Meeting with Kenji Ushiro Sensei in New York, October 5, 2009
Professor, Department of Mathematics
Instructor in Aikido, Department of Kinesiology
Director, Center for Scholarship on Spirituality
— Why I feel it is important for science
to approach the phenomena demonstrated —
The capabilities of some high masters of the martial arts and of certain healing systems pose a great challenge to modern science. I became convinced of this over some years of training in the martial arts under my teacher, Saotome Mitsugi Sensei, and more recently have received strong confirmation in my observation and experience of the highly uncommon skills of three other such masters: I first met the late Dr. Kwai-Lai Chang, a great oriental medicine practitioner, then Michael Ryabko of Russian Martial Art (Systema) and then Ushiro Kenji Sensei of Shindo Ryu Karate. This last October, I had the great privilege to spend some time interacting with Ushiro Sensei, over a period of five days, in my capacity as a mathematician and scientist (my background is in mathematical physics). My observations of his martial arts skills, as well as numerous demonstrations he gave on what he terms the effects of Ki, culminated in a discussion we had on October 5th. Below I would like to explain why I feel it is important for science to approach the phenomena demonstrated, but first I would like to describe why many contemporary scientists are somewhat hostile to the notion that such phenomena are worthy of separate study at all.
As in any era, the science of the mid-twentieth century, as well as much of science today, tends to be defined by its own dogma, which continues, in spite of the paradigm-shifting discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics, as well as those of mind-body healing, to rely on an insistence on mechanistic, reductive explanations of reality. The scheme of currently funded science is that of reducing an experience to parts whose existence and mutual interactions can be explained verbally (including mathematically) by mechanisms subject only to currently accepted scientific truth.
Moreover, the given experience is studied in isolation from the rest of experience and as far as possible from any influence by the consciousness of the observer, and the expectation is that any other observer following the explanation can reproduce the results. Theories of phenomena are based on the idea that what we perceive in the physical world is, at a deep enough level, mostly or in toto the actual reality we are interacting with. Any “reality” that does not fit into such a scheme is dismissed either as an unreal fantasy, as an act of sly sleight-of-hand or worse: as so easily explained by existing scientific thought that there is no need to bother to experimentally verify or theoretically justify these “obvious” or “trivial” facts. Sometimes the latter attitude is expressed by saying that the phenomena are examples of the placebo effect. Yet I do not know if the true, paradigm-shifting significance of the placebo effect as a remarkable human capacity has yet been realized in the scientific community. [Though I should point out that the placebo effect has been receiving some serious study at such places as the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.]
I am reminded of the speech given at the turn of the previous century by the great physicist, J.J. Thompson, whose remarks were to the effect that the panorama of modern physics was nearly completely resolved by the power of classical physics, with but two tiny clouds on the horizon, clouds whose resolution would no doubt be accomplished very soon within that same system of classical physics. The two “small” clouds led, of course, to relativity and to quantum physics, completely smashing the previous classical world-view (while still including it as a limiting case).
As a result of the prevalent attitude, the notion of consciousness and its role in physical law tends to be very rudimentary. Does physics give rise to consciousness? Anyone who believes this is acting on faith, just as those who believe the opposite, that consciousness and perception give rise to the physical world as we know it. The irony of the currently accepted reductionistic, mechanistic, material-centric science is that it stands on the shoulders of the very giants who broke the prevalent scientific faith of their own time, to discover new paradigms of thought and experiment ? and who were often vilified by the establishment for doing so, until honesty prevailed due to the power of undeniable experimental fact. In breaking the commonly accepted faith, these great and brave minds uncovered a radically new way of thought, one that had the power to embrace the new realities that revealed the paucity of the earlier viewpoint. I say “brave” because it does indeed take tremendous courage to go against a stream of thought that has born such obvious and fecund fruit in the past and has lead to the technological marvels we see all around us, giving us a sense of control over nature and so holding at bay the anxiety of living in what has been, for most of our history, an uncertain and dangerous world. Einstein said that one violation of the predictions of any theory would falsify his theory in principle. That does not mean that we have to give up any particular theory entirely, but that we have to see it as all theories are: approximations to reality, however fine, to be superseded by ones that come of a yet finer sensibility.
With the phenomena exhibited daily in the Dojo of such martial arts and medical masters as mentioned above, we are, Ushiro Sensei believes and I concur, at the threshold of a new science. No doubt a great deal of their seemingly miraculous effects can and will be explained in terms of current science, from simple leverage principles, to theories of dynamically interacting systems, to indeed psychological effects that are already well known, if not well understood qua physics. I would invite the scientific community to bend its best efforts to this end, because it points to a possibility of human potential that has not been sufficiently studied, and yet affords a liberating prospect for mankind. Nevertheless, after this work is done, there is enough reason to believe that there will remain a residue of facts that seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. This is so even though these effects are, as Ushiro Sensei points out, universal, reproducible and objective ? although I feel that the meaning of reproducibility and objectivity themselves need a re-evaluation in a new scientific paradigm.
The difficulty with the idea of reproducibility, when studying these new phenomena, is that the scientific instrumentation here is the Budo practitioner, not some set of inanimate instruments, however complex. It takes years of great dedication and the good fortune to study under a real master to develop the higher skills. Still, I would say that the building of such an “instrument” is reproducible ? otherwise these skills would have died out.
The difficulty with “objectivity” is that which has dogged science ever since the quantum theory posed fundamental philosophical questions about the nature of the physical world and what we can know of it: the observer disturbs what is being observed fundamentally, to the point that in quantum theory talking of such things as, e.g., the path of a particle become meaningless. This has led to proposals for a new science of Wholeness and Subjectivity by such researchers as the late David Bohm of Birkbeck College, London and Jahn and Dunne of the Princeton Unversity’s Institute for Engineering Anomalies, amongst others.
This is not to say that the fundamental methodology of science is to be abandoned. The insistence on clear statistical evidence, well-designed experiments and theories that make minimal assumptions appropriate to the facts, as well as allowing of the possibility of being falsified, remains paramount. Double-blind studies can eliminate any fear of hypnotic suggestion ? or demonstrate that it is indeed present. This kind of methodology is the only way to approach experimental fact as verifiable and reproducible, while basing theories on such truth which are themselves falsifiable.
Budo, medicine and the more mystical activities of meditation, all grow at their best when they are approached in this scientific spirit. It seems to me that the masters referred to above have all based their study squarely in this realm. Ushiro Sensei has clearly spent a great deal of thought and energy on identifying phenomena worthy of research. To give a few of his examples:
● The capacity to change the sensation of a body’s weight, so as to render it impossible to lift what was easy to do so, or easy to lift what was hard to do so ? whether for inanimate or animate objects
● To change the taste of a beverage
● To completely neutralize a much stronger person’s power, and indeed to reverse an attack effortlessly and instantly
● To empower a novice to perform an art that was hitherto impossible to do, or to take away such a skill from an advanced practitioner ? again instantaneously and with almost no physical effort
● To enter a serious attack and render it useless, without harm coming to either party
● To immobilize persons after their attack, while applying no restraining force whatsoever ? and then to release the person’s will to move with a touch
● Feeling intention before the intender is fully aware of their own action (this has been studied by some scientists over the last few decades, such as the work of Jahn and Dunne, and of B. Ligget)
● Instantly throwing nine people, as claimed by running Ki through them, without contact and from the side of the room
● To demonstrate, in diverse ways, the huge increase in physical power and stability that comes to a person when protecting or caring for, or even being supportive of, others
● Remarkable (and again instantaneous) changes in the body’s capacity to transform hitherto painful situations into painless ones.
The list, of course, goes on. As stated above, it is important to conduct double-blind studies of these phenomena to establish their independence from anecdote and wish. That said, it is clear that many of the double-blind studies that have been conducted on, say, the effects of non-allopathic medicine have been so poorly designed (even by established scientists) and betray such a lack of understanding of the context of the claims that are being studied, that the independent observer is left feeling that some disdainful prejudice has got the upper hand of the experimenter. We need more respect towards the objects of study than have too often been displayed in this field. In fact, it may be best for these studies to be conducted by disinterested parties: scientists who have no particular supportive or contrary view.
The claim from Eastern wisdom is that there is a new kind of force, or of communicative ability, that accounts for these phenomena. From the scientific viewpoint, the fact that something such as Ki (or Chi, Prana, Spirit) has been believed for millennia by the majority of the world’s population, including many of its wisest forebears, is not sufficient evidence of its existence. Yet practitioners of Budo are familiar with the feeling of mind-body coordination, and with developing the capacity to receive intention from others without any obvious signaling of such intention. Here, with Ushiro Sensei’s clear identification of these and various other phenomena, we have the possibility of a demonstration: either of a scientific basis for the existence of Ki, or of the lack of any need to invoke it as the basis for physical or medical phenomena.
Ushiro Sensei has also made some clear proposals of possible avenues for the theoretical basis of such phenomena. As with his tradition, he calls this Ki. But he goes further, referring to the phenomena of Ki changing such things as coefficients of friction, as affecting subjective time, of time “entering” space and changing its subjective structure, and of the simultaneous coordination of all the body’s cells in a near instantaneous fashion. These are exciting proposals: if such communication is indeed occurring, how is it possible? How can it be consistently reproduced?
What makes Ki an area of research worth investigating? As Ushiro Sensei points out, this is more than just a matter of some exciting phenomena that students of martial and healing arts have always hungered to be able to perform. The common thread of all these capacities is that they are based on two harmonies: a co-ordination within the practitioner of his own body, mind and spirit, and a harmony between the practitioner and the energy, intention, structure and movement the attacker, or with the object of application. This has huge implications for humanity, for it affords the possibility of a science that, in studying the deeper nature of physical and psychological reality, discovers a way by which humanity as a whole can develop, through the study of harmony, to a higher, more peaceful way of interacting with itself. In the end, the possibility of a science that ennobles mankind without compromising scientific methodology is what is most attractive in the proposed endeavor.
Chetan Prakash, Ph. D.
Professor, Department of Mathematics
Instructor in Aikido, Department of Kinesiology
Director, Center for Scholarship on Spirituality
The California State University, San Bernardino, CA, USA