The Cult of the Chinese Martial Arts

There is a really strange subculture in the Chinese Martial Arts, almost like a cult. In fact, I have, many times, referred the Chinese Martial Arts family as a cult. I will go into greater detail about this presently, but I wish to first make clear that I am not referring to everyone who practices Chinese Martial Arts as members of a cult. I am referring specifically to those who adhere to certain beliefs spelled out below. My friends know who they are as well as who I am speaking of in this article. Here I am going to give a list of some of the more common issues that really hinder the levels of respectability for the Chinese Martial Arts as a whole.

The Grandmaster Syndrome

Within the Chinese Martial Arts there is a long list of taboos. These are things which must not be mentioned in any public setting, and absolutely never in writing.

At the top of the list, one is never supposed to say anything counter to the official teachings of the “head of a lineage”. These are people held in high regard because of who they learned from, as opposed to gaining respect through hard work and the development of high levels of skill. It is the lineage that is supposed to make their kung fu more authentic than that learned from someone else. When one questions this traditional belief, the typical line is to compare lineage to the concept of attending a fine University. There is a serious and unwarranted jump needed to make such a connection. The person considered to be the head of a lineage is someone who learned from someone famous in the lineage. Okay…in modern times it usually has to be someone who learned from someone who learned from some famous historical figure in the system, but you can see the idea.

All too often, however, a person of note in the history of a style or school was not well known because they were the best, they were well known because they were well known, had a big school, or most typically, knew the right people. Connections have always been more important that what a person really knows, and this holds true for many fields of study outside of the martial arts as well.

I don’t spend a great deal of time talking about my lineage. I want to be judged based on what I know, not who I trained under. There are many ways to test the skills of a trainee of any martial art, and I have never backed away from any of these.

There have been very heated debates on the kung fu internet forums based on nothing more than “my lineage is better than yours”, and “is not”, and “is so!” This is worse than childish, it is asinine! The people who promote their lineage over the actual training are immature and look more and more so each time they debate the issue.

The debates go on, and people continue to be duped into thinking that because this guy learned from that guy that this style must be the real deal.

It isn’t and never was.

The people that I have known who promote lineage the loudest are those who have no strength in their own ability, and need to use something to gain a foothold into people’s minds and make them think that their school is the best school in which to train, or they have never tested what they were being taught, and are afraid of what might happen if they were to test their claims and fail.

Can you see the absurdity of the thought that, “well, he is tiny and weak, but he learned from the Grandmaster of the style, so I have to train here”? These are also the “masters” who play the secret knowledge card to the maximum of its potential. They have to! They cannot use the system in a fighting situation, so all they have left is to promote some mystique about hidden knowledge.

“Secret Knowledge Taught Here”

Just imagine how absurd you would think it was if someone opened a martial arts school and hung out a sign that read, “Secret Knowledge Taught Here!”

Yet, people really sign up in schools where they think that ancient and secret knowledge is taught only to those special students who pay their tuition.

There are no secrets. There are many in the Chinese Martial Arts community who hate it when I say this, but it is fact. There are no secrets, no hidden knowledge, no death touch, no magic, no levitation, none of it.

Well, I take that back. There is one secret. Hard work.

Get up off of your butt and do something. People get so caught up in the ideas of magical powers that they lose sight of the real world. Science will open your eyes to a lot of things, but you first have to be willing to have your eyes opened. When I teach my students, I teach them ways to test my claims, and I make sure they also understand that they can find their own tests to reaffirm the claims. There is no magic involved, only science. Many “masters” would not be willing to allow such tests. To even question a claim is tantamount to blasphemy.

Sometimes, when a “master” comes to believe their own lies, they can be convinced to allow a test of their claims. There is a video available online where National Geographic did a story on an internationally known martial arts “master” who had begun claiming the ability to perform a no-touch knock out. The reporters had a person stand in and accept the challenge to be knocked out without being touched. Of course, it didn’t work. When it didn’t work, they went to the master looking for an explanation Naturally, he had one. He didn’t have it prepared ahead of time, as was obvious as he searched in thin air for some reason that wouldn’t sound completely asinine. All he could come up with was the following:

“The skeptic was a..uh. .totally non believe it…non-believer. Plus…I don’t know if I should say that on film…if the guy had his tongue in the wrong position of the mouth; that can also nullify it. Yeah. You can nullify it. You can nullify a lot of things done to you. In fact, you can nullify it if you raise those two big toes. If I say I’m gonna knock you out, and you raise one toe and push one toe down…can’t knock you out. And then if I try again, you reverse it. If you keep doing this, I won’t knock you out.”

In this situation, the master is not presenting anything other than opinion. His claims of no-touch knock out proved upon testing to be false, the reason he gave for the failure of the demonstration were unsupported opinion. In addition, to all appearances, he was making up his response on the spot. He did this for no other reason than to support his previous unsubstantiated opinion. This is precisely what you want to avoid, as it is weak reasoning, at best, and post-justification at worst.

All claims in the martial arts should follow the scientific method and shown to be observable, explainable, testable, and repeatable. If this is not the case, you are dealing with pseudoscience, and you need to go elsewhere for your training.

Bodhidharma Slept Here

When people come to me to learn, I teach them the art and how to use it. I do not teach them the history because the history that is widely known is fiction, and the history that is true is not what they want to hear.

People love the Bodhidharma story. And when pressed, most martial artists will admit that it probably isn’t true. I went ahead with what some of the most respected martial arts historians had uncovered and said publicly that the story is false, and made a lot of people mad. Facts cannot be changed by ignoring them.

The simple fact is that martial arts are military arts. They existed in China and everywhere else long before Bodhidharma made his fabled journey, if he existed at all to make the journey. To think that China (or any other Country) had no military training for its soldiers until after the 520 AD(ish) visit from a wandering monk is completely ridiculous. If you have to cling to that story, I feel sorry for you.

Qi Makes You Fat

I don’t believe in Qi power. In the Chinese Martial Arts, it is not okay to make such a statement. I have been branded a moron and a buffoon ipso facto for openly admitting that Qi is nonsense and the people who promote, claim and teach it are frauds, charlatans, and liars. It is not okay to speak or write these things.

For many people in the Chinese Martial Arts, Qi is the entire reason they are a part of it at all. I was in the same group, so I know whereof I speak. I was originally into the Chinese Martial Arts because the mysticism was so appealing to the weird youngster that I was. I wanted to believe that these powers were real, and I wanted to have them to smite my foes. I trained and sought out the masters, and I spent an ungodly amount of money on this nonsense.

And in the end I got nothing out of it.

If Qi powers were real, there would be a scientific way to prove it, it would be known outside of the martial arts and acupuncture sub-cultures. It isn’t because it is not real. It would be common knowledge by now, and would not need to be “proven” through parlor tricks.


This is but a taste of the strange beliefs that a critical thinker must deal with if he is to be a trainee in the Chinese Martial Arts. I started out as a believer in this nonsense, and have grown and reached a clear understanding. There are some CMA practitioners who are leaving the asinine stories and lies behind, and are moving ahead into the world of real skills, and testing what they teach. I hope that this movement grows. The silliness has gone on for too long.