Mystery and Excellence on The Human Body - Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

Exceptional Energy

One key to outstanding athletic performance is the ability to call  on unusual reserves of energy. Jose Torres, in his book on  Muhammad Ali, says of the turning point in the second Frazier  fight: "He (Ali) is using those mysterious forces. I can't explain it any  other way." Having himself been a professional boxing champion,  Torres would not talk about mysterious forces if other explanations  were handy.

This sense of exceptional energy is not confined to individuals.  John Brodie, of the San Francisco 49'ers, refers in his autobiography  certain "times when an entire team will leap up a few notches. Then  you feel that tremendous rush of energy across the field." Brodie does  not feel there is anything unusual or mystical about this. He says,  "When you have eleven men who know each other very well and have  every ounce of their attention — and intention — focused on a common goal, and all their energy flowing in the same direction, this creates a very special concentration of power. Everyone feels it. The people in the stands always feel and respond to it, whether they have a  name for it or not."

Several researchers, including Hans Selye, have described a pleas ant form of stress that seems to be invigorating. Some have termed it  "eustress." Researcher Dorothy Harris notes that "eustress is associated with excitement, adventure, and thrilling experiences. This stress  is fun, it enhances vital sensations, it 'turns on' individuals, and in  the process of turning on, it releases energy." She also suggests that  "eustress may be more than energy consuming, k may be energy mobilizing as well.... Most people .have far more energy resources than they  are aware of, and do not realize they have the capacity to generate  energy for other activities."

Western athletes frequently experience these energy bursts and are  familiar with the fact that expending energy can generate higher levels

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

of force. In the main, however, these surges of new energy seem to  occur spontaneously. Athletes in the West are hampered by the fact that  their training programs are not grounded in an underlying philosophy  that would meaningfully account for and encourage the systematic  development of these unusual forces. Instead they have to trust blindly  that by steadfast practice and perseverance their hidden reserves will   eventually be mobilized.

The Eastern martial arts, however, include specific methods for  mobilizing energy and uniting mind and body. Their methods are  embedded in a conception of human nature that sees the development  of unusual capacities as accessible to everyone. The concept of unusual  energy is basic to them. In Japan it is called ki, in China ch'i, in India  prana. Like yoga, the martial arts teach methods for deliberately tap ping exceptional energy. Some writers use the word intrinsic to differentiate this inner resource from energy that is produced by muscles.  Ratti and Westbrook, a husband and wife team, both black belts, who  are undertaking intensive studies of various martial arts, point out that  by practicing Eastern methods of concentration and mind-body unification, a type of energy is produced which, if not different from, is at  least "far more encompassing and comprehensive in both substance  and intensity than the common type of energy usually associated with  the output of man's muscular system alone."

According to some teachings, the range of this unusual energy is  infinite, and its development takes place in three stages, each encompassing more of the universe than the preceding level: The first stage  which is the one most relevant to current athletics, involves individual  coordination and centralization of ki. In the second stage, the influence  of ki extends beyond the individual and touches others. The final stage  — rarely tapped — puts the athlete in touch with the centre of life itself  with a resonance that knows no bounds.

All techniques for developing ki have the same goal: the unity of  mind and body. Aikido expert Koichi Tohei writes:

The things that one can do when he is sincere and when  his spirit and body are one are astonishing. The cornered  rat has been known to turn on the cat and down him.  People often display powers in time of fire that they  would never dream of in ordinary life. Women have been

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

known to lift automobiles to drag children out from under  them. In desperate situations of life or death people come  up with unheard-of wisdom. All of these cases involve  manifestations of power made possible by the unification  of the spirit and the body.

Although the many methods for developing ki differ in some  respects, most include five major elements: (1) relaxation and letting  go, (2) concentration, (3) breathing exercises, (4) emptying the mind of  thought, and (5) rhythmic activity.

Relaxation and concentration are emphasized in Western sports.  However few athletes try to enhance these states by deliberate means  such as meditation. Psychiatrist Thaddeus Kostrubala explains how  athletic activity and meditation can both generate energy:

I liken... running itself to one of the major techniques of  meditation, and sometimes prayer, employed by virtually  all disciplines both East and West: the constant repetition of a particular word or series of words, whether it be,  "Om, na pad na, om na," or the Hail Mary. It matters little  what that particular philosophy or religion attaches to the  use of the word, phrase or prayer. It is clearly intended to  be an opening into another aspect of awareness. In short,  by means of the repetition, the phenomenon sought —  namely, the touching of another state of consciousness —  is achieved. I think the same process occurs in the repetitive rhythm of slow long-distance running. Eventually, at  somewhere between thirty and forty minutes, the conscious mind gets exhausted and other areas of conscious ness are activated.

If this is the case, then even though most Western athletes have  made little use of meditation, nevertheless they may have been achieving comparable results through the use of rhythmic activity engaged in  faithfully over a long period of time.

Breathing plays an essential role in many Eastern disciplines.  Westbrook and Ratti say, "One frequently mentioned method of developing this Inner Energy is by the regular practice of deep or abdominal

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

breathing, since ki is held to be closely connected with breathing and  has indeed even been called the 'breath of life' ". W. Scott Russell  notes that "when faced with stress, the karateist automatically begins  his patterned breathing. And when he begins that breathing, he automatically feels calm and in control. But that's not all that happens. The  karateist's controlled breathing not only keeps him calm and com posed, but also gives him a tremendous surge of energy."

Although in the West it is rare to find breathing exercises systematically practiced, many athletes use something similar at moments of  stress. Basketball's Bob Pettit wrote that he relaxed "before shooting a  free throw by taking a deep breath, then slowly let the air out of my  lungs." Racing car driver Mario Andretti says, "Jackie Stewart told me  he used to practice deep breathing at certain spots around the circuit."

Another method used to develop ki is the achievement of a detached  state of mind. Karate expert Masutatsu Oyama advises one to "forget  yourself, forget your enemies, forget winning and losing, and when you  have done so, you will be in the spiritually unified state that is called  mu, or nothingness, in Zen. When you have spiritually reached the state  of impassivity you will have entered a comer of the Zen world of mu."  Many athletes have discovered that they perform best in a state of  detachment. Tom Nieporte and Don Sauers, in a survey of professional  golfers' ideas concerning the mental side of golf, conclude, "It is generally accepted among the pros that there are times when exceptionally  gifted players at the top of their games can play tournament golf with  'blank minds.' Their swings and tempos are so well grooved, and their  concentration is so deep, that they do everything automatically."...

Western athletes, then, like practitioners of the martial arts, often  depend on relaxation, concentration, breathing exercises, mental emptying, and rhythm to achieve exceptional performances. Even though  they don't have a training system as sophisticated in this regard as yoga  or the martial arts, they manage nevertheless to incorporate these elements into their practice and performance. Through intrinsic energy or  in concert with it athletes often discover extraordinary capacities for  strength, speed, balance, and ease.

In addition, they sometimes demonstrate abilities that are generally  assumed to be "impossible." There are accounts of abilities to leap over  rocky terrain without looking; to climb smooth walls without artificial  aids; to be unharmed by hard, well-aimed blows, delivered not only by

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

hand but with swords or other hand weapons; to elude bullets and pass  through walls; to rise and hang in the air; and even to disappear. We  have no absolute proof that these possibilities are facts. At this stage all  we can say is that sport gives use to legends of this kind. Even if such  capacities do not exist, it is certainly interesting and possibly significant that wonder tales of the sort commonly associated with saints and  yogis are now being connected with sporting feats....

There are many cases in the martial arts literature which suggest  that Eastern athletes can deliberately tap extraordinary amounts of  energy and strength. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, is said to  have relocated a large stone that ten labourers had been unable to move.  He often performed such feats, and once said, "I taught myself that an  extraordinary spiritual power or soul power lies within a human body."

Extraordinary Strength

Among the most astounding feats of strength practiced in the martial  arts are those performed by karateka, those who practice karate. Don  Buck, karate sensei, is known for his eerie power in winning arm wrestling contests. "On at least one occasion he won such a contest,  using only his little finger," Glen Barclay writes. "His explanation is  that using one finger put him at an advantage, because he was able to  'focus the same amount of strength into a smaller area.' "

John Gilbey travelled all over the world in the 1960s observing extraordinary feats of strength and prowess. In Taiwan, he

saw gifted boxers of every description. Men who could  slice bricks like your wife would a cake; men who could  lightly touch your body and bring a bright red blood line  immediately to the surface; men who could catch flies  (alive!) with their chopsticks; men who could plunge their  arms up to the elbow in unprepared, rather hard soil.

He also observed a man who struck a steel stanchion a glancing  blow. Gilbey says:

I looked at the huge steel stanchion. And what I saw made  my eyes pop. The impress of the blond chap's fist was  clearly and unmistakably engraved in the steel to a depth

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

of a full quarter inch! The stanchion was not of deficient  steel. Fool that I am, I tested it (my hand is still numb) and  no posterity will see my work because it isn't there.

A recent book on kung fu by David Chow and Richard Spangler  includes several photographs of outstanding feats which they observed.  One shows an 82-year old Chinese Ch'i Kung master who drove an  eight-inch nail through four inches of board with his bare forehead.

Most -of us have a strong impulse to reject such tales as legends  or mere fantasies, indulged in by peoples who are less gifted than  Westerners at separating subjective from objective realities. However,  there are so many stories like these that it is difficult to believe that  none of them is true. Moreover, many of these unusual feats have been  witnessed and attested to by knowledgeable observers. Since we are  primarily interested in describing the extreme limits of performance in  athletic endeavour, we must include some of these astounding stories. As  more people become aware of these feats and the methods behind  them, we will be able to prove, for ourselves and for each other, which  are true and which false.

Extraordinary Speed and Endurance

A rare and dramatic example of extraordinary speed and endurance are  the lung-gom-pa runners in Tibet. In her book Magic and Mystery in  Tibet, Alexandra David-Neel says that they undergo a special kind of  training that develops "uncommon nimbleness and especially enables its  adepts to take extraordinarily long tramps with amazing rapidity." She  adds that although many undertake the lung-gom training, few become  really good at it. But one day she encountered such an adept. Her companion urged her not to interrupt him, as he was running in a trance and  to awaken him suddenly might cause death. When the man drew close,  "I could clearly see his perfectly calm impassive face and wide-open  eyes with their gaze fixed on some invisible far distant object situated  somewhere high up in space. The man did not run. He seemed to lift  himself from the ground, proceeding by leaps. It looked as if he had  been endowed with the elasticity of a ball and rebounded each time his  feet touched the ground. His steps had the regularity of a pendulum."

The major emphasis of these lung-gom-pa runners is not on speed,  but endurance. The same pace is maintained over all kinds of terrain

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

for several consecutive days and nights. According to some reports,  thousands of miles are covered in this manner by the lung-gom adepts.  David-Neel takes pains to point out that the feats accomplished are  more a matter of mind than of muscle. She says, "It must be under stood that the lung-gom method does not aim at training the disciple by  strengthening his muscles, but by developing in him psychic states that  make these extraordinary marches possible."

Some initiates in the secret lore also assert that, as a result of long  years of practice, after he has travelled over a certain distance, the feet  of the lung-gom-pa no longer touch the ground and that he glides on  the air with an extreme celerity.

Setting aside exaggeration, I am convinced from my limited experiences and what I have heard from trustworthy lamas, that one reaches a  condition in which one does not feel the weight of one's body. A kind  of anaesthesia deadens the sensations that would be produced by knocking against the stones or other obstacles on the way, and one walks for  hours at an unaccustomed speed, enjoying that kind of light agreeable  dizziness well known to motorists at high speed.

Lama Anagarika Govinda, a European by birth, experienced some thing similar to the trance of the lung-gom-pa runners when he was  travelling in Tibet. He had spent a day far from camp painting and  exploring, and did not turn toward home until dark. He had to cover  many miles of boulder-covered ground in the dark of night. In spite of  these obstacles, he found that  

... To my amazement I jumped from boulder to boulder  without ever slipping or missing a foothold, in spite of  wearing only a pair of flimsy sandals on my bare feet. One false step or a single slip on these boulders would  have sufficed to break or to sprain a foot, but I never  missed a step. I moved on with the certainty of a sleep walker — though far from being asleep. I do not know  how many miles of this boulder-strewn territory I traversed; I only know that finally I found myself on the  pass over the low hills with the plain and the magnesium  swamp before me.... Still under the influence of the "spell"  I went right across the swamp without ever breaking  through.

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

Only later was Govinda able to find an explanation for his experience, after reading the account we quoted from David-Neel. Govinda  says that unwittingly he had followed the lung-gomrules, adding, "I  clearly reached a condition in which the weight of the body is no more  felt and in which the feet seem to be endowed with an instinct of their  own, avoiding invisible obstacles and finding footholds, which only a  clairvoyant consciousness could have detected in the speed of such a  movement and in the darkness of the night."

Lama-Govinda visited a lung-gom training centre where lung-gom pas in training entered meditation cubicles, which contained the necessities of life. Once they entered, the doorway was sealed. The briefest  period a monk remained in a cubicle was one to three months, the  longest nine years. While the lung-gom-pa was sealed up, no one was  allowed to see or speak to him. Alms, often in the form of food, were  received by the lung-gom-pas through a 9 by 10 inch opening:  

The same small opening... is said to be used as an exit by  the lung-gom-pa after completion of his nine years' practice in uninterrupted seclusion and perfect silence. It is  said that his body by that time has become so light and  subtle that he can get through an opening not wider than a  normal man's span, and that he can move with the speed  of a galloping horse, while hardly touching the ground.

This improvement in running ability was said to occur in the absence  of any physical practice, with the exception of minimal exercise in the  form of walking on a terrace (in seclusion) provided for that purpose. If  these reports are true, then a whole new dimension of physical capacity  was tapped in the lung-gom training, through purely mental means.

Mountain climber Gaston Rebuffat has described an experience  that resembled the lung-gom running. In steep terrain he was threatened by an impending storm :  

Horrified at the thought of a storm in this fissure, where  the sheet of water would so soon be transformed into a  torrent, I climbed fast, very fast, rather roughly. Behind  me the ropes were heavy with moisture. Above, the cleft  was barred by vertical walls forming a difficult obstacle,

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

demanding care and attention. Meanwhile the rock grew  greasy under its film of water. It began to rain, but we  seemed to be making our way through a curtain of vapour,  frigid, almost tangible and hard to penetrate. There was  nothing ethereal about these regions, and yet I felt myself  as light as if I had abandoned my human frame; I almost  ran up the rocks.

Most of us would probably say that what Rebuffat did on that climb  did not involve any unusual powers. His actions could be explained by  extra adrenalin produced by his fear of being caught in the fissure.  Then his climbing faculties were so aroused that timing, muscles, and  judgment were functioning at a high level. But Rebuffat himself seems  to think that what he did that day was exceptional. How often does a  climber feel that he has abandoned "his human frame"? Could it be that  there is a level of functioning beyond the best of "ordinary" climbing  ability — a higher gear, as it were — and did Rebuffat somehow get  into that gear on that special day?

Extraordinary Balance

Martial arts student John Gilbey once witnessed an extraordinary feat.  An adept named Chou called to him from an open window on the third  floor of a building, telling Gilbey he would leap down beside him.  Gilbey says:  

The next moment his small body was in flight. The next is  incredible. Of course he landed on the wooden surface  without injury, but this I had seen Japanese and Thai non boxers do previously. But Chou landed not only without  injury but also without sound! I swear it — I saw it but I  did not hear it. A physicist may be able to explain it. I own  that I cannot.

One of the presently inexplicable abilities reportedly practiced in  the martial arts is that of being able to walk up perpendicular walls.  This form of kung fu is sometimes called the. "lizard technique." It  

... enables a student to scale a wall with nothing more than

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

his hands and feet. Training starts with a pole inclined  against a wall for assistance. Gradually, the angle of the  pole against the wall is reduced until the student can scale  the wall without the pole. In another version of this technique, the student stands with his back against the wall  and using only his heels and hands mounts the wall.

It is also called wall climbing kung, or "gecko crawling," the gecko  being a small lizard. Here is another account of this remarkable feat:  

... Anyone well versed in this art can, with his back against  a wall, move freely on and along the surface, horizontally  and vertically, by using the controlled strength of his heels  and elbows. While perfection of this Kung is indeed similar to a Gecko darting as a matter of routine up virtually  any wall, it certainly is not easy for humans to master pre carious wall climbing, which often threatens to create  great insecurity or instability. Generously estimating, one  out of a hundred students might consummate this Kung.

Extraordinary Ease

A culminating experience in sport is the state of effortlessness that athletes achieve at special moments. Feats that are usually demanding and  taxing — even exhausting — are accomplished with ease. This seeming effortlessness is a feature often noted by spectators. Grantland Rice  described Red Grange's running ability on the football field as follows: "He runs... with almost no effort, as a shadow flits and drifts and darts.  There is no gathering of muscle for an extra lunge. There is only the  effortless, ghostlike, weave and glide upon effortless legs..."

But the case for effortlessness in peak sports performance need not  rest on second-hand observations, which are often made with the proviso "He makes it look easy," implying that although it may look simple  enough, for example, to hit a golf ball 350 yards, it's not really easy to  do it. But firsthand accounts from many athletes suggest that at certain  moments it actually is as easy to perform as it looks....

Although one might assume that to a great extent sensations of  effortlessness and ease are the result of training and practice, the  answer seems to be more complex. Mountain climber Lionel Terray

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

writes of his experience after weeks of climbing:  

By this time we were so fit and acclimatized, both mentally and physically, to living in high mountains, that we  had virtually overcome the normal human inadaptation  to such surroundings. Our ease and rapidity of movement  had become in a sense unnatural, and we had practically'  evolved into a new kind of alpine animal, half way between  the monkey and the mountain goat. We could run uphill  for hours, climb faces as though they were step-ladders,  and rush down gullies in apparent defiance of the laws of  gravity. The majority of climbs seemed child's play, which  we could do without any particular effort in half or a third  of the time taken by an ordinary good party.

By themselves, these accounts of extraordinary strength, speed, balance, and ease are too few to merit acceptance as fact. However, they  are internally consistent enough to suggest that similar abilities are  being described. If such abilities do exist, we would be foolish to reject  them just because they fly in the face of what we have been conditioned to expect. If the experiences in this book demonstrate anything,  it is that we must not set limits on what is possible.

Energy Reaching Out: Psychokinesis

In the 1970s a number of psychics have come to public attention  with claims that they can perform feats of psychokinesis (PK), that is,  the power to affect objects directly by purely mental means. One of the  best-known psychics with PK abilities today is Uri Geller, noted for his  supposed spoon-bending and watch-stopping abilities. Unfortunately  Geller's abilities have not been adequately observed under strict laboratory conditions, although some reports of research with him have  been published. Whether or not Geller's ability is genuine does not  alter the fact that the existence of psychokinesis has been scientifically  verified in many laboratories to the satisfaction of many reliable witnesses. Theoretically, PK ability can provide that extra edge which  might explain some otherwise inexplicable athletic feats. But is there  any evidence that PK occurs in sport?

Most of PK laboratory experiments involve influencing the throw of

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

dice. Subjects "will" specific die faces to turn up, or to fall to the left or  the right. Willing is often mentioned by athletes. They often make  many statements to suggest that at times they can actually "will" things  to happen. There are many golf stories about changing the flight of  the ball through the power of mind. Don Lauck notes that for years  golf galleries had believed that Jack Nicklaus, "could win whenever he  wanted, could will the ball into the cup if he needed a birdie at the'  18th." Nicklaus' own words about Arnold Palmer show that he too  prizes the power of willing. He insists that although Palmer possessed a  fine putting touch when at his peak, it wasn't this skill that enabled him  to sink so many pressure putts. "More than anything else you get the  feeling that he actually willed the ball into the hole."

... John P. Brown, in his book on dervishes, tells of a sufi who, while  watching a wrestling match, agreed with his companion that together  they would try to aid one of the contestants by means of willpower.  They also agreed that, having helped the first wrestler subdue his opponent, they would then concentrate on aiding the other man to overcome  the first wrestler in turn. They succeeded both times. Brown also tells of  two persons at another match who decided to help the weaker of the  two wrestlers. "Immediately a wonderful occurrence took place; the  thin, spare man seized upon his giant-like opponent, and threw him  upon the ground with surprising force. The crowd cried out with astonishment, as he turned him over on his back, and held him down with  much apparent ease. No one present, except ourselves, knew the cause."

Psychokinesis in the Martial Arts

The growing literature on the martial arts is packed with stories that.  are unbelievable, yet an increasing number of observers testify to the  truth of at least some of them.

In some feats performed by martial artists, physical contact is made  with a person or object, but the influence exerted seems greater than  the degree of contact made. It appears that the "real" work is done by a  force much more powerful than any that the muscles alone provide. We  will mention instances in which this is only a slight possibility, then  work up to cases where an unknown force is the only likely explanation.

In the Tameshiwari, or breaking aspect of karate, "trained karateka  can smash boards, bricks, cement blocks, ice, and roofing tiles with

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

various parts of their body including the fists, open hands, and even  their heads and fingers." In some of these breaking techniques, the  effect seems to go beyond the immediate physical contact made between  mere flesh and rocks, tiles or glass. Chow and Spangler observed and  photographed a master who said he would strike five bricks piled on top  of each other, splitting each in two except for the second from the top.  He did as he promised.

The populizer of kung fu, Bruce Lee, demonstrated in public, before  photographers, his capacity to deliver a punch of tremendous impact,  standing right foot forward, with his almost fully-extended right arm an  inch away from his partner, who held a heavily-padded glove against  his chest for protection. In this position, from which it is physically  impossible to generate enough power to hurt an opponent, Lee knocked  his partner flying into a waiting chair, several feet behind him.

A variant of Lee's technique is the "delayed death touch."  

This refers to the ability, reported though difficult to prove,  to strike a person in a vital spot and for the effect to be  delayed, by hours, days or even months. In carrying this  out, the "attacker" strikes the "victim" in a certain spot, at  a certain time, in a certain way. Instead of dropping on the  spot the victim goes on his way. Through some unknown  process his vital energy is affected and at a certain point in  his inner cycle the effect of the "touch" is felt and he dies  or is seriously ill.

There are, in fact, eyewitness accounts "of men struck in the abdomen, by blows that barely marked the skin, who died later of ruptured spleens or kidneys, destroyed by the shock wave of energy dispatched by fist or foot."

This "death touch" can be explained by suggestion, if in fact complicity is not involved. American psychologist Martin Seligman has  studied voodoo deaths among Caribbean people And concluded that the  victim's faith is the cause of death. Aware of a hex and sure of its  power, the victim falls into a kind of learned helplessness and slides  into submissive death.

But what about cases in which the victim is unaware of his intended  fate? Then, if it is suggestion, it must operate by telepathy, a possibility

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

that's not as far-fetched as it sounds at first. According to certain  reports, it is hinted that Russian researchers are working on techniques  to influence people at a distance by telepathy. Some writers suggest  that the delayed death touch is an application of the principles of  acupuncture. One writer says, "It stands to reason that a powerful medicine (or medical technique) can just as easily kill or cripple [as cure]."

Another technique is the apparently simple but powerful matter of  expelling the breath. This has such a tenuous physical basis that it can  hardly account for the results it is claimed to produce. A famous  Chinese boxer, Yang Lu-ch'an, is said to have "knocked a young challenger 30 feet across a room simply by expelling his breath with a laugh  when the young man let fly a punch at the famous boxer's stomach."

Finally, two techniques in the martial arts seem to make sense  only in terms of some kind of PK. One is the "spirit shout art," or  "kiai shout." E.J. Harrison tells of a master who saw "a few sparrows  perched on the branch of a tall pine tree, and fixing his steadfast gaze  on the birds, gave utterance to the kiai shout, whereupon the birds  fell to the ground insensible. When he relaxed the kiai the birds  regained consciousness and flew away." Harrison says the shout was  also employed for the opposite effect — that of restoring to conscious ness persons that doctors had given up for dead.

Martial artist Robert Smith tells many anecdotes about the renowned  Chinese boxer, Li Neng-jan. One concerns a young man who — on the  pretext of offering tea to Li — planned to attack him, as in spite of his  reputation he appeared to be a harmless old man. When he did so, says  Smith, "Li merely used a spirit-shout... that knocked the (young man)  out — without spilling his tea or interrupting his conversation with  another man. When asked about it, (the young man) replied with: 'I  heard thunder, his hands had eyes, I fell unconscious.' "

A last technique, inexplicable in ordinary physical terms, is noi cun,  which Michael Minick describes as follows:  

More commonly known as the divine technique, this is a  very rare form of kung fu practiced by only a handful of  adepts. It is not widely taught or particularly popular  because it takes the better part of a lifetime to master. And,  quite frankly, it strains the credulity of those who are  asked to believe that it exists. Simply put, it is a means of

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

generating internal power so enormous one can fell an  opponent without actually touching him. As fantastic as  this sounds, most kung fu masters insist that such an art  exists, and many claim to have witnessed it. One modem  master writing in Karate Illustrated stated: Here in San Francisco lives a one-hundred-seven-year-old  master who is still able to use noi cun (the use of internal  power) despite his age and the frailty of his body. I personally have seen him demonstrate. In one of his demonstrations, he asked a young man to step to the centre of  the room. Then, placing himself a few yards away, he  stretched forth his arm, palm pointed outward, and concentrated deeply, drawing from within that great force of  his chi, and within a few moments the lad was staggering  backward, pushed off balance by the unseen force radiating from that outstretched hand...

Uncanny Suspension

At certain moments, athletes have feelings of floating and weightless ness. Sometimes, in fact, they even have out-of-body experiences. Now  we would like to consider the possibility that the athlete is literally able  to suspend himself in midair. Is there an objective reality involved,  something that can be verified by others? We think that there is. We  have collected many statements by sportswriters, coaches, and other  observers that attest to the fact that some athletes actually can, for brief  moments, remain suspended in the air. Basketball players and dancers,  especially, seem to demonstrate this amazing ability.

Referring to the ability of the Denver Nuggets' David Thompson to  remain suspended in air, Marshall Frady used the term, "the uncanny  suspension." Witnessing an instance of this deeply affected author  James Michener. He describes a 1941 basketball game and player  Hank Luisetti in his Sports in America:  

Somehow, Luisetti stayed up in the air, faked a shot at the  basket, made the Denver centre commit himself, and with  a movement I had never seen before, simply extended his  right arm an extra foot and banked a one-handed shot gently against the blackboard and into the basket. It seemed as

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

if he had been in the air a full minute, deceiving three different players, and ending with a delayed shot that was  staggering in its beauty.

An article in Time describes a performance by premier danseur  Mikhail Baryshnikov:  

... when he launches his perfectly arched body into the arc  of-one of his improbably sustained leaps — high, light, the  leg beats blurring precision — he transcends the limits of  physique and, it sometimes seems, those of gravity itself.  If one goes by the gasps in the theatre or the ecstasies of  the critics, such moments turn Mikhail Baryshnikov, if not  into a minor god, then into a major sorcerer....

He is an unbelievable technician with invisible technique.  Most dancers, even the great ones, make obvious preliminaries to leaps. He simply floats into confounding feats of  acrobatics and then comes to still, collected repose. He  forces the eye into a double take: did that man actually  do that just now? Dance Critic Walter Terry says that  "Baryshnikov is probably the most dazzling virtuoso we  have seen. He is more spectacular in sheer technique than  any other male dancer. What he actually does, no one can  really define. His steps are in no ballet dictionary. And he  seems to be able to stop in mid-air and sit in space."

If these athletes and danseurs really can remain in the air longer  than is normally possible, how do they do it? Again, a possible answer  may be found in the literature of the world's religions, all of which  mention levitation, or the ability to rise and remain in the air. Some  suggest that levitation is a symbol of spiritual emancipation. Ernest  Wood observes, "Levitation is a universally accepted fact in India. I  remember one occasion when an old yogi was levitated in a recumbent  posture about six feet above the ground in an open field, for about half  an hour, while the visitors were permitted to pass sticks to and fro in  the space between." ...

If, for purposes of discussion, we assume that levitation does occur,  it is possible that the seemingly inexplicable ability of a Julius Erving

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

or a Mikhail Baryshnikov may be rudimentary and spontaneous occurrences of it, not entirely due to muscular exertion. The athlete's  extreme effort to remain airborne may be necessary for the occurrence  of a non-physical factor.

Have we any clues as to how this amazing ability is induced?  Danseur Vaslav Nijinsky, when asked if it was difficult to remain  suspended in the air, "did not understand at first; and then very obligingly [replied]: 'No! No! not difficult. You have to just go up and then  pause a little up there.' " Nandor Fodor, a psychoanalyst and psychical  researcher, asks whether Nijinsky's ability is a rudimentary form of  levitation or only an illusion. He concludes it is indeed levitation, and  suggests that Nijinsky — perhaps unconsciously — used a special  technique that incorporated aspects of yoga. He was able to see himself  from outside during a performance, and this suggested to Fodor that he  was in a form of trance during peak performances. Also, his technique  apparently involved both breathing and muscular control. Folder, who  knew Nijinsky replied, "I often asked him how he managed to stay up  in the air. He never could understand why we could not do it. He just  took a leap, held his breath, and stayed up. He felt supported in the air.  Moreover, he could control his descent, and could come down slower  or quicker as he wished. I know he had extraordinary thigh muscles,  and I know that in the matter of filling his lungs with air he has, in a  friendly contest, easily beaten Caruso and Erich Schmedes."

Fodor learned that it was standard technique in ballet to breath in  before a leap, to hold the breath while in the air, and to breath out after  landing. With this technique dancers would unconsciously acquire a  control over their breathing similar to that practiced by yogis to achieve  buoyancy.

Unlike saints, yogis, and shamans, athletes are not aiming at spiritual  emancipation. Unlike physical mediums, they are not trying to levitate  just for the sake of levitation. But the discipline and training of sport  and dance, plus situations calling for rising in the air — as in basketball,  ballet, or the broad jump — combined with conscious or unconscious  breathing exercises, may trigger a rudimentary form of levitation.

The Invisible Barrier

John Gilbey once saw a martial arts master take a sword and slice  through a piece of wood six inches thick, four inches wide, and a foot

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

and a half long. This was to demonstrate the sharpness of the sword.  Next he said that "by concentration I will isolate various components  of my body so that a sharp sword will not penetrate the skin." He then  had an assistant place the sword against his biceps and put all his  weight on it. No skin was broken. "There was only a slight red line  caused by the pressure of the blade." Finally, he asked Gilbey himself  "to strike with all my strength at his left forearm. He enjoined me to  focus well since, if I hit his upper arm inadvertently, it would be unfortunate. I took the sword from the assistant, focused on Hirose's arm,  and brought the sword down sharply.... In an unbelieving trance I held  his arm and gazed at it. A red line creased the skin, but that was all."

This form of mind over matter may also be operative in sport — a  state of invulnerability in which the athlete cannot be harmed. Some times it seems as if an invisible physical curtain or wall is protecting  him, preventing the athlete from being touched by anyone or anything  harmful. In fact, the barrier appears to be mental, and if the religious  tests are to be relied on, its presence is due to the athlete's having  achieved the right attitude toward his opponent and, indeed, toward life  itself.

Photographs in the book by Chow and Spangler illustrate the form  of Ch'i Kung that John Gilbey witnessed. In one case Grand Master  Lung Chi Cheung allowed the wheel of an automobile to run over his  stomach, yet he was not hurt. In another instance, five bricks were  placed on the head of Northern Shaolin Master Lung Kai Ming; his  brother then broke the bricks with a blow from a sledge hammer, but  Lung was not hurt.

Although Western athletes do not actively cultivate invulnerability,  there are scattered accounts of individuals who seem to be unusually  free from injury. This is usually attributed to exceptional speed and  reflexes that enable one to avoid harm — or simply to good fortune. It  may be, however, that abilities like the ones just reviewed could occur  spontaneously, as a natural outgrowth of the attitude and discipline of  the athlete.

Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Muhammad Ali's fight doctor, says Ali "has a  God-given great body.... take his ability to take body shots. Why do his  ribs not break when he allows someone like George Foreman to pound  him? I don't know why, but they don't.... And take his facial tissue.  He's hardly ever marked."

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

Another variation on the theme of invulnerability involves a kind of  hypnotic ability some athletes can exercise. Ratti and Westbrook point  out that ki can be channelled by means of a magnetic personality which  enables one to  

... call upon strong powers of projection and suggestion,  and these can often be used to prevent combat, or to win  it. There is an episode... said to have involved a samurai  who was set upon in the woods by a pack of wolves.... He  merely kept walking straight ahead, his countenance so  stable, aware, and potentially explosive that the animals  were frozen in their tracks, while he passed safely through  their midst. Other episodes mention men lying in ambush  only to confront a victim who, simply by gazing at them,  terrorized them so effectively that they were immobilized.

Mind Over Matter

Does mind directly influence matter in sports situations? Only those  whose minds are completely closed would definitely rule it out. If we  assume only the possibility that psychokinesis (PK) occurs in sport,  then do we have any clues as to how it can operate?

Sport constantly shows us how the mind imposes barriers on what  the body can do. This mental barrier, this tendency to set a limit on what  humans can or cannot do, is what needs to be overcome. Time and  again it has been shown that once one athlete breaks through a barrier,  other athletes will soon follow, thus showing that the barrier, all along,  was not physical but mental. French mountaineer Rene Dittert observes,  "It is a strange fact, but one that has always proved true, that where one  man has imposed his domination over the elements another man can  pass. The way is open, because the forces of nature have waited for man  to prove himself master before submitting." Arnold Beisser notes, after  discussing barriers to breaking records in sport, "The final striking  impression is that when a record is finally broken by one man it opens  the way for others to do the same." In this connection sportswriter and  runner Kenny Moore makes an interesting point in his article on Henry  Rono, Washington State track star. He says that in Rono's native Kenya,  the living conditions demand a "realism, a clarity of judgment about  such things as pain and effort, that is difficult for Westerners to share."

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

Moore considers that this cultural factor has important implications as  far as Rono's capacity to break records is concerned: "Rona has no illusions, which is good, because the case has been made that it is our illusion that we can go no faster that holds us back."

Perhaps the biggest barrier of all is the belief that although we can  move our bodies directly, we cannot move anything beyond their reach.  But what if we are viewing the problem through the wrong end of a telescope? Thirty years ago a psychologist, R.H. Thouless, and a mathematician,' B.P. Wiesner, put forth an hypothesis that, if true, would pro vide an explanation for some of the unusual feats described here; "I  control the activity of my nervous system (and so indirectly control  such activities as the movements of my body and the course of my  thinking) by the same means as that by which the successful psychokinetic subject controls the fall of the dice or other object."

That this notion is not outdated is underlined by the fact that the  world-famous physiologist Sir John Eccles recently suggested much  the same idea. In an invited address at the 1976 convention of the  Parapsychological Association, he proposes that the simple act of saying  a word was actually a form of psychokinesis: "The mind has been able to  work upon the brain cells, just slightly changing them.... The mind is  making these very slight and subtle changes for hundreds of millions of  cells, gradually bringing it through and channeling it into the correct tar get cells to make the movement. And so there is psychokinesis, mind acting upon a material object, namely brain cells. It's extremely weak, but  it's effective, because we've learned to use it." We are suggesting that  athletes are learning in a similar way — haphazardly, if not by design —  to extent the reach of the body beyond the confines of the flesh.

What if it is really the mind that is accomplishing these physical  feats? What if an athlete can control his muscles the same way that a  PK subject in the laboratory can control the throw of a die? If this  hypothesis is correct, it removes a mental barrier for if it is the mind  that is the prime mover, then the muscles are just as much "outside" the  mind as is a die face or the table lamp that Johnny Miller feels we will  one day be able to move by mind alone. Or put the other way, the die  face or lamp are no more outside the reach of the mind than one's muscles. The literature suggests that a few individuals who are able to per form mind-boggling feats view reality in just this way. Baseball enthusiast Richard Grossinger observes:

Extraordinary Feats

Extraordinary Feats

Pitchers have torn muscles, broken bones, been operated  on, had ligaments grafted; they have altered everything  about their delivery and rhythm that made them a pitcher  in the first place. They have come back from rotary cuff  surgery, from not being able to lift their arms for a year  and a half, and they have won ball-games. Occasionally,  like Jim Palmer and Luis Tiant, they have pitched the best  baseball of their lives after the actual physical equipment  was seemingly taken away. It is almost as though the outer  throwing form is an illusion. If you learn how to do it in  terms of a strong healthy body, the skill remains, the ability to put it over, long after the body ceases to back it. An  inner image of the entire pitching sequence is regenerative, like a reptile limb.

The abilities reviewed above suggest that some of us are demonstrating, in sport, that we can extend our boundaries beyond the con fines of our bodies. It appears that the body is not so much the end of  sport as the beginning. It is a centering point, a place to start from, but  from this sturdy base we are capable of reaching beyond — of fleshing  out the spirit in areas where the body cannot reach, initiating movements the eye cannot see , revealing strengths that transcend mere muscles, and exerting energies that can no longer be considered physical in  the ordinary sense. In similar fashion, sport may not only be an end in  itself, but the beginning of a human unfoldment that will eventually  extend the boundaries in all areas of life.

from Michael Murphy and Rhea A. White,
The Psychic Side of Sports,
Addison-Wesley Publishing Cy, U.S.A.


Extraordinary Feats

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