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Yellow Bamboo

Yellow Bamboo (YB) claims to be White Magic (i.e., "good" sorcery) and an art of self-development, protection, and healing. In fact, it is a martial art whose proponents make extravagant but testable claims about using chi to ward off and disable attackers. The video below demonstrates how ineffective a YB master is at controlling an attacker with chi manipulation.

As you can see, the master failed a very simple test of the claim that this cult is based on: there is a "power in the universe" that you can bring inside you and use for protection and healing. If anyone is healed by calling on this "power in the universe," it is due to the power of belief and suggestion and can be best understood by studying the placebo effect rather than by studying chi or any martial art that claims to teach you to harness the "power of the universe."

The YB cult is centered in Bali and on its website claims it has more than 30,000 adherents worldwide. In addition to healing and knocking people over or out without touching them, the YB folks claim they can levitate.

YB practitioners are notorious for spamming internet communities dedicated to the practice of martial arts of all sorts in order to attract more converts into their organization.*

The person in the black T-shirt in the video posted above has identified himself to me as Peter Dellys, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner: "For years they [the YB folks] have plied their lines about 'no-touch knockouts' on usenet (particularly rec.martial-arts) and several years ago, Yellow Bamboo's challenge was taken up" by Dellys and Fraser Johnston, another Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner, on a beach in Perth, Australia.

For those who think "cult" is too strong a word to describe the YB folks, consider this advice from their instruction manual:

When you first start Yellow Bamboo you do the pasupati (initiation) ceremony. You do the ceremony also every time you go up a level. While the singing is going on you open the top of your head and feel the white light power of the universe coming into your body. If you can, do the ceremony the night of the full moon.*

Or watch the following video and decide for yourself if this is a cult:

A few years ago (February 24, 2004), the YB folks issued a press release in which they claimed that one of their masters had demonstrated the ability to knock over a challenger without touching him and that they had won the James Randi million dollar paranormal challenge, but Randi had refused to pay up. Neither claim was true. The whole sordid affair is documented on Michael Prescott's blog. Prescott, who describes himself as "not a fan of Randi," describes how the conditions of the million dollar challenge were not met by the YB folks and that their "evidence" of controlling the "power of the universe" consisted of a chaotic, grainy film shot on a digital camera at night with YB folks running with the challenger at the master who was to deflect the attack with chi.

The YB press release stated: "On 14 September 2003 Mr. Nyoman Serengen, the founder of Yellow Bamboo (with over 40,000 members [I guess they've lost a few in recent years!]) successfully slammed down, without touching, the Randi representative Mr. Joko Tri clearly demonstrating extraordinary paranormal ability." Not exactly. Prescott writes:

Evidently what happened was this: Yellow Bamboo claimed that Serengen could knock down an assailant by means of psychic force. JREF representative Joko Tri agreed to test this claim. He would run at Serengen in a threatening way, and Serengen would knock him down without physical contact.

But the test protocol was not followed. Instead of taking place in good light, the test was done after dark, under poor viewing conditions. Instead of Joko running alone, three or four Yellow Bamboo members ran with him. The test was captured only by a cheap digital camera that was not equipped for night photography and shot very low-quality video.

Given the darkness and the number of people surrounding Joko as he ran, it is entirely possible that one of the Yellow Bamboo members shocked him with a stun gun. The small crowd could have obscured this action from an onlooker. (It also appears that most of the "eyewitnesses" were Yellow Bamboo members.)

Yellow Bamboo makes much of the fact that Joko and Serengen were not in physical contact. But that is not the issue. The issue is: Was one of the Yellow Bamboo members who ran alongside Joko able to make contact with him? Even a split second of contact would be enough to shock him into immobility.

After viewing the video shot by the YB folks, Randi wrote:

I avoided jumping to conclusions on this matter, though it was pretty evident to me and to others in this office what had happened to Mr. Joko Tri, the martial arts practitioner in Java who had volunteered to go to Bali to experience the phenomenon that was being claimed by Mr. Serengen, the chief performer for YB. As I've pointed out here, Joko did not properly carry out my instructions, so the demo was not acceptable. I repeat here that I've no criticisms of Joko, who had admitted from the beginning that he was not experienced in this mystical procedure. He did the best he could. I regret that as of this writing, Joko has been subjected to suggestions of legal actions by YB.

I received more than 75 suggestions from readers who saw the dark and obscure video clip — the only and totally unacceptable video record of the event — and found that 70 of those independently offered me a scenario that matched with my initial analysis of the episode. One correspondent thought that a head-kick might have been delivered by one of those closely pursuing Joko, and another suggested that he was simply tripped. The two persons who followed him so closely could have performed either of these maneuvers, but Joko would have been very aware of either. He was not. In fact, what he reported was that he didn't know what happened, but felt himself suddenly on the ground without knowing how he got there. And, you will recall, we saw his body convulsing while he lay on the ground. That strongly suggests another modus.

I've consulted experts in police techniques, and when I've told them what Joko reported, and what was seen in the video clip, they've all come up with the same answer: we believe that it's likely that Joko Tri was zapped by a hand-held Taser, or stun-gun. This is a high-voltage unit (see photo) that delivers a shock when the subject is touched by it, and the resulting symptoms are congruent with what Joko experienced. The subject suddenly finds himself brought down and doesn't know how he got there. He is stunned, his body involuntarily convulses, and — most importantly — he is often confused and doesn't recall what happened, particularly the period during which he convulsed, nor does he have any marks or other visible indications that he has been zapped. Some people have no recollection of pain at all, others feel they've been "shaken up" badly. The duration of the application — from a half-second to two seconds — seems to bring about different results with different individuals. Since the conditions of Joko's encounter were so ideal for such a possibility — darkness, persons immediately adjacent to him, great confusion and excitement — I have a reasonable expectation that this is what might have happened. At the same time, I cannot imply that anyone but the person who actually fired the device, was "in" on the procedure. Mr. Serengen and the others might have been quite unaware that any such ruse might be used.

As anyone familiar with the Randi challenge knows, the claimant must pass a preliminary test before being tested at the JREF in Florida under properly controlled conditions. The claimant does not get to determine the nature of the preliminary test nor does he get to determine whether he has passed the test or not. Such conditions would be absurd. I am one skeptic who does not believe that extraordinary claims always require extraordinary proof. A simple test, like the one on the beach in broad daylight with Mr. Dellys or Mr. Johnston attacking the YB master and knocking him down, will do in the case of those who claim they can manipulate chi to protect them from attack.

See also chi kung.

further reading

websites and blogs

Michael Prescott's blog

The Museum of Hoaxes on "The Ancient Art of Yellow Bamboo"

BJJ Practitioners Take On the Yellow Bamboo

Yellow Bamboo - Level 1

Last updated 14-Mar-2015

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