Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Richard Turner (richardturner52.com, youtube.com/richardturner52), regarded as the best card mechanic and among the best close-up magicians in the world. He has entertained millions of people, including notables like Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Secretary of State Colin Powell, actor Brad Pitt, sports legend Muhammad Ali, and many more, and he is the subject of the documentary Dealt, winner of the 2017 Documentary Feature Audience Choice Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Everyone should watch it.
Richard has received many accolades, including the 2015 Close-Up Magician of the Year Award, the magic industry’s equivalent of the Oscar.
His skill with a deck of cards has been featured on television shows around the world, including a performance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, in which Penn Jillette admitted, “Richard Turner is one of the finest sleight-of-hand artists who has ever lived. He fooled us with every single move he did!”
Oh, and did I mention that Richard is completely blind? That’s right. You’re in for a ride, my friends. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can also watch the conversation on YouTube.
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Tim Ferriss: Richard, welcome to the show and thanks for coming to Austin.
Richard Turner: Tim, I’m honored to be here. It is very much my pleasure.
Tim Ferriss: I was mentioning this before we started recording. I have had you at the top of my list for people I want to spend time with because I find just about everything about you fascinating and I’ve wanted to ask so many questions. I thought we would start maybe in a place that would be unexpected for people listening. I’m not going to start way at the beginning, childhood. We’ll probably get there, but let’s start with The Magic Castle. What is The Magic Castle?
Richard Turner: The Magic Castle is to magic what The Grand Ole Opry is to country-western music. It’s the premium place for magicians to perform around the world. They have what is the equivalent of the Oscar, the Academy of Magical Awards, AMA Awards. It’s a 27,000-square-foot Victorian mansion built in 1907. You go in. It’s strictly for adults, 21 and over. Must have ID. Back to the old days, you have to have a coat and tie. You cannot overdress. If you’re underdressed, they don’t let you in. They don’t like what you’re dressed, they don’t let you in. It’s by invitation only, but it’s just a very, very fun venue and place to perform at. I just returned from performing at The Castle the night before last. I just flew in last night.
Tim Ferriss: You have one of the busiest schedules I’ve ever heard of and I’ve met some very, very driven, busy people. The Magic Castle has been this vision in my head, or it was, I should say, for many years. I had the opportunity to go there for the first time just last year with a member. It just blew my mind to see the variety of skill and the level of skill in the various rooms because there are these different rooms for different performers and different types of performances. Could you speak to, and I hope I’m getting this name right, Dai Vernon?
Richard Turner: Oh, yes. You got it right.
Tim Ferriss: So who is Dai Vernon and how did you first meet?
Richard Turner: Well, Dai Vernon, first of all, was born in 1894. He lived to be over 98 years old. My wife, my beautiful wife Kim and I threw him his 98th birthday party two months before he passed away. He was known as the man who fooled Houdini. That took place 100 years ago this year.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Richard Turner: 100 years ago. Houdini had a boast that he could—if he saw the same trick three times, he could figure it out. Vernon did it for him five times. He couldn’t figure it out. So he was known as the man who fooled Houdini. For over a half a century, he was the best in the world with a deck of cards. There’s different types of magic. There’s the big—what we call furniture movers. The big illusionists. Most of those things, that type of show, is really money more than talent. You just have to pay $200,000 to buy this big illusion that turns a cat into a person inside a cage or whatever. Then there’s the parlor magician with the link rings and make eggs come out of their mouth or whatever. Something along those lines, where a smaller audience, but that’s called parlor magic.
Then there’s the close-up magician, who will do stuff right in front of your eyes, like they’ll make coins jump from one hand to the other or they’ll do card tricks. But the most difficult of all forms of sleight-of-hand is the work for the card table. The gambling work. That work is the most closely guarded information of all, sleight-of-hand. Nowadays with the internet, just about everything is exposed. Vernon, wanting to know more about the moves of the gamblers, first read a book written in 1902 called The Expert at the Card Table by S.W. Erdnase. Nobody knows who Erdnase was. At that time, the magicians, the nineteen teens and ’20s, “Oh, we don’t care about that book. That stuff’s too hard to learn.” Vernon had it mastered by the time he was like 12 years old.
So he spent his life hunting down hustlers. He was the first one that found Allen Kennedy in 1930, ’31, who supposedly could deal cards from the middle of the deck, which no one thought that was possible. That information was the most closely guarded pieces of sleight-of-hand that you can get ahold of. If you get ahold of it, you’d pass it on to special people like Charlie Miller and a few others. I met him in 1975. I’ll tell you a quick back story.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be quick.
Richard Turner: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: Please go ahead.
Richard Turner: I was working with a guy named Bob Yerkes, Y-E-R-K-E-S. He was just at my show on Sunday. He’s going to turn 87 next month. He’s been in stunts. He’s been in stunt business for 73 years. His first movie was in 1947 with Elizabeth Taylor, and he’s dealt with everybody under the sun. Literally thousands of stunts on television and thousands of stunts in film. Like in the movie The Towering Inferno or Earthquake. He died seven times in Earthquake. Died multiple times in Towering Inferno, on and on. He was on the movie recently—with Tom Hanks—on Angels & Demons. He was the minister that was beaten and burned alive. They forgot to turn the fan on to blow him out. Tom Hanks says, “Well, at least you didn’t have to act,” because he wasn’t acting. He was screaming, “Turn the—I’m hot!”
Anyway, I was working with him. It was a show called Circus of the Stars, where we trained celebrities to do circus acts. I was, for better or worse, I’ll just call it his gopher, but I lived with him. He’s a dear, dear, dear friend. Has been for almost 50 years. We were training for the Circus of the Stars and Lynda Carter’s show called Wonder Woman. Dai Vernon heard I could do some very difficult moves with the cards. I just turned 21 and I found out I was going to meet him at The Magic Castle. I found out the night before I had to get a suit to get into the Castle. At that time, I couldn’t afford a suit. I didn’t have a suit. So I thought, “Okay.” I had my gambling money. I always had, at that time, stacks of 20s, which was a lot of money for me.
So I went to the Northridge Shopping Center, set my deck of cards on a coat rack, started thumbing through coats. The sales guy comes up to me and says, “I’ll cut your high card for that coat.” I thought to myself, “This is my lucky day.” I said, “Okay, I’ll go for that.” He backs up and says, “No, no. I’m just kidding.” I said, “Tell you what.” I took out two twos and a queen. I said, “Come over to your desk here.” I moved them and I said, “If you tell me where that queen is, I’ll pay double for the coat I picked out. If you get it wrong, you give it to me for free.” He goes, “Really?” I said, “Really.”
Threw those cards and darn if he didn’t miss it. I said, “Tell you what. I’ll bet the coat against a pair of pants. Give you a chance to get your coat back.” He goes, “Okay.” Lost again. I said, “Take the coat and pants against a shirt and tie.” He says, “Okay, but this is the last one.” Lost again. So I walked out of there with a brand new suit. Didn’t pay a dime. If I would have known he was going to go for it, I wouldn’t have picked out the cheapest coat in the place. It was a tan, corduroy piece of crap that I still have today because it’s how I first met Vernon. So I still have it as a souvenir.
Anyway, I get to the Castle and Vernon—there was two guys in the room, Dai Vernon and—this is in the library, which is separate. Closed off to the public. Another guy named Tony Giorgio, who’s best known as the actor in the movie The Godfather. He played Bruno Tattaglia, which was Vito Corleone’s toughest henchman. There was a scene in the movie where a guy takes a knife and stabs his hand in the bar. The guy with that knife, that was Tony Giorgio.
Tim Ferriss: That’s Tony.
Richard Turner: He was a bust-out man back in the ’40s and ’50s.
Tim Ferriss: What does bust-out man mean?
Richard Turner: A bust-out man is somebody who a casino will have on hand. “Oh, hey. That’s Tim Ferriss. He’s got some money. Okay, Tony. Take him out fast.” So bust-out man means they’re going to take you down. They’re going to take you down quick, get that money from you, or if it turns out that, “Man, that Tim Ferriss, he was just too lucky. Okay. Joe, you’re out of here. Tony, you’re in. Get that money back.”
Tim Ferriss: Getting back—
Richard Turner: Means bust you out fast.
Tim Ferriss: Using card techniques?
Richard Turner: Using sleight-of-hand. Using card techniques. Exactly. Gambling moves. Whatever his artifice was. Probably in that case, a peek with a sucker deal.
Tim Ferriss: Say that one more time?
Richard Turner: A peek. He would peek the top card, or know what the top card is, then he would deal the card under the top card. So you see that card on top? What’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: That’s a five of hearts.
Richard Turner: Okay. As he would deal to the other players, see, that top card is not moving. For those that can’t see what we’re doing, I am dealing the cards in slow motion and the top card is not moving as that second card comes out, but it looks as though it’s the top. Here’s even with one hand. That’s when the cards face down and I turn it face down. Now you’re watching. You can’t tell that you’ve been swindled. So he would take them down. Then he became an actor in the ’60s.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: Anyway, at the table was Dai Vernon and Tony Giorgio. Giorgio was about 6’4″. Mean, nasty mafia hit man. I always used to say, “He never had to act. He just played himself. A mean, nasty mafia hit man,” because we had battles for altogether 38 years, but we battled each other for 20 years. At first, I was no threat, but hey, I’m showing Vernon my moves and Vernon goes, “Wow. Now that’s all right, but I don’t care how fine you breathe. When you’re moving your hand like that, it’s unnatural. It tips you off.” Every time I did anything, Giorgio took a seat from the other table, not involved in our little private get together, would yell, “Won’t get the money. Won’t get the money.” Then I’d show somebody. “Won’t get the money. Won’t get the money.”
Tim Ferriss: What’d he say? “We’ll get the money?”
Richard Turner: “Won’t get the money.”
Tim Ferriss: Will not get the money, but it was “Won’t get the money.”
Richard Turner: Which is, in other words, it’s not good enough for the card table.
Tim Ferriss: That is sleight-of-hand smack talk.
Richard Turner: Yes. That’s smack talk. “Won’t get the money.”
Tim Ferriss: That is like “your mama” type of line at the card table.
Richard Turner: Exactly. “Won’t get the money.” You get a double bang there. Shot twice. Vernon, then I showed him the move I just showed you and that technique. He thought that was kind of clean. It was more natural. I remember what he said. I went home and I practiced what he said. “I don’t care how much you move your hand. No matter how fine that breathe is, it’s unnatural action.” So naturalness. That’s what I learned from Vernon. Naturalness. You have to be natural in your execution.
So I practiced it. Next time he saw me, he goes, “Now that’s better. That’s better.” He took a liking to me because he would see that I would put in—this is not an exaggeration, even though I almost wish it was because—I would practice it an average of 14 hours a day. That was my average time practicing. Sometimes it might be only 10 hours because I spent extra time in the gym because I was training for some kind of a fight or other days, I got up at six in the morning, went to bed at three, and I may have practiced 20 hours that day, but my average practice time was 14 hours. That was sustained for 26 years, seven days a week.
Vernon saw this obsession in me. So he took me on as—well, a student protégé. To cut to the chase, I became the recipient of a century’s worth of his most guarded card table artifice techniques that he traveled the world, finding these hustlers and learning their moves. I still have things today that only he and I know. I’ve created things today that only he and I know. He’s not telling anybody. Was it Benjamin Franklin that said, “Three people can have a secret, but you have to kill two of them?”
Tim Ferriss: If we talk about your practice, because your practice and work ethic, it struck me—when I first saw Dealt, it struck me, as I’ve done homework and preparation for this, meaning what makes good practice? Because there are people who practice a lot, they put in a lot of hours, but their skills don’t improve or improve much. What makes good practice for you?
Richard Turner: Very, very, very good question, Tim. First of all, I say, “Practice does not make perfect.” They say, “Practice makes perfect.” No. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Richard Turner: You can practice something wrong. When you’re done, it’s perfect. We move on. I see it in my industry all the time. They’ll practice a second deal in some awkward fashion, where—probably the most common one is the strike second. I’ll give a visual clue. Picture. The card is turned face up on the deck. First of all, usually they’ll hold the deck in real tight. What’s called mechanic’s grip, or a real deep grip. Widen up your grip a little bit. Then when they go to take the card, they’ll bypass the card that you’re taking so they can have the second card and deal it out. This is the standard second deal that you’ll see people do, but has all kinds of tells.
Tim Ferriss: It has a lot of tells.
Richard Turner: First of all, you’re pushing the top card over to receive it with the other hand. So why is the right thumb bypassing the left thumb? It’s because at exposure at the top of the deck where that second card is, you get ahold of it. That is a totally unnatural action, but you’ll see it all the time. And then you don’t have a dead deck. One of Vernon’s students, who became a peer of Vernon’s, was a guy named Charlie Miller, who I had the privilege of spending time with. They grew up all through the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s.
Miller talks about a dead deck. When you’re dealing the top card, everything below it, there’s no movement. If there’s movement being made when you’re taking the second card out and the top card is going back, you don’t have a dead deck. You have movement of two different movements. The second card coming out, the top card going back. Now watch my second deal. I’m not crossing the thumbs at all. My left thumb, there’s no leaking of the card at the other corner and I’m not going anywhere near the top of the deck that particular second. I have practiced what I’ve done in front of a live audience about five million times and in practice, I’ve done it over a hundred million times, that one movement. I proclaim that it’s probably the most difficult move in all of sleight-of-hand because there’s only three other people that are getting it down. One guy’s been working on it after he watched my videos for 30 years now, but it just takes a long time.
Anyway, I got off track. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Same thing with martial arts. You look at the side kick. There are people that will swoop—that kick up as they go. You lift it and you shoot it in like a blade. You sit there and practice it wrong and you’re done. It’s not wrong. It’s perfectly wrong, okay?
Then there’s another thing I like to say. Discipline breeds discipline. They say, “How do you put in time?” When I’m telling people and they want to train or something, I say, “The more you do something, the more you can do of it. Discipline breeds discipline.” You do something and then the more you’re able to do it, then the better you do it.
Then they say, “Well, I just can’t run a marathon.” I say, “Don’t run a marathon. Right now, I want you to just walk down the distance of two houses and walk back. Make it so easy, you can’t talk yourself out of it. The next day, walk the distance of three houses. Come back. Then the next day, jog down the distance and come back.” Then eventually, your body starts adapting to the habit and those endorphins start getting released. Then after a certain period of time, it’s like, “Will you get back in the house? Does it have to be a marathon?” So discipline breeds discipline and perfect practice makes perfect.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about your physical practice. The training. I have so many notes here in front of me. It’s an embarrassment of riches, as I have written down here, CBS producer David Rubin: “Turner’s life story is too incredible for fiction.” There’s a lot to that statement we’ll get back to. You mentioned the stunt work. You’ve flown on a trapeze, tightrope walks—
Richard Turner: High falls.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. High falls.
Richard Turner: Cliff diving.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve done an incredible amount of physical cultivation. I have a line here. On March 5th of this year, you will have not missed a workout in 49 years.
Richard Turner: True.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Why is training important to you? Why would you go to the trouble, as I have down here? In the ’70s, there were no gyms when you were on tour, so you traveled with a wooden briefcase with 120 pounds of weights inside. Sounds like a workout in and of itself. Why is it so important to you?
Richard Turner: Well, part of it is when I was growing up, I was always the smallest or second smallest in my class and I would get beat up or I’d get pushed around. We haven’t really gone off on this point yet. At nine years old, I started losing my sight. My sister Lori, who I call my genius sister because she’s brilliant, and I, we both got scarlet fever. I was nine. 1963. She was five. That caused for me within a matter of moments—fourth grade, watching this chalkboard. All of a sudden, it just went blurry. It was like someone took the chalkboard, smeared the chalk.
Tim Ferriss: It was that sudden.
Richard Turner: It was that sudden. The same thing with my sister. One minute, she went from full sight to legally blind. Now we were forced in second, third, and fourth grade to watch a movie called Lord of the Flies. I to this day don’t know why they make kids watch a horrifying movie like that. What it was about was a group of kids stranded on an island, a group of boys. They were all between probably eight to 12 years old. Somewhere in that age frame.
There was one boy called Piggy. He was a chubby boy and he had to wear glasses and he had asthma. They found out that they could use his glasses to make a fire, and because he was chubby, they called him Piggy. So he was picked on, and he had asthma. Then at 10 years old, I found out that I had asthma. All of a sudden, I’m just deathly sick because we were very poor. Our house literally was a structure set on a ditch, about a six-foot ditch. My dad poured concrete down in that ditch to make my bedroom. During the winter, my bed would have four, five, six inches of water under it, which means molds. I was deathly allergic to molds. I would just get extremely ill.
Now I’m blind, had asthma, and I was skinny. He was chubby. Piggy was blind, asthma, and he was chubby. So I thought, “I don’t want to be a Piggy. I don’t want to be a coward.” I was afraid I was going to be a coward because I was afraid. I was afraid of getting beat up. I was afraid when I’m walking down the street, a guy named Leland picks a fight with me and I get hurt. Doug Ferguson beat me up and others, anyway, so I didn’t want that.
Then there was another show that affected my—what caused me to go off the charts the other direction was called Lost in Space. There was a little boy on there, Billy Mumy, who played Will Robinson. There was the man on the show, Dr. Smith, who was the man, the coward hiding behind a rock while this goofy-looking monster made out of paper mache would come walking up and Billy Mumy would save the day. The little kid. I thought, “He’s brave.” I was afraid to turn out like Dr. Smith. Then the third thing was Tarzan movies. You’d see them walk across a tree, spanning two cliffs, maybe 100 feet down, 1,000 feet down. There was always the guy that would turn around and say, “Whatever you do, don’t look down.” Then the next guy would be—the coward—would look down and, “Ah!” Go screaming to his death. I was afraid I’d be that coward that would look down and panic and fall down.
So I started just taking things to the outer limits, as far as pushing myself. Growing up, I had three movies on the other side that affected me. One was Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston. There’s a scene in the movie where he’s pulling the oars with his big, bulging biceps. That image of strength made me want to be stronger. I wanted to be strong like him. Another one was The Green Hornet starring Bruce Lee as Kato.
Tim Ferriss: Kato.
Richard Turner: I thought, “I want to kick like Kato.” The third one was one that really probably set my life on fire was James Garner in Maverick. He was the cool, slick gambler, and I wanted to be a card shark! Those were the three things, but that’s really what started me off on taking things to the extreme. Whatever someone else did, whatever they benched, I was going to bench more. Whatever their split was, I got to where I could do a 200-degree split. In fact, there’s even video out there where I’m stretched across two chairs and I’m touching my head to the floor. Anyway, I just had this thing of whatever someone else did, I had to top it. Not that I was able to top everybody, which I was not, but I’m with the people in the top one percent, and I’ve trained with some very world-class athletes. I either trained them or trained with them. People had a hard time keeping up with me.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I mean you’re still an extremely fit guy. You told me before we started recording that you worked out at five this morning.
Richard Turner: You understand this. You’re an athlete yourself. That’s another great thing I do because it wakes me up. It gets the adrenaline going, the endorphins shooting, because I had shows all week last week. Every day. I flew in last night at 9:00 p.m. and I thought, “Okay. I need to be on my best game because I’m meeting Tim Ferriss and we’re going to be talking for two hours.” My voice was already worn from all the shows I’ve done. What’s the best way? First person says, “Rest. Relax.” Mm-mm (negative). I was in the gym. Then all of a sudden, I started at five. Then it’s after seven. I’ve been in here for two hours and 11 minutes. My ride’s going to be here in 49 minutes. Dash down to the fish tacos that my wife made. She makes the best fish tacos anywhere on the planet. My wife, Kim. I downed those things and then shower and here we are.
Tim Ferriss: Here we are. As you mentioned, we hadn’t covered, we hadn’t talked about sighted—or the other CBS.
Richard Turner: Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
Tim Ferriss: Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
Richard Turner: That’s French. In English, it’s Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
Tim Ferriss: Especially in Texas.
Richard Turner: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I didn’t bring it up earlier very deliberately because I want people to understand that your incredibly deft technical mastery of what you do stands on its own, head-to-head, against anyone. Period. Full-stop. I wanted to make that—
Richard Turner: I appreciate that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s true. That’s certainly been recognized by many people. I certainly want to chat about the Charles Bonnet Syndrome, but I didn’t want to lead with it. Since it came up and we chatted very briefly about this before we started recording, could you please talk to me about the red and blue spectrum? Because I’ve heard you and I’ve read you say that you can see things or you see things that other people don’t see. I’d love to just know what your experience of reality is like.
Richard Turner: My world that I live in?
Tim Ferriss: Your world.
Richard Turner: Yeah. First, let me explain what CBS, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, is. It was first documented in 1760 by Charles Bonnet. It’s a very rare condition. Dr. Oliver Sacks is a best-selling author, and I’m sure you—
Tim Ferriss: Amazing author.
Richard Turner: Yes. I’m sure you’re aware. He has two books, one called Hallucinations, the other called The Mind’s Eye, where he goes into specifics on CBS. He’s probably documented more cases than anybody. Up until 1990, there was only six documented cases.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. Only six up to 1990?
Richard Turner: 1990. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Then he’s documented a few others. I’m the most extreme case on the planet. First of all, let’s give you a picture view of what CBS is. Charles Bonnet. That’s where a person that’s blind and should see nothing will see sporadic colors or splatters or pieces of images or just some visual things, almost like hallucinations. They’re sporadic. In my case, and it’s 100 percent, 24/7, and it’s not just part of my vision, I see a 160-degree kaleidoscope of beautiful, vivid colors, patterns, shapes. Every subconscious image you can imagine. I don’t see them in the back of the brain, like when you’re dreaming or imagining. I look at them. I see them in front of me. I see them in external space, just like you’re seeing me in external space.
Tim Ferriss: Right. Like an object that you perceive.
Richard Turner: I’m looking at it. Right now I’m in the blue spectrum. To explain the difference between blue and red, I have a neuroscientist that was doing some—interviewing me for some projects and stuff. He said the red spectrum, which is more geometric shapes, everything is—first of all, there’s a grid that’s usually a grid like layers of bricks. They’re always perfectly aligned. They’re perfect rectangle bricks laid out.
Tim Ferriss: This is in the red or in both?
Richard Turner: This is the red.
Tim Ferriss: This is the red.
Richard Turner: Okay. It’s always maroon, which is my favorite color. One of my favorite colors on the red spectrum. The brick, what would be the grey mortar, is actually maroon. Then the red bricks. In those bricks are all, every geometric shape. Circles, squares, triangles, stars. Just every geometric shape you can imagine. And in those shapes will be every subconscious image that’s floating around in my brain, okay? That’s the red spectrum. If I remember, that’s the lower part of the brain.
Then the blue spectrum, which is—I call it the right brain. The analytical. The other is the blue spectrum, which is very artistic. It’s totally random. I call it breast strokes. I like breast strokes, but there’s only two breasts that I’m allowed to stroke. They belong to Kim, okay? I don’t want any slaps from you. Okay.
Tim Ferriss: All good!
Richard Turner: Brush strokes.
Tim Ferriss: Brush strokes.
Richard Turner: I guess you see where my mind is right now. I just got in from a weekend away from my beautiful wife. Okay. Breast—I did it again. Brush strokes.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve been making Freudian slips all week.
Richard Turner: Yeah. The more Freudian, the better it is.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. In the blue, you have these brush strokes.
Richard Turner: Brush strokes. Then in the royal blue to blue to turquoise to sky blue to emerald green to lime green all the way down. That spectrum. They’re just random strokes. Then floating around is, like I said, every subconscious image you could imagine. Just picture yourself underwater in a pool with the light coming in and the light spectrum breaking down, like a prism. Breaks down lights. All these colors just floating around. All the images are two-dimensional, but they’re layered three-dimensionally, if you can picture that.
Tim Ferriss: They’re like panes of glass?
Richard Turner: Yes. Just back and forth. Depth, forward. And the thing about it is, I can take any particular image and I probably—I won’t get slapped, but she might go, “Again?” I take a picture, an image of my beautiful wife in her bikini, and I can take it, zoom it in, rotate it, or where I use it most is if I’m designing—I designed and built my own homes. Or like a patio deck. My wife Kim will tell you, I’m sitting in my chair and I’m watching in full three-dimension, virtual reality. I basically live in virtual reality. My spectrum is my own computer.
So I want to design a deck. And I built this three-level deck, and I would say, “Okay, I need 4x12s, posts down. 4×12 across there, and then about 2×6 as an anchor in there.” And you’ll watch me looking back and forth, engineering this giant project with a thousand cuts. It was three levels, stairway, hanging swings built in, flower beds, and without a single piece of paper. I’d tell my dad, he was my cutter, I said, “This board has to be 192 and a quarter inches.
And my dad is a genius. My dad was was one of my role models. But I can’t tell him or my wife what I’m going to do because I can’t explain a thousand cuts. What I’m doing, this is all in here. And so then we’d start putting it together, and then he’d watch this whole thing come together. He goes, “Now I understand what you said, what you were talking about doing.”
So that’s one of the ways that I’ll use it. And probably the thing that I use it mostly is like I want to remember a phone number, I can write the number down in the air. I’ll see it floating in the air just like you’d see it on a computer screen. My mind takes a picture of it and I have what’s called eidetic memory and then it just files away. I bring it back up. Or when I practice it with cards I will—I do this every time I’m at a restaurant or when I’m with people, and I’ll have the table and I’m watching the move, and I’m analyzing something that I’m doing, and I’ll see it, and my mind will create the image, and it’s not flesh like you have. It’s more of a conglomeration of all kinds of geometric shapes or images to create the image of an arm. The image of the cards. So it’s not flesh and blood colored in the same way you would see it.
But I will see the thing, the image of the constructed within my mind, what I’m looking at. And then I’ll analyze it, and I’ll see everything going on. Yet there’s a solid object between me and what I’m looking at. But yet, here’s the interesting thing. If I turn like this, can’t do it.
Tim Ferriss: If you turn your head?
Richard Turner: If I turn my head. I have to be looking at the object, like my medicine cabinet is the example. I have a friend who’s a writer. He thought this was interesting. My medicine cabinet and I’m going, “where is that Campho-Phenique?” And I see everything in my medicine cabinet, I’m going down. “Ah, there it is.” And I’m seeing everything, yet the door’s closed, okay? But now if I turn like this way, I have to see it in my mind. I can’t see it in front of me.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, wow.
Richard Turner: Isn’t that kind of interesting?
Tim Ferriss: That’s fascinating.
Richard Turner: But anyway, so I consider it a real blessing that I have this strange condition, because I use it all the time. And like I said, I consider myself very, very blessed. And within seconds I can shake someone’s hand and usually I can tell their height, weight, characteristics about them, and my mind will create an image of what I think they look like. And sometimes I’m totally off in left field, but it’ll create my own impression of that person. And then when they’re talking, I will see some strange-looking conglomeration, mouth moving, even though it’s not, let’s say flesh-colored, or flesh-looking, or human looking.
Tim Ferriss: But it’s a representation.
Richard Turner: But it’s a representation, yeah, of movement and motion.
Tim Ferriss: Well if you think about it also, for those people who are sighted, I mean what they are perceiving they consider reality. But they have their own lens, you have your own lens. And they’re both representations in a way, if that makes sense. And I wanted to ask a few followup questions. With the eidetic memory, the photographic memory, is that something that you had partially or fully before losing your sight or is it something that was developed over time? A bit of both?
Richard Turner: It was something I had beforehand. I remember when I was five years old, in kindergarten, and we were in finger painting class. And I had a picture of a National Geographic image that I saw of a seascape. And so all these other kids are just doing the finger painting, their nose and their ears and their hair and their table, and I come up with this seascape. And to this day, what is it, 60 years later, over 60 years later, I can still see the exact thing that I created 60 years later. And it started off with the ground. And then I had seaweed, sorry, I touched your neck.
Tim Ferriss: I forgive you.
Richard Turner: Okay. And seaweed going up, and there would be—in the corner I had a jellyfish with the things coming down, and a shark in the middle, and just different things that I replicated from an image I saw in a National Geographic book. And so from the ages five, six, seven, eight, I was the best artist in the school. And I could, like I said, see a picture and I could pretty much replicate it. And then the problem when I was nine I had scarlet fever, then I started losing that ability to paint.
Tim Ferriss: That must’ve been really difficult, I would imagine. I mean, how —
Richard Turner: That was very difficult, and that was probably where some rebellion took place. I was shipped off to a special school where they had what was called a VH room back then—visually handicapped. And now you say visually impaired, politically much more polite than visually handicapped. And I hated the word handicapped, and I despised the word blind when I had to go to school.
And my sister Lori, she only went through one year. She rebelled so much, she said, “put me back in a regular school.” She refused to continue to go. But my vision was worse than hers at the time. And so she was able to get away with it. I was not. So at the school, the best artist was a girl named Sharon Coleman. And she was the best artist, where I was always the best artist at Naranca in first, second, third, fourth grade. Now all of a sudden, nobody knows who I am. Nobody cares. Sharon, she’s the one that does the best artwork. And so there was a guy in the VH department, there was about a dozen of us that were there and we’d go to, it was a regular school, but they had a VH department, visually handicapped department.
And one of the guys in the VH room was a guy named Ruben Corrao, who, because he was from Mexico, was like twice my size and he was two or three years older than I was. But we were in the same grade because he didn’t have the opportunity to go to a special school. And he would just scribble. He couldn’t draw at all. So he got, “Hey, look at that, Ruben’s stuff’s good.” So he got attention for just doing crap. And so I started doing crap. I started showing my skills the best I could. I just started going the other direction and just scribbling. Although I did do one three-dimensional project that Dr. Sam Cumby was the teacher. I did a sculpture, and I still have it in my office, you can still see it today of a Buddha monk and a bald head and—anyway.
And it was all—what would the word—it was all properly proportioned. And I got an A for that project. And that’s one of the few things that I do I still have from that. But that was a three-dimensional thing.
Tim Ferriss: Why did you keep that?
Richard Turner: Because I got an A. Because it was actually—
Tim Ferriss: I’m not saying you shouldn’t, I’m just curious.
Richard Turner: No, because I did a good job, but that’s also an astute question on your end. Because there was other pieces I did. And in high school I did a collage, and I was just rushing through my art class because I could do stuff, and if you got seven and a half points, you got an A. And I could have my art projects done within the first month of the semester and I already got my A so I could mess around after that.
And I did this one project, I don’t even know what was, to this day, I don’t know what was so good about it. But we had, my teacher was Mr. Swennes. His assistant, don’t remember his name, but he went to San Diego State University. He took my art project and entered it into a statewide college competition, and it got first place. And he gave me the ribbon, the blue ribbon for first place. And they just put it on display in the hallway at the high school. Those little sliders with the locked door and the locked windows. And then when I said, “Can I get my art project back?” And they went there and it was gone. No breaking, there was no glass broken. So we figured the student that claimed it to be his, that entered it, obviously went off with it.
But other projects. After that, I would get my A, build my project, especially the three-dimensional ones I was good at. And then I’d purposely sabotage them. Because you fire them in a kiln, and if you have something that has air in it and it’s completely sealed, it’ll blow up. So I’d make my project, get my grade on it, and then when I’d go have it fired, I’d purposely put in either a ball of clay with a hole in it, sealed air in it, or build something in it. So when it was fired, it’d blow up.
Tim Ferriss: Why did you do that?
Richard Turner: Because I was angry that I lost. I was losing my vision and losing my ability to paint and draw, and so this is just one of the ways I was being ornery and just rebelling against my loss.
Tim Ferriss: So I would love to ask you about, and this is from the very first moment that I saw the documentary, I’ve wanted to ask you about anger and rage. Because one of my first thoughts upon watching the documentary, which was very emotional for me to be honest, was that any woman, whoever dates me, should have to watch this movie because it will give her a better understanding of how consumed, for different reasons, but consumed I was by anger, or driven by it at the very least. How did you relate to anger or what purpose did it serve for you then, and how do you relate to it now? That’s a big question, so you can break it up into any—
Richard Turner: Segments, yeah. At the time, I tried to just describe how I dealt with some of my anger, and that was self-destructive. And I had gotten into other self-destructive behavior, and it was the late ’60s, beginning ’70s, and so for about three years, drugs was a part of that, as an act of rebellion. And purposely not trying to do my best. The only thing I did I worked at was cards. And I would play cards with people, and I would take their money. And my drug-dealing partner named Doug Ferguson, who died from hepatitis from dirty needles, and he would have me play cards against other drug dealers to cheat them or trick them out of their money. And that’s how we supported ourselves and we, well, we made our money to buy and sell.
And so that was kind of—actually, that was kind of a power, the only power that I had. The rest of the time I was laughed at, and there would be times where we would be doing something, drugs, and then when I would come out of a stupor or a blur, they’d be laughing at me. And at first they were the only people that accepted me, because I was—
Tim Ferriss: This was the drug-dealing crowd?
Richard Turner: The drug crowd. They’d say, “We don’t care if you can’t see, come on over.” And the regular students were more discriminating towards some of us in the VH rooms. And then so the drug people, they didn’t care. But then when it got right down to it, I was more of a tool of amusement for them.
And then I met a guy, and then we get off on another little tangent here. It was a verse in the Bible that says God created us in his image. And that always fascinated me: in his image. And so I thought, okay, I’m in the image of God. What did God do? Took dirt and made a person. God took dirt, made an eyeball. God took dirt and made a brain. God took dirt and made a bird. And I remember watching an episode of Kung Fu and they said, “Who would teach me about the universe? The universe will teach you.” And I thought, well, that’s like saying the wall will teach me. But who builds the wall? Who built the Statue of Liberty? The Statue of Liberty didn’t build the Statue of Liberty.
So then I started thinking, well, what—me in the image of God. Okay, God created a bird. Man took dirt and created a jet. God took dirt, and made an eye. We took dirt, made a camera. They’re staring at us all over the place. God took dirt and made a brain. We took dirt and made a computer. What’s the chip? It was sand, dirt. Just about everything in this room, in one fashion or another, came from dirt. And so I thought, okay, that means I can create. And so I went another direction. I got heavily into the martial arts. Started on March 5th, 1971, and my karate instructor was a man named John Murphy.
Tim Ferriss: Can I pause you for one second? So what precipitated that 90 degree turn, or that 180? Was there a conversation, or a particular day, or what catalyzed—
Richard Turner: What catalyzed that turn was, I was with some friends, and they wanted to watch a movie called Fantastic Voyage, which was a movie about shrinking down a ship, a submarine, and then sending it into a guy’s body.
Tim Ferriss: [crosstalk 00:00:47:06].
Richard Turner: [crosstalk] to try to fix it, okay? And they just said, “Hey, The Fantastic Voyage is on, let’s get some angel dust and watch the movie.” And so I realized, I’ve got to stop this. And there was something out there saying, you need to stop it, or you’re going to end up dead like Billy McComb. And I had a half a dozen, well, a dozen friends, who have now ODed and were dead. And I thought, if I don’t stop this, I’m going to be next. And I realized, I need some help. Anyway, so I went to these people at this park, Wells Park, and I asked them if they had any angel dust. They said, “We have something better.” I said, “What’s that?” They said, “A relation with the creator of everything you see.” I said, “You mind if I sit down, tell me what you know.” And they’re the ones that told me that we’re not here by accident, we’re here by design, and that there is a creator.
And so it was at that moment that I said I was going to change my direction.
Tim Ferriss: Turn around. And then you mentioned the martial arts and John Murphy.
Richard Turner: Every moment of my life is like a video I can watch on any exact image or moment. That was February 13th, ’71. Three weeks later, March 5th, my brother, who was seven years younger than me, he was nine, and he was taking karate. And I wanted to take karate because I was tired of—I was getting beat up. I got off on a little tangent. I entered another art competition when I was 11. And I had to have my nose like two inches from the canvas as I painted these three vases with proper shadow, lights coming in. It got first place. These two boys didn’t like that this blind kid got first place, and they called me Mr. Magoo. There was a cartoon out that time starring Jim Backus, called Mr. Magoo.
Tim Ferriss: I remember.
Richard Turner: This goofy, sight-impaired person that just went through life jolly, just missing trains and planes—trains and automobiles—and that was me. And so they flipped the bird in front of my face and say, “Hey, Magoo, how many fingers am I holding up?” And while I was distracted, his friend picked the wallet out of my back pocket, and then dangled it in front of my face and said, “Hey, Magoo, got any money?” And when I grabbed for my wallet, he’d then throw it over my head, to his friend behind me, in a cool game of keep-away. And they kept, every time I turned around and grabbed it, they’d just keep going back and forth over my head.
And then finally, one of them literally slapped me across the cheeks with my own wallet while saying, “Got any money, blind boy?” And the other kid jumped on my back, drove me to the ground, kicked me in the ribs, and they ran off laughing, saying, “Thanks for the hot dog, Magoo!” Because I had three dollars in there, and for me, three dollars was all my entire life savings, card playing, and everything all rolled up in three bucks. And so I was so upset about that. And so that jumps forward to the martial arts is that where we want to go?
Tim Ferriss: Yup. Yeah.
Richard Turner: Anyway, so my brother was taking karate, and so I wanted to go down and they gave him warning, “Well, this guy can’t see.” And Murphy, he didn’t care if you’re blind, deaf, or dumb. He beat everyone equally.
Tim Ferriss: So this was the teacher?
Richard Turner: He was my sensei. Sensei John, he was a year ahead of Chuck Norris, he was class of ’57, Norris started in ’58. And Murphy opened up his school in Tijuana in 1960, and he was the first white guy, he wasn’t called a white guy, Caucasian, he was Irish, to get a black belt in Japan in this particular system, wado kai, which is a kind of a cross between shodokan and tae kwon do. It combines hands and feet. Where strict shodokan, which was our number one style, was really basically, mainly hands. Anyway, he said, “Well, we’ll take him, we’ll take him.” And at first he told him, “Don’t hurt him.” And the girls, I’d get beat up by the girls. I’d get beat up by the old ladies, ladies that we would know well who would be their driver, old enough to be my mother. And it was all I could do to keep from ending up on the floor.
And so I realized, okay, I’ve got to start getting better at this. At that time I weighed 110 pounds and 5’9″. and Murphy said, “Okay, I want you to start taking—you need to start lifting weights, because you’ve got to put some meat on those bones.” So I started punching, pushing weights, and I went to Gene Fisher’s gym. And Fisher, he held the world’s record for the curl, at that time, 1963, 221 pounds.
Tim Ferriss: That’s so much weight for a curl!
Richard Turner: 225 pound recorded, 226 unrecorded. And of course he was in the 200 pound category. And so at that time I weighed 130 pounds. I got up to 130 pounds. And at 130 pounds I could pull down 220, and he would have to pull me down, lock me in, do my reps, lift me back up. I was about 250 on the bench at that time at 130 pounds. And then Murphy would push me to the point where I could do 500 pushups in 12 minutes, nine seconds, which is my record, but usually it’s 500 pushups, maybe 15 minutes, which was actually world-class time, a record—
Tim Ferriss: I don’t think I could do 500 pushups in 15 days!
Richard Turner: I know that is a bluff on your end! Everybody out there that just listened to Tim say that, Tim is an athlete. Tim is probably just as crazy as I am. He’s being modest right now. I’m just telling you because he doesn’t want to speak for himself. Listen to what I’m saying everybody, Tim, I felt Tim out when we first got together. And I mean that in a nice way. I checked those forearms, his forearms. Popeye, I know, jealous. Popeye, you’re jealous. Olive Oyl, he’s over here.
Tim Ferriss: So 500 pushups. Thank you for saying that!
Richard Turner: But the average would be 15—
Tim Ferriss: Earning the $20 that I slipped you earlier before recording.
Richard Turner: The world record at the time was 1,900 in an hour. So I was world-class time, 15, in one quarter of the time, one-fourth in a quarter of the time. And that’s when I’d travel around with that briefcase with 120 pounds in dumbbells. It would be broken apart, put it together on the road, do my exercises, and so on. Anyway, so then Murphy says, “You need more weight.” And so he said, “Tell him he should take vitamins, vitamins every day.” So I started taking vitamins. And said, “Protein bars.” So I’ve, for the past 50 years, almost 49 years, every morning I’d throw everything under the—I’d even throw my vitamin tablets in the blend, and blend them up with the protein powder.
And then I came up with the best drink for, if you want to, you have two choices: burn up, or work out like a madman. I call it “Liquid Hell.” And what it is, you take water as your base, and then put in Schiff brewer’s yeast, which really is tasty—tastes bad. I put a half a banana for potassium, and three to four to six jalapeno peppers, blend it up. And you had two choices: you either worked out, or sweat just started pouring out of your head.
And my workout partner, Jim Blowers, who you probably saw on Dealt, he was the one that was talking about riding on the back of my motorcycle, telling me where to go. And he said, when he’d first started college, I said, “Okay, you have to have some liquid hell.” And the first time he did, he threw up the sink. And then I said, you’re not wasting that liquid hell! You drink the rest of that. And so he got it down, and he couldn’t go through a final without having his liquid hell, because it stimulated his brain and his body.
Anyway. But it’s not for sissies, I’ll just say that. Anyway, so that’s what I would drink to just boost the energy level. And anyway, so I finally put on some weight. And then I remember 1980 is when I broke 160, got to 160 pounds. And then I kept pressing, and I got up to—I worked out with at a gym with Doug Brignole, who was Mr. Universe, at his place. And I got up to 340 on the bench is what I topped out at. And I weighed in at 168. And today, when I got my first black belt, my first degree black belt, and Murphy wanted the hardest test, and it was considered the hardest test at the time. You had to fight a 10-round bout with a fresh fighter each round, 10 three-minute rounds. And he didn’t care about—he didn’t want to deal with lawsuits. So most of the testing and training took place across the border of San Diego in Tijuana.
So that’s where—he had a school in the States and another, main gym—
Tim Ferriss: Quick question for you. Is it true that you were offered an honorary black belt?
Richard Turner: Yes. Because I—
Tim Ferriss: And you did not accept?
Richard Turner: No. To get my first belt, I had to fight one round, three minutes, plus all the katas. And the thing about katas, because of my eidetic memory, I could memorize them in one day. And back when I got my fourth-degree black belt, I had a sixth-degree black belt kata that I learned in one day. I went through it, and then the next thing he sees it on film, he goes, “I can’t believe you did it, I just showed that to you, blah blah blah.” Just days before.
Tim Ferriss: And for those people who don’t know, a kata is a predetermined sequence of moves that you perform alone.
Richard Turner: Exactly. Doing punches, kicks, blocks, counters. And so it’s like a martial arts dance.
Tim Ferriss: Right. So a sixth-degree black belt kata would be like someone being shown a sort of extremely complex halftime performance at the Super Bowl dance routine, and then being able to replicate it shortly thereafter.
Richard Turner: Perfectly explained, exactly Tim. And so I would get the katas and all that stuff down overnight. Right off the bat. It was the fighting, because just so that you understand how I was seeing at the time, because I had some vision, at that time, my teens and 20s, my vision was measured at 20 over 400, 20 over 450, with no center vision. Because my macula, which is the center of the eye, was gone. Okay? So there’s no macula. That’s your forward vision. So if you just picture yourself, there’s a hat in front of your face. Wherever I turn my head, there’s a hat blocking that part of vision, okay? With me?
Tim Ferriss: Yep!
Richard Turner: Out of the corner of my eye was 24/450. So 20/200 is legally blind. 20/50 is—you have to have at least 20/50 to drive. So out of the corner of my eye, that’s where I would see the images or shadows of my opponent. And so I’d always be looking at you like, cockeyed.
Tim Ferriss: I was wondering about that, because I noticed that in the footage from the documentary. Yeah. Got it. So you’re looking out of your peripheral vision.
Richard Turner: Yes, because I had to forward vision at all. And that’s how I know when I’m looking at people at that time. Now I have no vision at all. But at that time, if I couldn’t see anything, I knew I was looking right at you. Anyway, so first-belt yellow was one fight. Green belt, I had five two-minute rounds, five bouts, five rounds, two with a fresh fighter, two-minute rounds. And on a scale of one to ten, I trained, I practiced, and I thought, okay. I figured it’s going to be maybe a four, five, or six. It turned out to be a 20. It was beyond my worst nightmare. And it was August 2nd, 1972, and it was over a hundred degrees outside. And our dojo was in Tijuana, as I said. And it was a solid block, brick block, cement block building. No windows, no air conditioning, not even a fan. Wood floor, scratched up wood floor. And whenever they would have tests, it was like bloodsport, it was like cockfights.
And so all of the sadistic people would come out to watch whenever they hear that the gringos are going to be coming up and there was going to be some fights. And so John Douglas was testing for his black belt that day and I was testing for my green belt. And I was the pre show before the big show.
Tim Ferriss: Right, the warm up act.
Richard Turner: I was the warm up act. And so I get out there thinking, and it was because we were all crammed into these little thing. The humidity factor was in the nineties. So before I even started I was going—I was gasping for breath, I did my first set of kata —
Tim Ferriss: So terrible.
Richard Turner: Then I did my defense moves, I was already gasping. And then I started my first round, and right before we started, Murphy—the rule was we would respect each other’s head. If you don’t hit me in the face, I won’t hit you in the face. Body’s an open target, no limit. Okay, groin shots, everything, and we would respect each other’s knees. No knee shots. Everything else was open. If you hit me in the face, then the face becomes an open target. And so Murphy said, “Now if these guys start hitting you in the face, don’t think about it. Just keep fighting.” And at that time I thought, what? I thought we were going to mark our shots to the face. And within the first three, first few seconds of the first round, bam, bam, bam, three shots, bam, bam, bam, right in my face.
Tim Ferriss: Right in the face.
Richard Turner: And I’m going, “Oh, my God, I’m –” I realized I was fighting for my life. Because they didn’t like us gringos down there. Everything was just set in, discriminating against the black clan, which were the black fighters, Black Federation, and the Mexican fighters, and the gringos. The first round, and I’m just gasping for air, second round, this guy watched the Bruce Lee movie of Enter the Dragon, or no, it was before that, Fist of Fury, where he does a step up heel hook, he spins around with another heel hook. And I tested it, “Wow. I blocked that.” Boom! Only to get nailed with the other one coming around the other way. And third round, this guy would like knees, so I kept getting knees in the groin.
Fourth round, the guy was even stance, he switched stances on me, grabbed my front hand, went right by me, and bam! Right in my left eye. Caught an oi-zuki, a right-hand punch, and pretty much knocked me out. Now I’m seeing nothing, I’m just seeing stars. And Murphy says, “Wipe off the blood, don’t think about it, keep fighting.” And I’m just holding myself up against the bathroom and I couldn’t even hold my hands up by this point. And so then the fifth round was probably my best round because I was really standing. I was just standing, I was virtually unconscious.
And then they yelled, Rosemary, his wife yells, “Tiempo,” which means time in Spanish. And the second she yelled “Tiempo” is when I hit the ground. So I got it by one second, and then I was so exhausted and having an asthma attack, now I had to stand up because I had to bow out. As soon as I bowed out, I hit the ground again. Now everybody wants to congratulate me. I’d stand up again. And we weren’t allowed to have water. And so I crawled to the bathroom and Tom Douglas will tell the story, but Murphy’s probably getting mad at me for telling it. And when I came to, he says, “That’s not the sink you’re drinking out of. That’s the toilet.” And I was drinking out of a TJ toilet, a Tijuana toilet. And I go, “I don’t care.” I was so dazed, and I got gonorrhea.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, no!
Richard Turner: Yeah. But anyway, so that was green belt. So then brown belt was ten two-minute rounds. And then of course on that one, oh, I trained like a mad dog because I wasn’t going to have that last experience. So I made that. And then from brown to black was such a jump, it took me another 10 years before I was able to take on the 10 fighters. And just to give you a quick rundown of what my workout looked like to prepare for it, I’d warm up with a four-hour weight workout. Okay?
Tim Ferriss: Four-hour?
Richard Turner: Four-hour, and I would start minimum weight all the way up to maximum weight, and when I’d get to the maximum, I’d lift as many times as I could with a few seconds. As many times I could, then I’d slowly off just five pounds at a time from about 300 pounds, 295, 290, all the way down to where I had just the bar, which is a 45-pound bar, and I’d do that with every muscle group. And then I would do 500 kicks on the heavy bag. Yo, 10 roundhouse kicks with this, 10 with this one, 10, 10, do 100 of that, then I’d do 10 side kicks with this leg, 10 side kicks with this leg, another 100, 10 back turn kicks, 10 side whatever, a step side kick. Five different kicks 500 times.
Then my trainer, he would have what looked like a motorcycle seat, but is a bag, and he would hold it with his hand and then I would have to do 100 kicks in three minutes simulating the three rounds. So I would just bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, punch, kick, punch, kick, mainly kicking because that exhausts your oxygen supply faster than punching. That’s why in kickboxing matches they’re required to throw a minimum of I think it’s six kicks or eight kicks, and that’s because after you start getting tired, you just want to punch.
It takes a fraction of the oxygen it does to lift these big muscles up in the air. And so I’d do that and first I’d take a 10-second break, do another 100, 10 others, 20 second break, 100, I’d do 1,000, I’d do it 10 times, it’d be another 1,000 kicks. From there, I would do a five-mile run, and I lived in San Diego, and they had big hills there, and one of the hills was a mile and a half down, and a mile and a half back up.
And when they got to the top, I would sprint the distance of a house and then run the distance sprint, run, sprint. And then I would do 10 quarter-mile wind sprints. And then I’d throw up. And then I go do my show, then I’d go perform, I’d perform at night. And then every other day, I would go rounds. Murphy, Douglas would have me go do five rounds, five rounds building up to it. And sometimes two on one because you don’t have time to rest at that. And I sustained that particular discipline for eight months, and Douglas said I over-trained. Yeah, I went too long. But my problem was asthma, because being asthmatic, sometimes fear can trigger an asthma attack. And that’s what happened on that green belt that I described.
And you can’t fight if you can’t breathe. And so I had to train my mind to not become afraid. Your fear can paralyze you. We can be so worried about doing the wrong thing that we do nothing. It’s actually an English proverb that says, “A man who is afraid to make a mistake is unlikely to make anything.” In other words, totally worthless. Fire the bum. The fear of failure, when left unchecked, can actually lead to the failure we fear. And so I just started, like I said, putting myself in positions and conditions to help my mind overcome those effects. And I did things, we just talked about the physical, I did mental things like eating live cockroaches, live grasshoppers, the most absurd things, rotten fish guts. I sat in the sun for a week. In Dealt, you saw where I chomped down on the eyeball of the mahi mahi. And the thing is, if you can’t take it, the person would throw up. And some people that were watching almost threw up. One of them, when I did the guts, they did throw up.
Tim Ferriss: Don’t try this at home, kids.
Richard Turner: Don’t try this at home.
Tim Ferriss: This is a closed track with a trained professional.
Richard Turner: Yeah, it was just to train my mind to be able to take whatever is being dished out. If I could control my mind and body, then I could make it. And that triggers another thought real quick. I’m going to go back to the Charles Bonnet Syndrome—Charles Bonnet and how that can create strength. One of the ways I use it the most, and we haven’t even mentioned, is in training as I can do tremendous numbers of reps. When I took my fourth-degree black belt test, I was 47 or 48. I lifted 222,888 pounds using 3,190 reps. And the 24-year-old, 220-pound black belt who trained alongside me could not do 50 percent of the number of reps or weight, and that’s because I don’t get lactic acid buildup because I would combine the mind with the body. Now you’ll see why people do this. They’ll say, “Come on, ooh, ooh.” They’re trying to convince their body to do it. You follow what I’m saying?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: When you combine mind and body together, they’re not doing that. And what I would do is when I’d get to the point of exertion, I would then transfer, I’d use my CBS on a bench press, I would see a cable on the bench press. I’d see a cable going up, across of it, across two pulleys on the other end, this gorilla-shaped thing or an Arnold Schwarzenegger and a gorilla together, pulling on that thing, pulling that weight up. And I would focus on that image, pulling the weight up. And during that moment, I would no longer feel the stress as my muscles continued to press. And I have exercises for everything. I have a mental-visual exercise I’ll use for each exercise. Like the quadricep extension. You’re in exertion when you’re straightening your legs, right?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.
Richard Turner: And so what I would see in front of me is a big, giant rubber band. When the brand is stretched down, when the weights are down, and when the rubber band would go up, it was just go wide, and that’s when it’s pulling the weight up. So I’d watch it and I would see it pulling the weight up. So when I’m doing the exertion is when I’d feel it the least. Another image, like when I’m doing a hammer, like I’m laying on my back doing a tricep, I would see a hammer falling. Okay? And when the hammer’s falling is the least amount of effort. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: Because the way the hammer’s going down when I’m like this. So I’d see the hammer falling, but that’s when the tricep is being engaged. And I taught my wife, one year I taught my wife this, and within a month’s time what she would do, I say, “Well, look at yourself in the mirror, your reflection. And when you get to the exertion, like a military press, at the point of exertion”—so we’d always do sets of 52 reps—”and when you get to a 48, then transfer that, see that image of that reflection pulling those weights up.” And she got to the point where she increased her muscular endurance 30 percent in a month’s time, and she was already in top shape.
Tim Ferriss: That is so great.
Richard Turner: And right now I could give you an example of that if you want to stand up. Of course now I’m almost 66, so I don’t know if I can. I used to have a demonstration that I would do where I would bend the arm of the person, and there’s only one person’s arm I was not able to bend doing this demonstration for 40 years, and no one has ever bent my arm. But if you want to stand up, I can —
Tim Ferriss: Sure. Let’s try it.
Richard Turner: But I’m not going to try to bend your arm because of surgery. So get on this side of me.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Turner: And see, look at those muscles.
Tim Ferriss: No!
Richard Turner: Usually I put myself up against the back, so I’m pinned in. Now, I’m going to have you put your hand right here, your other arm here. Okay? Not on the wrist. And this is all you’re going to do, just bend this little elbow here. Okay?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: Okay, go ahead. Go ahead. And look, I’m not even—
Tim Ferriss: Yes!
Richard Turner: Go, come on, come on.
Tim Ferriss: It’s not going to happen.
Richard Turner: And I’m not doing anything.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Richard Turner: I’m not using any strength at all. Look at my hand, totally relaxed. Now I’ll tell you how I did it. Once again, it’s creating mind and body together. What I did is I envisioned my arm as a fire hose. Shooting out that fire hose is a thousand gallons of water a minute. You can’t bend a fire hose. I’m sorry. Right? If you’re to think about a fire hose when the water’s shooting, you’re not going to bend a fire hose.
So I get that image in my mind, I’m just shooting that fire hose, and I’ve never had anyone ever bend my arm. And yet without that, until I showed it to them and they learned how to do that, then I can’t bend their arm. But anyway, that’s just kind of a little side note about how I’ve used my CBS to create a lot of strength. And I also used it in my training with the cards when I’d analyze moves and break them down. And what I would do, I’m just kind of transitioning to something else here randomly, but what I would do and why I was able to put in so many hours is I would analyze the move.
I’d say, “Okay, I want to be able to deal a certain weight.” So I’d analyze the move. “Okay, I want no leaking.” And so I’d analyze what I wanted to do and I’d practice it in slow motion until every exacting element of a muscle memory was firmly embedded in my brain. Okay? Then, I would turn it into a subconscious habit. We all have habits where we’re tapping a pen, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: Tapping our feet, that’s idle energy wasted. It’s like an engine of a car running, going nowhere, just idling. That’s still energy expelled, right? So what I did is I learned to take all that energy and funnel it into just my hands and what’s in my hands. And so that’s why I would take it and I’d turn it into subconscious habit. And that move, I would then sit there and practice it hundreds of times. I’d do it thousands of times, tens of thousands of times, hundreds of thousands of times. Then maybe two or three years late, I’ll look down and go, “By golly, I got it!” And then some of the things Vernon would say, “That’s not possible to do.” And so I would figure it out, analyze it, show it to him, and then he’d go, “I don’t understand how you can do that.”
Tim Ferriss: Well, what I loved discovering in the process of prepping for this conversation, and I want to put a button in the black belt test in a second, but that Vernon would describe to you the ideal of how something would be performed, even though in reality he hadn’t seen it executed that perfectly. And you, with your powers of visualization and the way that you would digest his teaching, would then go and develop the ability to do what he thought could not be done. At least that’s my understanding.
Richard Turner: That’s exactly right, and he did that for—I had the privilege of being with Professor Vernon for 17 years. In those first five to six, 10 years, like you said, he would describe to be me. He’d say, “Richard, this is the way it has to be done. Your hands have to be natural. You don’t want this deep grip when you’re going to deal a second or a bottom. Your fingers need to be on the sides because it’s more natural. That’s more the way you’re going to see your general person in the public hold a deck of cards. And so you don’t want to create any unnatural suspicion by your actions.” And so he would tell me, “Okay, you have to be able to do with those fingers on the side.” And so, okay, fingers on the side.
“And you don’t want any of this action here.” So I’d practice with my hand on the table without moving it. And so I would take the pieces of what he said and I would practice it. He would actually show me. He’d say, “Feel my hands, feel the position of my hands.” I’d feel his hands. “Okay, got it. Got it. Okay. Oh, okay. I got it.” So I’d see the picture in my mind of what his hands were showing me, but he never did it because it’s an action. I really couldn’t see him do the action because my hands would get in the way of him executing the action. But I knew the action of what he was showing. So in my mind I would see his hands, visualize what he said, “This is the way it should be done,” and then I would come up with it and create it, and then the next time he would see me, he’d go, “Hey, hey, come and watch this. Watch this! Look at this! Watch this action. Perfect action.”
And he’d get all excited and he’d have all the other card guys come over and he’d say, “Watch this perfect action, perfect action.” Anyway, that is one of my critics at the time, but became a good friend. Same with Tony Giorgio, but so that’s what he would do, is he tricked me, and it was only until years later that he told me he made them up. He just wanted to see what this obsessed kid would come up with! And that’s why my work is—99.9 percent of the gamblers and cardmen out there would tell you it’s unique and separate from the way any other person handles the cards.
Tim Ferriss: And I want to tie up one loose end with the black belt tests just to flash forward because we covered a lot of it, but 10 fresh fighters, 10 rounds, you end up with a broken arm at some point.
Richard Turner: Seventh round.
Tim Ferriss: In the seventh round, so you’re fighting with—
Richard Turner: A broken arm.
Tim Ferriss: A broken arm. There’s footage of this of course, in the documentary, which I encourage everybody to see, and you get your black belt. There was coverage of this experience. Of course there were some cameras, but also there’s a piece in, was it the L.A. Times?
Richard Turner: L.A. Times.
Tim Ferriss: Now my understanding is you did not like the piece or you did not like the headline. Why is that?
Richard Turner: Well, because they use the words “blind man earns black belt.” And at that time, I was very stubborn and I was just stubborn and probably self-absorbed, and I wanted my work to stand on its own, and I wanted to earn it the way Terry Crook, John Douglas, and the other top-level black belt fighters did. That’s why when they offered me an honorary black belt, he said, “You put in your time, you put in your lumps.” I said, “No, I want to do it the way you did.” And then that’s when I started the training like I described earlier, but it took me 13 years and three months and five days from when I started to when I finally got it from beginning to soup to nuts.
But anyway, the fact that they had to put the words “blind man earns black belt,” to me it was like, I don’t like the theme ‘handicap makes good.’ I want the, ‘Okay, I just made good because I did it.’ And to be perfectly honest with you, I kept telling people, “I wanted to it the way they did it.” And people would say, “But you didn’t.” And I’d go, “Yes, I did!” And it was literally, Tim, within the last six months, if someone said something, that I understood what they said. When they said I “didn’t do it the way they did it,” I did it the way they couldn’t have done it.
They weren’t sight-impaired when they did it. I was. I never understood what they were saying because I was so pigheaded about “I want to do it the way they did it!” But then when you flip it, I finally got the message. I did it in a way that it was very unlikely that they or anyone else would have had a hard time doing if they could have done it at all.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, probably next to impossible, if not impossible. And I want to dig into the visualization because it seems to be such a superpower. And I might ask you what you consider to be your superpowers, but this visualization and the CBS and the eidetic memory that you mentioned really seem to coalesce to give you some incredible abilities, whether that’s the feats of strength or work with the cards. You mentioned earlier that the way you see things when you’re scanning or planning the design and construction of a three-story patio or deck for instance, is different from dreaming. And so that begets the question, what is dreaming like for you?
Richard Turner: Ah, very good question because like you were saying, I see my subconscious in external space. And it’s just a constant, stagnant situation of all of these colors, patterns just there until I want to bring them into play. And it doesn’t matter if it’s day, night, if my eyes are open or closed, I see the exact same thing with my eyes covered up in a vault, I’ll see these vivid bright colors when there’s absolutely no way of light getting in. Not when I dream. In my dreams, I’m never sight-impaired, and I dream in full color with audio and visual, and I see perfectly, and everybody I see in those dreams is perfectly clear, which someone brought that to my attention in some question that I was asked.
And I thought, I guess that’s kind of unusual, but yeah, like I said, part of the dream is never that I’m sight-impaired, nor do I see any of the CBS symptoms in any of my dreams. Now, if I wake up in the middle of the night, say, and I had to take some Tylenol or something from some surgery, I’ve had 24 surgeries from all my high-impact living, and medication when I wake up would turn everything into metallic colors. And usually a lot of times it’s purple.
Tim Ferriss: This is if you wake up in the middle of the night?
Richard Turner: Middle of the night after taking some kind of medication from some kind of an injury that I’m on. Medications turn it metallic and it turns it usually a purple, which it’s not a pretty purple to me. I don’t like it.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned maroon was one of your favorite colors?
Richard Turner: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And royal blue on the blue spectrum.
Tim Ferriss: What other favorite colors do you have, and did you have them before losing your sight, or did you develop them afterwards?
Richard Turner: I probably wasn’t aware of favorite colors before, so much as I am now because I see them all the time, and the different shades depending on the time of year, depending on the particular day. Sometimes it’s just really vivid blues and it’s just beautiful. Sometimes when I’m out walking with my beautiful wife, Kim, and my CBS will create a skyline. Okay? In other words, the things would be darker here, and that’s the skyline, and then it’d be lighter shades to give an image of an earth sky. Okay? And then I’d go in and I have to ask my wife, “Is it still light out?” Because it will stay there, and sometimes it’s late into the night and I can’t get rid of it. Sometimes it can bother me because I want that to go down because it’s now nighttime. So there are some times that it will be a bit of a distracting side.
Tim Ferriss: I have as a note to ask, I didn’t want to get any of the details beforehand, but a note to ask you about your experience of wind.
Richard Turner: Ah, that’s fun. I can see the wind blow. Whenever I’m walking down the street with Kim or whatever, of course I automatically see the images of trees, but they’re more like clouds, and there’ll be green shapes and colors to replicate, give the image of trees. Okay? But whenever the wind blows, everything, all my visualization things that I see will go with that wind. They will gust. If it gusts, they’ll move a little bit more. If I do this, everything just now just went oop, it jerked.
Tim Ferriss: If you tap—
Richard Turner: If I tap my eyes, everything just jerked over and went back straight. It’s just weird little things like when I’m in a pool, my eyes are closed the whole time because I know I don’t need to have my eyes open when I’m swimming. I don’t have to worry about the chlorine and stuff. And so when I’m above the pool, there’s a certain hue. In other words, a level of brightness of a color. When I go under the water, I actually see myself going underwater, and the hue changes. It deepens, like putting on sunglasses. Sunglasses off, sunglasses on. And even as I made that image, my eyes are closed, just all of a sudden, things went darker and lighter. I can pretend that I’m opening and closing. When I open and close my eyes, the hue is like pulling down a shade that has a sunblock. Not a sunblock, but—
Tim Ferriss: Like a solar shade.
Richard Turner: Sunglasses would be the best way to describe to you. And so the hue changes. And then now, if I just pretend that my eyes are closed the whole time, I’m pretending I’m opening and closing my eyes, it’ll do the same thing.
Tim Ferriss: And—
Richard Turner: I don’t know what relevance that had to anything, but it’s just these little games.
Tim Ferriss: This is just a conversation between friends, nobody listening or watching. So I’m just following my own interest, and I want to talk about the enjoyment of not relaxing. That’s more said with a smile, but when we took a little break to have some water, you said, “To me, relaxing is not relaxing.” And you talked about how being told to relax or asked to relax is like being punished and put in the corner for misbehaving at school for you. In that case, given your obsessive-compulsive dedication to training, to card mechanics, to movement, how do you replenish? What activities do you find recharge your batteries? And maybe you could just elaborate on “To me, relaxing is not relaxing.”
Richard Turner: Okay. Yeah. And I’m going to bring up a friend of mine who’s like a brother. His name is Luke Korem. He was the director of the film Dealt that you mentioned, and I’ll just say something quick about the film. If it wasn’t for Luke in particular, I’d probably say 80 percent Luke and then Bradley and Russell, the producer and the writer, but Luke was the one that just had the creativity. If they would’ve listened to me, and they listened zero to me, they did, I would have screwed up the film. The brilliance of that film is I lay at the feet of the director, Luke. And he actually lived with me. He had his own place in my house at certain times, Luke’s room, and many times I didn’t know if the cameras were on or off. And he would say, “Well, let’s chill,” which I found out was a word for relaxing. And chill? I don’t want to chill.
Tim Ferriss: What is this “chill?”
Richard Turner: That’s not fun. And I said, “Relaxing? For me, relaxing is not fun. Relaxing is like when I was a kid and I was being punished by my parents, as a punishment, I’d have to stand in the corner for an hour and just stare at the corner. To me, chilling is not fun. Relaxing is not fun. To me, relaxing is adventure.” And I would tell people and I’d tell Luke. I’d say, “Don’t worry about the end result. When the film is done, it’s going to be a piece. It’ll be what it is, and it will be finished. Enjoy the journey. Okay? And look at every obstacle, and every challenge, and every hurt and pain that you come across as part of the adventure of the journey.”
When you read a book, you don’t want a book that, “Oh, he went and he entered this race, and he won, and then he entered that one. No trouble, he won. And he climbed this mountain, and he won.” That’s boring. You have to have antagonists, protagonists, and you have to have challenges. You have to have things that you have to overcome. So I would tell people, “Whatever the situation is, look at it as part of the adventure.” My livelihood almost came to an end five years ago. Well, multiple times. Like I said, I’ve had 24 surgeries. I had to recount them just last week. Am I at 23, or 22, 23, or 24? I realize I have two steel knees from all the years of kicking. I took a shot here, a roundhouse kick here, and at first I did surgery and it finally had to be replaced, and just millions of kicks.
Just fighting all these men. I’ve had five hernia surgeries. I did a back flip off my front porch and landed on my fifth disc on my back on the brick, drove it out my belly button. I’ve had three back surgeries. And then fortunately what finally, and that’s so complicated, doctors, they have a hard time with backs. And then they have this thing called a neurostimulator Medtronic makes, and I have that and it short circuits the pain from the back to your brain. Amazing. Ever since that, like my wife said, “It gave our life back.” I’ve had three shoulder surgeries.
Tim Ferriss: We have this table available, we have some cards. Would you like to show anything or do anything?
Richard Turner: Oh yeah. You have a deck of cards there for yourself, right?
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Richard Turner: Shuffle them up.
Tim Ferriss: All right. We’ll see how amateur the shuffle can be here. I can barely shuffle with two hands.
Richard Turner: Well then use one!
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: I just showed you how.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Turner: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: All right, we’re good to go.
Richard Turner: Switch decks with me.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Turner: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: Here you go.
Richard Turner: Now in poker you’ve heard of like wild cards, like deuces are wild, baseball has multiple wildcards, other games will just cut a card—that would be the wildcard. Just cut off half the deck.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to move. There’s one card left over here I can move—
Richard Turner: Please.
Tim Ferriss: Put it on my deck, or—
Richard Turner: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: All right, there we go.
Richard Turner: Okay. Just cut the deck in half here.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Turner: Tell me when you got it. Okay. And just to make it more random, just say any random number three, four, or five, seven, anything you want?
Tim Ferriss: Six.
Richard Turner: Six. One, two, three, four, five, six. What’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: Queen of diamonds.
Richard Turner: So the queens will be the wildcard, okay. And you just shuffled these cards right?
Tim Ferriss: I did.
Richard Turner: Now have you ever played poker for money? Let me ask this, have you ever played in the casino or have you ever wondered, “When I play in a casino, am I getting conned?”
Tim Ferriss: I have lost in a casino.
Richard Turner: Okay, so that thought has crossed your mind. “Am I getting conned?”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: Now I’m going to show you. You just hand me a randomized deck and I’m going to do this in an interesting way. In the high stake games, they’ll cut between every shuffle because that varies the top and bottom halves of the deck. I’ll give the deck a little riffle and people like to cascade the cards into them. Give a cut. So I’m telling you what I’m doing as I do it and I shuffle. Did everything look legit?
Tim Ferriss: It looked legit.
Richard Turner: And not a move you saw was, so you’re already in trouble. Now I’ll show you—
Tim Ferriss: Not a move I saw —
Richard Turner:—was honest!
Tim Ferriss: Not a one.
Richard Turner: Not a one. Now I’ll show you how fast I can uncut that deck. What’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: That is the two of clubs.
Richard Turner: The two of clubs. So they’ll pass the deck to the right to be cut, and now the deck is no longer cut. So the two’s still on top. Watch again. Now watch again. I’m showing you how fast I can uncut the deck. The deck is no longer the cut.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: That was about a half a second.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: Now you’ve heard of Texas hold ’em?
Tim Ferriss: I have, yeah.
Richard Turner: Okay, well we’ll deal a hand of hold them. And in hold ’em they have what’s called a cut card or a burn card. They’ll put a card in the deck on a face up card. Now after the fact, you’re going to tell me—keep everything off the table here, give me a full table here.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Turner: After the fact, you’re going to tell me how many people step up to my hold ’em table. Let’s pick a number, five or six because we don’t have a lot of room.
Tim Ferriss: Five.
Richard Turner: Five players. One, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five, burn and we always called the flop. And what are those three cards?
Tim Ferriss: You got the king of hearts, the two of hearts and the queen of clubs.
Richard Turner: And the deuces are not wild. But we did see the queens was your card, so that means there’s a pair of kings on the table. There’s a burn and a turn. What’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: That’s a king of spades.
Richard Turner: Burn and turn. So right now we have three kings because the queen is a wildcard. What’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: That’s a queen.
Richard Turner: Right now we have four kings. Let’s get rid of our burn card. And you’re my partner sitting over here in hand number five, let’s see what you have in the pocket. What’s that?
Tim Ferriss: That’s a queen.
Richard Turner: What’s that?
Tim Ferriss: That’s a queen.
Richard Turner: So in poker, you would have five of a kind, five kings, or you’d have a royal flush depending on how you wanted to play the hand. In other words, you killed them, slaughtered them, beat them, whipped them big time.
Tim Ferriss: Amazing.
Richard Turner: Now shuffle that deck.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Richard Turner: I’ll show you how far I can push the envelope.
Tim Ferriss: All right. So I’ll shuffle this one. And I think we get two cards that got turned up on that one.
Richard Turner: Okay, that’s your job. Make sure that one’s all legitimate.
Tim Ferriss: Yep.
Richard Turner: Okay, and then I’ll switch with you.
Tim Ferriss: All right. There we go.
Richard Turner: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Turner: And you can make sure everything’s legitimate on that one.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: All right. We’ll give the deck a cut and we’ll play my favorite game, seven-card stud. And this will take a couple of minutes to unfold, but it’s interesting. Now we have a deck of cards shuffled by Tim.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Richard Turner: Now we’ll stay with the same number of players. Well, you choose, four players or five? You choose.
Tim Ferriss: Four.
Richard Turner: Where do you want to sit, number one, number two, number three, or number four?
Tim Ferriss: I’ll be number one.
Richard Turner: Number one, right out of the shoot, I’m dealing a card in slow motion to hand number one. Before I continue, take this deck, mix them up. Don’t give me the whole deck back, just pull up any random part of that deck and put them in my hands. Just do something quick and put—
Tim Ferriss: Just a couple of cards?
Richard Turner: No, well more than a couple. Enough to get a round, just a stack.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Richard Turner: So I’m going to work with whatever you give me, okay? Tim just handed me back a random stack of cards, we’re dealing a card to hand number two, player number three, and player number four. You’re number one, slow motion, watch carefully. There’s your card. We go player two, three, four. Now we have what are called the door cards, which means the face up cards. What’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: Jack of spades.
Richard Turner: Jack. One, player two, player three, player four. You’re number one, what’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: Ace of clubs.
Richard Turner: Number two, number three, number four. You’re number one, what’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: Ace of diamonds.
Richard Turner: Mix them up, mix them up some more.
Tim Ferriss: Mix up the entire deck?
Richard Turner: Whatever, you’re the boss.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Richard Turner: And just hand me any part of that deck you want. See? You’re doing everything you can to screw things up. Okay. And you just—okay. That’s like five cards less than the last time you handed me. Okay. We have player two, player three, player four. And so far we have three cards face up, yes?
Tim Ferriss: That’s right.
Richard Turner: And what’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: That’s the queen of diamonds.
Richard Turner: Wild card. Do it again, mix them up. Hand me any part of the deck you want. So you’re shuffling, cutting—
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Richard Turner: You chose how many players, you chose where you wanted to sit. You handed me any random part of the deck. Oh, my gosh. Getting stingy. Down to six cards. Player two, player three, player four. And we always call it down and dirty, I’m now dealing with a card off the top to Tim’s first position. Two, three, four, put that with the rest of the stack.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Richard Turner: Now let’s see what you have in your hand. We’re playing seven-card stud, high Chicago. That means high spade and the hole splits the money.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Turner: So let’s see what you have. What’s that card?
Tim Ferriss: Queen of diamonds.
Richard Turner: That’s a queen, a wild card. So we’ll put it over here and what’s that?
Tim Ferriss: Ace of diamonds.
Richard Turner: That would be a pair of aces because the queen’s wild. What’s that?
Tim Ferriss: Ace of clubs.
Richard Turner: Now it equals three aces. What’s that?
Tim Ferriss: This is a jack of spades.
Richard Turner: Jack. What’s that?
Tim Ferriss: That’s a 10 of spades.
Richard Turner: 10, jack, ace. What’s that?
Tim Ferriss: That is the queen of spades.
Richard Turner: Another wild card. So right now you have four, two aces, and two queens, right?
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Richard Turner: So right now that would equal four aces, and the best possible hand in wildcard is five aces. We’re playing high spade and the hole splits the pot. What’s that?
Tim Ferriss: It’s an ace.
Richard Turner: Ace of?
Tim Ferriss: Ace of spades.
Richard Turner: Five aces. The best possible hand you can get in poker is five aces. You shuffled, you cut, you chose how many players you wanted, you chose where you wanted to sit and you kept mixing them up and you didn’t even give me a full deck. You could honestly say, “That Turner doesn’t play with a full deck.”
Tim Ferriss: That Turner does not play with a full deck! It’s amazing.
Richard Turner: And yet I dealt you the perfect hand in poker.
Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible.
Richard Turner: That’s regrettable?
Tim Ferriss: It’s incredible.
Richard Turner: Oh, that’s better.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, incredible.
Richard Turner: Actually, that’s regrettable.
Tim Ferriss: Amazing.
Richard Turner: But that shows you how far I can push in that particular thing to be. And I don’t mean to sound boastful because it’s hard to talk about when people are asking questions about yourself. It’s hard to talk about yourself and not sound bad. But Vernon, when he first saw me do that, I said, “Professor, what do you think about combining this and this and this.” And he’d go, “Richard you can’t, no it’s not possible. It can’t be done.” And I said, “Oh.” He said, “You can’t do it because three reasons. One, your brain can’t respond that fast. Your hands cannot be that sensitive and you would break rhythm.” Put those all cards back together from this deck.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Richard Turner: Okay. He said, “That’s not possible.” And we were at The Magic Castle and for 10 minutes I sat there. He was sitting at the bar and I was standing next to him and I was depressed for 10 minutes. I sat there going, “This is the ultimate, this is the perfect way.” And I thought, “And he said it can’t be done.” Then all of a sudden I remembered, “But I can do it.” I said, “Professor, come watch my show.” He came out of show after, he goes, “Richard, what the hell were you doing in there? I don’t understand what the hell you were doing.”
I said, “Remember when you said you can combine this and this? That’s what I’m doing.” “I don’t understand how the hell you can do that.” And he goes, “Max, Max, come here, watch this. Watch this.” And everybody for the next 18 months, every time I was there, he’d have me, “Shuffle the cards, how many players you want, where do you want to sit, watch this, watch this.” And over and over and two years later he goes, “I still don’t understand how the hell you can do that.” And he knows exactly what I’m doing and exactly how I’m doing it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s amazing. So I have all the cards facing the same way. They’re, I guess, two decks’ worth of cards. I don’t know how they’re split up, but that’s—
Richard Turner: Well just keep them 52, 52, it’s the same.
Tim Ferriss: Great. Great.
Richard Turner: Why not?
Tim Ferriss: Who knows how many?
Richard Turner: Who knows?
Tim Ferriss: Roughly 52 are in there, I suppose. All right. Wonderful. Now you, just because this was mentioned before we started recording, you audit cards, is that right? Or what’s the right—
Richard Turner: Analyze.
Tim Ferriss:—term? Analyze?
Richard Turner: Yeah. US Playing Card Company is the largest maker of cards in the United States and they just merged with Cartamundi, which is the biggest card maker, they started making cards in 1765. And US Playing Card Company, they’ve been around for 150 years. And Bicycle is the most recognized pack of cards in the world, it has been for over a hundred years. And in 1988 I got some cards, they were so bad. I told them, “These are not the cards you’ve been making. I can prove that you are subcontracting your paper out, blah, blah, blah.” Anyway, they sent a rep, I proved who I was and they said, “He’s been proven right.”
Then in 1993 they started mis-padding their cards by turning the things over. I said, “These are not the cards you’ve been making for a hundred years, I can prove it.” And at that time they were getting flak from the casino; the casinos were not happy with the cards—there was something wrong with them. And I’m the one that identified the problem and that was the blade was going through the wrong side of the card, which affected the integrity of the card and the ability for it to be handled properly. And so then they finally put me on retainer in the 1990s and I helped them make the best card in the world and they do make the best cards in the world.
And, and just give you an idea how far their director of research and development would push me, he would send me out—okay, usually it was two dozen decks or like 20 decks. Yeah. But I’ll make it real small, so you can understand. We’ll say six decks. Okay. So it would be, if there was two dozen, there would be 12 pairs. Okay, 12 pairs. So reduce our illustration down to six decks, so there’s three pairs. And one of the decks—
Tim Ferriss: Three pairs of decks?
Richard Turner: Three pairs, yep.
Tim Ferriss: Yep.
Richard Turner: Six decks, which is three pairs.
Tim Ferriss: Yep.
Richard Turner: Okay. So we’re down to six decks, which would be three pairs. And we might say pairs. Each pair was ran together, that was a particular run of that deck.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Richard Turner: Okay. And so they would say, One of the decks, they just changed one of the chemicals in the coating.” This is probably the most elaborate one that I did. Just one of the chemicals was changed, not the whole chemical, not the whole process. One of the chemicals was changed in their coating. And so not only did I have to say, “Deck one and three are matched. Two and four are a match and five and six are a match.” And it was five and six that had the chemical change. And so not only did I—and they had those cards coded, when I say coded, they had a secret code. Like Q752916J, which that was their key in Cincinnati to understand, these two are the pair. These two are the pair, these two are the pair. I did not have the key.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Richard Turner: But I just had these random numbers that I’d had to put down in my report. My son Asa would tell me, “Well, this one, Dad, is J752. This one is 67J4,” which meant absolutely nothing to me. And then I find out the 67J4 and the Q whatever, they were the matches. So I’d have to pair them up, match them up, and then analyze the snap, the embossing depth, the cut, the caliper, the what I call the right period, and all these things in which one is a better card. And they would take that information and fine tune their machines to help make the cards that they make, which are by far the finest cards you can buy.
Tim Ferriss: That are now in use.
Richard Turner: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So I know we have just a little bit of time left and we’re practically neighbors since you’re in San Antonio—
Richard Turner: That’s right, we’re right down the street.
Tim Ferriss: Very, very close by. I’m curious to know, and this is sometimes a difficult question, but I’ll ask one or two more questions. If you could put a message, a quote, anything non-commercial, on a billboard to get a message out to millions or billions of people, is there anything that comes to mind that you might put on that billboard?
Richard Turner: Yeah. “In America, we have opportunities. Success depends upon the use we make of those opportunities.” That would be one. Another would be, “Not going down!”
Tim Ferriss: Not going down.
Richard Turner: Not going down. Another one would be: consider every obstacle—as I mentioned earlier—every obstacle, challenge, hurt, pain in your life as part of the adventure of life. That’s what gives life spice. Oh, and then circling back to when I was talking about the surgeries and my career was almost at an end. I was at Penn and Teller’s theater, I was going to be on their show, their third season. And I was in the gym, the Rio gym, where else? With my friend Doug Gorman and I said, “Okay, I paid $17 for my workout.” That’s a ridiculous workout price. And so as soon as I got in there, when those benches, that you set them up like this, like you’re doing standing curls.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Richard Turner: Or you sit and do curls or you can recline it back for like triceps or lay it all the way back, if you want to so sit-ups on there—
Tim Ferriss: Adjustable bench.
Richard Turner: Adjustable bench. And it was propped like this—
Tim Ferriss: At about 45 degrees.
Richard Turner: Yeah, a 45-degree angle. And I pulled that thing, I couldn’t get it to go down. And I thought it was butted up against the wall, and so I took that bench and I moved it over like this, and wham, my thumb was here and it was those commercial grade benches—
Tim Ferriss: Oh, God.
Richard Turner: The steel bars that went right around here and the steel bars that was the frame of bench just came down and crushed my thumb. What did I do? I know it’s crazy and your people that are listening and watching will say, “Yeah, he’s a little on the crazy side.” And okay, don’t let me get off track on here, but did you know I’m a certified oddball?
Tim Ferriss: A certified oddball?
Richard Turner: I am certified.
Tim Ferriss: I did see your card.
Richard Turner: Yeah, well I’ll explain. You’ve heard of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
Richard Turner: In 1984, I was on a TV series, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, hosted by Jack Palance. I’m also an exhibit and the second largest Ripley’s in the country. And I’m in the 2015 issue of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Book of Eye-Popping Oddities.
Tim Ferriss: So you’re official?
Richard Turner: I received a certificate. I am a certified oddity. So you might be an oddball Tim, I’m certified.
Tim Ferriss: You’re certified.
Richard Turner: I’m a certified oddball.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, so this contraption come crashed down—
Richard Turner: Crushed my thumb. And I called Doug, I said, Bring me a bucket of ice and don’t ask any questions.” And I said, “$17 for this workout, I’m not going to –” So I iced for three minutes, worked out for three minutes. Iced for three minutes, worked out for three minutes. Finished my workout, oh my gosh, my thumb was as big as my big toe. I go, I ran upstairs, grabbed my cards and went, “Oh my gosh, I can’t feel.” So I called the producers, Lincoln and Andrew, they were the executive producers of the show. I said, “Linc, I had a little trouble, a bench crushed my thumb. I think I could do the first and third and part of what we rehearsed, but I don’t think I can do the second.”
And he said, “Get down here.” He says, “You’re going to the emergency room.” And they sent me to the emergency room and they got in there and the first thing they did is they poked a hole in it. And they said a fountain of blood shot out. I ended up having to go into surgery and because I thought this may be the end of my career. And Luke and the boys were flying in to get some footage with Penn and Teller, for Dealt.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: And they were in air when this happened. So they land thinking they’re coming into film Penn and Teller and about whatever they were going to ask them, only to find out that I just got crushed. And instead they’re filming me showing my thumb that’s every shade of black and blue but the color it’s supposed to be. Anyway, so I ended up in surgery and I thought, “Okay, if this is the end of my life, I don’t want to be –” I told the surgeon, “I don’t want to be out. I want to be fully conscious. I went through multiple surgeries and I’ll just shuffle the cards with my other hand while you work on this one and that’ll be my anesthetic.”
And so he thought I was nuts and you can watch it. And I said, “I want to film it too.” Said, “If this is the end of my career, I want footage.” And so they said, “Okay, well you just put our anesthesiologists out of business, he can film it.” And you can go on YouTube, it’s crush dealing thumb, featuring crush dealing thumb. One is the short version, one’s longer. But it’s on YouTube, crush dealing thumb is what you’d look it up. But I have to warn you, it’s graphic. Because he takes a spoon and pops my thumb open like the hood of a car, then he takes it and he cuts it open and he’s squeezing the blood.
And we’re talking the whole time, back and forth and I’m shuffling cards. And they would go back and forth, shuffle and the thumb and we’re talking about all this. And I said, “Man, this is so cool.” And he goes, “Why don’t people want to do this?” He says, “They go schizoid. People go schizophrenic when they see—just go through something like this. And he said, “I had to be totally unconscious before I did it. I just had a hangnail removed.” This is the hand doctor talking.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: Anyway, but that gets back to yeah, I am a certified oddball.
Tim Ferriss: So you have your thumb popped open like the hood of a car—and we’ll link to those videos in the show notes at tim.blog, so we will be able to find all of those videos. And what happened after that? Did you meet with Penn and Teller or?
Richard Turner: Lincoln and Andrew said, “You’ll come back for our fourth season. Don’t worry about it right now. Take care of your thumb.” And it literally took to the day, before my thumbnail came back, because they didn’t know if it was going to take or I’d grow another one or I was going to end up with no thumbnail at all. Fortunately I grew out a new one and it was literally Friday before that my manicurist had finally got the last part of the wiggly wobbly looking thumbnail to be matched up. And I went on and I started filming on the following Monday. So it took almost a year to the day. And so I got on the show and had a blast, it was—and I fooled them faster than anybody in the history of their show has and it was really fun. And Penn and Teller are just amazing performers, they are just top notch—
Tim Ferriss: They are incredible.
Richard Turner: And Teller is so funny and people don’t realize it. And if you watch it on the show, and I’m told this afterwards, he was staring at what I’m doing, and he’s trying to say, “Go bring down the trophy now,” over the headpiece. But he’s being told, “Don’t bring that trophy. We want Richard to do his entire act.” And then beforehand they said, “Richard, you’ve got to tell us how you do this so we can make a judgment.” This is their judges, Johnny Thompson and Michael Close. I said, “Well you know, Vern and I are the only ones that really know this stuff.” “We know that, we’ve got to make some judgment.” I said, “Okay, watch.” And I showed them in slow motion what I was doing.
I showed them and they go, “Oh, my God, it really is impossible.” And so then what Penn hears over his headphones, this is what I was told. He stood up, I’m supposed to have a six-minute interview with Alyson while they discussed how to do it. And then of course they edited it down to one minute when it broadcast. And they said over the headphone, “Don’t ask us, we don’t know how in the hell he did it.” And so then Penn turns around and says, “We have nothing to say! You fooled us.” And then the cool part was, I walk off stage with Penn and I hear this—and this is exactly how he talked, “Richard! FFFF!” I said, “Who’s that?” “It’s me, Teller.” He said, “It was so wonderful to be so completely and thoroughly astonished. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” And I said, “Let’s get some selfies.”
And then the really funny thing was at midnight I get a call, they said, “Teller wants to know if we could come up and get a signed deck of cards from you.” I said, “This is backwards. I’m supposed to ask for autographs from them.” And I said, “Well, does Penn want one too?” They said, “Oh, would you? Penn would love it.” Anyway, so that was kind of a really cool thing. And like I said, they’re extraordinarily talented and extraordinary talents. And I was so honored that they liked Dealt, and that Teller actually wrote one of the film posters—
Tim Ferriss: Oh yeah, one of the blurbs?
Richard Turner: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Very well-earned.
Richard Turner: Yeah, so —
Tim Ferriss: And the entire story, I mean this is a perfect way to wrap up because that entire story makes me think back to Tony Giorgio, early on and what was he saying? “Don’t make the money?”
Richard Turner: “Won’t get the money.”
Tim Ferriss: “Won’t get the money.” Now later, though—
Richard Turner: Later, though—
Tim Ferriss: What did he say?
Richard Turner: In 2001, I’d just finished my show at The Castle, and there’s Tony. And he and I battled each other for 25 years and they said, “Richard, Tony’s here to see you.” And there was what’s called the Vernon seats, where Vernon had [inaudible] and that’s where Tony was seated because Vernie had passed away 10 years before. And they had one seat across, waiting for me to sit down. All of these top card guys were standing there waiting, they wanted another battle between Giorgio and Turner. Giorgio and Turner, Giorgio and Turner, they’d always have these showdowns like gunfighters. And so I didn’t want to have any part of it and I said, “No, I’ll just stand.”
For an hour, they finally said, “Richard, Tony was waiting.” Then finally I thought to myself, “You know what? Tony was mean and hard on me, but I have to credit at least half of my accomplishments to him being my antagonist.” And I thought, “Okay.” I said, “Tony, I just want to thank you for all your years of encouragement. You were hard on me, you were divisive at times, but people respect you because you do the real work and you could do the real work. And because you pushed me hard, you made me better and I wanted to thank you for that.” And he goes, “Why thank you, Richard. That’s very nice of you. Did you ever get that center deal down?”
And of course he knew I did. He said, “Would you mind showing us?” So now I sit down, now for the next two and a half hours, we’re doing what everybody wanted to see. And after everything, he turned to us, “That’ll get the money. That’ll get the money.” And he actually proposed, he said, “We have the perfect scam, the perfect threesome.” He said, “I’ll tell the people you’re a high-stake gambler, but you can’t see, but you love to play hold’ em. I’ll be the person that reads the cards to you.” He said, “There’s not five people in the gaming world that understands your work.”
He said, “And we’ll have a third agent, third part of the crew, that you’ll deal the good hands to.” And so from the guy who said, “Never get the money,” actually proposed us putting together as a team and hustling together. And then I actually have a handwritten letter, five-page, handwritten letter, it’s one of my best treasures from Tony Giorgio. And then emails that say: “Love, Tony.”
Tim Ferriss: Amazing.
Richard Turner: So it went from, “Won’t get the money,” to just talking nasty and mean and times at The Castle, he’d have to be taken out of The Castle in ways that wasn’t pleasant to him, to become a very dear friend. And I actually had the privilege of writing for one of the magazines, his obituary. Because I had a 39-year relationship with him from fighting to earning his respect.
And really quickly, that came from my first director, a man named Steve Terrell, who was a TV and movie star back in the ’50s and early ’60s. And I was in the theater company called The Lamb’s Players from 1972 to ’78. And one of the things he would tell me is he would—well on stage, he would watch me and I’d be looking out of the corner of my eye—remember we talked about that?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Turner: Because I had no forward vision. So I’m talking to my character and I’m looking over here. He said, “Richard, it looks odd for you looking off to the side. I know that you can’t see where the shadow is unless you turn your head to the side.” He said, “Just look at the voice.” And he taught me how to square my head towards the voice and give the impression that I could see them. He said, “You’ve seen an actor will play the part of a blind person. You’ve flipped the roles. You’re a blind person, you’ve played the part of a sighted person.
And he was watching me practicing before and after every scene, he says, “You love cards. If you become the best card man in the world, you will earn the respect of your worst enemies.” And then that was the case with Tony Giorgio, he was the guy who was an enemy. He was my nightmare every time I went to The Castle, if we ran into each other, to becoming a very dear man.
Tim Ferriss: And I mean that sounds like another billboard. So if I could put up a billboard for you, that’s what it would say: “That’ll get the money.” That’ll get the money. And this has been so fun. We didn’t even get into your hustling stories and this entire prep has been an embarrassment of riches. So I hope this isn’t the last time that I see you. Hopefully we get to spend some more time together.
Richard Turner: Name it, if I’m up here, I’ll let you know I’m coming. Any time you want to visit or do something again, it’d be my honor and privilege to hang out together, even if it’s to go have a protein shake.
Tim Ferriss: Protein shake or maybe I can just get my ass handed to me in the gym or maybe a bit of both. And what a pleasure to spend time with you, finally in person, which I’ve wanted for so long. And people can find out all about you, RichardTurner52—
Richard Turner: .com.
Tim Ferriss: The number 52. RichardTurner52.com. On social and I’ll link to all of these in the show notes as well. YouTube.com/Asat52, that’s A-S-A-T 52. And then also YouTube.com/RichardTurner52, we’ll link to all of this. For speaking, you’re repped by APB Speaking Bureau.
Richard Turner: Right, American Program Bureau, APB. And that’s one of my favorite things to do now is—for some reason people are inspired and my wife says, “People want to hear your story.” And I always want to just be an entertainer, but I have to say, I am really blessed that I have the privilege of speaking and entertaining some of the most amazing companies on the planet.
Tim Ferriss: And I can’t wait to see what you do next. You are also, of course, featured in Dealt, which has, at least last I checked, a 95 percent—
Richard Turner: 95, yeah.
Tim Ferriss:—on Rotten Tomatoes and—
Richard Turner: And five star—
Tim Ferriss:—it is one of my favorite documentaries I’ve seen in certainly the last five years. It’s just spectacular. And I am greatly inspired by you, slightly terrified of you and I look forward to watching your further ongoing adventures and hope to have a protein shake in the near future. But thanks very much for coming, really appreciate it.
Richard Turner: Hey, it was my pleasure, Tim. It was a pleasure to be with you and I’m honored as well. Thank you, sir.
Tim Ferriss: And for everybody watching or listening, we will have a lot to link to, in the show notes and many resources. We also have, of course, the video if you’re listening via audio, which you can check out at YouTube.com/TimFerriss or just go to Tim.blog and you’ll find it there. And for the show notes, all the links, just go to Tim.blog/podcast, type in Richard Turner, and bam lickity split, you’ll have what you need. And until next time, be safe, train hard, practice perfectly if you’re going to practice, and thanks for listening. Thanks for watching.
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2 Replies to “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Richard Turner — The Magical Phenom Who Will Blow Your Mind (#411)”
Awesome interview, Tim. Such an interesting and inspiration guy. I listened to it with my 10 year old son and he said, “So this is one of those episodes where Tim Ferris doesn’t about himself”. It cracked me up so I had to share :-).
“They say, “Practice makes perfect.” No. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” – THIS! Since I first heard it, it just follows me every day. Thank you so much for this little piece of wisdom! Richard is one of the greatest! Thanks both of you! – Cheers, Ben