Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ballet and Martial Arts


I have been involved in Ballet training for almost 2 years now and have now come to a surprising realization of how similar it is to serious Martial Arts training on many levels. Perhaps because the desired use of the body (and mind) while within the possibilities of what is possible to do, requires constant training to progress or to just to simply maintain.

In martial arts training I have felt it. When trained up a special type of acuity becomes woven into you. Your body/mind is different and the manifestation of the training shows itself in surprising ways. Miss a few days training, or train for a few days 'without intent' and the ability is gone. You don't know that its gone until you realize that some things that used to happen spontaneously just don't seem to happen anymore. It just slipped away from you. Ballet dancers have a saying about training 'miss a day or 2 and you know it', 'miss more than than that and the audience knows it'.
I believe that this is because we train up specialized abilities, but 'everyday life' conspires to take it all away. As Sun Si-Quan, the author of the book pictured above mentioned within: 'Martial Artist s are different from other people. The way that we stand, walk and move is different'.

One thing special about Ballet training is the emphasis on training 'at the Barre'. These are the basic exercises that train up the special things that make Ballet what it is. These are the things that have the body do the things that are not done in normal life. In true martial arts (as opposed to pretend martial arts that don't train up any 'special' abilities) there is an emphasis on 'basic' or 'foundation' training. These are the special things that make Martial Arts what it is. There is a martial arts saying about basic training: 'If you just practice forms (kicking, punching routines and sparring) and don't practice the foundation, even if you practice into old age, you'll end up with nothing'. This is because without it you'll just be kicking and punching 'like a regular person'. Fast and accurate perhaps, but without that 'extra something' that only the specialized art can get you.

The Ballet Barre is the dancers 'foundation'. The training that yields the special flavor.

I'm of the impression that foundation training is often overlooked because it doesn't seem like the activity that one originally set out to do. Training at the Ballet Barre doesn't look like 'dancing'. As far as Martial Arts goes, I went through a period of 'floundering'. It was rather frustrating spending years of training and knowing that I was not really progressing. After about 8 years of this I finally stumbled on a teacher that had 'the secrets'. Progress was fast after that. A year of training was more than the entire decade that preceded it. The 'secret' was an emphasis on foundation training. His particular foundation consisted of standing still for an hour, every day at the beginning of class. Breathing, nothing but natural breathing. Standing around, not moving for an hour seems as far from doing 'Martial Art' as it's possible to do, but paradoxically my skill levels jumped up to the next level after investing in that practice. It was the beginning of being able to do things that 'regular people' can't do. As I mentioned earlier, skip a few days practice though and it's lost (!).

In Ballet as in Martial Arts, every moment spent training the 'foundation' must be with intent, start to finish. In mechanical terms, the mind is being trained to perform. What one does in training is what one will do when the heat is on. Habitually doing sloppy endings or 'not doing it for real' is how one will internalize the practice.

In more serious pursuits improper training can have deadly results. There is a famous incident in the annals of Law Enforcement which is known as 'The Newhall Massacre'. In this incident a group of law enforcement officers lost their lives in a shootout against armed fugitives. One fact that came out in the post event investigation was the finding of empty shell casings in the pockets of at least one of the slain officers. The presence of the casings was interpreted as the result of the repeated habit of emptying the revolver's spent cylinder casings and placing them in the pocket so as not to have to pick them up later. It was surmised that this ingrained habit learned from constant rehearsal at the shooting range became the way that they performed the task of shooting when under pressure. Further, the time taken to perform this action, rather than just dumping the spent casings straight to the ground may have cost them their lives !

Training is serious time. It is the time that we use to make ourselves what we want to be. Ballet and Martial Arts. :-)

1 comment:

Cameron Schwanz said...

A problem in America has manifested in a way that causes many people to look outward in search of greatness as opposed to making the effort to make things better where you are from. That is to say that perhaps we either under value our own artistic institutions or over value those of older civilizations. Just another version of the grass is greener mentality. This is one way I can describe my life long love of Asian martial arts, yet while pursuing Ballet as my method or path to enlightenment.
You are right to point out the similarities between Ballet and martial arts fore, is ballet not a "martial" art? I should point out that I have had great formal education as a ballet dancer from a couple fantastic institutions, most notably the National Ballet School of Canada. The most profound aspect of the education I received was that which I gained from our history of art and ballet classes.
It was in these classes where I was awakened to certain interesting realities, which coupled with a love of history and further education dealing with European history 1500-1800's, I've noticed some interesting things. One thing, the first ballets were horse ballets. This effected the quality of dance movement when these long theaters were transformed into spaces for the use of opera, orchestra, ballet etc.
Consider the time before and during Louis the XIV's reign (popular French king known for his dancing ability) it was common for men to carry a short sword. Jete is a term derived directly from the martial art of fencing, so to are the positions in the ways you stand. As we became more industrialized, I believe that made it easier for most people to forget the animal inside. Thanks guns!

I kind of ran out of steam in that last paragraph, and those laste statements I should have phrased better, but I hope this is found to be slightly insightful or interesting.