In Kalari Payattu there is something called
choondu marmam, which is used to attack the opponent with spiritual power. Is it real?
We can tell from this description that choondu marmam is a myth. It is claimed to be a magical power that controls the opponent at a distance by merely pointing at them.
If choondu marmam is taken out of its mystical context, we could defend it by saying that some people do intimidate their opponents. That's not objectionable, and is quite easily proved. Intimidation is a merely social skill.
But that's not what Kalaripayattu is claiming. They claim that there is a magical force, developed through specific rituals, involving specific body parts, and making its effect through affecting a specific mystical quantity called Prana. Prana does not exist; the relationships of psychological intimidation do not relate to the specific body parts claimed, the specific rituals are not necessary, and there is no magical force involved. It makes as much sense to believe in prana or choondu marmam as it would to believe in medieval medicine's humours or the Egyptian sun god, Ra.
Magic in the Martial Arts
Over and over, we find martial arts charlatans claiming to have magical powers over their opponents. The name varies, but the method is common: controlling, injuring, or knocking someone down without touching them. What we find happening is that teachers trick their students into playing along through a cult environment and social pressure.
We've seen a supposed "kiai master" unable to use his powers against anyone but his students, the powers of Yellow Bamboo chi blasts debunked, and no-touch knockout "experts" shown to be powerless every time they try their techniques against skeptics. Often these people have tricked themselves as well as their students, and are surprised to discover that their supposed powers are merely a game that they've convinced their friends to play. These examples remind us of James Randi's repeated debunkings of "psychics", who were really just mediocre sleight-of-hand artists.
This video saying it shows choondu marmam from a kalaripayattu expert is a prime example of fakery. This instructor probably believes his own tricks. Every student he tries his "powers" on flies backwards! But this is only because the alternative is to hit someone, which nice people are conditioned to avoid doing. Hitting would involve another enormous breach of etiquette: embarrassing the instructor, whom they respect. These students have been given the opportunity to demonstrate a technique in front of the class, to perform in front of an audience including a camera. The stakes are therefore high. They will be ostracized and morally shunned if they suddenly swung full force and broke their instructor's face with a stick. They've learned, through repeated examples and a step-by-step grooming process, that they must respond in this way whenever the instructor moves like that. Someone who doesn't know what the instructor's supposed powers are, and who is really willing to hit the instructor, would not show any evidence of being affected by "choondu marmam". Don't be fooled. Find someone who really doesn't believe and have the instructor try to stop them from punching him.
Magic does not exist. Any interpretation of choondu marmam that purports to be magical is not true.
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I've only started practicing Payattu*, and the students did try to convince me that such a technique exists.
Of course there is no way laws of physics can be bent in such a manner, this technique is a myth. I did try to find out where these stories came from.
First you have to understand that Payattu is thousands of years old (9th century CE). This martial art was suppressed when India was taken over by the British. But before then, mysticism was rampant. A lot of Payattu's principles were taken from ancient literature apparently handed down by 'gods'. These texts have also been used as a basis for other sciences like Ayurveda (medicine), yoga, mythology, dance, art and astrology.
In fact even now every Kalari has a shrine or two dedicated to gods and goddesses. Paying your respects to them before and after practice is a must.
There are close ties to astrology and this martial art. (In ancient times the caste that was allowed to practice this art also dabbled in astrology). In fact this technique in question is not really a fighting technique. It is a technique of an astrologer/mystic who manages to change the 'intention' of the person whom s/he wants to influence just by looking at him or her.
Back then this also may have also a means of getting more students by claiming to have such super human abilities.
Make no mistake that this is an excellent martial art and the more I learn about it, the more I love it. The attention to detail and the science involved in fighting is much more evolved compared to other martial art disciplines. But there is a leftover relics of a bygone era like casteism, astrology and magic.
* Kalari literally means 'dojo'. Payattu is the actual martial art.
Interesting... I very much like @DaveLiepmann's answer, and agree with his message if not always his way of saying it. I do want to expand a little on it.
Reality vs. Non-Reality
Without getting into hundreds of years (Possibly thousands) of philosophical debate on what is and what is not real, let's consider Objective vs. Subjective reality.
For something to be objectively real, it must be within the human experience that every person is in relative agreement that something is what it appears to be. That is, A ∴ A, or in more simple terms we agree that a daisy is a daisy because it appears to both of us to be a daisy.
For something to be subjectively real, it simply must fit in with our belief systems as real. It fits into my belief systems that the martial arts I've studied over the years are effective; however, this is due to my particular experience, and not due to any core unifying aspect of those martial arts that makes them de facto "good".
What is "Reality" therefore tend to be those things that are Objectively Real, and those things that we socially accept, although they are Subjectively Real, as well as anyplace these two realities intersect. "Non-Reality" then tends to be those things that are Subjectively Real but outside public consensus, and those things Objectively False ("One-eyed, One-horned, Giant Purple People Eaters").
The Subjectively Real
In this video, let's assume that the person dramatically flying around the room is, in fact, not consciously acting. For him, then, the effect being demonstrated is (subjectively) real, because he believes it (or perhaps the ability of his instructor) to be real.
To the person in the experience, somethings reality (subjective or not) may be genuine. It's easy to say, from the external point of view, that something is 100% fake; however, the external observer is not subjected to the same reality.
Consider seeing a scary movie for the first time with a friend who has viewed it 10 times already. While you jump at every loud sound, he sits next to you bored. What is different? The difference lies not in the Objective reality of what is displayed on the screen or played through the speakers, but in the subjective reality of your inexperience of the stimuli compared to his experience.
Reality of "Psychic" (Psychological) Combat Techniques
In training, especially in intense training where you might be dodging quite a bit from an unknown/unknowable varied series of attacks, it's possible to recreate this type of experience. As trained dodging is a conditioning of the flinch reflex, and repeated stimulus, exhausting as it may be, can make this flinch reaction fire subconsciously, the attacker, by observing which movements take you out of alignment, can follow up with subsequent motions to continue the flinch until you, the recipient, are completely off balance.
When I was a child, my brother would attack me in wild fits of mania. He would run into my room where I was quietly playing a video game or with my toys, tackle me, beat me silly, then run away. Naturally, my reaction became, for quite some time, to flinch forward into a fetal position. My teacher knew about this, and used it to effectively demonstrate how some of this flinches can be manipulated. Of course, I didn't know what he was doing, so he threw a few punches, and I dodge like we'd practiced, when he feinted – he knew that my inexperience would cause me to move too early, and he followed up with a series of strikes to keep me moving. I remember suddenly being bent over then flipped to the side, but he never touched me. It was my reactions that had caused me to flinch my way to the ground.
In mentalism (magic tricks performed with a theme of the mind), there's a principle called the Dual Reality principle – the trick the audience perceives is not always the trick that the assisting spectator (shill) perceives. To the class looking on, their subjective reality may be one of two things: belief ("if he was never touched, it must be psychic/magic/voodoo/hoodoo/yaba-daba-doo"), or skepticism ("if he was never touched, he must be faking."). To me, however, my subjective reality was that fear overwhelmed my senses when I was no longer able to keep up consciously, and my subconscious reacted by triggering my nervous system to cause me to continue to move, despite having lost my balance already. It was nothing magical or supernatural, but it was not objectively real either, as no one else had shared my experience.
A Final Note On "Magic"
“The sin which is unpardonable is knowingly and wilfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices.”
― Aleister Crowley, Magick: Book 4, Liber ABA
Outright denying experience is itself a denial of Truth. Whether you believe another's experience or not is a creation of a subjective set of rules within which you define your reality. To deny something without first experiencing it from the angle of performer and observer, and to accept the denial without thought of ones own is foolish.
What is Magic? To paraphrase Crowley again, Magic is the art of causing change to occur in conformance with ones will. In this, there is nothing supernatural, but rather completely natural. It is only our inability to explain rationally our observations – to connect the dots from cause to effect - that makes it appear supernatural. It's our own irrational explanations that do not account for both Subjective and Objective Reality that put us at odds with Truth. Whether we accept or deny on occurrence, without knowing the subjective reality of the person truly experiencing the event, acceptance or denial is the same.
See this question: What is Qi power and has it been proven to exist scientifically?
Again, these "pressure points of spiritual energy" are places on your body where important blood vessels and/or nerve clusters exist. E.g. punching someone below the ear and behind the jaw will hurt like a mother and possibly make him pass out. This is simply because you interrupted important signals traveling to-and-from the brain. You are basically causing static interference like when you use a power drill close to a television. It's not so much spiritual as it is bio-electrical.