Skepticism and the Martial Arts

If you haven’t seen the following video, you should give it a watch, even though it conjures feelings of embarrassment and disgust:

Pretty much every martial artist I’ve met has seen the above video. It’s heralded as evidence of the failure of traditional martial arts and the woo-woo associated with various “fighting” disciplines.

Matt Thornton of Straight Blast Gym discusses this video in a guest lecture for philosopher Peter Boghossian at Portland State University. Thornton mentions the concept of aliveness, which involves spontaneous training with a resisting opponent, such as what you would find in MMA, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), judo, muay thai, wrestling, boxing, etc. Aliveness is what separates these martial arts from traditional martial arts, which mostly rely on training with dead patterns that don’t prepare practitioners to face resisting opponents.

Here’s the lecture followed by a Q&A:

Thornton has been making the rounds in the skeptic community. I first heard about him years ago while I was contemplating a bad experience with a traditional martial art. Sam Harris has talked about him, and if you haven’t seen Harris’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience, you’ve really missed out.

Rogan likens Harris’s debates to the old Gracies in Action videos which feature Helio Gracie and his sons fighting various martial artists. Harris make the point, as a recent BJJ practitioner, that being on the mat is more satisfying that debating because no one ever taps in debates. By the way, THIS is why you should always tap (play it until the end).

You can also listen to an interview with Thornton over at Strange Frequencies Radio, which was tweeted by Harris last month. Boghossian, who hosted Thornton, also practices BJJ, and I wonder how many other members of the skeptic community practice martial arts. I seem to keep coming across skeptics in the BJJ community, at least when it comes to certain topics.

Boghossian writes that “Jiu jitsu is a great way to introduce children to reality. More than teaching them what they can do, it teaches them what they can’t do.” That has certainly been my experience with judo. Fighting and self-defense seem to be particularly vulnerable to faith claims, i.e., many practitioners of traditional martial arts pretend to know things that they do not know.