I want to start thinking seriously about something I’ve been musing about for decades. If there is a “superpower” linked to the martial arts, it would be the elusive quality known as tachypsychia, or psychological time distortion. The advantage of being able to think clearly while the world seems to slow down around you is obvious. A few questions come to mind:
- Does it exist? There are countless apocryphal stories about it, throughout history and in arenas such as jet fighter combat, martial arts, sports, and high-intensity events such as car accidents: everything seemed to slow to a crawl. Senses grow more acute, the stitching on a baseball can be clearly seen as it hurtles toward the plate. I would go so far as to say that the majority of people involved in such events have a story about it.
- I have several such events myself. One involving watching a rock sail toward my head in elementary school. Another dealing with a traffic accident on I-5 during a snowstorm in Oregon. And several events during sparring.
- While the majority psychological opinion seems to support its existence, there are studies that claim this is all hallucination. I choose to believe my own experience, and that of countless others I’ve discussed the phenomenon with over the years. From this point forward, we proceed on the assumption that it is real.
- The biggest question I have is: if it is as useful as one would think…why is it so hard to reproduce, or train for, and why haven’t we evolved more of it? Why can’t we turn it on and off at will?
- An answer presents itself, one suggested by a very curious comment I heard attributed to Morihei Ueshiba, creator of Aikido. Supposedly, his students asked him to demonstrate a specific ability to move among them without being seen or touched. He seemed to do so, vanishing from one position and appearing in another (if this doesn’t sound like a specific Biblical story about Christ passing through a crowd of people trying to grab him, I don’t know what does). He supposedly appeared on a landing above them. When they stopped being appropriately astonished, they asked why he didn’t do this more often, and he replied that to do it took a week off his life.
- This story could conceivably be explained by a phenomenon similar to tachypsychia, applied not to super speed or some such, but to the ability to move through people’s blind spots, which would require abnormal perception.
- What IS tachypsychia? Certainly not actually slowing down the external world like Dr. Strange. Nor becoming “the Flash”. The easiest choice would be a speeding up of perceptions, the mental “shutter” taking “more frames per second” like a sped-up camera producing slow-motion film. That would certainly help someone move with abnormal facility–not that you are moving fast, but you have time to see where you can move without being seen. Perhaps.
- At any rate, if his comment is a clue, here’s a theory as to the dangers: speeding up your mental perceptions per second (mpps) causes your brain to sprint. Imagine excreting extra norepinephrine or whatever, or your internal timing suddenly revving up. If you “sprint” physically you increase your risk of sprains and pulls without proper warm-up and fitness. Unexpected exertions can cause strokes and so forth in the unfit. Is it plausible that this mental capacity, while valuable, also has enough risks that it is not a good idea to tap into it except in genuinely life-threatening situations? That those who do “burn themselves out” somehow? That evolution therefore put it out of conscious reach for most? I’ve heard stories of people who gained conscious control of their heartbeat…and then couldn’t put it back on autopilot. That every year a few meditators are found in full lotus, just…dead. Maybe just stories. But it is a fascinating thought.
- That seems plausible enough to form questions in my mind, and as a SF writer, to make a speculation I don’t have to totally support in reality. Then, I’ll try to work backwards from it and see if it makes sense. And then, if it still does…try to determine how such a thing might be approached safely and reliably. Here goes the speculation:
- Tai Chi Chuan is one strange martial art. Considered “The Grand Ultimate” by tradition, I have often asked myself, and my teachers, “why?” And gotten strange, oblique answers, most of which made me think they didn’t know either. But what if Tai Chi Chuan (and, I’m sure, some other martial disciplines) was/were designed specifically to promote Tachypsychia? What sense would that make? And if true, how? And…there would be other arts in other cultures that approached the same peak. What path do they take? Can we find anything useful in asking these questions? And if so, where are the loose threads that would enable you to crack that code? Just for the sake of fun, I’m going to assume this is true, and see what we can extract about the how and why of it.