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, 22 April 2010

Kung Fu Dancin: Part 2. Physicality, Space and Stickiness

Hello. Following the first exciting installment, Centre, Circularity and Awareness, this is my second go at responding to Christopher Littlefairs brilliant post, Martial arts, movement and dance, in his blog, Diary of a Martial Artist. Go there, it is good.

Physicality, Space and Stickiness
Physicality is a term used in dance critique and theory, and means freeing of the body to communicate without the constraint of traditional norms, and refers to the link between body and mind. For me it means using  the body honestly and to it's fullest and when I'm practicing karate, to allow myself to let go and to trust my body to do what my sensei asks of me, even if it feels odd at first. Here is a gif of Jasmine Simhalan practicing Kalarippayattu, a Keralan martial arts form. In the second part, I think she shows real physicality. Beautiful.

The practice of karate, and other martial arts, transmits tested and efficient ways of doing things from master to sensei to student over time.It is not appropriate to improvise (to explore bunkai, or henka-waza (technique variations)) until you have built up experience, knowledge and ways of moving. Although dance is a freer artform, the same, I think, can be said. One really has to know one's body and how it moves, especially within a style, before letting loose the crazy dancing.
A.L.Recke, by M.E.Weigert

Both dancers and martial artists - any physical performer - builds up muscle memory through correct repetition so that they can eventually move without the mind interrupting. For martial artists it is important that we trust our mind to be quiet, and our body to act almost instinctively. I say almost, as I think that much of what we do happens through long term mental and physical conditioning. Flinching is instinctive, stepping in with a block and strike isn't.
If your own power of insight is strong, the state of affairs of everything will be visible to you. Once you have attained complete independent mastery of martial arts, you will be able to figure out the minds of opponents ans thus find many ways to win. This demands work.  
Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

Although experienced and gifted martial artists show awesome knowledge of their body mechanics, beginners like me often have much, much less. Whilst karateka generally explore dynamics of moving later in training, dancers are encouraged to experiment and understand dynamics from the start as a means of communicating content or emotion. While martial artists should show content clearly, in kata for example, emotion is maybe less relevant for us, as we do not seek to influence those outside the sphere of confrontation. Except in competition.

On concentrating on the where and why, we (martial artists), sometimes skip past the how: 

'OK, that's my pelvis ...wiggle, shimmy ... and that's how it feels to tilt it. Ahaaa.'

A good kata has changes in pace, as my Shotokan sensei keeps reminding me! Running through kata or sparring combinations first with lyrical movement, then with full tension helps me to locate all my body parts and find a better dynamic for the application.

Karateka want to go here                           but not here...
Gigo funakoshi                                                                  Student at Colorado University

... although it really can help.

When a body is moving it is not only important where, but when and how. Movement through space gives meaning - we read how fast, how big, how linear, how high, how low, how much space between. Stillness defines what went before, and what is to come. It gives the chance to regroup and redirect. Movement and changes in it help us to read purpose - in dance and when martial arts.

The Nineteenth of Gichin Funakoshi's Twenty Guiding Principles states:

'Do not forget the employment or withdrawal of power, the extension or contraction of the body, the swift or leisurely application of technique'

The energy of kumite is in the negative or empty time and space. Participants and spectators monitor the space between just as carefully as the two bodies, and pay attention to the pauses , or stillness, between actions.
 Shintaido Bokuto, by Pierre Quettier
Projecting kiai, extending zanchin and kime interact or fill space. As a fighter disables one attacker, and moves to face another (at least in kata!) we may feel the negative space left behind for a moment.

Physicality is also about how our bodies interact with others. This picture shows a contact improvisation session, an important part of contemporary dance training
 Davidonet from Wiki Commons
In these exercises it is important to stick to your partner, to
'recognise emptiness and fullness in others and themselves', Sun Tzu in The Art of War,
to be passive and active at the right moments to influence the other. Maybe judoka or aikidoka would recognise some of the lifting techniques in this picture? Dance training also teaches you how to lift, and be lifted.

I confess that I have little experience or knowledge of sticking hands - I want to learn - but have been taught to lean into a block or lock in order to influence the opponent, and to 'read' them and their intentions. I remember the same feeling when doing contact improvisation.

The first of these two clips is contact improvisation in dance, and the second, sticking hands:

I think there are similarities between them - and the first may also ring some capoeira bells.I'd also not heard of Ba Gua Zhang before, but would like to learn more, one day, based on this (YouTube) clip

I was interested to read in Fist in the Frost's blog that whilst teaching kata he experienced a 'beautiful synchronicity in class'. So, finally I'd like to ask if you can see or read the space, synchronicity, dynamics and stickiness in these three groups?

Suri Castle, byNakasone Genwa 1938, Merce Cunningham Company, Pacific Islanders team, Tonyrandell, 

Thank you for reading. Again, I must stress that it is very early in my study of martial arts. I've taken out many 'I think's and 'possibly's as there are plenty words in this post, but be assured I'm not certain I'm right, and I'd love to be gently corrected, or directed down a new path of thought.



SueC said...

Hi Cat, I thought this was a great post - a lot of thinking went into this. You are very knowledable and your dance experience gives you a unique insight into comparisons between dance and martial arts. I'm sure I'll be learning lots from you. Thank you

KataCatMcCracken said...

Hi Sue,

and welcome home! Glad to hear that you were 'repatriated' finally : )

Thank you for your kind comment - and for reading all the way through. I'll try to make the next one a little shorter ... I'm finding more in common between dance and martial arts than I thought I would, being a committed martial artist now - it's interesting.

Potatoe Fist said...

Cat, I'm deeply flattered to mentioned in your blog (to be honest, I'd be flattered to be mentioned in anyone's blog). I'm very impressed by your writing and your insights.

KataCatMcCracken said...

Hello, and thank you Potatoe Fist,

I always read your blog ... and will no doubt refer to it again : )

Littlefair said...

Many thanks Cat!

This is a super post-great insight. I'll need to link back I think if that's ok!

With regards what you have called 'contact improvisation' I'd like to share a video:

It's slow motion kendo illustrating how two bodies can interact with timing and power with relation to the opponent's body movement.

The music is beautiful but not the main feature I was 'struck' with here. Even though these men (this is the men's final) are a metre or more apart they feel each other's energy and movement impeccably. Check out Koiso's 'men' strike against Inage: like a wave rising up, feeling Inage not taking the bait and continuing on to 'men'.

Uchimura's kote on Teramoto is also sublime. Here he feels the air with his shinai, tempting Teramoto to raise which he does for a men strike. Uchimura then closes distance fast for kote.

I was taught in both kendo and Western Fencing to touch blades with your opponent in order to feel the energy, or indeed to fool your adversary into striking or parrying in a particular way. These guys seem to have extended that out and are doing a similar thing without touching blades even. Just the air around! This interaction is much more subtle than sticky hands but I think just as relevant as a form of 'contact improvisation' where two energies interact and work around each other.

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