Thursday, 8 November 2007

Music whilst you fight.

Went training last night and there was some debate about what music we should be playing.

If your idea of a martial arts school is a zen palace with immaculately clean wooden floors and a silence broken only by the thuds of crisply executed techniques and the 'kias' and barked instructions of the sensei then you'll probably be horrified to hear that we have any sort of music at all.

Our place is a a slightly damp and musty room that could frankly do with a bit of a clean. There's also background music and plenty of chat and laughter between the students. The sort of behaviour that in a Japanese dojo or Korean dojang would earn you a punishment of twenty press-ups.

In doing things differently we are not being trendy or 'revisionist' though: For a Chinese kwoon it is entirely traditional to have a bustling school with a constant stream of people coming in and out, chatting and joking, and with a sifu sat in a corner drinking tea and keeping a beady eye on the proceedings.

But there's more to it than just a different tradition - there's a logic too: A big aspect of martial arts, the endless repetition of forms and drills, is the re-programming of reflexes and training of muscle memory. The idea is to remove the aspect of 'intent' so that you can pull off techniques without thinking or emotion. This is not some hippy spiritual thing - it's very practical too - in a fight you're in a highly stressed situation and you cannot rely on conscious rational actions, you revert to instinct - the training tries to condition these instincts. OK - but why the music ?

As part of the learning / conditioning process at times you actually want some distractions. Maybe not in the very early stages of learning, but certainly at some part of the training dealing with
multiple stimuli and still getting it right is vital. I can remember time and time again when doing chi-sau being told by my sifu to lose my 'warrior face' and smile instead. This is easier said then done when some guy is trying to hit you at point blank range - but doing so relaxes you and definitely un-nerves your opponent.

(And this is quite apart from the obvious fact that music makes the place more enjoyable and it's all supposed to be fun after all).

Anyway back to last night:

I happened to be the senior guy there so I stuck on some Tinariwen and some Charlie Parker. There were requests for some jungle and drum and bass, but in my experience that kind of rhythm makes everyone chi-sau like a psychotic motherfucker and I'm getting too old for all that shit ...

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