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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Review Wing Chun Kung Fu: The Wooden Dummy. Rawcliffe.

Of books that are on the wooden dummy, this is 'up there', with Randy Williams' work. That means if you are interested in the 4th form of Wing Chun, you should own this book.

This book talks about the authors acquisition of knowledge about the dummy, his source of knowledge and examples of sketches and notes he made from his interaction with Ip Chun, (Yip Man's son). Insights gleaned for instance relate to the meaning of some moves, such as the upward slapping hands - tok sau - movement that separates the sections. The book reveals this could have been just a re-calibration move to make sure the arms are in place, before the next section.

What is more important, however, is the books delivery of the form. It achieves this well by it's attention to detail in the written comments. The sections are broken down and verbally explained well. I am focusing on the words - not the pictures alone - which are detailed and in colour, as well. The written description tells you where your force should be going and which direction. This is really vital and pictures alone could not deliver this information. No YouTube video can deliver that, either.

The book uses bullet points well to zero-in on core ideas and mistakes and this draws the readers attention well to the essentials. 2 novel aspects in this book, (which Rawcliffe also uses in his other book on Wing Chun), is to have 2 sections written by a physician, offering physiological insights into what the moves mean for the body, and how the body adapts itself. And, there is a section on learning and how drilling works - using the types of learning styles, (kinesthetic, visual, auditory etc.). This is novel - relative to other books - but again Rawcliffe does this too, in his other book, as he gets a teacher involved to write that section - good.

Problems with a book are the constraints of publishing - space. The pictures and the descriptions are not always on the same page and you will have to flip over, to co-ordinate them. Also the Chinese terms may not be the same terms you know / use for the shapes you have at your club / school, (remember to translate is interpretive). Yo umay have to put your own mental translation in. Finally, if there was space for foot-patterns then this book would be the best book ! Because Wing Chun is a positional art, in that you need optimal angles to maximize forces and achieve the claims this art makes for it's effectiveness. To do this, then, you need to know you are stood in the right space, the right angle etc.etc. Foot patterns would help here.

Finally, now in an internet age, the 116 moves are no longer a secret. You can use this book in conjunction with online video too, to see moving interpretations of this form. Some practitioners are hard, some are softer in their use of energy on the dummy - even within the same lineage. In fact, that is one area that needs to be noted. Interpretation. The dummy form has been interpreted and modified in Wing Chun_s < Plural intended. A comparison of these interpretations would be very useful.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Arts in Martial Arts II : Performance.

One extra aspect worth mentioning about the 'arts' in the Martial Arts, is the issue of performance. This does have an aesthetic aspect, that means, what you look like will be judged by an 'appreciative community'. That is there is a value or 'beauty' that is given to your moves, that others assess. This could be a brutal effective aesthetic, it does not have to be flowery and pretty and dainty - that is no the point. My point is that there is a social basis to judgment.

If you look at youtube posts, watch how comments ... and stars are given to judge the performances of people doing their moves. The formal arts have this too. There is a culture of critique and judgment of fine art or performance based art - such as ballet. Sports have this aspect of performance in too, this is where demarcation of sports / arts blurs. Look at ice-skating for this. But even talk about football games are judged for their quality of performance and 'entertainment' values enter into this, as well.

Modern 'combatives' is a genre of martial arts that is not exempt from this if we focus on performance and its social basis. It is by default judged on criteria by 'experts' and this is no different from other 'arts' (both broad an narrow meanings given to that).

So what ~?

This is useful in knowing why we do what we do, when 'doing martial arts'. Where is motivation and what powers it. There is a performance aspect to this that feeds into our behavior, if you like it or not. We use it to judge ourselves and our identity - how we see ourselves. But is also a resource, involved in how others see us. And this affects our status, too. We are motivated to improve our performances in training.

I am arguing that in conjunction to functionality there is also performance, too in here, that some may want to deny but it is in here. Don't confuse aesthetic and performance with kata and finesse. See performance as valued activity that is judged subjectively by others. The boundaries of the performance is policed by a community too. Go watch on forums how opinion forms to verify if this or that move is effective / valued ; or if this or that performer is doing it right. This social activity could easily be confused to these 'X' Factor type programs. Ok - one is entertainment driven and the other is self-defence but the root is performance. It is social in its basis. You meet the criteria of positive feedback from these appreciative communities and that buzz and self-worth increases just the same whatever domain you are in.