Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Movement and meaning

I saw a newspaper notice the other day about a class in Authentic Movement. Initially, of course, my natural skepticism crept in, wondering what the heck "authentic" movement was and whether or not some movement was not authentic. So I looked it up.  Practitioners, or enthusiasts, suggest that "movement becomes 'authentic' when the individual is able to allow their intuitive impulses to freely express themselves without intellectual directive" (Wikipedia). I think the last time I really saw something like this was at a rock festival in the 60s. There were groups of people that appeared to have taken something and seemed to move without conscious thought up front by the side of the stage. It looked to me at the time as though it was some sort of physical equivalent of speaking in tongues at a large, outdoor Pentecostal gathering. Now I'm not judging either the Authentic Movement folks or the Pentecostals, but it did get me thinking about people's attraction to movement without meaning.

The last move in Sanseiru always
seems to mystify, but only because
it's so often disconnected from
what precedes it. 
I've seen many karate schools, kung fu schools, and even T'ai Chi classes that practice katas or forms without spending any time trying to figure out how to apply these movements or even questioning whether there were any applications for the movements they spent so much time on. One famous Tae Kwon Do teacher I remember once reprimanded a senior student for trying to use a technique from one of the forms in a pre-arranged sparring drill. He was told that forms were for working on balance, speed, power, and coordination--they were not for fighting. I've seen the same things in kung fu and karate schools. And in most T'ai Chi classes I've seen, the students are quite content to do some warm up exercises (maybe some esoteric looking Chi Gung) and spend the rest of the time going slowly through the solo form. (As a side note: I find it immensely entertaining when a teacher makes very slight, even apparently minuscule, adjustments to a student's kata or form when they don't study or apply the techniques, when they don't do bunkai. Are the "corrections" merely aesthetic?)

For some people, the similarity of
this posture to statues of Shakyamuni
showing the vitarka mudra with one
hand and the varada mudra with
the other hand is meaning enough.

Perhaps we need to move as human beings, as living creatures. God knows, a lot of people are fairly sedentary. Perhaps we need to move in such a way that we can imagine our movements have meaning, an authenticity that we can only imagine. Who knows, there might be something to this "authentic movement" movement. When we don't know what the movement means--trusting only in our imaginations--it somehow imparts a higher meaning to our movements, perhaps even to our lives. If we gave it meaning, if we somehow explained what the movements were used for, we would somehow be trivializing the experience, making it banal and pedestrian. If we don't explain it, we retain the more mystical, the more spiritual experience. The
movement takes on a sensual or inner quality instead of an intellectual one. Maybe it's something like the whirling dervishes in Sufism, only we might be dancing for Guan Yu, the martial diety of ancient China.

Of course, I'm just guessing, but perhaps that's why there are not only so many martial arts schools that only practice forms and kata as movement without meaning, but also maybe why there is such disagreement within styles about the interpretation and analysis of the katas themselves; that is, if we say that kata can be interpreted and applied any way one desires, that there is an intentional ambiguity in kata movement, it's almost the same as saying it has no inherent meaning. And that's pretty much the same as "authentic movement"--movement that allows "intuitive impulses to freely express themselves without intellectual directive." Though I'm not sure how much more mindless movement we need in the world today. Seems to me there's probably way too much of that going on as it is.


  1. I suppose if one is interested in 'the dance' as expression naturally channeled into movement, then the question of bunkai/function would fall more into the architect' realm (form and function ideally merged).

    As for thought processes inhibiting movement, isn't that one of the justifications for martial arts schools drilling until exhaustion?

  2. There are many styles that only practice bunkai and they seem to be able to stay on track. Maybe the problem is in the transmition method?