Jewellery and bujutsu?


This blog is about two important parts of my life: martial arts (under the Dentokan umbrella) and making jewellery.

Please join in - there'll be ponderings on processes, and pictures of processes (maybe not in my gi, though...) but in both jewells and bujutsu I've got sooo much to learn, and waffle on about.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Kung Fu Dancin': Centre, Circularity and Awareness

I am writing this in response to Christopher Littlefair's recent and interesting post, Martial Arts Movement and Dance. His blog is great and I recommend a visit...

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
Although most styles of ballet strive for the heavens, and to create an illusion of flight, other forms of dance stress connection to the ground and core stability.

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.



Light the Fused said...

Really interesting post. In archery, we are told to relax(!) and be repetitive in our movements - the theory being the arrow will go the same place every time! I also did ballet many years ago and I get the (indirect) connection. And then there's breathing...!

KataCatMcCracken said...

Hi LighttheFused, aka Diomoglass,

Thank you for commenting : )

To repeat the same actions and, I guess, mental state, time and time again - that's hard, but is maybe what keeps you going back to your art?

So, you have the breathing problem too!? Why is it so hard to, as you say, relax, and breathe? Why is it that when some brain functions kick in the one responsible for breathing in and out has a little lie-down?

averilpam said...

That was interesting Kat. I just want to thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. I never assume that someone I follow will follow me back. I follow blogs because they interest me and hope that my followers do the same, not because they feel obliged to follow me back!! My granddaughter has just achieved her brown belt in Tae Kwon Do at age 9. I loved watching her when I was over visiting, it can be very graceful, like dancing.
pam x

Light the Fused said...

I have mastered holding my breath but that's not what I'm supposed to do! And if I relax too much, I slap my arm with the string - Ouch. I think it's master one thing at a time...

Littlefair said...

Wow, great post Cat!
I think there is a great debate in martial arts' circles (pun alert) regarding circularity in 'linear' arts. Some say that although there is a greater distinction made that in fact both types of art contain both circular and linear movements.

I really think the movement in your dance video illustrates how expressive martial arts training can be. She was very fluid and melted into the floor extremely well with some amazing breakfalls (encountering the ground without clashing).

Check out:

Aesthetically and on it's own it is graceful and beautiful.
The aikidoka differs from the dancer in the terms of his expression of his body movements I guess.


KataCatMcCracken said...

Hello Mr. Littlefair,

Thank you so much - for your very kind words, and also for your comments and the link.

I need to learn more of the debate between circular and linear in martial arts .. i think I'd fall (yep, it's a pun) on the combination side of the debate. I mean I can see where circularity exists in what we are taught... but, mostly in theory. I was a bit too linear in kumite practice today...

I'm going to go scouting around for bits of this debate - thanks for the sign post.

Thank you too for the link - just beautiful. Perfect. The lack of content / expression made it a different experience to watch, compared with the contemporary dancer. Really interesting.

I'm going to post the next bit in a couple of days. The trouble about setting yourself homework is that the tutor is more likely to agree to an extension...

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