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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
National Geographic think chi defies science. I think they are scientifically illiterate!

I hate this stuff! It does massive damage to the credibility of the martial arts. Indeed, it insults and demeans human intelligence. All of this can be explained by basic physics.

Let’s start with “feeding off” the blow with the baseball bat. As martial artists we can pull blows (as we would do in light sparring) or drive them through (bag work, pads, full contact fighting, etc.). All I see here is a trained guy pulling a swing with a baseball bat. It’s VERY obvious when you see the slow motion around the 4 minute mark.

“Potentially lethal blow” is what the narrator says! And in doing so contradicts himself: “Most top level martial artists can withstand a blow to the solar plexus of 800 lbs of force” … “and he strikes with 484 lbs of force" So no chi needed then?

The speed of the bat also has nothing to do with the actual impact when it is pulled on contact! In point karate tournaments we see incredibly fast techniques that are pulled on impact. The result is no force! In point karate tournaments that is done openly and intentionally. Here, it is obviously done with self-delusion or outright fraud.

Said at 5:20: “You saw it repel the bat away from him” … err, no! I saw the bat swing get pulled so it did not drive into the target!

You want a real scientific test, then get someone other than a student to swing the bat. Better yet, get a mechanical rig to do it. The “scientific protocols” here are awful! Tighten them up and “chi” goes away!

As for the spear on the throat, it’s been done to death … why do they never have the spear held parallel to the floor and walk onto it that way I wonder? Surely the Chi works irrespective of the angle? Or more likely, is it the fact that the flat of the spear (the not sharp bit) is being pushed “upward” by the top of the sternum (that really strong bit of bone)?! Impressive as a trick, but that’s all it is. If chi is at work, walk onto the spear directly so we can rule out force vectors being the most obvious explanation. Again, awful protocols that are allowing the “performer” to do his tricks as he wishes.

I learnt about force vectors at school when I was around 14, and it’s sad the scientists conducting this “experiment” overlooked elementary physics. To be fair, the narrator “notices” where the red marks are at 8:25, “Although two small marks suggest his collar bones absorbed some of the stress” … try “ALL of the stress” and I’m with you! He then totally messes up by saying what he’s seen, “literally defies science”. No it does not! IT IS SCIENCE! Basic physics in fact.

The “scientist” then states, “With the training that I have there is no scientific explanation for this”. Well, I left school at 16 with a lowly GSCE in physics, and with the scientific training I have, there is a very scientific explanation for all of it!

Here you are National Geographic, this will get you up to speed! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Force

Basically, forces have both magnitude AND DIRECTION (stop me if I’m going to fast!). When determining what happens to an object (say a spear) when two forces act on the same object – in this case a “upward force” and a “forward force” because the spear is in a diagonal position – it is necessary to know both the magnitude and the direction of both forces to calculate the result. The scientists at National Geographic have failed to understand this basic tenant of physics (force is a vector quantity i.e. has both direction and magnitude) and they have put the bending of the spear entirely down to the forward force. They have completely ignored the upward force and jumped to “magic” as the only explanation for why the throat is not pierced!

A very low forward force and a high upward force will result in the same stresses being measured on the spear by a strain gage as a high forward force and low upward force would. Look at where the brises are! Understand that bone is stronger than skin. Understand the basics of how force works and you can see that there’s no need to jump to “magic”. It is the high upward force delivered with the bones of the sternum that is at work. It’s skill and physics. Not “chi”!

Less sceptical people can be taken in by this BS and we need better scientists and more honest TV shows. Promoting this as “defying science” is a result of incompetence and it is irresponsible.

As for the stick over the back, you notice how he is hit with the middle bit of the stick (as always). The middle bit is not going as fast as the tip (so easily withstood) and the momentum of the tip – which is traveling much faster – breaks the stick when the middle stops moving. Basic physics again!

One of my pet peeves is wilful ignorance. I also find it very difficult not to get irritated by people promoting nonsense through deception, self-deception, incompetence, and in seeking and promoting sensation over facts.

Shame on you National Geographic for promoting this as “defying science”! Anyone with even a moderate understanding of physics and the martial arts can see right through all of this.


PASmith's picture

But Iain...the Chinese guy uses esoteric hand gestures and movements...he must be using chi right?

Th0mas's picture

I do love a righteous rant :-)

Channels like National Geographic and the History channel are always peddling this kind of nonsense. Wrapping pseudo-science within an air of scientic and/or academic mumbo-jumbo. In my book these guys are really the lowest of the low... Because I can't believe they are not consciously setting out to deceive the credulous.

shujika's picture

well, they are owned by "Fox", it's to be expected...

Ian H
Ian H's picture

This guy has incredible throat chi:

From a purely technical standpoint, a martial artist who has worked hard to strengthen his body and master technique and knowledge of body mechanics can create phenomenal force in his blows and other techniques.   To the uninitiated, this can almost seem like ... magic.  

If David Copperfield told us he could survive the "Death Saw" becuase of his tremendous chi energy ... 

... it would take us about 30 seconds to be thinking of this explanation:

It's a shame National Geographic can't use the same rigour to examine the other magician.  Instead, we get ...

Steve Gombosi
Steve Gombosi's picture
jimw449's picture

"As a scientist, I can't measure chi.  It's something that ... thats just not measurable.  It's not anything I can quantify."  (3:10)

Thank you for calling this out.  I agree, silliness like this helps destroy the good name of the martial arts.  I understand that it's entertainment, but too many people think that we all make these claims. Jim W.

jimw449's picture

Mr. Gombosi, I wish we could blame it on the Murdoch takeover, but the video seems to be from 2012.  https://youtu.be/2tb8bWbA678  /facepalm

Steve Gombosi
Steve Gombosi's picture

The National Geographic channel has always been a News Corporation property. They have had a majority interest (67%) in the channel since it was founded in 2001. As of the announcement I posted, News Corporation has increased its ownership stake to 73% and has taken countrol of National Geographic's publishing arm as well.

So yes, you can blame Murdoch for it wink