Buyer Beware: Death Touch And Other Claims

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Recently a friend shared an on-line article with me about a young man who was thinking of taking up the study of a Chinese martial art. The young man diligently decided to check out some schools before he made his decision. He stated that at the first school he visited, the sifu (teacher) informed that in his school students learned to kill with a single touch and they could drive chopsticks through walls. The young man, naturally, was rather skeptical about this, as well he should be. To anyone seeking to learn a martial art, be it karate, Jujitsu, Kung-Fu, Capoeira, kick-boxing, etc., first all all be suspicious of anyone making outlandish claims. Times are tough, even for martial arts dojos, and getting to fill the class becomes an effort in itself. And some unscrupulous teacher/instructors will go to any lengths to get you to sign that contract. Again, I go by that famous Latin dictum: Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware).

The "death touch" the instructor was talking about has a long and fabled history in the Chinese martial arts. It is known as "Dim Mak." Supposedly, it is a technique that involved striking pressure points and meridians in order to incapacitate or even kill the opponent. At its advanced level, it not only kills the opponent outright but can be used to delay the person's death until a given time. How is this done? The basic theory is to disrupt the Qi or Chi, the basic energy flow in the body. This energy courses through the body's meridians, and if one can disrupt the flow, one can cause stagnation of the Qi and thereby induce fatal injury. The technique depends upon striking precise locations at an appropriate time of day during which specific Qi points are open and thus vulnerable to attack. It is a relatively easy matter to learn the stationary vital points, but to understand the "fatal" moving parts is a whole other thing and rather complex. Thus there is a healthy skepticism with regard to Dim Mak and its usage.

Whether one believes in the power of the death touch or not, if that's the first thing the instructor throws at you, go for the door. First and foremost, at its ideal level, the study of a martial art, especially if it is lethal, is to develop one's character and ability---not to advance or propose harm to anyone. In our school, The Chinese Kung-Fu Wu-Su Association, we tell our students that the only person they are competing against is themselves, no one else. First, know thyself, then you know others. We don't create fighting machines---although our students can defend themselves if they have to---the goal is create complete positive individuals who will propagate a noble and ancient art. I am naive enough to believe that should be the goal of all martial arts instruction.

With 35+years experience in Shaolin style Wu-Su, twenty of them an an instructor, I've formulated some guidelines when looking for a good school:

1. Beware of exaggerated claims. If it's a Karate school and they promise you a Black Belt within a short time (let's say, four months or less) and charge you beforehand---head for the door. If they promise to make you a fighting machine within a month (or whatever time)---head for the door. And more particularly, if they categorically state that their style or art is better or more effective than anything out there---head for the door. All martial arts are equally good. No one art is better than any other. It doesn't depend on the style or system, it depends on the individual and his or her training. You can have a superb judo stylist take on a mediocre Kung Fu guy, and the judo stylist will win---and vice versa. In my early days I once took on a boxer, and I didn't have that much experience using my hands. All I had were kicks---and I got my head handed to me. Now I know better, I work my hands as well as my legs.

2. Beware of a school that insists you sign a commitment for a specific period of time with the money up front for that time period. This is patently dishonest.

3. Some schools require that you sign a contract. Usually it's an agreement that you abide by the school's rules, regulations, procedures, mode of behavior, etc. There is nothing wrong with that. But some contracts may have hidden fees or other additions. Read the contract carefully; and have the instructor explain to you any part that you may not understand or hold suspect. If you're not satisfied---head for the door.

4. Beware of a school that charges you for "incidentals"---extra instructions, extra for a lesson plan, extra for "inside knowledge." It is perfectly respectable for the school to sell uniforms, additional equipment, weaponry, medicines, etc. But when they start charging for the lesson plan itself above and beyond what was agreed---head for the door.

5. Do not go with the first school you visit, even if you are absolutely sure this is the school you want. In our Association we encourage our prospective students to shop and compare. If possible, visit as many schools as you can in order to get a wide ranging view of what's available.

6. Most of all, go with your gut. Some schools may be in a better location than others, some may have a more accommodating schedule, some may be bigger than others, some may seem cleaner than others. Take it all in and make the appropriate decision based on what your gut and instincts tells you. And, if you find out the program is not for you, then seek another.

Again, these are just basic common sense rules. I don't claim they are the end-all and be-all of martial training. Just be open-minded, conscientious, and aware. And, whatever training you have, don't rush. Most of us have our whole lives to learn a basic style or a combination of styles. Take your time at it, absorb it all, and the rewards will be never-ending.

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