Monday, November 3, 2008

The emotion of motion

It is interesting the dual perspectives we have on emotions in our world. Show too much anger, fear, or anxiety and you'll likely be criticized, or avoided. Display those same emotions as an actor playing a part and you may be rewarded with accolades, statues, and lucrative contracts. Emotions are neither good nor bad, it's all in how you use them.

Those of us who study a martial art spend a significant amount of our training time perfecting our hyung (forms, kata, patterns). These consist of a series of moves and techniques that often simulate a battle among multiple opponents. To the uninitiated, these can appear as dances, mimes, or full-body sign language.

One purpose in practicing and perfecting hynug is that we train our bodies in offensive and defensive techniques such that we can respond in a real altercation instinctively. We won’t need to think through balancing our bodies, gaining a proper footing, pulling our shoulders back, leaning forward or backward, getting low, or striking with conviction. All of the necessary action that would construct a proper block, strike, kick, or feign is automatic.

Unfortunately, many of our students miss out on an important element of hyung practice; they have all of the right motions, but fail to include emotion. Hyung without emotion is like a song with no melody, a fireplace fire with no warmth, Steven Wright when he's just not funny.

Imagine if you had to run through a closed door to escape a room that was on fire. Assume the door is a normal interior, two ply door which opens outward – away from you. You would build up a head of steam, running as fast as you could, you’d lead with your shoulder and at the last second you would let out a blood curdling scream to add one more once of umph!

Consider your emotions at this point, part fright, part anger, and a healthy does of conviction – you would be determined not to fail. I often use the "room is on fire" example in my classes to evoke emotion in my students. Sometimes, parents are hesitant to let the emotions surface, so I add the element that their child's safety depends on their action. The effect is usually immediate and dramatic.

Good martial artists incorporate emotions into the practice of their hyung. They practice evoking emotions internally in the same way as a professional actor. Martial artists cause their emotions to enhance their motions, and then control them back into calmness and relaxation. Bruce Lee exemplified this in many of his movies – watch as he appears to be calm, loose, and light on his feet. Then as he begins his strike you can see the raw emotion build up and appear on his face as he executes a punch kick, or block. Then quickly the emotion fades.

If you are practicing a martial art and hyung/forms/patterns/kata are part of your training, try to understand the purpose of each move or technique. Then as you practice try to visualize the need to use each attack or defense. Feel it. Let the fear, anger, anxiousness rise up in you and then use it to enhance the attack or defense. Not only will you improve your techniques, you will gain important control over your emotions that can save your life in a real defense situation.

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