Archive for the martial arts Category

The Fall of the Last Emperor

Posted in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Critical Thinking, martial arts, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Anyone familiar with MMA should be familiar with the name Fedor Emelianenko. 

For the uninformed Emelianenko is a mixed martial arts fighter who for a period of time was essentially an unstoppable force in MMA the likes of which have not previously been seen.  Coming from virtual obscurity, Fedor quickly rose to the top the mixed martial arts world, dispatching all challengers in his way, earning the name “The Last Emperor”.  Put simply, Emelianenko was thought to be unstoppable. 

But sadly, all good things must come to an end. 

Fedor has lost his last 2 fights.  His 1st lost came via triangle choke by Fabricio Werdum, in the 1st round of their fight.  Although a devastating loss to Fedor, his camp, and his fans, it could be argued that Fedor had simply got sloppy/lazy in this grappling technique and “got caught” by a skilled practitioner.   

Many, including those within Fedor’s camp, felt that they was no need for alarm.  Fedor made a simple mistake against a skilled practitioner and “got caught”.  Surely this would not, in fact it could not happened again. 

Fast forward a few months later and Fedor suffers his second loss (in a row no less!) at the hands of Antonio “Big Foot” Silva.  Fedor not only lost, he got beaten down.  Granted there were moments when we saw glimpses of his former dominance, but reviewing the fight in its entirety, Fedor looked like a shell of his former self.    

After the fight, there were many different explanations for Fedor’s loss.  Some felt that Fedor was simply in a slump.  Others theorized that Fedor was simply no longer able to hang with top competitors and was approaching the end of his career.  The most interesting explanation came from Fedor’s camp, specifically from his head coach, Vladimir Voronov.  Voronov, had a perfectly logical explanation for why Fedor had lost the fight.      


Yeah, you read that correctly…


Pulled from Russian Sports Website,

“We believe that forbidden psychological technology was used… It seems to us that not everything was right, and that certain technologies were used. Not ones that could be seen by the naked eye but psychological technologies that worked on both fighters at a distance.”

“That is why during the fight Fedor was just not like himself. It seemed very strange behaviour from Fedor. He stepped into the ring and did everything exactly the opposite of what we practiced before the fight. We were all shocked! Fedor had never previously done such a thing.

“Now nearly a week passes, everything settles, and we understand why all this happened.”

Whether or not you are a fan of mixed martial arts, I am sure that we can all agree that the assertion that Fedor lost as a result of physic attacks/manipulations is just…


it is just sad…

Instead of searching for a logical answer for Fedor’s most recent loss, his team has instead decided to pursue para-normal explanations.  Instead of looking at logical reason for his loss (such his striking game, his grappling/ground game, his diet, or even his mental preparation for an upcoming fight), they have focused their attention of para-normal/supernatural explanations.  It should be noted, that as a result of this type of reasoning, one could argue that Fedor is no longer held accountable for this loss.  I mean, how can Fedor be held responsible for his loss, when he was up against an evil, mysterious, unseen, and unknown individual with psychic powers!  I mean come on!  The man is only human.  I would argue that the path taken by Fedor and his team will have 1 of 2 possible outcomes. 

1)      Fedor and his camp will concede that his loss was not Fedor’s fault, but instead the fault of psychic manipulation by the hand of some evil unknown enemy.

2)      Fedor and his camp will invest time, effort and resources to find/develop a means of combating and overcoming these mysterious psychic attacks that plaqued him in his last fight.

It should be noted that the end result of either outcome will be the same.  Fedor will be doomed to repeat his past mistakes. 


What can we learn from all of this?

People often ask me, “what is the harm in belief in the para-normal/supernatural?”  The harm is that instead of identifying real world/logical/rational answers to a problem, and individual is instead reduced to chasing their proverbial tail, looking for an answer that does not exist or will have no impact on the situation before them.  One of life’s greatest frustrations is how little control we have over so much.  Why would you want to increase that lack of control you already have (or is that don’t have) by trying to have an impact on something that is, at best, outside your scope of influence or, at worst, does not even exist?  One the things I despise most about para-normal/supernatural explanations is that they take the accountability away from the individual in question.  In the above case: Fedor’s team is trying to make the case that Fedor was the victim of a psychic attack, consequently they are implying that Fedor cannot be held accountable for his loss. 

So dear reader…

Again, I ask you, what can we learn from all of this? 

Don’t take the easy way out.  When faced with defeat, do not look for para-normal/supernatural explanations.  Instead, take the proverbial “hard look at yourself in the mirror” and find a logical/rational/reality based answer for your defeat.  Take that answer and learn from it.  Take that answer and become a better person than you where the day before.

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…


The Legend of Saigo Takamori

Posted in Critical Thinking, martial arts, movies, Samurai, skepticism with tags , , , , , , on November 16, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

I discussed the film “The Last Samurai” in a recent blog post (  In that post I discussed the fallen samurai Saigo Takamori,

who was the basis for the character Katsumoto in the film “The Last Samurai”.

Much is known about the life of Saigo, but much mystery surrounds his death.

As discussed in a previous blog post Saigo was a high ranking samurai of the Satsuma domain.  He fought on the side of the Imperial army and helped to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate, which resulted in the formation of the Meiji government.  Saigo was highly involved with the, newly formed Meiji government and became a bureaucrat.  However, over time he became increasingly frustrated and unhappy with the policies being put forth by the Meiji government and resigned from his position. 

After his resignation, Saigo returned to his hometown of Kagoshima.  While in Kagoshima, Saigo established a private military academy.  This academy soon became the home for thousands of other samurai who had also left positions within the Meiji government.  Although not the original intention of the academy, Saigo would eventually go on to help lead the members of this academy into a war against the Meiji government.  As outline in my previous blog post, this is referred to as the Satsuma Rebellion.  In the final altercation of the Satsuma Rebellion, Saigo lead the remaining samurai of the Satsuma domain into the Battle of Shiroyama, where Saigo (along with the samurai he lead) perished.  And this is where the legend/mystery of Shiroyama begins…

It is known that Saigo was one of the last samurai involved in the final charge of the Battle of Shiroyama.  It is also known that Saigo was mortally wounded by gunfire from the Meiji army.  But, this is when things start to get a little less clear.    

There several different  surrounding his death. 

The 1st (and most popular) tale of Saigo’s death, has the fallen samurai, aware that death was imminent, managing to get himself to his knees and commit seppuku in order to ensure an honourable death.  Historians argue that this scenario is highly unlikely, as Saigo would have been so badly wounded he would not have been physically capable of positioning himself in an upright position, much less having the physical strength and mental capability to perform the ritual of seppuku.  Many historians feel that this story is simply a romanticized version of Saigo’s death, and most likely did not actually happen.

The 2nd most commonly told tale of Saigo’s death, has Saigo, realizing that he did not have the strength to commit seppuku, requested that one of his subordinates end his life, again ensuring an honourable death.  Most historians argue that, similar to the above story, this tale is not true.  Again, due to the severity of the wounds he sustained, historians argue that Saigo would have quickly slipped into state of  unconsciousness, and would not have had the ability to make such a request. 

The 3rd, final, and most likely tale of Saigo’s death, is that, seeing that his leader had fallen, one of Saigo’s subordinates would have cut off his head, preventing it from being captured by the enemy side (the Meiji army), thus ensuring that Saigo had an honourable death.

It is also worth noting, that around the time of his death (and for that matter for decades after his death) a legend persisted in Japanese culture that Saigo had not perished in the Battle of Shiroyama.  Those that believed in (and propagated) the legend thought that he had gone into hiding and that he would eventually reappear to fight against injustice suffered by the Japanese people.  This legend persisted for decades after the actual death of Saigo, despite several reputable sources (both Japanese and Foreign) that witnessed his burial shortly after the Battle of Shiroyama.

So what should we take from all of this?

Due to the passage of time, the legend of the death of Saigo will remain just that…a legend.

History, or more accurately our memory/account/retelling of a historical event, is not always 100% based in reality.  Instead, a memory/account/retelling of a historical event is often (but not always) an amalgamation of fact mixed with fiction, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we are honest about what fact is and what is fiction.

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

Skepticism and BJJ/MMA

Posted in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Critical Thinking, martial arts, Mixed Martial Arts, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am a martial arts practitioner, specifically I am a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) practitioner.  In line with my affinity for BJJ, I am also a huge fan of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and consume both live and televised events whenever I can. 

MMA has been around, in variety of different forms, for quite some time, however it made its way into the mainstream consciousness back in November of 1993 with the original Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). 

The brain-child of Rorion Gracie, the UFC was intended to be a promotional platform for Gracie/Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Over the course of two decades, the UFC went from being billed as a bare knuckled no holds barred street fight to a professional sport which is (arguably) home to some of the world’s best athletes.  The UFC has slowly made its way into the mainstream, and is (again, arguably) set to replace boxing as the combat sport to watch.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog post…

Is BJJ obsolete in today’s MMA game?

Let us take a skeptical look at this question shall we.

Back in the day BJJ reigned supreme, but in today’s MMA climate that is no longer the case.  Competitors of yesteryear tended to be skilled only in one area of combat.  More specifically, many of the original MMA competitors specialized in forms of stand up combat.  Consequently, it was possible (and most times quite easy) for a BJJ practitioner to absorb a few strikes, clinch, take the fight to the ground and then finish his opponent.  But, as mentioned above, this is no longer the case.

The game has changed.  Today’s mixed martial artist must be extremely well rounded if he hopes to make it anywhere in today’s fight game.  Consequently, this has made it much more difficult for a pure BJJ practitioner to excel in MMA (without the addition of an effective striking + wrestling base).  This has led some individuals to proclaim that BJJ is obsolete and no longer relevant in MMA today. 

I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth. 

BJJ is an extremely effective martial art (in my opinion it is one of, if not the, most effective martial arts).  BJJ is also extremely effective for use in self defence.  However, BJJ is no longer the proverbial check mate it was in the early days of MMA.  Gone are the days when a BJJ practitioner can enter a MMA match with little or no striking or wrestling background and expect to dominate.  However, BJJ is far from obsolete in modern MMA.  Don’t believe me…just watch any fight where one of the fighters has little or no BJJ training.      

A perfect exam of the above phenomena in modern MMA was the 1st Frank Mir versus Brock Lesnar fight. 

Lesnar, an unstoppable freight train, was a wrestler who began to cross train in striking and BJJ.  Frank Mir was a mixed martial artist with a base in BJJ.  Prior to the fight it was theorized by many the Lesnar’s size, strength and wrestling abilities would simply be too much for Mir, and Mir’s BJJ would not even be a factor.  What transpired when these 2 heavy weights met?  Lesnar took Mir to the ground,

Lesnar bounced Mir’s head off the mat,

And then Mir submitted Lesnar with a kneebar. 

Despite Lesnar’s strength, size and wrestling background, without a sold BJJ base he was doomed once the fight hit the ground.  

Fast forward a few months to Lesnar vs. Mir rematch. 

Prior to the match, Lesnar worked diligently to improve his game (specifically his grappling and ground game).  What happened in the rematch?  Lesnar took Mir to the ground, Lesnar controlled Mirr on the mat, Lesnar then proceeded to bounce Mir’s head off the mat,

And Lesnar finished the fight. 

Because of Lesnar’s hard work to develop his game, he was able to neutralize Mir’s ground game and impose his will.  If Lesnar had not further developed his BJJ/group game, in my opinion, the rematch would have played out much the same as the 1st fight. 

Even more recently this weekend, “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko, previously thought to be unbeatable, lost.  How did he lose you ask…

A triangle choke. 

So what have we learned from all of this?

BJJ is far from obsolete in modern MMA!  As stated above, a fighter can no longer expect to excel with only a base in BJJ; however a fighter cannot expect to become a champion without it!  And even the best can still lose to a well timed + properly executed submission.

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

Skepticism vs. Mixed Martial Arts

Posted in Critical Thinking, martial arts, skepticism with tags , , , , , , on June 3, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

Who would have thought!?  A skeptical blog post about mixed martial arts! 

Stephen is a martial artist who hails from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  He is most well known for his informative and detailed Brazilian jiu jitsu/grappling instructional.  If you are a martial artist (specifically a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) you owe it to yourself to check out his website:

I am on Stephen’s email list.  Recently he sent out an email discussing what makes a great instructor.  Many in the sports/martial arts community are under the false assumption that in order to be a great instructor an individual also has to be a world champion competitor.  Additionally, many also assume that an instructor with little (or even no) competition experience cannot be a good instructor.  The truth of the matter is that nothing could be further from the truth.    

 Stephen discusses this in his email, Check it out:

 “Hi there,

 Some people think that they can only learn from World Champions. And then, when they finally study with a competition legend, they’re often disappointed that he won’t (or can’t) teach them very much.

 It’s easy to confuse teaching ability and competition success, but these are in fact very, very different things. There are lots of good fighters, fewer good teachers, and very few people who are both good fighters and good teachers. And you DON’T need a 400-0 record to be a great coach.

 Consider one of the very best MMA coaches in the business: Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

  • He’s never held the title belt in the UFC.
  • He’s never been the champion of any MMA organization.
  • And he’s never – as far as I know – fought in MMA himself.

So he’s a chump, right?

 Not so much! Despite his lack of competition pedigree he’s highly regarded by TONS of great fighters, including GSP, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt, Andrei Arlovski, etc.

 These guys travel across the country to train with him, or fly him out to orchestrate their training camps. I am told that he has an amazing ability to put together a gameplan for his fighters.

 Maybe there’s more to teaching than simply being the toughest guy in the room…

 An Australian reader recently wrote me about teaching skills vs. fighting skills. Here’s a little bit of what he said:

 “John B. Will teaches teaches seminars at our school 3 times a year and he has discussed the idea that there are black belts in technique and rolling but not as many in teaching.”

 I think that this idea of a “black belt in teaching” is 100% correct. One of my teachers and role models – Dan Inosanto – has said that he’d rather train with a good teacher than a good fighter.

 That’s because some great fighters can’t articulate the details of even their bread and butter moves, nor teach you about the timing of the moves.

 Being a good teacher isn’t only about performance. It’s about being aware of the technical details and knowing how to share them with others. It’s about being able to find the best way to teach someone, even if they have a different learning style than yourself. It’s about finding variations and modifications of techniques that work for different body types and temperaments.

 I think you’re getting my point by now, but in case you’re still unsure, let me ask you a question.

Who would you rather have as a boxing instructor:

  1. ‘Iron Mike’ Tyson (40 KO’s in 58 fights), or
  2. Cuss D’Amato (who only had one amateur fight – which he lost – but then became Tyson’s coach and mentor)

Hmmm, I thought so…

 Stephan Kesting

 Stephen raises some really great points, specifically, the fact that people often confuse competition success with teaching ability.  Being a great competitor does not mean that an individual can teach.  In fact, many great martial arts/sports instructors have little (or no) formal competition experience.  The ability to compete and the ability to instruct are 2 very different skill sets (it should however be noted that the 2 skill sets are not mutually exclusive.  It is quite possible for one individual to process both skill sets).   

So what should you take from all of this…

Just because someone is capable of tearing it up on the mats/playing field, does not automatically mean that that same person can teach you to do the same thing!

Just because someone

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

More Martial Arts Mayhem!

Posted in martial arts, pseudo-science, science, skepticism with tags , , on August 19, 2009 by theskepticalsamurai

More Martial Arts Mayhem!

I came across these videos (embedded below), a while back.  After doing past entry on martial arts, I thought that it would be fun to revisit these videos and look at them with a more “skeptical” eye.

1st off let us introduce ourselves to the person in question.

‘Yanagiryuken’ is a Kiai Master/Daitouryu-Aikido Master.

His website:

And the translated page (using Google translator):

Not quite sure what a Kiai “master” is, as a Kiai is typically a noise (like a battle cry) made by martial arts practitioners (typically traditional martial arts practitioners, as I cannot say that I recall any Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners utilizing this technique).  There are a variety of different definitions of the concept of kiai, but one can understand it as more or less summoning of one’s inner energy.  So with that in mind I assume that Yanagiryuken is claiming that he is some sort of master of summoning and channelling his inner energy.  Alright…

In addition to the above claim, Yanagiryuken claims to be capable of using and manipulating “chi” power.  “Chi” (also spelled “Ki”) is a concept often referred to in traditional martial arts (and various types of alternative/crap-based medicine) as an individual’s life force or inner strength.  Certain traditional martial arts claim to be able to harness this power, and apparently Yanagiryuken is one of these martial arts practitioners. 

Yanagiryuken claims to have fought in 200 Vale Tudo matches and claims to have never been defeated.  In order to fight him, you must be willing to put up a 500,000 yen fee, however if you defeat him he will pay you 1,000,000 yen (although it is not clear if he returns your 500,00 yen + an additional 500,000 or if he gives you 1,000,000 yen in addition to your 500,000 yen fee)

The video embedded below is of Yanagiryuken demonstrating this “powers” on some of his students:


After watching this video, several questions come to mind…

1stly, does Yanagiryuken have “powers” or not?  Looking at this situation with a skeptical eye, one cannot automatically dismiss the notion that Yanagiryuken does not have the abilities that he claims to have.  It is entirely possible (though unlikely) that this gentleman does have some sort of “powers” that have, until this time, not been previously seen or described in the literature.  If Yanagiryuken does in fact have some sort of previously unidentified power/ability that would be extremely interesting (if for no other reason than it would completely change our current understanding of physics and the natural world). 

On the other hand, if Yanagiryuken does not have any “powers”, one has to wonder, does he simply believe his own hype or is he some sort of con artist.  Additionally, if Yanagiryuken does not have any “powers”, what are we to think of the actions of his students?  Why do they act in the manner they do when they are in Yanagiryuken’s presence. 

With the above questions in mind, it would be excellent if we could somehow test Yanagiryuken “powers”.  Ideally, we would be able to observe Yanagiryuken demonstrating his “powers” on an individual who is not under his sphere of influence (read as: someone who is not one of his students).  And wouldn’t you know it…just such a video exists and it is available on YouTube!

The videos embedded below (2 different cameras, same fight/encounter) are of Yanagiryuken in his most recent vale tudo match.

I had difficulty finding information of Yanagiryuken’s opponent, but from what I was able to uncover it appears that at the time of the video he was a legit MMA fighter (I was unable to determine if he was a professional or an amateur), held a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and was proficient in some form of striking.

I remember when I 1st watched these videos.  I thought that they were hilarious!  But now I find them rather hard to watch.  Essentially, we are watching a young healthy/legit fighter beat up on a delusional old man.  But, I digress… 

Viewing these videos, one has to assume that Yanagiryuken believes his own hype.  Why else would he put himself in front of a young MMA fighter willing to beat him down?  In the video, when Yanagiryuken is hit by his opponent he actually looks  shocked, his expression seems to indicate that he is truly amazed at what has happened.  I would argue that this further supports that notion that he believes his own hype.  So assuming that he does believe his own hype, one has to wonder how he got to this point.  Did it occur all at once or has it been a slow progression that has happened over the years. 

Additionally, how do we explain the actions of his students?  In the video we see several of his students in the background (one even comes to his aid at the end of the match).  Did they think that their master was going to come out of this encounter unharmed?  Did they actually believe that Yanagiryuken actually had the powers that he claimed to have?  Did they continue to follow him after this encounter? 

All interesting and thought provoking questions.   What do you think!? (read as: leave a comment below!)

I for one will never tire of the human condition…

And I will never tire of the process of skeptical inquiry…

Dim Mak!?

Posted in martial arts, pseudo-science, skepticism with tags , , on July 4, 2009 by theskepticalsamurai

Being a martial arts practitioner (BJJ to be exact), I often find myself searching YouTube for martial arts videos.  Typically, I scan YouTube for videos related to BJJ techniques, but the other day I stumbled across this gem! 

The long and short of it is that Tom Cameron (a self proclaimed “martial arts expert”) claims that he is capable of knocking out opponents using pressure point techniques.  Even more “impressive” is that Mr. Cameron states that he can knock out an opponent without even touching them!  He claims to have mastered the art of “Dim Mak”, more commonly known as “the death touch”.    

Let us analyze this video shall we. 

At 1:50 Mr. Cameron claims that his techniques can cause all sorts “neurological types of effects”.  Really, care to quantify that one?  Without elaborating on what type of neurological effects he claims to be capable of causing, this statement really does not hold any water.  Additionally, Mr. Cameron claims that he is able to “temporary shut off” an assailants organs.  Again, without some sort of explanation this statement also does not really hold any water.  I think that I should also point out that organs do not just “turn off”.  The organs in your body do not operate like a light switch.  You cannot simply turn them off and on at will.  It is possible to damage an organ, lose function (usually some and not all) of that organ, and then over time regain the function of that organ, but once an organ suffers an insult so severe that it “shuts off” you do not regain function of that organ.   

I think I should also point out at this point that there are no known “pressure points” that match the claims/effects of Mr. Cameron.  Plain and simple, “pressure points” that lead to unconsciousness do not exist on the human body.  Sure, you can perform medical techniques such as “vagal/carotid massage” that can cause a patient’s heart rate to slow (which could result in an episode of fainting) but merely touching this spot does not induce unconsciousness. 

The next thing that really strikes me about this video is at the 2:15 mark.  Note the response of his students when Mr. Cameron applies a “technique”.  Additionally, note the response of Mr. Cameron’s himself when one of his students applies a “technique” to him.  Now juxtaposition these responses to those of the reporter and BJJ/MMA students, we go from individuals that go down as if they have been shot (Mr. Cameron and his students) to individuals that are totally unaffected (the BJJ/MMA students).

Does anyone else see a problem with this!? 

I am going to go ahead and propose the following…

Mr. Cameron does not possess the ability to perform “pressure point” knock outs or “no touch” knock outs. 

I will take it one step further…

“Pressure point” and “No touch knockouts” simply do not exist. 

As outlined above, there simply are not “pressure points” on the human body that lead to instant unconsciousness.  Sure you can crack someone upside the head with a right cross and knock them unconscious, but I think we can all agree that that is far from a “pressure point” as described by Mr. Cameron.  Additionally, “no touch” knockouts do not exist.  Plain and simple, our current understanding of physics and the natural world make this claim impossible.  I will not delve into the details here but in order for a “no touch” knockout to be possible we would have to completely throw out everything we currently know about physics and the natural world, and I do not think that the evidence presented here warrants such an action.  However if you have evidence more impressive than the fact that you can make a few of your own students “fall over”…I would be happy to hear it!

Which brings me to my final point… 

How do we explain the fact that Mr. Cameron can make his student fall over and going into a “state of shock” as described by the paramedic staff featured in the video?  Rather simply actually.  Mr. Cameron’s students have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.  They are so invested in this situation that they essentially act in the manner that they are told to act.  They are told that these techniques will make them faint so they faint.  In contrast to the MMA/BJJ who are not invested in Mr. Cameron’s techniques and are completely unaffected.  The effects seen on Mr. Cameron’s students have nothing to do with pressure points or invisible chi blasts; instead it is simply a self induced state that can be easily reproduced/explained. 

Mr. Cameron I am not so sure about.  He is either a complete fraud (and knows that he is deceiving his students) or he is also so deeply invested in his own BS that he is unable to see that what he is doing is complete bunk.  I would love the opportunity to get into contact with Mr. Cameron’s, but sadly his website (I did not make that web address up!) no longer seems to be active.  Pity.