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Penn and Teller meet Peichin and Takeda: Magic and the Martial Arts

Any student who has spent much time studying with me has probably heard me make a connection between martial arts and magic -- the principle of misdirection is central to both disciplines, and few have studied misdirection as thoroughly as successful magicians. Magicians must control the awareness of the audience in order for the trick to not be observed. In comparison, martial artists must control the awareness of a very motivated opponent in order to hit the person with something he never saw coming.

The other day, as I was watching Penn and Teller (two famous magicians) critique a younger magician, Penn said something very pertinent to our study. He said to the young man: "I will say that, in magic methods, a lot of people think you can do anything in magic, and in truth there's a very limited number of choices, even though to other people it can look infinite." A great magician makes it appear that there are infinite varieties of magic in the world. In reality, there are many different ways to express just a few magical techniques.

Now think of our karate technique and see if it isn't subject to the same truth. I've had my karate teacher tell me that the basic punch is what all of karate is built on. Likewise I have been told that tenchi nage is the fundamental Aikido technique upon which all else is built. These statements, to me, represent a profound understanding of those arts: it is not about having more "moves." The most advanced movements are actually the first ones you will learn. As Penn says, there are really only a very limited number of choices: the rest is variation. You can only move effectively in so many directions. The trick is to master those limited options so that no one can stop you.

The ultimate magician's feat is to fool another magician. As martial artists, we are trying to short circuit others' defenses so that we can fool their instincts and execute our kick, punch, throw, or lock against that person's better judgment. This does not require complicated movements so much as a profound understanding of a few basic ideas. It's magic!

See Penn and Teller, with Vince Charming:

Ben Couch is the owner of Koryu Crafts. Additionally, he is the chief instructor of Blackbird Karate in Tucson, AZ. Originally written for his karate group, this lighthearted piece found its way to the Koryu Crafts blog in the hopes that all will enjoy it. No matter what your discipline, happy training!

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