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Blind who ‘see’ intrigue their audience
Demonstration of martial art is a little eerie

SHARE Blind who ‘see’ intrigue their audience
Demonstration of martial art is a little eerie

OGDEN -- It was a scene torn from Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Two blindfolded Indonesian martial artists pirouetting through 25 folding chairs scattered on a gym floor without bumping into one. Reaching for a randomly placed sword stashed beneath a chair. Moving to another chair. Picking up a randomly placed cantaloupe. Tossing the melon into the air and whacking it in half.And that was just for starters.

Friday's demonstration of a little-known Indonesian martial art called merpati putih at Weber State University's Swenson Gymnasium seemed one part The Amazing Kreskin, one part David Copperfield, one part Bruce Lee.

It was strange, unusual, interesting, odd and just plain weird, if not a little eerie.

"That's some crazy stuff in there," said one bewildered spectator.

There's no magic involved, insists Irzal Chaniago, vice president of the Saring Hadipoernomo Foundation in Jakarta that's pushing development of the "art." Practitioners of merpati putih, apparently more than 500,000 strong in Indonesia, say they learn to sense vibrations in objects through a series of breathing exercises.

"We don't see by our eyes but by our whole body," Chaniago says.

Chaniago and Nate Zeleznick, a Huntsville man who brought the Indonesians to Utah after discovering the art through a magazine ad, says blind people can master a technique called "vibra-vision" to avoid obstacles, distinguish stationary objects from moving ones, detect speed and distance and perceive volume. Ultimately, he said, they can read and draw without using Braille.

The Indonesians did an exhibition at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind Thursday.

"The demonstration was impressive, if everything is as it seems. I wouldn't at this point without further investigation start that training with our students," said Superintendent Lee Robinson.

Robinson put himself in position for an up close and personal inspection of merpati putih's professed powers: The passenger seat of a car driven by a blind Indonesian. He had the man blindfolded for good measure.

The driver backed the car out of parking stall, drove a few hundred yards at 5 mph on a campus street turned around and drove back, Robinson said. All without a scratch or a dent. "There was one point where I was worried about someone else's car," he understated.

Robinson said he's not willing to write off his blind ride as a hoax. He'd like to see some controlled "experiments" of the martial art before making a judgment.

Back in the gym Friday, the two blindfolded men, clad in karate-type garb with red belts, broke cinder blocks in half with an overhand chop or a high-flying kick. They "read" aloud in broken English several of the dozen or so spectators' driver's licenses or student activity cards with their fingers hovering over the words. They "looked" at the photos on the ID cards and returned them to the proper owners.

Were they peeking?

"I put the three blindfolds (Band-Aids over each eye followed by two black cloth eye covers) on the guy so I'm pretty sure he couldn't see," said Roberta Glidden, an Ogden resident who attended the show.

Then the two blind guys took center court. At least by all accounts they can't see. Chaniago said the 28-year-old was blind from birth and the 27-year-old lost his sight at age 1.

The pair proceeded to ride mountain bikes through the jumbled chairs without clipping one. They even rode together on one bike for a moment. They identified colored pieces of cloth distributed to the small crowd. One tossed a basketball with a burly Weber State student, even retrieving the ball after a miss. The other came up with the answers to simple math problems a spectator wrote on a sheet of paper.

Reactions among those who watched the demonstration, most of whom were students wandering into the gym on the way to class, were mixed.

"Boy, it's hard to say. To me, the first reaction is to be skeptical. It's hard to believe. It goes against anything you think is logical," said Joel Barrow, a junior health and fitness major who played catch with the Indonesian martial artist.

Barrow wasn't quite convinced the pair are blind. "It's hard for me to believe they can't see even a little bit."

One thing that left several people skeptical was that Chaniago occasionally talked to the demonstrators in Indonesian.

Grady Wood, a freshman in geo-science, was stunned when one of the blindfolded men handed his driver's license back to him after "studying" his picture.

"I loved it. It's just a spiritual uplifting," he said, adding he'd like to learn more about merpati putih. "It's just a good feeling in here, just a lot of positive energy."

Patti Ehle, a legally blind Ogden resident (she has no peripheral vision and sees out of one eye) who attended at Glidden's request, came away intrigued but not necessarily a believer.

"When I watch this I think these people have practiced really hard," she said. "I don't mean to write them off. They know something that I don't know or don't understand."