The Master Key

The sound quality on this podcast of Rory Miller is poor, but it is still a fun talk. (I'll come back to it in a moment.)

I was talking to Daniel Mroz yesterday and he said that his friend who is a Beijing Opera (Jingju) master of martial arts roles made a very bold statement.  He said that there is a basic movement of the whole body, making a flower with the hands, which is the master key movement out of which all other Beijing Opera movement comes. 

This particular movement is nearly identical to a basic movement used in Kathak (North Indian Classical Dance).  It is also important in Filipino knife fighting Silat, Maija Soderholm showed it to me the other day.  George Xu uses identical whole body coordination as his favorite warm-up for teaching Chen Style taijiquan but working from a horse stance.  

The movement is probably essential for anyone who masters handling two single edged blades at the same time.

Now that I've had a day to play with it as a key concept, I'd say it is key to all Baguazhang and is very helpful to staying integrated during shaolin movement.  It is not key to Liuhexinyi, but I may change my opinon on that.  As an underlying integration of right to left and homo-lateral to contra-lateral symmetry it can be used as an internal measuring stick of whole body integration in almost any complex movement. 

I've been doing it for 25 years, but I never thought of it as a key movement before.

I read one of Namkhai Norbu's books last fall in which he recommends using the Vajra posture for standing until one is past the experience of fatigue before laying down and relaxing into emptiness as a way of going directly to the experience/expression of Dzogchen (non-conceptual enlightenment).  Basically the Vajra posture is the same posture used for this movement in Kathak dance.  It all fits together so well.  And the term Vajra means a weapon of uncuttable substance, like diamond I guess.  I also recently read an article by Meir Shahar about the widespread concept among martial artists in pre-20th Century China of creating a Vajra body.  Here is the title (you can get it for free if you have access to JSTOR):

  • "Diamond Body: The Origins of Invulnerability in the Chinese Martial Arts." In Perfect Bodies: Sports Medicine and Immortality. Edited by Vivienne Lo. London: British Museum, 2012.

So all this is to preface that I met Adam who runs West Gate Kungfu School here in Boulder, Colorado.  We hit it off right away. We both care deeply about the arts and we both see performance skills and having maximum fun as master keys of the martial arts experience.  He invited me to hang out with his performing troupe the other day.  I brought my instruments and accompanied their warm-up routines, which went really well, I also taught some Daoyin which they immediately wanted to teach to the kids classes.  I had a great time and I have deep sense of respect for what Adam is doing.

His students have a lot of talent and enthusiasm and they have some great butterfly kicks too! Butterfly kicks, by the way, use the exact same body coordination as that Vajra flower movement I was just talking about above.  

So I was an argument on Facebook with a Police Officer about whether or not Capoeira is utilitarian in a self-defense context.  He was particularly adamant that flips are useless for fighting.  I eventually got him to agree with me, which was awesome because he is obviously a really smart and experienced guy.  To win the argument I went through some of the stuff you can hear in that Rory Miller talk at the top of this post.  For instance, martial arts training rarely, if ever, kicks in the first time a person is in a violent situation.  It is more likely that it will kick in after 3-5 violent situations.  And when it finally does it can be amazing.  But before that it is all conditioning and that includes what you conditioned as little kid.  From a purely self-defense point of view having a lot of techniques to choose from forces a person into his or her cognitive mind which generally precipitates a whole body freeze.  So one of the most important things martial artists need to train if they care about self-defense is breaking that freeze.  

Conditioned movements should be designed relative to what a person is likely to need.  This is very different for a police officer who may have a duty to get involved, and a citizen caught in a self-defense situation.  Criminals most often (this material comes from Rory Miller) attack children and women from behind, and surprise attacks are also most often from behind.  The practice of doing a back flip involves moving huge amounts of momentum backwards and up.  If the attacker is taller than you are, your head is going to slam into either his chin or his nose, and you will probably both end up on the ground.  The motion of a back flip is actually a really good thing to condition as a response to a surprise attack from behind.  

In general, practices which use large amounts of momentum, practices which condition comfort and ease with flying through space are great for self-defense.  Why?  because of this maxim:  If you are winning try to control the fight, if you are losing add chaos and momentum.  If you get attacked by surprise, you are already losing, so add chaos and momentum.  The practice of spinning around the room while holding on to a partner is also great conditioning, most judo classes train this a lot.  Add butterfly kicks and you are doing even better, practice using those kicks off of walls and tables and you are approaching ninja territory.  


Someone just posted this on Facebook and it is a great example of the same base movement used to organized a routine: