Friday, 2 April 2010

Martial arts movement and dance

Whilst watching a video recently I was prompted to revisit a theme I've pondered on in the past: the relationship between dance and martial arts.

Funakoshi said about karate, "No matter how much time you devote to practice, no matter how many months and years pass, if your practice consists of no more than moving your arms and legs, you might as well be studying a dance. You will never come to know the true meaning karate". He was effectively saying that karate had an additional motive to simple body movement and that is application within conflict.

I'm not trying to equate dance with martial arts performance but I am intrigued by its sometimes balletic movements. Do we use dance or rhythmic movement within martial application? Particularly, of course, in randori.

Rhythm can be seen often in martial applications but mostly we aim to break the rhythm of opponents and many karateka would blanch at the idea that I'm proposing that these two disciplines could be related, or perhaps intertwined.

My interest was raised when I first heard of fencing being the direct ancestor of ballet. Fencing moves were practised in single form (like kata) when fighting was not convenient and they were ultimately set to music and performed in court for purely artistic reasons. Fencing is now divorced from ballet just as karate is from modern dance but the expression of one's body movements within a framework is, of course, a common theme.

Dance does not have any attacking or fighting principles: it's an artistic expression. Can it be fair to say that martial arts training leads to an expression of intent through the body? Or even that we simply use rhythmic movement in order to achieve martial principles.

Check out the following video. Although this seems like randori, I admit it may be a drill sequence and the dance-like quality could be deliberately manufactured.

Taekkyun (or Important Intangible Cultural Asset No.76) is a Korean martial art with distinct dance-like qualities. Not the smashing of feet into partners' heads but the initial preamble of a bout which seems similar to the Capoeria 'Jinga'. In the following video this is clearly demonstrated. Not sure that the cheesey pop music is obligatory though).

Furthermore, Dr Dae Yung speaking in the BBC 3 series, Mind, Body and Kickass moves clearly states that Taekkyun's movements are based on traditional dance. He says, "Also, Korean dancing move like this. Move like dancing" (showing the Taekkyun formal footwork). He goes on to explain that this happy type of movement also helps his mental state rendering him happy when he fights!

The following is, however, purely dance (amazing gymnastic dance albeit) and as far as I can see not related to martial arts but for the fact that it mimics certain martial formulas (blocks, kicks and punches). Even though these techniques are performed with speed and flexibility, I doubt the accuracy and power. Certainly the intention is not to show fighting skill but dancing (body movement, no martial intent) and choreography.

Maybe one last thing to mention when thinking about the relationship of dance with karate is randori. Randori can of course be chaotic, but at its simplest isn't it locking onto another beings rhythm in an attempt to disrupt it? The best randori I ever have is with an opponent who can feel my rhythm of movement and whose rhythm I 'get' immediately. Although this makes for tough randori (in order to point score) it means there is a connection of the two fighters. The most unconvincing of randori consists of when I feel the other person is jittery, or ungrounded and certainly not flowing (or when I get knocked on my *rse). This doesn't mean it is wrong, just not as 'easy' for me to tap into.

The closest I could possibly put forward as an example of connection of adversaries through conflict is pushing hands in Tai Chi. This is essentially a flowing action to feel the opponent's energy/physical state and to take opportunities in weaknesses therein to imbalance it. It's not dance at all but there is a connection of rhythm in the practitioners and a sense of feeling the sensitivities of the opponent in order to effect a change.

Dance is defined by wikipedia as: "An art form that generally refers to movement of the body, usually rhythmic and to music, used as a form of expression, social interaction or presented in a spiritual or performance setting.

Dance may also be regarded as a form of nonverbal communication between humans, and is also performed by other animals (bee dance, patterns of behaviour such as a mating dance)."

Am I way off?

Just plain insulting?

Check out Cat's post on dance and movement:


Dan Prager said...

Dance is a good place to conceal martial arts knowledge, especially in times of repression.

Besides Capoeira, which you mention, another overt cross-over is found in the Chinese lion dance.

-- Dan

Sue C said...

Hi Chris,

I think you are spot on with your observations. I have also been struck by the similarities between martial arts and dance (I did ballet, tap and modern for about 10 years when I was young). Rythmn,timing and precision are equally important in both. Like you say it is the intent that differs.

I'm always joking that karate is like ballet! What is horse stance if its not a plie with attitude! An age uke block is just ballet arm position 'fourth over fifth' (with attitude) and a spinning hook kick is just an inelegant pirhouette! We're just a big bunch of ballerinas really :-)

KataCat said...


Great post ... you asked me what I thought of it : ) My response is now done - well part 1 is posted.

I was surprised and delighted that my brain just clicked into at least 2nd gear and tootled off after the subject in this post. Good ol brain, and thank you.

I hope you find something interesting in it - I'd love to hear back.

I've linked to this post from mine - hope that's ok. Might bring you some crafting readers : )


Wooden Dummy Central said...

This is very well considered post. On one of your other blogs, someone links to bruce Lee and he brings in muscal terms such as 'tempo'. There is milage in this idea.