I studied Dance for three years ...some time back ...and since starting to train in karate just over three years ago (a karate ankle biter) have pondered the similarities and differences in performing and training in martial arts and dance. With far, far less knowledge and experience of budo, but (...I think) a little more time dancing under my belt, I hope I can add a little from a dancer's perspective.
I'm going to talk more about contemporary dance as that is where the bulk of my experience lies ... and I'm going to split this post into three as it got a little more boisterous than I expected:
Centre, Circularity and Awareness
Physicality and Stickiness
Symbolism, Ritual and Performance
Centre, Circularity and Awareness
In another brilliant blog, SueC talks of circularity, fluidity and power in her recent post, 'Karate: Hard Not Tense'. To move in arcs one needs a pivot, a centre, and to relax (so hard!) and to go with the movement. In both dance and martial arts circular movement allows the practitioner to absorb and redirect the energy of an attacker, partner or one's self.
In this video the dancer is beautifully connected to her centre
and to the earth. Her movement flows, falls, is caught up, released and redirected in a way which, for me, is close to me of Aikido movement, or sparring. Not my sparring.
She could be a in state of mushin: no-mind or unconscious awareness. An article by Joe Hyams in 'Zen in the Martial Arts', which pleasingly begins,
'After a brisk workout in the sun, Bruce Lee and I were having a glass of juice in the garden'
talks about how mushin can be achieved through training and and repetition. For a dancer, with their intense class regime, the same is true. The body must be well trained and the mind empty but open to the unconscious, to produce true and technically good work. Imagine too, a gymnast about to perform a tumble run, or vault: only with many hours of practise and an empty mind can they perform a dangerous feat, perfectly.
Jeff Medaugh, Grandjete
In karate we are taught to connect with the earth and to direct energy through our centre, in a spiraling or curved flow: a jab takes energy from the ground, through the feet, the hips and torso and out through a relaxed arm to finish in briefly tensed fist and kime (roughly speaking, I have much to learn).
However, I think that sometimes we beginning karateka forget or forgo circularity (so far as our style and technique allow) for linearity, especially in sparring. Shooting a punch out straight from the shoulder is not (that) effective or efficient: storming onto an attacker can be counter-productive!
In the Taekkyun video in The Diary of a Martial Artist post you can see how a a regular rhythm and circular movement - dance steps - allow rapid attacks and quick recovery or redirection. At 1:36 their basic step motif is made bigger to allow a sweep to be redirected into a jodan mawashigeri. I've seen it done before (aaand tried it myself) but rarely that smooth or relaxed. At 2:06 one of a pair kicks and lose her flow, slightly, but because her flow is circular she can follow it and regain the fight.
Isadora Duncan and, a little later, Martha Graham, the two 'mothers' of modern dance emerging from the formalities of society and ballet, believed that movement and emotion originated from the solar plexus or 'pit of the stomach'.
Martha Graham said, 'The strength of the command is in the centre of the body'.
Martha Graham, Yousuf Karsh, 1948, on Wikipedia
This seems strikingly similar to how martial artists regard the Dantien or Tan t'ien. By moving with or through our centre we move our bodies (and minds) as one mass. Just as, I believe, Buddhists locate or focus their awareness here, so too does modern and contemporary dance.
It's been really valuable, examining dance and martial arts. Thank you for bearing with me! I am a beginner in the study of martial arts, and it has been some time since I wrote about dance. I'd love to learn from your thoughts and responses, but please keep in mind that these are my early ponderings - I am not claiming to be correct, rather mashing my neurons about a bit.
Next time I'll post about Physicality and Stickiness.