I spent Labor Day weekend at Dragon Con
(in Atlanta GA) this past weekend. While otherwise enjoying myself, I decided on a lark to attend a presentation called: "A Skeptic in the Dojo" hosted by the local "Skeptics" group that regularly participates in Dragon Con (I'm not exactly sure why...). One of my dear friends and a regular DragonCon attendee has long warned me to avoid the Skeptic society presentations/panels because he thinks they are idiots. My friend is very rational thinker, and I highly respect his intelligence and wisdom.
Ignoring my friend's sage advice, I attended anyway. The vast majority of the attendees were not martial artists. The presenter, Evan Bernstein, billed the presentation like this: "Having worked in the martial arts industry. Evan offers a special insight as a long-time skeptic who has seen how the business works. The power of magical thinking permeates all of martial arts, and skepticism is the only defense which really works."
So, I was thinking to myself that the guy probably has done a bunch of arts over the years and interacted with different people, etc, etc. I was guessing he would highlight the usual problems in martial arts that anyone with any experience knows about - especially the magical thinking part. I thought he might delve into some of the questionable business practices that some martial arts studios engage in, etc, etc. I thought it might be interesting in that aspect. I expected him to slam Aikido and Tai Chi for having that silly "qi" stuff. I view "qi" as an abstraction to describe the behavior of living things in response to stimuli and the mind rather than as a mystical fluid. But I'll leave that discussion for another thread. Regardless, I thought it would be interesting to hear what this guy had to say.
Mr Bernstein begins the presentation explaining that he decided to learn martial arts after the horrific Cheshire CT home invasion
that occurred near his community in 2007. He researched the various dojos in his community - rejecting Aikido because of the website's description of "qi". After further research, he selected a Krav Maga dojo
. And apparently this is the only place he has trained with his family. That is all well and good. The dojo chief instructor does, in fact, have a long background in the martial arts. If chief instructor had given the presentation, it might have been worthwhile...
SO then, to show how magical thinking completely "permeates" the martial arts community, he shows three videos.
Kiai Master vs MMA
And the poor Kali master who chops himself in the arm...
And then he says "Don't drink the Kool-Aid" and become victimized by this stuff. I'm not making this up. By this point, I realize I've blundered into a bad imitation of a "Live at Five Local News Expose"... Instead of leaving and socializing with people dressed up as Superman, Spock, Darth Vader and Dr Who, I decide to see what further nonsense will issue forth. I was not to be disappointed.
He then slammed visualization exercises (even really simple ones). Some people just have no imagination I guess...
He proceeds to discuss Women's Self Defense by putting up a bulleted list of things women [and men] should do to protect themselves. The best one being "Don't freeze up", but failed to mention that requires quite a bit of training for most people to overcome. Thank you, Captain Obvious. Most of the other items would not make my list of things I would recommend (shudder). But I'm not an expert in that area - I'll leave that discussion to others.
BUT THEN... BUT THEN...
Mr Bernstein "demonstrated" the importance of knowing self-defense by telling a story from three years ago at a previous Dragon Con (which is in downtown Atlanta but generally in a nice area) when he was walking a woman friend back to her hotel from a convention event in the late evening. This is perfectly wise. Walking a city street alone at night is generally to be avoided by the prudent. All well and good.
In the course of walking her back, though, a drunk/high homeless person (Mr Bernstein's description) approached them unexpectedly from around a corner some 40-50 feet away. The homeless person blundered into Mr Bernstein who, for reasons he failed to explain, hip checked the man into the street (a simple side step would have sufficed right?). The man got up and began to shout at them angrily (I'm stunned). Mr Bernstein said he took up a fighting stance that frightened the man away (I am at a loss for words..). Maybe the actual encounter was more complicated than that... but I can only go by his description.
At this point, I'm thinking - "SO... You nearly managed to escalate an encounter with a street drunk into a violent encounter - never mind the fact you could have seriously injured the drunk with the hip check onto the pavement? And you have the audacity to give self-defense advice in a public venue?"
There was definitely some magical thinking going on.
I'm not sure I have a point, but I had to get the story off my chest.