More Thoughts on Martial Arts as Dance

Here is the latest promo for my upcoming San Francisco Bay Area workshops Circus Daoyin and Dance as Self-Defense:  

Check it out my new and improved descriptions!  


Because we are social animals, we tend to mistake the social activity of fighting with the self-defense mode of embodying our inner predator.  The moment we are in “fight” mode, we are holding back.  That's because we evolved to use a communicative type of violence for humans within our tribe for establishing social dominance and submission.  It is different from the type of violence we would use for teaching outsiders to fear our tribe, and different again from the clarity of hunting.  

If we list the dangerous places we might encounter young men and women challenging each other for dominance and engaging in the social activity of fighting--the drunken dance-party is near the top of the list.  The dance party is found on every continent, in an astounding variety of forms.  Why does alcohol so often go with dance?  Because they both are about letting go of social and physical inhibitions.  

Since the invention of alcohol, dance parties have likely been an ideal place for evil predators to scout their targets.  

If we think about it this way, it isn't surprising that martial skills would be embedded in dance styles.  

But there are many other reasons.  

Social inhibition often creates a reluctance to dance.  It is also quite common that a person dares to dance but does it in a stiff and inhibited way.  I suspect that in many cases, dances are designed to increase the social stress so that the leap one has to make to get through inhibition is larger.  It separates the men from the boys (no gender bias intended).  To actually get good at dancing, means spending a whole lot of time in this uninhibited state.  

What in the world of self-defense is like this?  For one, there is the "go button" that each of us needs to practice pushing if we are to have any hope of being able to muster martial skills in the instant that we need them.  Pushing through the social terror of asking someone to dance is not the same as neutralizing a violent threat, but there IS a "button" there that has to get pushed.

But even better, think about the difference between what it feels like to be stuck in a social fight, a monkey dance, two goats butting heads.  And think about what it feels like to just execute a martial arts principle without inhibition.  The feeling of dropping the monkey dance, dropping the "fight," is very similar to the feeling of dropping the inhibition to dance.  I think they are similar because they are both social inhibitions made of the same "stuff," hormonally speaking.  

Anyway, this works for me.  And it seems to be working for my students.  If I find myself in goat butting-heads mode, I just start dancing.  If I notice my students are getting into "fight" mode, I just say "Dance, come on, let's dance! Let go, let it go.  Don't believe me, just dance!"  The increase in martial power, balance, and spatial awareness is instantaneous. 

To dance is really to let go of oneself.  

Sadly one of the problems I have had teaching this is that some people have had dance training that isn't about letting go.  It is about control.  This is especially true of fake styles that teach "steps."  Dance does not use steps.  Sorry, that is a mistake.  Dance is about whole body momentum.  Rhythmic patters, defiantly. Spatial patterns, for sure.  (This is hard to explain if you don't already have this experience, so please come to my workshops).  

I hate to sound pedantic, but more people need to learn how to put their foot down.   

Here is another point that I think a lot of people miss.  You may be better at violence than I am because you have extraordinary experience in street gangs or military hand to hand combat, or your are just huge, or whatever, but, if I can kick your butt, I can do it with the waltz.  Yes, I have martial arts training, but I use principles of movement, and those are just as accessible in dance as they are in martial arts--often more accessible.        

People often choose dance vs martial arts for identity reasons.  I guess I never felt that limitation, but I should put it up front that I consider enlightenment the goal of both traditions.  Studying these arts one should expect to experience some challenges to one's identity, because that is where the energy for break-throughs lives.

Stop fighting and start dancing.