Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Way of the Dragon

Quod Natura fecit, Ars perficit.

When I started practicing Kung Fu, I had been driven for years by a serious and profound interest for Asia. I was awe-stricken by the way the Chinese and the Japanese people had been able, thousands of years ago, to incorporate martial arts into the tiniest aspects of their life. Including art. Even the smallest and apparently most meaningless daily actions were perfection in motion; each single activity was accompanied by an inner grace which was the quintessence of discipline, aesthetics, practicality, and economy of movement.   

For me, Kung Fu had become a necessary completion to my cultural approach to Asia. Practicing it, my models started assuming a more definite shape; I began admiring more and more the Eastern physical dynamism over the heavy Western body; mass systems were quickly substituted, in my vision of life and art, by kinetic systems based on revolving energy. 
Bruce Lee was for me the ideal model who successfully blended together the Eastern and Western physical, mental, psychological, and philosophical dimensions.  

I soon discovered, though, that there was potentially something more to it. I started pondering about the possibility of combining Kung Fu to my dearest artistic passions, acting and writing. What would the result be? "Certainly, not a bad one", I resolved!
So, I gradually let it work its way into my activities and, on a broader sphere, into every single detail of my life. Of course, this doesn't mean I write or make pizza while keeping my leg raised in a side-kick stance! Well, sometimes I do... But my point is, could I ever succeed in fusing it into my acting, my writing, my life, turning a physical stance or movement into a mental and psychic attitude? 

What good would it do to art anyway, you might ask. 
Let me tell you:
the essence of Kung Fu (and of all martial arts) is based on centering our body weight on what is named Dan-Dian. This is a spot about 2.8 inches below the navel; the same kind of balance is sought in singing, acting, dancing (especially Tango), Yoga, and whatnot. 
I personally believe that complete actors will be able to make use of their whole body when the context requires or allows them to; Kung Fu made me more body-conscious than I once was.
Breathing in Kung Fu is very important: it all happens in the belly; it's another way to connect to our center, the Dan-Dian. Singers are taught to breathe exactly in the same way when singing. The same rule applies to actors when talking. Teachers too, or their vocal chords at least, would be better off if they did so when teaching. 
Not to mention the respect for life and nature that Kung Fu naturally instills into the sensible practitioner. 

And so, since then, I've been trying to make Kung Fu into an invisible mechanism that moves me, unseen, from inside, adding a grain of grace, charm, power, elegance, and the ability to better express my personality in any way that I choose. 

Have you ever practiced a martial art? 
Is there an activity which is not directly related to your acting, writing, painting, or playing, but which you think might bring great benefits to it?


  1. After dabbling for a long time, I got serious about yoga and made it a habit a couple years ago.

    The focus it brought me... and yes, I agree, it's the centering that does it. I thought I knew stillness, before yoga. I didn't.

    The focus has been a great help to my writing. Creativity can take up so much of your brainpower that every bit of clarity you can bring makes a difference.

    The awareness of not only my own motions, but others'... adds to the realism when it pours out on the page.

    If that makes any sense.

    Great post!

  2. Everybody's Kung Fu dancing! :D LOL!
    Okay, seriously now, I took Karate classes when I lived in DC. Unfortunately for me, I dropped out before the course was over. I realized it was not my cup of tea. All that screaming and yelling was not appealing at all. Not to mention all the bruises I had in my body :( However, I do understand what you mean by inner power, grace, and eventually peace, and above all, discipline. So I took yoga, a more subtle form of Eastern discipline. I love it. This is more me. Yoga calms my overactive mind without affecting my creativity.

  3. I used to box. I got very good at beating peoples fists with my face. I learned not to get in fights.

    All kidding aside, almost any activity has a type of meditation involved. Swimming worked best for me.

  4. Very interesting and informative post! No, I haven't practiced any martial art formally, though I have dabbled in Tai Chi in the past.

    Dancing and baking brings so much to my creative work. I can't explain it. It makes me more balanced and efficient. And happy!

  5. I've practiced Tai Chi, though not as a martial art. It's great for centering, grounding. Fascinating to hear your thoughts on acting in connection with the Kung Fu; and I could see something of the same process going on in a YouTube video of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann warming up for a concert. The physical and the mental are of course inseparable. I want badly to get back to Tai Chi, for my writing as well. "Relax, breathe, and feel the earth," my teacher would always say. Advice for life!

  6. I've never practiced a martial art, but juggling is a discipline that incorporates related skills. I think juggling has given me a unique perspective in writing and music.

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  7. I completely agree! I took Tae Kwon Do for 4 years. More than self-defense, it taught me self discipline, mental and physical balance and perseverance. All of these are valuable life lessons I still use today

  8. My activity is more mundane than kung fu. The early morning 45 length swim allows my mind to freefall, allowing ideas to gell or come out from nowhere. Long walks in the country have a similar effect. Lifting a pint of beer from table to mouth also has its own peculiar kind of poetry

  9. I'm still laughing at the picture-mind you painted while you were making pizza! TOO FUNNY.

    Great post. I know without a doubt my years of hard core ballet training shaped who I am... It's given me great discipline & an awareness of my body <---Of which I've used in my writing. Love the bit about the "smallest and meaningless daily actions were perfection in motion" So cool.

  10. I think if you do an activity that enhances all your senses in a focused spiritual way all the better - so good for you! I think for me taking a long long long walk somewhere natural and isolated is enough for me! Take care

  11. Oh, most definitely!

    Martial arts helps add to the fighting scene in writing. Life's experience--such emotions--help define your psyche while acting as well as writing. Also in illustrating! Don't forget everything we encounter throughout our lives no matter how mundane, parenting for example--tee hee!


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  12. Blankenship,
    You're right. Practices like Yoga gives you a more objective and deeper insight of yourself and others!

    Didn't you know that Kung Fu and Karate are sworn enemies? I'm kidding, of course.
    Well, I probably would have dropped out of that course too. Screaming and yelling are not my cup of Oolong Green Tea. But sometimes you need it to learn how to release energy through the mouth. Bruce Lee would never scream or yell anyway. Hi famous wa-ta's were just a cinematographic artifice.

    I think you and Woody Allen overestimated your abilities. The "Dragon That Messes Up His Face" blow requires years and years of mastering, and only a few adepts can perform it correctly. I'm one of them.

    Tai Chi is not a martial art. It's THE martial art!
    Baking is just as good.
    Anything is, as long as it gives us psycho-physical balance.

  13. Birdie,
    Juggling is difficult indeed! I can only juggle with three balls! Even there, a correct breathing and a correct body balance do half the job!

    I would never mess with a woman doing Tae Kwon Do!
    Levity aside, I agree: discipline and perseverance are two qualities I've also learned throughout these years.

    I also enjoy one length swim and 45 pints of beer sometimes!

    I was wondering if someone had actually noticed the joke! One had. Thank you!
    I knew you'd mention ballet! That's great, and so difficult!
    Thank you for stopping by, reading, and commenting!

    Long walks are great. There's not a single draw-back about long walks (except when it starts pouring and you've left your linen outside, hanging on the thread)!

    You're so right!
    Martial arts are, all in all, but a metaphor for life itself and its countless struggles. But I'd rather challenge Jet Li than parenting!

    1. Another problem with a long, long walk is remembering halfway through that you've left a pot of beans cooking on a too-high burner...

    2. That happened to me too. Damn beans! Hopping out of the pot when you least expect it!

  14. Knowledge of martial arts is extremely beneficial to a writer when writing believable fight scenes.

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  15. And for an actor to become body-conscious! And for people in general to be in a better psycho-physical relationship with themselves and the world!
    Thank you for stopping by, Melissa!