one thing in particular really jumped out at me. Sam Harris starts talking about a Japanese aikido master who believed he could somehow manipulate the chakra field and take down opponents without even touching them. For thirty years, he ran this martial arts school, and his students always went along with his charade. You have to watch it for yourself to believe it.
This master became so confident, he eventually issued a $5000 prize for anyone willing to step in the ring to challenge him. Well, a rather ordinary martial artist does so, and the results aren’t pretty.
At the beginning of the video, the master holds up his hands in the air like he’s a lightning rod for this mystical energy. All of his students in the crowd are awestruck, exclaiming, “OOOOohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Then he creeps toward his opponent in this aikido stance and waves his hands toward him, but nothing happens. He tries again, nothing. Then POW! He’s blasted in the face and falls to the ground.
The challenger is concerned because he’s just punched an old man in the face. The master gets back up and wants to resume the battle. The challenger walks right up to him, grabs his arm, punches the master in the face several more times, then punk kicks him in the mouth. The master falls to the ground in agony and total shock.
All of his students stare on in disbelief. Can you imagine the shame? What was going on in their minds? What about the master? I would really like to know.
You have to ask yourself how students from all over Japan could attend this school and just go along with it? You’d think that there’d have been at least one student who’d join the school, be skeptical, and would just pop the master in the nose, but it never happened. And because it never happened, the master really started to believe he was controlling this mystical energy and was capable of defeating his opponents with it.
Harris attributes this to hypnotic suggestion, which may be true, but I’ll offer another hypothesis as to what may be going on. Growing up, my father was a Christian evangelist who traveled from church to church, delivering sermons. As a small boy, I attended churches of all types, and some of them were the type where people would get up, run around, and the preacher would pray for people and they would all fall on the floor, speaking in tongues.
My mother would push me to go up front to be prayed for and the minister would lay his hands on me, ask me to lift my hands, and then would start praying in tongues. I’d just stand there and nothing would happen, but I’d see the others around me fall down. The minister would then start pressuring me, “Don’t resist the power of God. Let it flow through you.” In other words, if you don’t fall down, you’re less spiritual and not open to receiving the power of God. Nobody wants to appear resistant to the Holy Spirit, so they all fall. With that in mind, sometimes I would pretend and fall down, mainly because I didn’t want to stand up front with everyone staring at me, appearing to “resist” this supposed spiritual flow.
I never was hypnotized or fell involuntarily. I felt no special power surge through me. It was just peer pressure. I wonder if that’s how things were in the aikido dojo? Something similar may have been going on. Still, in a martial arts school, it seems really hard to believe that nobody would have challenged the master. With religion, there’s sacred taboos.
Interesting though, isn’t it? It’s so similar.
I try to imagine the guys hanging out after a training session, eating out in a restaurant, saying to one another, “The master, he’s just amazing! How does he do it?” “I have no clue! I just… fell down. What about you?” “I can’t stop it. He’s too powerful. If I get too close, I’m done for.”
Or maybe they all did know it was baloney but worried they might be the only one who didn’t sense this mystical power, so they played along to fit in, similar to what I did as a child in church?
There’s so many interesting things like this and I wish I had time to investigate it all further. I always tell myself that I need to stay focused on my physics research, but all sorts of neat things like this pull my attention away. I wish I had more time, but even if I study all day long, there’s not enough hours in the day to research all that I’m interested in.