Penn and Teller last night

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussion' started by PHILBERT, Jun 25, 2010.


    PHILBERT Valued Member

    Anyone catch it? I find it funny they came out with the episode just a couple weeks after the Karate Kid remake.

    I am going to do a copy/pasta of a post I made over at another website. For those that don't know, Penn and Teller did a 30 minute episode on Showtime last night insulting martial arts. They did a segment on a McDojo school, a Taiji teacher who seemed like she has been smoking the chi, a "reality" fighting teacher who shoved a knife into the head of one of the Bob dolls and began to elbow it, and talked to Marc MacYoung.

    Now for the copy/pasta.

    Alright, so I watched the show. Being someone who has never seen the show, I don't understand completely what they "do" with it, etc. Here is my perspective:

    It sucked. It was terrible, absolutely terrible. It was obvious they went out and found probably the most insane Taiji practitioner in the world, and tried to summarize all of it as that.

    The Karate segment, while bias, from experience, tends to be what a lot of Karate schools that I have experienced. Now, I am sure there are some excellent traditional Karate schools out there in the U.S. and even possibly inside a shopping center. I've seen MMA gyms in shopping centers that produced good amateur fighters.

    The "reality" guy was just plain scary, and I've never seen such a guy personally.

    The fact they completely ignored the MMA aspect just showed they had a bias to it. Hell, even ignoring traditional Judo schools was obvious. I can think of a traditional Judo school in my area they could have visited, a McDojo, an MMA gym, and a Taiji place that would have been good.

    This just goes to show that we all realize they are just geniuses. They know exactly how to find the complete worst people out there and get them on cable.
  2. Dean Winchester

    Dean Winchester Valued Member

    Marc MacYoung is a member here ;)

    In what way was he scary?

    I'm assuming that is who you are refering to.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2010

    PHILBERT Valued Member

    Marc MacYoung was the only person on the show who was decent. He wasn't the guy who shoved the knife into the head of Bob and proceeded to beat Bob up on camera.

    MacYoung actually criticized a lot of that stuff that others did.
  4. Aegis

    Aegis River Guardian Admin Supporter

    I have to agree that it would have looked a lot better with a typical karate class (the one they had would have been fine) and a look at some of the other mainstream stuff they have out there. Judo would have been perfect, as would BJJ, jujutsu (modernised rather than koryu, if they're looking for what's more readily available and taught for self defence), etc. The tai chi woman should have just been turned away as too crazy even for their show.

    I did like the point they made about guns though. In the US, if you're training for self defence you would usually be better off getting a gun, a licence and some training in using it than spending the many years learning a martial art and still not being guaranteed an easy time in an actual conflict. In other places where guns and knives aren't legal, self defence training can be much more important, but their other point is still valid: most of the time it will be cheaper and less painful in the long run to not bother training and to simply co-operate with what a mugger wants. However, there are times when that isn't feasible: drunken attacks, attacks where injury is the goal rather than robbery, sexually motivated assaults, etc. In these circumstances, surrender may not be an option to make the attackers go away, and something more is needed. It's very unlikely that someone will ever benefit from martial arts training in a real life or death situation, yes, but you can still train for all the other reasons as well as the self defence aspects.

    Ah well, we're all still happy with our training, right?

    PHILBERT Valued Member

    The logic that you are more likely to get injured training from martial arts than you are actually being attacked, while true, is a fallacy I think.

    That is like saying you are more likely to get shot if you go hunting versus staying at home and watching Showtime. Or you are more likely to break a leg or drown if you go to the lake and wake board, water ski, kite board, etc. than you are if you sit at home and watch Showtime.

    They assume everyone takes martial arts to "defend" themselves in case of an attack. Not true. I can understand the premise they are trying to make, "people take martial arts to defend themselves from being hurt, however they are more likely to get hurt in a martial arts class." If they aren't there solely for that, but for...exercise, the premise is now flawed, and the conclusion is illogical.

    I lost all respect I had for them after watching this show. I will never watch any program they do anymore, though I rarely watched them to begin with. I use to watch the stuff they didn't do on Showtime back in the day, but this just killed it for me.
  6. Duke

    Duke New Member

    Penn and Teller are incredibly biased.

    That segment they did on the Bible was not only offensive, but it was complete bigotry on their part. Sure, the Bible might not appeal to everyone, but to say that it is BS is outright disrespectful to people like me who follow this book.

    I haven't seen their Martial Arts segment yet, but from the small 1 minute clip on youtube I saw, I can only assume it's going to be preposterous.

    I mean, look at this:

    [ame=""]YouTube- Martial Arts[/ame]

    Where the hell did they even FIND this woman? LOL
  7. Marc MacYoung

    Marc MacYoung Valued Member

    I've long been a controversial character in the self-defense, martial arts world. So it should be no surprise to my detractors that I appeared on Showtime/Penn and Teller's '********!' episode on martial arts. If you didn't see it, it will be run again on Showtime. If you don't have Showtime, you can see it here:

    There's an old saying about religion. 'A fanatic and a believer can share the same pew.' You also can find 'Easter and Christmas services only' attendees sitting in the same pew. Basically, all kinds of people can be attracted to the same thing -- for many different reasons. I use this particular point because a strong parallel can be drawn with the behavior of people defending their faith and those who think the martial arts need 'protecting.'

    Before we continue, there are some things that need to be said. First, when someone self-identifies with a group, there is a tendency to feel protective about it. Both about your choices and the group itself. This is especially common when you have gained benefit from what that group has to offer. And that brings us to the martial arts. Simply stated, there are many great benefits that one can gain from the study of martial arts: self-discipline, focus, concentration, health benefits, self-confidence, self-control. Yay! Good stuff.

    Having said that: The martial arts will not GIVE you any of these.

    These are attributes that you develop within yourself. The martial arts can be a powerful tool to help you develop these useful life skills. But they aren't automatically instilled by the style when you sign a contact at a commercial martial art school. Bottom line is all the great and wonderful changes that have come about in your life from studying the martial arts, came from you. The MA may have been the means through which you achieved them, but it was you who did the work.

    Still, people tend to ascribe these life-altering traits TO the martial arts.With that comes another bit of baggage.When you feel you were saved from your former failings by the martial arts, there is a natural tendency to want to protect and defend the 'martial arts.' This creates a complex paradox. First is the love and the passion for something beneficial to you. Second is the knowledge that there's some bad stuff going on under the name of martial arts. Keep this mental jungle gym in mind, we'll come back to it.

    Humans are very complex creatures. Very seldom do we do anything for just one reason. In fact, we often take simple concepts and add layers and layers on top of them so they serve not just one, but multiple, purposes. For example, 'eating.' From a functional standpoint, it is just about fueling your body. If that's all it is though, why do we hate to eat alone? Why do we have 'family' meals, much less holiday feeds, banquets and, yes, even culturally identifying eating restrictions?

    This last point is important because so much of what we get out of the 'martial arts' isn't about MA at all, but about us as humans.

    For example, social networking, belonging to a group, self-identifiers ('I belong to so-and-so school' or 'I am a martial artist'), a sense of rank in the hierarchy (what belt you are). These are important 'social' elements to the human psyche. And when I start talking about the social aspects of the martial arts, people think I'm being dismissive of them (e.g., it's just a frivolous hobby). In fact all of these elements are critical for our species' survival, our psychological well-being and the guidelines to how we conduct ourselves. I don't know about you, but those things sound a little deeper and more complex than the martial arts 'just being a hobby.'

    This is some seriously deep stuff. Deep enough that it is fair to say, 'there are many people who have made the martial arts their religion.' As such, we can point out a similarity in tactics when it comes to 'protecting' something they greatly self-identify with.

    The first tactic is simple. No matter what the misconduct done in the name of (fill in the blank), it is excused as "the perpetrator(s) is not a 'true' (fill in the blank)."

    You can see this in action by pointing out the historically documented misconduct of the different organized religions. Or in this case, what other people are doing in the name of 'martial arts.' This approach both covers, but also distances oneself, from a plethora of sins committed in the name of martial arts.

    The most common version is 'they are not doing real (fill in a style or even generic 'martial arts').

    This tactic has several uses. From a technique standpoint, if a school or instructor -- who is teaching the same style you practice -- has dangerously bad body mechanics, you've just dismissed them, protected your beliefs AND your allegiance to the style. When in fact, how do you really know your body mechanics are any better? As an outside observer, I've seen dojo and flame wars over flawed body mechanics. Both sides were arguing over what was the 'right way' to do a move, when, in fact, neither method was functional outside the confines of those particular dojos.

    From a social/psychological standpoint, it allows us to maintain a positive sense of identity with a group (and the benefits) without having to own - and possibly clean up -- the bad behavior of those who also identify themselves with the group.

    Do you know of a particularly bad practitioner or school owner whose actions you not only disagree with, but are embarrassed by? Okay. What are you doing about it?

    I'm not talking about dojo wars (and, yes, boys and girls I am old enough to remember dojo-busting). I'm talking about actively going out and warning people away from the pitfalls of both pseudo AND bad training. Are you giving people the tools and knowledge to recognize bad training when they see it?* Are you doing this without benefit to yourself? (I.e., "What they do over there is bad, come study with us instead.") Are you teaching people body mechanics you've double checked with a physician or physical therapist to see if repetitive movement the way you do the technique is injurious? When you have done that, you can explain why you need to turn your foot or bend your knee before you pivot on a weight-bearing leg. ** Are you researching the legal complications and problems of 'self-defense?'

    Or is it easier to just say, "What they do over there isn't real (fill in the blank)" and carry on doing what you are doing?

    Here's a problem with that.When you are inside a group, you can go through these mental gymnastics and -- to you at least -- it looks like you've bought yourself all kinds of distance from such misconduct.What's more, you've just reinforced the group's identity and righteousness (we do it right here).

    But to an outsider, you've just blown your credibility.

    To an outsider, you both are teaching the same thing. If you start with the who's real and who isn't, you've undermined the credibility of the whole thing. If that guy over there is screwing up and you don't own it, why should they trust you? Because you tell them to? Oh yeah, that works.

    An outsider will judge the entire group, not only by the misconduct of those 'others,' but how YOU respond to the issue. Outsiders don't make the subtle distinctions between your school and another. By using the 'real' excuse, you've just told them there's a huge can of worms about politics and rivalries within the group. And instead of being honest about it, you are a participant. Now why the hell should they get involved in that kind of game?

    At the same time, people who DO say okay are the ones who like to play these games. Gee, you've just self-selected for dojo politics in your school.

    The second common tactic is the apologist (also known as 'the excuser'). That is when people justify bad behavior because ...

    Two points must be made here. First is the concept of 'abusus non tollit usum' (abuse does not preclude proper use). We also can turn that around to 'proper use does not justify abuse.' There are legitimate aspects of martial arts training that ARE being abused by unscrupulous school owners. For example, making people instruct classes for you as part of their rank advancement while they are paying student fees. That isn't just free labor, that's getting people to pay you to work for you, as well as make money for you.

    The second point is: "Humans are not rational animals, they are rationalizing animals." (I got that from my psych class in college). To protect our beliefs and cherished ideals, we can do all kinds of mental gymnastics.While some will only go so far, others would make a monkey gulp in disbelief with the extreme gymnastics they do in their mental jungle gym. As humans, we can come up with excuses and reasons why what we are doing is okay -- even if it really is not kosher.

    I point these out because often, in the defense of the martial arts, we condemn the 'bad behavior' of others and self-justify our doing the exact same thing. Then we get ****ed when someone paints us with the same brush. How's that for a good self-rationalization?

    Instead of decrying the Penn & Teller show as 'lumping all martial art training together' and finding fault with the program, take a good hard look at what YOU are doing. This, especially if you're doing something that was pointed out in the show.

    Are you helping to educate people about how to find quality martial arts? Are you giving them realistic expectations? Or are your tactics reinforcing the general public's idea that the martial arts are filled with fruitcakes, barking moonbats, sadist/masochists, con men and people with deep psychological issues?

    Penn and Teller have just exposed an ugly underbelly of the business of martial arts. One that has long been apparent to outsiders, but one that insiders have willfully ignored, justified and, in many cases, participated in. I see a lot of squealing about what martial artists saw on the episode or pretence you're better than (or apart from) these problems. Well bad news folks, you're not. If you've self-identified yourself as a martial artist, much less an MA instructor, then while you might not be painted with the same brush, you will be splattered by the kind of misconduct.

    The bottom line is this: Instead of trying to dismiss the Penn & Teller episode (because it points out legitimate problems with something that you put great value in -- the martial arts) why don't you go out and do what you can to counter these trends in the martial arts? And if you claimi the show was biased or what these people are doing isn't 'real' martial arts, you might want to show outsiders why they should believe your contention that they saw on the show isn't representative of all martial arts.

    I know that, you know that. But just saying "that isn't 'real' martial arts" or the show was flawed isn't going to fix years of misconduct by people in the name of 'martial arts.' You'll get a lot more miles out of saying, "Yeah, there's a lot of misconduct done in the name of martial arts and self-defense. But here's how to tell the good from the bad."

    You'll do more to protect the reputation of the martial arts with that strategy than you'll ever get by bad mouthing the show and squealing how unfair and biased it was.

    And, if what you saw on the show reflects your business practices (or the culture of your school), you'll do even more for the MA if you knock it off. The cat's out of the bag about these business practices and people are going to be looking for them -- before they sign the contract.


    * For example:

    ** That isn't magical, mystical or ancient deadly warrior art, that's documentable physiology, safety and sports medicine.
  8. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    Indeed. All one has to do is take a study of the general populace of the masses, who do not study a martial art, (or non-martial artists) yet they accomplish "self-discipline, focus, concentration, health benefits, self-confidence, self-control. " Yet, this large populace, including older generations like our Uncles/Aunts, Grandparents, and others, had seemed to survive to a ripe age, without having actually studied a martial art.

    As I had created threads and discussions of what some "outsiders", or non-martial artists perceive the martial arts, or what a martial artist should project at times to a "outsider", I had seemed to shock some with my forthright descriptions or accounts with many people, of who were into the martial arts/group.

    Indeed, humans tend to become offensive (or defensive) upon any slight controversy upon whatever subject they feel strongly about. Humans seem to be stimulated by negative exposure more so than positive.

    I have long since followed you site, and on occasion exchanged discussion upon some subjects there on.
  9. Ferran

    Ferran Valued Member

    Marc's off-line... he's asked if we could post:

    There’s an old saying that runs along the lines of ‘defenders of an ideal often do it more harm than the critics.’ Simply stated, while the show might drive people away from the MA, school owners and true believers have been doing a far, far better job of it (and for many years) than what one show can do. I especially am talking about people who, using the NAPMA business model, have burned countless people.

    In casual conversation, what I do for a living often comes up. People tell me they "did martial arts once." Something I started doing long ago is asking these people, “Why did you quit?” In management, this is known as an ‘exit interview.’ In business, it is called ‘market research.’ And putting it mildly, there are a LOT of unhappy customers. The largest complaint I hear can be summed up as “I came to learn self-defense, and they tried to teach me martial arts.”

    The second most common is "it didn't work." A common thread is, while at first they were willing to take it on faith, what they were learning didn’t match with the violence and conflict the ex-students both saw and feared. As such, the information fell into the ‘no help’ category of customer dissatisfaction.

    I've studied the subjects of crime, violence and use of force my entire life. And I can tell you that there is no such thing as a simple 'you just do this' answer. And there certainly is no one-stop-shopping for all your self-defense
    needs. What works well in one set of circumstances will get you killed or sent to prison in others. It's that big, and it's that complex a subject.

    And yet ‘self-defense’ is THE biggest promise that MA sells itself on. A promise they routinely fail to deliver on. That show isn't going to hurt the martial arts nearly as much as martial artists, marketing and false advertising has already done.

    The Deed is Done. Take care.
  10. Llamageddon

    Llamageddon MAP's weird cousin Supporter

    The show I thought was a mix of meh and lol. Not sure what the karate guy likes to market himself as, but if he's willing to go in Penn and Teller's BS, you can't really expect much, right?!

    They do make a good point though - the main selling point of martial arts shouldn't be explicit self defence. How to throw a punch, yes. How to take a punch, probably... but after that you need to rethink
  11. kenposan

    kenposan New Member


    First let me say that your post was both insightful and interesting. You, Peyton Quinn, et al. have done great work over the years in bringing a reality to self defense that many us MA would otherwise have missed. I know that in my own training, your books, website, etc. really opened my eyes to what I was learning vs. what was "real", and I thank you for this.

    Like any industry, there is going to be good and bad. Unfortunately in MA, there is such a wide variety of styles, philosophies, concepts, etc. that there is bound to be numerous schools that don't adhere to the 'martial' concept. We all know how MA (in Japan/Okinawa) shifted from jitsu to do as a logical progression. In reality, few MA really practice for SD. For me, it was a side benefit of learning something that had a strong history, tradition, health benefits, etc.

    The thing about Penn and Teller that frustrated me is that they didn't bother to look at the good, sold training that many of us receive, but rather chose to focus on the bs (yes, that's the name of show and it's all about ratings).

    They have done this on several shows. They will find fringers and represent them as the mainstream of the cause they are attacking. So moonbat Tai Chi woman who listens to her organs suddenly represents all of Tai Chi, and by default, all of the MA world. She no more represents all of Tai Chi anymore than Tom Cruise represents all actors or Marcia Clark represents all prosecutors.

    Yes, we all get painted with the same brush because those outside MA don't understand what we do. Sometimes, we don't understand what we do because we're self deluded. Because of this, I believe we have a responsibility to look at ourselves, our schools, our teachers, and accept the truth of what we do.

    I have taught MA. I have taught SD. I have made it clear to students that there is a distinct difference at times. My instructor was very clear. "we do kickboxing. SD is not our focus". If we were only all so honest.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 29, 2010
  12. Shiho-Nage

    Shiho-Nage I'm okay to go.

    It is the same method used by anyone who wishes to discredit someone/something. Instead of taking a look at a cross-section of an individual/organization/systems' methods/achievements they focus solely on the incompetent, ridiculous, obscene and dangerous actions/aspects done by or in the name of said entity.

    Honest analysis is hard work. Its much easier to cherry pick your examples to come to the conclusion you set out to reach.
  13. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

    Biased towards rational explanations, there not big on myths without fact

    Besides I liked the bible episode:

    [ame=""]YouTube- Penn & Teller; The Bible is ********.[/ame]

    In regards to MA, it was lazy targeting, but there are so many wackjobs in MA.
  14. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    As I have created some threads, it is all about an "outsider's" (non martial artists) perception.

    Stereotyping what a martial artist should be like or project.

    Like Alcohol consumption, smoking, gambling, etc.,

    As with a sterotype upon any subject, some are true, to an extent.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2010
  15. flammee

    flammee Valued Member

    Marc MacYoung raised some good points on that show. Penn & Teller part of the show sucked heavily. Most pointless part of the show was laughing to chi gong woman, she clearly acknowledged that those exercises looked weird and stupid.. I don't really believe that such exercises have too much effect on health, but making fun of how it looks like is just sad. She had some new ageish claims, but not much martial arts stuff. Penn & Tellers way of argumenting seemed to be pointing with a finger something that looks weird and laughing.
  16. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    Wow. She's a nuts hippie, but Penn & Teller come off worse than she does, because they're clearly using her as a straw man to attack taiji overall.

    They not only take the worst possible taiji practitioner you can find, but also someone who clearly is into "hippie taiji for health," not the martial art of taiji, and then conclude that taiji is no good for fighting, full stop. Idiots. That's not even what she's promising.

    If they want to discuss taiji for fighting, they should talk with someone who has even a remote interest in it for that purpose, so they at least could see what taiji is (i.e., stand-up grappling):

    [ame=""]YouTube- londontaiji.wmv[/ame]
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2010
  17. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

    They should of asked master wong:

    [ame=""]YouTube- Wing Chun Training on YouTube With Master Wong EPS 7[/ame]
  18. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    What a tool. He deserves some embarrassing.

    On the other hand, if your goal is to embarrass the idiots within martial arts, instead of attacking martial arts as a whole, shouldn't positive counter-examples be given, like these guys at the 2009 British Open Tai Chi Championships?

    [ame=""]YouTube- British Open Tai Chi Championships 2009 Moving Step[/ame]
    [ame=""]YouTube- BRITISH OPEN OXFORD 2009[/ame]
  19. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

    I would love to see him properly spar though. besides he doesnt give a monkeys!

    Good push hands? this guy:

    [ame=""]YouTube- San Shou Tuishou with Chen Ziqiang[/ame]
  20. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    I'm just partway through watching the Penn and Teller episode now, and I have to say, it's outrageously offensive. The karate instructor--they mock him for "teaching people how to defend themselves," and then show him hitting a student who isn't responding. Is this hypocrisy? Is this a manipulative and controlling instructor?

    No, it's sanchin. The student is doing sanchin, and the instructor is striking him in the stomach, legs, and shoulders, exactly how it's always been done with sanchin. 99% of the viewers have never heard of sanchin and don't know what it is, and Penn and Teller are preying on that ignorance to show a completely traditional isometric-strength-and-body-connection drill as some sort of baseless, malicious spectacle.

    And after seeing the full segment on the qigong teacher, I have to say that they're clearly cutting stuff out of context. She basically teaches calisthenics for older folks and hippies, and doesn't claim to do anything more than that. Do the calisthenics look ridiculous? Yes, but so what? Is there anything wrong with teaching hippie calisthenics? She doesn't claim that what she teaches is good for self-defense. What she does claim is that it's good for health. And here's a secret...IT IS. Here's the webpage the National Institutes of Health (a division of the US government) has on the health benefits of taiji: Ironically, Penn and Teller crucifies the woman for saying that taiji helped her osteoarthritis, and the NIH page lists one of the benefits of taiji as being "To ease pain and stiffness—for example, from osteoarthritis." (The making dog and chicken sounds part was kooky, but then again, it easily could have been taken out of context, knowing Penn and Teller).

    The RBSD guy, though, is a tool. No argument there.

    EDIT: Okay, so the karate instructor is a bit lame for not paying his assistant instructors for painting the dojo and laying telephone line...BUT Penn and Teller are lamer for saying, and I quote, "But this isn't unique to Mike's dojo; this is all dojos around the country." What? Really? Mr. Penn, isn't that, y'know, libel?
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2010

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