The Occult Potential and Spiritual Dangers of Martial Arts – Part 1

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2012
In this article we will examine three concerns with martial arts: 1) the occult origin of some of the martial arts; 2) the spiritistic potential of the traditional dojo; 3) the ability of martial arts practice to develop psychic powers by “generation” and manipulation of psychic energy (ki, chi, etc.). These three facets underscore the occult nature and dangers of much martial arts practice.

The Occult Potential and Spiritual Dangers of Martial Arts – Part 1

Occult Origins: Two Illustrations

At least some of the martial arts were influenced by or developed from occult experiences. For example, although its origins may be traced to twelfth-century Japan, the modern developer of aikido was Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969). An article in Yoga Journal by Buddhist scholar and aikido instructor John Stevens states, “Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, looked like a Taoist immortal, acted like a Hindu swami and spoke like a Shinto shaman.”[1]

Aikido was developed out of Ueshiba’s experience of enlightenment. In the spring of 1925, when Ueshiba was walking alone in the garden, suddenly, “a golden spirit” sprang up from the ground. “I was bathed in a heavenly light; the ground quaked as a golden cloud welled up from the earth and entered my body. I felt transformed into a golden being that filled space—I am the universe.”[2] Further, “At the same time, my mind and body turned into light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God…. At that moment I was enlightened…. I have grown to feel that the whole earth is my house, and the sun, the moon and the stars are all my own things.”[3]

Ueshiba’s meditation practice had produced in him an occult enlightenment typical of Eastern gurus and other occultists. It also produced dramatic psychic powers. Such was the occult form of “enlightenment” from which aikido sprang.

The development of Tai Chi is often credited to Chang San-Feng (ca. 1260-1368), who was apparently a Taoist hoping to discover the secret of immortality by occult means. His strong interest in the I Ching and other occult pursuits were well known and, in part, eventually led him to develop Tai Chi. The Chinese emperor himself described San-Feng as “the wise and illustrious spiritual man who understands the occult [i.e., the Tao].”[4]

The Dojo and the Spirits

The occult potential of traditional Eastern martial arts is evident from the religious value and spiritistic function assigned to the dojo, or hall, in which the martial arts are to be practiced. The aspiring student may even be told that he practices under the watchful eye of the dojo’s spirits and that he must gain their approval:

Dojo is the name given to a place devoted to religious exercises, and its original Sanskrit meaning, bodhimandla, is the place of enlightenment…. [T]he focal point of the dojo is the “Kamidana” or deity shelf. It is here that the “mitama” (spirits) of the deities reside and under whose cognizance the exponents diligently train in hope of seeking their approval. For this reason the dojo is considered to be a “shinsei” or sacred space.[5]

One wonders how many Westerners are aware of this traditional occult function of the dojo. Nevertheless, all actions within the dojo are conducted according to a rigid code of etiquette. The front of the dojo is known as the “shomen.” This is where the “deity shelf” resides and “all actions and references take place in relation to the kamidana [deity shelf].”[6] To the left of the kamidana is the sitting place of the senior-ranking students, for opening and closing salutations, and to the right is the area for the lower-ranking students. Most significantly, the position given to the instructor allegedly symbolizes his closeness to the spirit world. “The instructor is seated in front of the dojo, near the kamiza, signifying not only close physical contact with the “mitama” [the spirits] but spiritual [closeness] as well.”[7]

Psychic Powers and Spiritism

Psychic powers are developed through spiritistic contacts. The martial arts often claim to have the potential to develop psychic powers, and by implication, spiritistic encounters, whether these are perceived or not.

Many examples can be cited. Given the proper conditions, ki or chi in general is said to “become a supernatural power.”[8] The Korean Hwarang-Do, which came to the United States in 1972, stresses internal and external power, including “training in controlling the mind and developing psychic powers….”[9]

In the same manner that yogis speak of prana, which is associated with the development of siddhis (psychic abilities), martial artists may speak of chi. For example, chi cannot be accumulated in the body quickly, but must be built up slowly. It is regulated through breathing and meditation.[10]

A text on alternative medicine discusses the potential of martial arts practice for inducing meditative “harmony” and the ability of ki to extend awareness into psychic realms. It notes the parallel to the nineteenth-century mesmerists (who were often spiritists) and their dependence on “magnetic fluid” or “animal magnetism” for clairvoyance:

As in t’ai chi, the element of the vital force is strongly emphasized. The assumption is that when the “wrestlers” are in full harmony, their powers are increased, and not just their physical strength. The ki is thought to extend awareness, so that the practiced performer can sense where any adversaries are and what they are doing, even if they are behind his or her back or at a distance, and can take the appropriate moves to anticipate them.

Interestingly, this ties in with what the mesmerists reported from their research during the nineteenth century. Certain susceptible subjects, when mesmerized, could “see objects held behind their backs, and react to signals from the mesmerist even when he was out of their sight.” The mesmerists also had the same explanation; animal magnetism was simply another version of ki, or chi. Later James Braid, who introduced the concept of hypnotism,… claimed that there was no need to think in terms of any such vital force: It was simply that individuals in the trance had an increased physical awareness, and some aikido teachers today prefer to think in these terms.[11]

Many other books describe the psychic powers that can be developed through the martial arts. One text discusses a variety of psychic abilities that can be achieved through solely internal means, with little or no physical power being employed. Again, the point of such abilities is to enable the martial arts students to be aware of the alleged tremendous power within them. It admits that these techniques “border on the supernatural.”[12] Supernatural, indeed. Listed are such abilities as throwing an opponent without touching him, knocking down opponents at a distance, the breaking of bricks with a slight hand motion, and making the skin strong enough to resist a sword thrust.[13]Such claims of physical defense are reminiscent of the supernatural protection that shamans and other occultists may receive from their spirit guides or demon helpers. As comparative religion expert Mircea Eliade, a noted authority on shamanism, states, “After a man [shaman] has obtained a guardian spirit he is bullet and arrow proof.”[14]

Another supernatural manifestation is the use of so-called “repelling energy,” in which an attacker is automatically thrown away from the master’s body “with no conscious attention on the master’s part.”[15] The text discussing this observes that these abilities are still demonstrated by contemporary masters and that there are even deeper levels of power to be obtained.

Then there is the alleged ability of some martial arts practitioners to cause death by occult means. This, too, is reminiscent of shamanism and the more virulent forms of occult magic. The so-called “death touch” supposedly sends a lethal charge of ki or chi energy to damage the internal organs in mortal ways. Ashida Kim, in Ninja Mind Control and in Ninja Death Touch, claims that chi can be used as a psychic power or for producing death by “touch.” In Mashiron’s Black Medicine I: The Dark Art of Death, the claim is made that ki can be manipulated in order to kill a person.[16] The similarity to black (and even so-called “white”) magic, hex death, and so on, is evident.

Also practiced are various forms of telepathic hypnosis; for example, the art of putting an opponent to sleep at a distance, or hiding oneself from an opponent by distorting his perceptual ability or by inducing hallucinations. These techniques are claimed to be employed by the ninja.[17] An illustration involving aikido master Ueshiba shows him on film, at the age of 75, being charged from both sides at top speed by two large judo black belts. When projected in slow motion, the successive frames show the master standing calmly while the charging attackers close in on him. However, at the very moment they are about to reach him, between two frames, Ueshiba allegedly has moved several feet out of the way and is facing the other direction. The black belts collide violently while the master watches in amusement. “Such a movement, which from the film testimony must have taken less than 1/18th of a second, demonstrates a transcendence of normal laws of time and space, a penetration of this world by the magical world of the eternal….”[18]

George Leonard describes a similar incident in his own experience with aikido. “As the four of us attacked her, repeatedly, I had a sample of that quality of Aikido that so often is called ‘magical’ or ‘occult’: I simply could not get to her. It was as if she were surrounded by the kind of force field you see in Star Trek.”[19] Leonard says that he is “at a loss for words” to explain these kinds of experiences he has encountered.[20]

In other words, the traditional mystical (ki or chi) energy developed in the martial arts is equivalent to occult energy in general. This chi or ki energy can be used for the standard occult powers developed in other occult systems. It can be used to turn the hand into a powerful or deadly weapon, to heal wounds and diseases, to break bricks and boards without even touching them. It can be used as a shield to prevent attacks and to strengthen the body to such a degree that allegedly no amount of physical attack by hand or sword can leave even a bruise or scratch. It can be used to read the past or predict the future,[21] or even to kill: “Kung Fu practitioners widely believe in a traditional death touch called dim mak. If a body is struck at a certain point in a certain manner at a certain time of day, a delayed death inevitably follows. At first the victim feels unharmed, then later becomes ill and dies.”[22]

In MGM’s Ninja 3—The Domination, the starring role is played by Sho Kosugi, one of the world’s most proficient martial artists. He plays the character “Yomada,” a martial arts expert who is possessed by an evil spirit. Through the spirit’s power, Yomada commits mass murder on a crowded golf course. He also kills about 40 policemen, taking dozens of bullets in the process. Before he dies he passes his occult abilities on to a young woman he meets by chance. Tormented by Yomada’s spirit, she is driven to killing; she also develops psychic abilities.

The film’s writer, James Silke, has obviously connected the martial arts (here, the Ninja) and the spirit world. But even some books on the martial arts hint at connections to the spirit world. One text, Ninja: Warrior Path of Togakuri, Volume 3, mentions the master’s seeming reliance upon the assistance of spirits. “It is as though the spirits of all the past grand masters stand behind the man who now carries the title, and guide him through these dangers in ways that the master himself admits that he cannot explain scientifically.”[23]

The potentially spiritistic nature of the martial arts can also be seen in their precipitation of kundalini arousal.[24] One text, explaining the dependence of Tai Chi Chuan on the Chinese system of divination known as the I Ching, discusses “the flow of psychic energy (chi) along these two channels.”[25] One psychic channel runs along the spinal column from the base of the spine, where the psychic center called Wei Lu is located, to a psychic center at the top of the head called Ni Wan.[26] Here are clear parallels to the psychic anatomy of kundalini.

Another text states that the Taoist psychic anatomy “is worth comparing with that of kundalini energy and Indian yoga.”[27] In traditional religious Taoism, reliance on the spirits, both internal and external, was commonly accepted;[28] therefore, it is not surprising to find spiritistic manifestations (e.g., kundalini arousal) in those practices based on such a philosophy. Thus, prana, the Hindu “energy” term, is sometimes paralleled to chi, with both being equated to kundalini energy.[29]


  1. John Stevens, “Japan’s Traditional Martial Ways,” Yoga Journal, September/October, 1985, p. 47.
  2. Ibid., pp. 47-48.
  3. Peter Payne, Martial Arts: The Spiritual Dimension (NY: Crossroad, 1981), p. 46.
  4. Edward Maisel, Tai Chi for Health (NY: Dell/Delta, 1972), p. 183.
  5. Richard J. Schmidt, “Japanese Martial Arts As Spiritual Education,” Somatics, Volume 4, Number 3 (1983-1984), p. 48.
  6. Ibid., p. 49.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1991), p. 346.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Brian Inglis, Ruth West, The Alternative Health Guide (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), p. 148.
  12. Payne, Martial Arts, p. 12.
  13. Ibid., p. 12; Guiley, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, p. 346.
  14. Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 100.
  15. Payne, Martial Arts, p. 12.
  16. Ninja magazine, 1986, p. 27.
  17. Payne, Martial Arts, p. 13.
  18. Ibid., p. 32.
  19. George Leonard, “Mastering Aikido: On Getting a Black Belt at Age 52,” New Age Journal, April, 1979, p. 50.
  20. Ibid., p. 58.
  21. Stephen K. Hayes, Ninja: Warrior Ways of Enlightenment, Volume 2 (Burbank, CA: O’Hara Publications, 1985), p. 16.
  22. Guiley, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, p. 344.
  23. Stephen K. Hayes, Ninja: Warrior Path of Togakure, Volume 3 (Burbank, CA: O’Hara Publications, 1986), p. 11.
  24. Jerry Mogul, “Tai Chi Chuan: A Taoist Art of Healing, Part One,” Somatics: The Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences, Spring, 1980. P. 40.
  25. Da Liu, Tai Chi Chuan and I Ching (NY: Perennial/Harper and Row, 1978), p. 9.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Pierre Huard, Ming Wong, Oriental Methods of Mental and Physical Fitness: The Complete Book of Meditation, Kinesitherapy, and Martial Arts in China, India, and Japan, (Trans. Donald N. Smith) (NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1977), p. 54.
  28. Ibid., pp. 52-53.
  29. Stanislav Grof, Christina Grof, eds., Spiritual Emergency (Los Angeles, CA: J. P. Tarcher, 1989), p. 99.

Read Part 2


  1. David on June 9, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    I was into Tae Kwon Do for about 6 years and did’nt know any of this.

  2. joker on November 1, 2017 at 4:15 am

    Using ninja3 as one of your examples. LOL

  3. Ez Hiccup on April 2, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Very concise abstraction of elements
    There’s definitely legends around martial arts, and whole lore from superhuman abilities
    they all revolve around the same principles and show a deep connection with a spiritual world
    Whether Legends are higher in percentage false or fantasy, there are truths hidden behind.

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