"My relationship with the ninja was interesting on a couple of different levels."

Alison Levy is a curator, writer and a blogger at the 2012 apocalypse fan-fiction forum Reality Sandwich. She’s posted a great interview with Arthur columnist Aaron Gach, of The Center for Tactical Magic. Check it out here.

In the midst of all the New Age therapy-speak in the comments — e.g. “i was the canvas i was doing the painting on, it was a shamanic abstract x-pressionist personal human sculpture” — “sonofman” jumps in to direct the RSers over here to Arthur to check out some of the Center for Tactical Magic’s contributions. Thanks, sonofman. Here’s a quick digest of the Center’s “Applied Magic(k)” columns, for your consideration:

Vanishing Act, from Arthur 32/December 2008

An Open Invocation, from Arthur 31/October 2008

The Roots of Culture, from Arthur 29/May 2008

Will Power To The People! from Arthur 27/November 2007

Calling All Ghosts, from Arthur 25/Winter 2006

BONUS: The Center for Tactical Magic at Psychobotany at Echo Park’s Machine Project, May 2007

Read an excerpt from the interview–in which Aaron explains what he learned from private eyes, ninjas and magicians–after the jump.

Alison Levy: I want to know more about each of those types of world perceptions as the private eye, magician, and the ninja. What is something you learned from each of them?

Aaron Gach: OK, the single most valuable lesson that I got from the private eye is something he would talk about repeatedly, which was, humans are creatures of habit. His whole job was really predicated on uncovering hidden information, information that’s either intentional hidden away, or even unintentionally — sometimes just lost. The gist of what he was always attempting to do, was to find out more than what was readily available. Depending upon what sort of situation he was engaged in, sometimes it involved following people, sometimes it involved going to courthouses and digging up records, sometimes it involved just talking to the right people, networking people or convincing people to give him information that they weren’t supposed to give him. But his main operating premise in all of these situations was always “humans are creatures of habit.” That meant that if he was trying to find a missing persons he would start by looking at their routine. If there was a situation where he was trying to deal with someone who was intentionally trying to avoid him or trying to hide something, he would start by looking at the most mundane aspects of their life that they returned to, consistently. Those became points of vulnerability.

When I think of that in society at large I feel that in a lot of respects this is what TV does, this is why advertising happens on TV. It happens at that mundane part of the day when everyone is coming home from work and they are exhausted, tired, and vulnerable and they want to relax. They’re in a suggestive state. That’s just one type of example, but nonetheless we can begin to think about how that relates in everyday life.

My relationship with the magician gradually became more complex, like relationships do the more time you spend with someone. Initially, we were just dealing with the ideas of perception and the ideas of performing power; what it means to be a figurative power, or someone perceived as having great or greater abilities than other people. Oftentimes when you think of a magician, whether it’s a street or a stage magician, the initial notion is that the magician has some sort of knowledge or power that the audience does not have. That’s what allows the magician to perform.

You end up, within metaphysics and the occult, with this split, this sort of binary between those of black magic and white magic. That pops up in stage magic performance on occasion too, and it happens in reference to the type of magic performed by a magician for his audience. A magician that is truly performing for his/her audience is a magician who is trying to amaze, is trying to give some profound understanding of the complexities of reality, that reality isn’t what is seems to be, that our perceptions can be fooled, deceived, and that sometimes in that fooling, we begin to recalibrate our understandings of what actually is going on around us. On the contrary side of the magician, maybe he is performing for him or herself. The act is a very egotistical act, it’s an act about showing that he or she has greater abilities and becomes this big ego trip.

I think anyone who has seen a magician perform is always ill at ease when a volunteer is asked for because the fear in part is maybe they are going to go up on stage and be humiliated. This is the real shift between magicians where on one hand the magician may bring a volunteer on stage and have them participate in casting an illusion or creating a grand effect; but on the other hand everyone sort of knows the worst case scenario where someone generously volunteers to be on stage and ends up being turned into a fool — they become the victim.

I think dealing with those sort of power relations shows up in politics all of the time. We see it every time a White House spokesperson makes semantic arguments that don’t really speak to the events that are at hand; anytime that the government seeks to distract our attention by presenting us with some sort of false debate; anytime the news media chooses not to cover events or not to offer solutions to crises, but rather just to report the doom and the drama in the midst. Those are all instances where the relationship between the stage magician begins to reflect the sorts of illusions and the sorcery that gets cast in the halls of government and the offices of marketing agents.

My relationship with the ninja was interesting on a couple of different levels. For one thing, I think it’s important to emphasize that ninjas in pop culture are not the same thing as ninjas today. Ninjas in pop culture and movies from the 80s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninja Motorcycles, all of these sorts of constructions really are fictional constructions about what the world of the ninja was historically. They are usually cast simply as assassins, or sometimes underhanded secret agents. But historically if you look at the role they played, they had a very community-based practice, they didn’t necessarily abide by the norms, standards, or the codes of feudal Japan. They took matters into their own hands, and they often focused on achieving goals. It’s not a martial art that’s strictly self-defensive. Sometimes, it’s just about accomplishing the goal at hand, which may mean running from conflict altogether, it may mean hiding, or evading circumstances. It may mean preempting a certain set of circumstances that would lead to trouble or danger.

Having that sort of understanding, of just trying to accomplish goals, while trying to think tactically and strategically, I think it goes beyond many martial arts today. The way this martial art is practiced today, while it trains for tactical purposes, it focuses on principles. The difference there is that a technique can be deployed when the circumstances allow for that technique, but understanding the principle gives you the flexibility and the resourcefulness to adapt yourself or change your conditions. So in that case, ninjas tend to think of training not just an individual body, but as thinking of the body as a small group, a large assembly, and a social mass. In those instances, the principles apply, where as an individual technique it may not.

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