Mixing Styles of Kungfu

I'm headed out to teach in Chicago and then Traverse City for 10 days, if anyone wants to try and meet me, send an email.


This post is just a quick follow up on the previous post: Performative.

There has long been an injunction against studying more than one martial arts style at a time.  The common explanation is that styles will conflict and the student will end up with a mixed style that doesn't represent either style well.  Let me put aside the problem that the student might be just a dabbler, of course if you want to learn real gongfu (kungfu) you have to dedicated hours everyday.  This discussion is for and about serious students of the arts.

In the dance world, students dedicate every day to dance.  But in the dance world the problem is exactly the opposite of the martial arts world.  People who learn many dance styles are versatile and adaptive.  The people who have exclusively studied one style tend to find it harder to dance in other styles.  The most notorious example is classically trained ballet dancers who find it hard to do african dance, they end up looking stiff.  And on the other end there are dancers who do everything with too much flow.  I'm not a fan of the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance," by the way, because they make this claim that the dancers are doing a wide variety of dances, but in reality I see ballet and some "poppie" hip-hop moves in almost every dance.  It should be called, "So You Think You Know What Dance is Because You Watch It On TV?"

Anyway back to martial arts.  The reason some serious students end up blending their arts together is because they think of the different arts in terms of how each art generates power.  So in practice they end up using one style's ideas about how to generate power in the techniques of another style.  

This problem does not come up if the teacher uses the concept of Performative Arts that I outlined in the previous post.  A given art is performed a specific way.  The same way a dance has a specific quality and character.  Each martial art has a performance standard, that is what you are learning.  Using martial arts to learn power generation is a mistake.  That should be an after thought.  

Rory Miller claims to be able to improve most people's power generation in a two day workshop whether they have ten years of experience or ten days.  It simply isn't very difficult to develop power.

I would also argue that the unique types of power any particular style has are entirely accessible through the performative aspects of the art.  

In the end what have you got?  Gravity, structure, unity of mass, and momentum.  No matter how tricky you get, it is always going to come back to these four.


Animal Flavor

Back when I was in my early twenties and training all the time with George Xu he would go on theme jags for months at a time. At one point, everything we did had to have "Animal Flavor."

I know what you're thinking, and yes, this is when I decided that I was going to give up being a vegetarian. If all my movement had to have animal flavor, than so did my diet.  But I had three rationales, the first two were nutritional; 1) My joints were too flimsy for the type of training I was doing, George told me that something about eating meat thickens the joints, 2) I was prone to sinus infections, 3) I decided that the arguments for no meat were mostly local, and that most people in the world wanted more meat, not less--I wasn't going to convince very many people to join me--since meat tastes so good.

But when George used the expression Animal Flavor he wasn't talking about eating. He was talking about dynamic twisting and wrapping usually to one side or the other. During this period everything we did was twisted up to one side, ready to pounce, strike, or evade. We also watched videos of wild animals and of various martial arts masters to analyze their movements for Animal Flavor. Usually animal flavor was off center with one eye a little more open then the other.

Animal flavor is a great example of an aspect of martial arts which is equally useful for performance and fighting. Animal flavor makes movement much more interesting to watch, it's bold, disheveled, and tonic! For fighting, Animal flavor brings out a kind of 'do what needs to be done' mentality, it makes you appear more dangerous, and more serious. From a power point of view, it allows you to pull your 'bow' back a little further.

Here are some videos of Liuhe Xinyi (the style I do), performed at a high level with animal flavor:

Having a Ball Performing Martial Arts

I couldn't help but comment on this little tiff.  Chris started it over here on Martial Development.  I think it relates to Chiron's comments on commitment.

Basically they are excited about a guy who chopped his arm during a martial arts ritual.  I've been blogging about this stuff all year.  Here are a few back posts:

The Real History of Martial Arts and Trance

The Origins of the Boxer Uprising

More Spirit

What David Mamet Understands

Basically it's all performance, even if sometime in the future it might be the thing that saves your life.  But even if it does save your life you won't know for sure that some other factor didn't intervene.  Perhaps your attacker slipped, or better yet he had a flashback to a Flintstones Episode he saw when he was nine and forgot to keep killing you.

Here is a real video!  One that demonstrates why the greatest performers are also the greatest predators! (Watch the whole thing, it keeps getting better.)