In conjunction with our friends at
Here is another look into this exotic and misunderstood aspect of the fighting arts
Now You See It, Now You
"They Don't See It and They Die
Concepts in Fooling the Human Eye with Slight of Hand
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II - NEW
How to win friends and fake psychic powers
Using the same two master key principles!
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Now that you can fool New-Agers as a Psychic, fool Martial Artists too!
Breaking Chopsticks with your Throat and other Chi Tricks of the Masters
This article is designed to be read in conjunction with these excellent pieces by James Keating on Subliminal Gestures and James Sass on Slight-of-Hand in Knife Fighting and provides further insights into how the human mind works. I will presume you have read these other articles, and will not recover their author's points again. Instead, we will look at some of the ways that the human eye can be fooled through movement and timing. What you see is not always what you get, and against the crafty knife fighter felt not seen is the mark of an expert.
For a number of years I did magic in public while entertaining in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I headed up a group of gypsy entertainers who did Middle Eastern music and dance, shadow puppets, magic, juggling, and comedy. Two principles I picked up on that held true in a number of different illusions were Doing Something Naturally and Doing Two Things (or dual-motions, which for fighting can become duel-motions). In this article we will explore these basic concepts as they apply to simple illusions you can easily learn. From there what you do with it is up to you. If you can learn to make the connections then you will start to explore your other arts at a higher level. If not, you can still have a few neat tricks to impress the ladies when you go out to a club. One Scottish swordsman I know had the Canadian girls panties half dropped with his simple, well performed card tricks at the WMA2000. When you see the ladies around a magician all cooing Oh, do it to me next it might make you wish you'd paid more attention to this article and as one professional magician I know says simply on his card It's fun to be fooled anyhow. OK, now, let's get to work!
How then do we fool the human eye into seeing something that is not there, or not see something that is there? Here we will examine several basic illusions you may be familiar with that work on principles of deception.
The first is a magic trick you may remember from your childhood, known as the Rubber Pencil Trick. Almost any kids book on magic will have this corny but funny optical illusion, where a regular pencil is waved in the air and appears to be bending and flexing as if it is made of rubber. When performed adroitly, this can be quite convincing and clearly shows the principle of dual-motion.
To perform this trick, hold a pencil between your thumb and first finger. Start to wave the pencil up and down using the fingers and wrist to perform the action. The eraser would move in about a 90-degree arc, approximately 4" up and down on either side. Let the wave move through the arm as you slowly raise and lower you hand, and the combined up and down motions (from the wrist/fingers doing the short arc while the arm is raised and lowered on the vertical axis) are what fool the eye Doing Two Things with one move.
If you just do this for a few seconds and then abruptly stop with a quizzical look it has more visual effect for getting a laugh. If you do this with a drink stirrer try a line like Hoot, this ones strong, even my straw is drunk! Just be careful not to splash yer drink around, sparky! (Oops, back to magic for scamming chicks again)
Dealing from the Bottom of the Deck is also a matter of Doing Two Things, but don't do this when the game is for money unless you like Doing Three Things the third being getting your ass kicked! People dont take kindly to this, so save it for fun and games only. To deal off the bottom of the deck, first learn to do pinch the deck with your dominant thumb (on top) and first finger (underneath) while holding the deck in a basic magician's grip (almost like a saber grip here) in off hand. When you can smoothly draw the bottom card off the deck using your first finger and thumb and place it on to the table, you are ready for step two. At the same time you are about to deal, move the deck towards the table, moving from your elbows in about a 90-degree angle. By Doing Two Things the small motion is masked by the large motion, and you make the fact that you are dealing off the bottom invisible at speed.
If you wish to add more realism to this effect, the thumb of the hand holding the deck can slide the top card forward slightly in time with the draw from the bottom and then slide the top card back., but in real usage it is often not necessary. As I said, dont do this for money, but I have used card control methods against friends (later telling them of course) and customers at a comic and games shop I managed for a time (who I let think I was lucky) when shuffling, dealing, and handling cards. Since they were not at a magic show, they dont expect it to be done, and it never was never seen or questioned. It seems to me if you are playing the Illuminati card game then having a key card in the deck and using false shuffles or deals is only natural
Work in a mirror and / or videotape your self you will find how real this looks. Try alternating dealing from the top and bottom of the deck as practice and go through all 52 cards. Then try just staggering in the bottom cards with a fair deal (or whatever is required).
By going back and forth like this between doing the Real thing and the Fake thing, you are learning the second aspect I spoke about, Doing Something Naturally. The times you get caught doing doing a magic trick is when you do something that feels fake to you, so you pay attention to it. If you match the real feeling (which you learn by simply really doing something) and the false reality you have a combination that is near undetectable. Add the element of surprise (they dont know you are trying to fool them) and the illusion is sold.
With any trick that involves palming and apparent hand transference, there is always the option to really do it instead of doing the illusion. This teaches you how you actually feel, look, and act when it is real now just feel the same way while doing something else. That sounds hard but it is not. Many of us go to work and hate it, but we dont show that we exchange our real feelings for false ones. This is no harder, just in a different realm of study (legerdemain as opposed to acting).
If you are just starting out, maybe practice doing that French Drop and the first two times really grab the coin, separate your hands with the finger pointing eyes following the fist, roll the fingers open with a flair and drop the quarter. The third time do the French Drop with the same timing and feel and see how it looks in the mirror and on video tape when at the end there is no coin. This is basic training, just like the dealing drill with the deck of cards.
In the first part of this article we discussed the use of natural movement and timing and the use of dual movements to fool the human eye. Here we will examine how these same two principles work in another illusion. These again are things I have worked in front of hundreds of people, and they are quite effective and easy to learn. Some may think these are too simple to work, but as James Keating succinctly put it "The most basic trick still looks amazing if the timing is right"
Remember from the first part of the article how that "if the person is not looking for the trick it is effortless to deceive them". That is true in applied magic and in magic for the stage. The instant where the slight happens there must be a distraction to help cover the action. This can be verbal, visual, tactile, kinetic, or any combination. On the stage, the magician has a pretty girl to wiggle. In the parking lot, maybe you just have a foot to wiggle, but if he looks you nail him.
Verbal distraction is referred to in magic as "patter" and this can run on a few levels. There is both verbal and physical patter. I can tell you a story or ask you questions, this is verbal patter. The body language and motion is physical patter. One thing you will find about any kind of performing on the street (especially for money) is that without good patter you will never make money! You can crank out music or perform all day and hardly get beer money if you don't know how to apply verbal skills.
In performance this is why in a half-hour show (or over the course of an evening if the whole troupe was there) I would do only 4-6 illusions, which if I did them fast back to back would take 10 minutes or less. Sometimes not even that many. The rest of the time I was telling funny stories, asking people questions, getting audience members to do things. When you set things up like that, you create metal openings to work deceptions in. When everyone looks at the person who just bleated like a sheep in the audience, you can do whatever you want for a split second...doing two things at once. Think about it next time you watch a magician - how long would it really take to do the root mechanic of the illusion? Why then do "all that other stuff"? That is what ties in to the martial application because we know the root mechanics...it is that deceptive linking between the basics that we need.
This kind of verbal work is what you are using in the first illusion we will explore - Super-Simple Psychic Fraud. This illusion applies the two master keys we discussed last time to object reading and mind reading. It requires only a willing accomplice and a little bit of practice, but it has many applications, limited only by your (and your friends) imagination. There are infinite variations on this, but the principle is having the partner deliver a verbal, visual, or tactile cue to allow you to divine the correct answer which you should not know.
The set up is how ever you like, you are out of the room, blind folded, back to the person, etc. An object is selected and you must deduce what is it by psychic waves from your partner. Let us say you are doing this at a table with a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter. Your friend would signal which one was selected, the rest is just play-acting to make it seem real. You could use a body or hand / leg position for a code or a verbal code (or preferably both - again two things at once). A simple verbal code can just use the letter for the coin as either the first or last word in a sentence. In this case it might be:
Penny - Please tell us, Tell us please
Nickel - Now tell us, Tell us now
Dime - Do tell us, You can do it ("it" being meaningless here - there is no "I" object - but sounds natural)
Quarter - All right now tell us, Can you tell us anything (switches "A" for "Q", but the "A" sound links only to quArter and is not as obvious a sound cue to the alert audience member as saying "Quickly tell me / Tell me quickly")
We would go a step further to use first word then last word alternately, so people wouldn't pick up. Combine this with a visual and tactile way to communicate and you can work many things out on the fly. If you are blindfolded, perhaps you need to be helped up to get closer to the object you are divining. This gives time for and touch cues, or if you are not blindfolded, when you enter the room the foot position or arm position maybe a cue (hand on hip is 1, hand down is 2, other hand on hip is 3, etc.)
The key to pulling this all off is using the other concept of making it natural. If your dialog sounds forced, or your visual cues are gross and unnatural, then people will catch on. Even if they don't catch you, they will know "something funny is happening" as opposed to a miracle. There are many more complex codes that have been used over the years by famous mentalist teams, but this is enough to allow you to explore. Enjoy, and remember, like Dr. Leary said "Set and Setting will influence people's perceptions" too.
These will work perticularly well on those people who are inclined to belive in psychic powers anyhow. The wool is half pulled over the eyes...just give a little tug more. If you have a person in the audience who knows about psychic phenominon, get them into agreeing with you about how real this all is, and they will help convince the group you are playing. Get them agreeing with your points "Isn't that right, Mam? Yes, indeed!" They will feel special for being pointed out, and will entusiastically defend you to skeptics. When I taught Tai Chi at a metaphysical bookstore in Buffalo back in the late 80's, I saw a lot of this. You could pass of junk for chi or psychic work, divination, etc. and thay would all lap it up and ask for more. It is admirable to be be ready to discard your tea to taste another's brew, as the saying goes, but just make sure he isn't drinking horse-piss first! (Or Kool-Aid)
The martial arts are ripe with tales of chi (ki) powers, death touch, levitation, and so on. Eastern martial arts are steeped in a number of tricks associated with the arts, some of which are real, and some of which are fake. Some techniques are real but are commonly faked in demonstration. Some common demos you have probably seen include:
1) Putting needles through the arms
2) Breaking 2x2 over arm, body, or leg
3) Wrapping thick wires around the body
4) Breaking thin wires wrapped around the body
5) Bending / breaking spears on the throat
6) Breaking chopsticks on the throat
7) Breaking bricks, etc.
8) Light Body (stand on eggs, etc.)
9) Bed of Nails
10) Stone broken off the body
The Chinese arts are the home to many of these, and it is thus not surprising that Dr. Leung Ting wrote a series of books called Behind the Incredibles which deals with this topic in a very in depth manner. He covers over 100 different psychic, chi, and occult stunts which have been used over the years to deceive and manipulate. Remember, it was not so long ago in China when Boxers with magic prayers went against rifles. Belief is a strong factor, and as mentioned before, if the audience is already looking for a miracle, they will be more easily fooled.
Again, let me state that I think there are people out there in the world who can do some pretty amazing things. I have heard too many stories from people I trust, and seen too many things to completely discount paranormal phenomenon. However, for every one of these people are there not (100? 1000? 10000?) people who would claim to do things they can not, OR would mis-identify something they can do as being based on magic (or chi) while it is in fact a trick of physics or biology?
These tricks are not new nor exclusive to the East. The Boy Conjurer from 1857 shows the bed of nails, rock broken off body, Iron Bridge, bending nails, and many other stunts like this. Many magic tricks we practice today can be traced directly back to the Medieval text The Discovery of Witchcraft which explains that there is no magic, except the magic from God, the magic of science, and Miracles, and that all other things are false tricks. The author spends several chapters covering everything from "making a ball appear underneath a cup and then vanish again" to "producing a coin from hidden place" and "cutting a rope and making it whole again" so that people are not fooled into thinking that a devil gave them the power to do such things.
One Korean instructor writing on this trend in demonstrations to pass these kinds of tricks off as legitimate martial arts used the term "Bi-Do" or "False-Way" to describe them. He was concerned when he saw his fellow countrymen doing them in public, because he felt that first, it was a trick, and if people figured it out they might question the rest of that art as being fake, and also because "what does lying in glass and having slabs broken off of you have to do with the fighting art? How does having a truck run over you make people want to practice the arts and gain health, self confidence, and self defense skills?"
Was there a place for these tricks long ago? Perhaps. If I was making my living as a street performer I would do them all the time and constantly remind the spectators about my medicines, lucky talismans, or whatever I was selling. If I knew spys from the rival clan were near, perhaps I might have my people demonstrate "their magic powers". We all have heard of "death touch" in the Chinese arts, but how many have actually seen the poison needle rings that were used to allow that technique to really work? Remember, once a story spreads, it grows. The Ninja were masters of this kind of work.
Today, from years of Kung Fu movies, comic books, and video games, new age thinking, and exposure to tai chi, etc. people are likely to have heard of chi powers and believe in them to some extent. It does work well for healing and acupuncture is accepted practice today. For fighting it can work, but ask yourself - of all the tai chi people you've ever met, how many of them after all the years actually had internal power you could feel? If you meet a person with real internal power, you understand why those old Tai Chi masters were feared. Their compression hitting, evasion, and deceptive timing are devastating. When you meet one of these guys...you'll know.
For the time being, let's discuss a simple Iron Body illusion that can be learned in about 5 minutes and provide hours of amusement - The Chopstick Break on the Throat. Now, Iron Body (also knows as iron shirt, stone jacket, stone warrior, golden bell cover, etc.) is an Internal / External system of conditioning to absorb bows and not be injured. Like Yin and Yang, the parts are weak or strong, but the chi can support a weak point and make it strong so it can defend against an attack...at least that's what you're going to tell your mark about this!
This works well after dinner when the discussion is on the arts, and when someone brings out a "Super Sensei Story" (you know the ones...his "chi was so strong he could break a board across the room with his pecker while standing in a piranha tank"). Ask the guy if his teacher knows Iron Body (I'll bet he says yes) and if he's learned it himself (maybe yes or maybe "that's secret"). Anyhow, you got him hooked...now on to step two.
Explain that bit from before about yin and yang, weak and strong. "The chopstick is strong, but the hollow of the throat is weak." Get him to drive his chopstick there so he feel how painful... "But if you focus your chi on the throat it will be armored." you say. Do some "chi focusing" looking things and noises, get an intense look in your eye and place the stick to your throat. "I'm now going to hit this as hard as I can and break it with my throat." you say. With a kiai (shout) slap the butt of the chopstick and break it on your throat. Hand the broken stick to the person, "Now you try it!"
The slight comes in using our two master key principles right as you do the palm slap to break the stick. Up until this point everything is natural, you can let the mark examine the stick, etc. As I go to do the break, I lead up to with 2 slower hits, like I'm psyching myself up to do it. This also visually sets the mark up to see the motion I want him to see. The third time it is the same motion with the striking hand, but the holding hand will flex about 90-degrees and break the chopstick (which is resting on the very top of the sternum in the hollow of the throat). With some of the very cheap chopsticks at restaurants, this is effortless, but the harder the wood, and the more it splinters, the more pressure you must bear on your throat. I advise breaking a stick covertly before hand so you know exactly how these type of sticks will break. You will quickly learn to spot the grade of wood you have and be able to power the trick accordingly. The kiai also helps to mask the action as it provides a startle reaction.
Always make sure to be facing the mark when performing this illusion, as to stand sideways allows them to see the action of the hand holding the chopstick. Again, dual motions allow us to mask the small motion behind a big motion, but unlike before where we did the duel motion with one hand, here we use the same principle with two hands! As said in part II, the story and the acting that goes into this is what creates the reality as much as the final wrist snap. I had a co-worker absolutely convinced that this was real and for weeks he came up to me and asked more and more about chi, etc. Even when I told him it was fake, he didn't want to believe me. A bad person could use that to all sorts of advantages, and sadly they do. Again, for those who "seek out new life and new civilization" just remember to be able to identify evil when you see it, and for goodness sake - don't do the chopstick break as a "do it along with me" trick (you know the kind, where at the end it works for you and not for the mark...gaaaak).
Mark Wilsons Cyclopedia of Magic is available in 2 versions. A 638 page paperback and an even longer large hardcover edition. The paperback is more than enough material to work on, with more than 200 tricks, and is an absolute steal at $8.95. The hardcover has even more material, and is far easier to read with its oversized pages, but for the cost Id advise you to get the paperback edition and a couple of videos instead.
Now You See It, Now You Dont! Lessons in Slight of Hand by Bill Tarr has over 200 large pages of clearly drawn close in slight of hand work. This covers all the basics you might need to work with coins, cards, balls, scarves, cigarettes and more. The focus is on developing basic passes and slights, so the skills are more technical and not developed into routines. Unlike some of the pieces in Wilsons book, everything you need to practice this is sitting around your house and fits in your pocket.
Magic by Misdirection by Dariel Fitzkee covers many theories behind the science of illusion. Though many tricks are discussed in this book, it is not a book of tricks as much as it is an education in the principles behind them. Older than the others but a real gem.