“Could one’s attention-diversion abilities coupled with a strong martial arts background allow him to “talk his way out” of a dangerous situation?”
A few days ago, I saw a link to a TED video that immediately caught my attention. The presentation was given by a man named Apollo Robbins, a magician who goes by the name of “The Gentleman Pickpocket.” The reason for my excitement is because I know Apollo. He came to my dojo for a brief period last year. After class, he regaled us with demonstrations of his amazing skills and created a truly “magical” atmosphere that captivated all of us present.
Apollo and I also had several talks about common aspects of magic and aikido, and how techniques from each discipline might enhance the practice of the other.
In watching this recent TED video, my impression was that Apollo’s “patter” — already highly developed — had become even more sophisticated. He combined rapid speech with clever humor, and an array of gestures and body language that served to catch and direct the audience’s attention.
Before I go further, please view this delightful video of a master magician at work…
The concept of magic of Apollo, and I’m sure that of most magicians, is centered on controlling the attention of their audience. There are a virtually unlimited number of ways of achieving this such as the skilled use of verbal cues, manual dexterity, body language, facial gestures, humor, confusion, redirection and misdirection of the audience’s attention, etc.
Since most of our readers are martial artists, I’m sure they will immediately see parallels in their training with much of what Apollo is explaining during his show. After we learn basic aikido techniques and they become second nature, we see that there are additional, more advanced tools available to apply in a self-defense scenario to improve the odds of a favorable outcome.
What if aikidoka, for example, could learn even a few of Apollo’s magic skills to supplement their knowledge of martial techniques? Imagine if they could draw upon this expanded skill set under duress in a situation where physical intervention might be necessary. Could one’s attention-diversion abilities coupled with a strong martial arts background allow him to “talk his way out” of a dangerous situation instead of fighting? What techniques do crisis intervention specialists, hostage negotiators and those in similar fields draw upon when dealing with mentally unstable and potentially violent individuals?
To suggest another interesting line of thought… do we already use “magic” skills in our aikido training? To give a concrete example, watch any video of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei and you will see him using leading and redirection maneuvers extensively.
Here we see the founder of aikido setting up a technique in a manner analogous to the redirection of a magician. Morihei would rarely respond to attacks, but rather create favorable circumstances for the execution of the technique through such gestures and body language.
I am of the firm belief that it is possible to view aikido through alternate lens and expand the tools we have at our disposal. One fruitful avenue of research would be to examine the world of magic as exemplified by such experts as Apollo Robbins. Many of their sophisticated magic techniques rely on the same mental and physical principles we use in aikido.
To be successful, the magician must master the art of directing the attention of his audience. At the more advanced levels of our aikido, practitioners should strive to extend their capabilities to exert similar control techniques during their interaction with training partners. It may then become possible to neutralize the attacker’s intent and conclude the encounter with minimum force and without injury. That would really be “magic!”
This is a fascinating area of inquiry, and we invite readers to contribute their input to a discussion of this topic.