The enviably successful magical partnership of Penn Jillette and Teller (Born Raymond Teller) has a track record of revealing the proverbial man behind the curtain. Earlier in their careers, their primary selling point was the fact that they revealed the tricks behind famous magic acts, while at the same time preserving their own artistic credibility through demonstrations of insanely difficult and dextrous prestidigitation. Perhaps the best example of this is their version of the staple “cups and balls” trick: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrw3euF2cIg (later co-opted and re-envisioned by the excellent Jason Latimer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxWltr9sg1c)
Nowadays, they alternate between live magic performances, vlogging and miscellanous public appearances… and making a show called “Penn & Teller: Bulls**t”. If you have never had the pleasure, this show aims to debunk socially acceptable fantasies, and has in the past attacked such idiocies as 9/11 conspiracy theories, the so-called “war on drugs” and alien abduction.
I do not agree with everything that Penn and Teller come out with. Well, with everything that Penn comes out with, anyway. But most of the time, their hearts appear to be in the right place.
One of their recent successes was Episode 3 of Season 8 of “Bulls**t”, which very effectively debunked the martial arts. Or more specifically, effectively debunked martial arts as a method of self-defence and/or mystical healing method.
Part 1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_3BSk2TbK4
Part 2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aB3y10i_T9E
Part 3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggroj7w9J5k
One of the great choices made in the programme was to engage the services of one Mr Marc MacYoung as an expert for the prosecution.
MacYoung is a very old and established figure in the so-called “reality-based self-defence” community. Unlike many of his contemporaries however, he has always had a healthy respect for teaching avoidance and people-skills as the major part of any self-defence syllabus. He is constantly under fire from virtually every quarter, by those who claim he is A: Not a real martial artist/streetfighter/badass B: trying to sell his own books/dvds by badmouthing other systems, or C: that he doesn’t comprehend the value of the new wave of MMA training methods that are now on the market.
I’m not going to address any of those criticisms in this post, because whatever the answers to those points might be, they would be irrelevant to the points MacYoung makes on Penn and Teller’s show. Those points, and the reasoning behind them, are manifestly correct:
- The idea that the belt system from Japanese gendai-budo styles relates to skill level, is a farce.
- The primary area of study in any “self defence” class should be self-defence laws, definitions of reasonable force and awareness of how violent crime actually happens in the real world.
- most so-called “martial arts” will simply get you in trouble if you try to use them in any kind of real altercation, either in a sport setting or in a dingy bar somewhere, and…
- Chi, Qi or Ki… however you want to spell it… is an objectionable fantasy.
I urge any readers to check the episode out.
Worth noting is the negative reaction to this programme from the different sectors of the martial arts community. One amusing example is the ham-fisted attempt at a rebuttal by the notoriously right-wing survivalist, Mr Phil Elmore, who runs a fascinating website called “The Martialist”, on which he periodically raves about the dangers of homeless/poor people and reviews overpriced gadgetry designed for the terminally paranoid.