Long ago, the founder of Goju-ryu (an Okinawan style of karate), Chojun Miyagi, caught wind of a man who had lived in China for quite some time mastering and honing his skills in martial arts. Interested in this individual, Miyagi, along with several of his disciples, went to visit this stranger. As they approached, the Goju-ryu master requested that the old man show him what he had learned in China.
Agreeing to this, he wrapped a headband tightly over his head and began. However, instead of witnessing a new combat style, the old man had strangely begun to dance. Miyagi and his disciples looked at one another, bewildered, as the man continued on and on.
Thinking he had gone mad due to his old age, one of the younger disciples grew impatient. He soon lunged at the old man, delivering a karate blow. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, the young man was immediately thrown to the ground, injuring his back. Shocked by the turn of events, Miyagi and the rest bowed to the old man and returned without a word.
This anecdote shows us how interconnected dancing and fighting really are.
When most people think of martial arts, they tend to imagine a combative technique that let people take down their opponents. Dance is far from their minds. However, in every brute force, most eyes concealed a gentle beauty. When we peel back and inspect further that we begin to see the true grace that martial arts may bring.
The Connection Between Martial Arts & Dance
In this way, martial arts is no different than the performing arts of dance. Since behind every powerful move is a delicate extension of the soul, expressed in the body’s finest form. The similarities between the two are becoming ever more aware amongst many dancers. As more and more studios are beginning to implement forms of combat and self-defense into their training.
One famous example of the integration of martial arts and dance is the Brazilian martial art capoeira. The Kongo-Angolan culture rooted capoeira in Brazil. Known as the ‘Dance of War,’ we can date capoeira back to as early as the 16th century, where people create it amongst the African slaves as a means to nurture hope for survival.
To them, under the clever guise of dance, this skill enabled the slaves to equip themselves with a means to survive in a hostile environment governed by colonial armed forces.
Even the Japanese word of kata (taolu in Chinese) refers to the choreographed patterns of movements, originally taught as training methods to preserve combat techniques. By practicing kata, people learned how to deal with a struggle between another systematic approaches that were internalized.
Once mastered, users would be able to fluidly execute movements and techniques without thought, adapting to different circumstances without hesitation such as for self-defense.
Martial Arts, Dancing & The Body
Besides its historical connection with the performing arts, many dance studios have found that implementing martial arts into their routines have helped allow the body to absorb other forms of movement. When training in the martial arts, dancers’ muscles and joints stretch in ways that help extend the body. It also helps dancers achieve different motions that would otherwise be unattainable through dancing alone.
They have also found that the breathing techniques that are learned through martial arts training help dancers reach a state of Zen-like concentration which allows dancers achieve better form. Different muscle memories are worked with martial arts and dance. But combining the two helps train the dancer with limberness, flexibility, coordination, and footwork.
Not only does the implementation of martial arts help enhance athleticism and focus, but depending on the form of dance, many have demonstrated an increased sense of timing, bounce, and other fine details that help shape the dancer into becoming better.
As early as we can trace back, our bodies have been tools for expression. Humans have been dancing and fighting since before we made words. It is innately a part of who we are. Martial arts and dancing are both skills that complement one another: by synchronizing the fluid bond between the two, we can hope to understand ourselves better.
As the late legend Bruce Lee once stated,
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. While you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”