Monday, March 23, 2009

The line between performance and martial arts

I am a martial artist. I study biodynamics in order to have an end result of efficient motion in conflict situations.

I am a performer. I study arts and entertainment in order to please a crowd. I have performed on the streets, at Lalapalooza and even at a Vegas casino. My chosen performance art is illusion.

Some part of me enjoys the mixture of martial arts and performance. Heck - I did a demonstration of KI effects for the society of American magicians. But I think as martial artists it is important we see and know these to be performances, rather than martial arts in the strict sense of the word.

Last year, the Austin Taoist society sponsored around 20 WuDang monks to come from China and to teach. I took a couple courses with them. One of them was a sword class. After studying with them for a few days, it really struck me that these monks were not martial artists in the sense of the word as I knew it. There was no "fight" behind their art. They were performance artists playing the role of martial artists.

What? That is a bold thing to say. They study motion, sure - but they study it under a discipline I would call dance and acrobatics. Did you can catch that recent dance competition on TV? So called Shaolin monks were invited to participate. Strange or appropriate?

Though they have the trappings of martial artists, every piece of their compositions are dance and physics stunts. What martial art teaches you how to balance on spears? Street performance friends. Is this martial arts, or is it performance art?

This next clip is great. The monks perform 3 physics stunts. Does this have anything to do with martial arts? Buddhism? Or is this just straight performance art?

Interesting history about the development of these martial arts styles.

Click Here For Vagabond History

Here is the book to learn these Chi effects -

Click Here For Vagabond Book

I know this blog post is getting long, but Chinese artists are not the only ones crossing the martial/performance line.


  1. Some things are designed to awe and entertain the untrained eye. Others can be appreciated by the trained eye.

    I like the shiny swirling katana movie. It has broad appeal for people who like spinning things.

  2. preformace and real knowldge and skill intersect to become a great teacher as well - it takes charisma to hold a crowd and impart a message-- the showy flashy stuff is cool too as examples of great chorography -- demonstrates the profunditiy of repitition -- the differece for the martial artist vs the preformer is the spontaneous appliction of such honed reactions coming from subconcious reflex-- martial art as pure manifestation of principle arising with out conscious design -- musashi's "no concept, no design"

  3. The shift of the shaolin monks from martial art to entertainment has always intrigued me. What started as a way to improve the health of ailing monks has turned into a money making extravaganza. It's very interesting.

    As for the shiny, twirling katana man - well, there's really no excuse for that. let's all make a small, mental apology to the original Samurai who developed bushido and kenjutsu, haha.

    Matt "Ikigai"

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