Friday, May 6, 2011

An Attitude of Professional Scepticism

What attitude should one adopt with regards to martial arts teachings?

Much to your horror, dear reader, I'll refer you to the Australian Auditing Standards for guidance. ASA 200 requires an auditor to adopt an attitude of professional scepticism.
Professional scepticism means an attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions which may indicate possible misstatement due to error or fraud, and a critical assessment of audit evidence.
Is an attitude of professional scepticism fostered within the martial arts? To a large extent, it is not. To a large extent, the attitude that is fostered is one of unquestioning acceptance.

Can scepticism be taken too far? A 2010 discussion paper on professional scepticism thought so:'Scepticism can be taken too far; challenging everything in a well run company will slow down the publication of its financial statements and risks unnecessary costs.' Challenging everything is counterproductive. This discussion paper talks about an 'appropriate degree' of professional scepticism.

The international auditing standards state in relation to detecting fraud that an auditor 'neither assumes that management is dishonest nor assumes unquestioned honesty.' This could be extended to errors and that an assumption is not made as to the unquestioned accuracy or error of statements. This I take to mean that you approach things with an open mind but with an appropriate degree of professional scepticism. This is the attitude I adopted when attending a seminar held by George Dillman in London while I was living there in the early 1990s.

Dillman is a karateka who tours the world giving seminars on pressure point techniques. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subject. We didn't get taught a lot of pressure point techniques at the Jan de Jong Self Defence School, even though they were the rage at the time. I was eager to learn more.

The following National Geographic Channel documentary is representative of Dillman's seminar:

Dillman taught the technique demonstrated in the documentary where a person falls to the ground after their forearm is hit. He demonstrated this technique on a student who had travelled to London to attend this seminar from Germany where he was based with the US Airforce. Dillman hit the student's arm who then hit the ground, just as in the documentary. Very impressive.

We paired up to practice this technique. My partner tried it on me several times with no success. Frustrated, he asked Dillman for help. Dillman demonstrated the technique on me, hitting my forearm, and turned to explain the technique to the student. He turned back only to find I was still standing. He then hit my forearm again, though this time with some considerable force. Dillman is a powerful man. I felt pain and staggered due to the power of the strike (and ended up with a decent bruise) but there was nothing there that would cause me to fall to the ground. When I explained this, he simply turned and walked away without saying anything.

At the end of the seminar, Dillman demonstrated the hit to the jaw to knock a person out, which can also be seen on the documentary. He proceeded to demonstrate the technique on every student at the seminar - including the teenage girl that was trying to hide behind another student.

There are suppose to be two pressure points under the jaw that are responsible for rendering a person unconscious when they are hit. Before he hit us on the jaw, we were instructed to clench our jaw shut. Many were either rendered unconscious or were dazed and staggered. When it came to my turn, I wasn't rendered unconscious but I certainly felt a jolt and experienced a mighty headache. Not inconsistent with movement of the brain within the skull (the subject of a previous and future blog) after receiving a blow to the head.

When the techniques do not work on the scientists in the documentary, Dillman explains this by suggesting they were sceptics or non-believers. Does that mean these techniques are only successful if executed on a person who adopts an attitude of unquestioning acceptance?

I approached this seminar with an open mind. I was not necessarily a non-believer or sceptic, though I did approach the seminar with a degree of professional scepticism. I didn't place my tongue in a particular position or raise either big toe to 'nullify' these techniques. A critical assessment of the evidence does not tend to support the statements presented at this seminar.

PS: Is it any wonder that the martial arts are often not taken seriously within main stream society.


  1. John,

    I must admit I've used the words 'professional skepticism' when discussing the martial arts ever since you mentioned it on my blog. I think it is the perfect mindset for serious martial arts study. It balances the process of learning. Your mind stays open, but not following blindly.

    I was quite interested in your experience with Dillman. I've never met the man, but I've heard varying opinions from those who have. From your experience, would you have found his techniques worthwhile or effective if they hadn't been billed as one touch knockouts? What if they were just pressure point training?

    On another topic, it was interesting learning about Peter from your last post. Is there any footage on-line of him, yourself or Jan de Jong?

    And last but not least, the pursuit of perfection and the mindset is interesting. Mastering one thing improves so many others. I agree with Sue's comments about it being a journey. I'd be happy if I truly perfected a single technique. Chasing perfection in whatever you are doing allows you to live in the 'now' a concept I've been exploring lately in my own life.

    Keep up the great posts.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. With the full-time research I'm doing there are so many interesting and authoritative information that is not currently used within the martial arts that does facilitate the understanding and study of them.

    Your blog and my response re professional scepticism formed the basis for this blog, along with the youtube clip that I saw based on facebook martial arts 'friend' from North Africa. I too like the articulation of this mindset.

    The pressure points that he demonstrated at the seminar I went to just didn't work. Well, hitting to the back of the hand did. Pressure points seem to encompass more than just nerves. The nerve ones just didn't work - and I qualify that as being only the ones taught at that seminar. They did work on certain people, but maybe as the documentary suggests, they have to be 'believers' for them to be effective.

    Unfortunately, there is no footage of De Jong that I've seen on line. I'm encouraging some who may have taken video when we toured in Europe to either forward some to me or post it themselves. Ditto for Peter, though hopefully some will be posted as he's now doing seminars in Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. None of me other than the bridgefall. I've video of a grading we did for another instructor, but I've just got to figure out the technology to edit it and post it. I'll keep the readers informed of any video on line.

    Again, thanks for the support.

  3. As a kid, I always wanted to learn "the five finger heart explosion technique" or whatever it was called in Kill Bill, and similar fictional moves. As I get older, I have to face the sad reality that there isn't a miracle move that works on everyone. Hard work and knowing your art makes such a difference.

    As a side note, I have to say that I really appreciate all of the posts you have been doing on the history of your art and its founder. I wish that everyone took as much interest in the history of their art, as I am sure things are left out when this is not the case.

  4. Thank you for your kind comments Yamabushi.

    I wish that I'd taken this interest in the history of De Jong, his system, and his school of thought when he was alive. It might make the research so much easier if I could ask him relevant questions.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.