Chinese Dongxiao

Chinese Dongxiao

I bought this Chinese flute, a dongxiao, on a recent vacation.  The particular form seems to be relatively rare in Chinese instruments these days, but it’s nearly identical to a Japanese shakuhachi.  Not only does it sound beautiful, but it’s made from the root end of bamboo, so the inside is very thick and solid.  It’s about the length of a typical kali stick.

I started playing the clarinet as a kid, and did it passionately for years.  When I began seriously practicing martial arts, I thought of it as a substitute for music.  To me, martial arts were like physical music.

Music, martial arts, and dance have the same underlying roots: rhythm, movement, timing, the manipulation of volume or intensity, expression, and hopefully, exploration, improvisation, and creativity.  Music uses all of the above with sound, dance with physical manifestations, and martial arts with physical manifestations against an opponent.  Played with others, music requires coordination, adaptation, and flexibility relative to others.  So do dance and martial arts.

On the surface, the execution of functional martial arts may not look much like music or dance.  Exchanges don’t have a consistent rhythm, because practitioners are attempting to stop the music of their opponent with music of their own.  So you generally end up with a quick clash or clashes that don’t appear to be musical or dance like.

To be successful in martial arts or self defense, a practitioner must start their own dance of destruction either before their opponent begins, or around and into their opponent’s dance, adapting as necessary, possibly changing the beat or switching to another scale, but staying on the same improvised line.

BAM!!!  It may be over in a single beat.  ba – BOP.  A beat and a half.  CRASH – puuuullllll – ELBOW.  It needs to be timed with your opponent’s motion.

The trick is to get ahead of your opponent’s dance/music, and control it.  It’s challenging.  It’s a bit like trying to play an instrument with another person attempting to beat you with their own instrument.  From the outside, it likely won’t sound pretty.  But for the practitioner who can dance through his opponent, there is very little difference between music, dance, and martial arts.

Because the roots are the same, practicing any one of them can help you with the others.  Ultimately, they are different windows on the same landscape.

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