Don't miss skeptic and professional MMA fighter Brent Weedman in the Bellator Lightweight Tournament Championship tonight, Friday, May 25 at 8/7C. You can watch a free live stream on Spike.com or on cable and satellite television stations MTV2 and Epix HD.
We recently interviewed Weedman about his support of scientific skepticism and his work to advance it within the martial arts world.
D. J. Grothe: You are a prize-winning MMA fighter. How did you get into such a demanding sport?
Brent Weedman: My father was a police officer and martial arts instructor growing up. I was heavily involved in full contact martial arts my entire life. When I was18 or so I entered a 4 man amateur MMA tournament because I enjoy the competition. Slowly my involvement grew, and I had a few opportunities for larger and larger fights. After a serious of discussions with my now-wife Emily I decided to throw all of my energy into a career as a prize fighter.
DJG: In mixed martial arts, as opposed to professional TV wrestling, there are real fights, often quite violent. Is it more dangerous than the more theatrical wrestling I watched as a kid?
BW: The danger in MMA, while certainly real, are actually a little overstated by many. I find people are often surprised to learn that statistically MMA is much safer even than boxing. Because of the smaller gloves, ground fighting, and lack of 10 counts (giving a downed fighter 10 seconds to regain his composure) there tends to be less cumulative damage to the head.
DJG: You reached out to the JREF and generously offered to rep for the foundation. And in your public media appearances you often promote science and skepticism, especially in your fights on MTV2. In martial arts, there is a lots of promotion of belief in energy powers, like Qi. Do you think you will be able to reach folks who ordinarily aren't going to hear JREF's critical thinking message, and push back against the pseudoscience?
BW: Yes, that's definitely the plan. The work that James Randi and the JREF do is very important, and I'm proud to be involved with you guys. I feel strongly about the cause.
While I have met my fair share of practitioners that believe in Qi, you won't be surprised to learn that the evidence for it is quite lacking. Ultimately I feel that people are simply uninformed at the incredible limits the human body can achieve. I'm reminded of Arthur C Clark's 3rd law "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It's easy to write off incredible athletic feats as woo-woo. Side note: there are examples of martial artists performing "tricks" to prove their powerful Qi, but I relegate those to the dustbin of spoon bending.
DJG: How widespread are such beliefs? Have you trained with anyone promoting belief in Qi?
BW: These spiritual beliefs are really more common in traditional martial arts than they are in combat sports like MMA, boxing, or wrestling. It bears mentioning that MMA has had a very interesting effect on the traditional martial arts as a sort of litmus test. For years martial arts charlatans with gold stripes all over their black belts would convince students of how dangerous their magic techniques were (hence why they practiced with such low contact). The famed Gracie family from Brazilian Jiujitsu gained notoriety for challenging these proclaimed "masters" to real fights. The results were predictable! The following is one of my favorite examples from recent times! http://youtu.be/pdrzBL2dHMI
DJG: How did you get involved in skepticism?
BW: I was inspired by the works of famous skeptics and scientists like Randi, Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Phil Plait and others to exercise critical thinking in my own life. There are so many out there who promote lies and chip away at reason, often taking advantage of people for personal gain. I feel compelled to do my own small part to be involved with the solution, and again, I am proud to rep for the JREF and to use whatever platform I have to invite more people to apply a bit more skepticism to their beliefs.
Brent Weedman is a professional MMA fighter who has competed in several Bellator Fighting Championship tournaments, including: Bellator Season Four Welterweight tournament, Bellator Season 5 Welterweight Tournament, and the Bellator Season 6 Lightweight Tournament.