Sunday, March 15, 2009

Karate: Dances with no one?

He looks to his right, and with an intense focus pivots on his left foot and kicks with the heel of his right. He pulls his foot back quickly as if to avoid having it trapped, but leaves his right hand out. He seems to grab something, when suddenly, he pivots and strikes his open right palm with his left elbow.

If you're new to the martial arts, you may have questions about - what appear to be - karate dances. These are choreographed movements which may or may not follow a discernible pattern, which appear to be part fight and part display of prowess. Rest assured, practitioners take these dances very seriously.

To begin with, they're not dances - and I wouldn't start snickering around the Red Belts about their funny pas marche, pirouette, or saute (front stance, turn, or jump). You may find yourself on the blunt end of a silly pirouette - which usually involves the heel of a foot and a jaw bone. (For an example, see any reference to Chuck Norris)

Without raising either foot off the floor he pivots his entire body to the left; his left open palm sliding above he head as if to stop an overhead attack. His right open hand slices to the left reaching outward to strike the neck of approaching assailant.

These dances are called forms, kata, hyung, or any number of other words depending on the martial arts style and language of origin. In the Korean Martial Art of TangSoo Do, we use the term Hyung. A hyung is a series of martial art techniques performed in a prescribed sequence that when practiced repeatedly help to form a union of mind and body. Hyung literally train the body through repetition to move instinctively; to maintain balance, to maximize thrust, power, and precision.

There is a close association between practitioners who excel at hynug and those who can fight well. This might seem counter-intuitive; you might think that any time spent not sparring would diminish a person's ability to fight. Hyung practice provides the mind with combinations of moves that prove to be valuable when defending oneself. These moves require agility, flexibility, balance, timing, endurance, and patience. All of these come with hyung practice.

Still blocking the overhead attack, still holding the attacker at bay with a sudo chop to the neck, the artist steps toward the opponent and drives a right foot front snap kick through the chest, immediately jumping even closer to the now-victim, blocking away any last vestiges of aggression.

In any training environment you will find a finite number of partners with whom to spar. Eventually, you will learn their strengths, their weaknesses, habits, and favorite techniques. You will learn to defend yourself against those individuals. Hyung practice prepares you for all assailants; because you tend to perfect all of the moves of all of the hyung. This turns out to be a great physical and mental workout as well.

To the casual observer, the novice, the uninitiated, these hyung seem arbitrary; containing random movements - almost a pantomime of action from some spy flick. To the practitioner, a well-executed hyung is a work of art, beauty in motion, skill and expertise of the highest order. The masters of hyung meld the prescribed physical movements with total emotional control. Managed anger, passivity, calmness, and neutrality are evidenced throughout the routine. In a real altercation, the honing of visceral permutations can be the difference between success and failure, winning and loosing, life and death.

If you are a practitioner, then practice. Practice your hyung, kata, or forms everyday - these are the life blood of your training; this is the process by which you will exceed your expectations and become truly proficient. If you are an observer, watch the transitions between the moves, are the techniques clear and precise, does she look before she moves, is her balance clear and stable, do emotions ebb and flow as needed, is the breathing controlled throughout, is it graceful?

Hyung practice yields a union of mind and body so that the body can react when needed with grace, fluidity, balance, power, precision, and speed. Below is a video of a hyung known as Pyong Sa Dan (partially described above):

1 comment:

  1. I feel the same way about kata. I believe that from kata emerge the skills for kumite. When I watch people fight, I can see the kata within.

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