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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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.
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,
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?
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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...
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
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
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
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."
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."
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:
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.