An irrational fear of dance


One thing I notice is that the majority of “martial artists” seem to have an irrational fear of the dance or entertainment roots of their arts. While we all like to believe that Kung fu originated in the Shaolin temple under the austere eye and strict tutelage of a high-ranking Zen monk, I think we all know that most of these stories are bunk now.

In fact, it seems that most Kung Fu masters were earning a living as street performers. It’s not as glamourous, is it? If you search back in the lineage of Wing Chun, for example, you soon end up at an Opera company – these were traveling entertainers. In Europe we’d call them a circus. A lot of other Kung Fu styles can trace their origins back to particular rituals and festivals where a martial group put on a demonstration. You still see these sorts of things today with Lion dances at festivals. They are always run by a Kung Fu school.


And even today, what do most martial arts groups do to attract new students? They put on a stunning demonstration, usually involving breaking something, again another form of entertainment. The martial arts lend themselves to ‘putting on a show’ so very, very easily.


And don’t forget, these days the most popular martial arts is MMA, which is, after all, a sport done for entertaining large crowds in an arena, in a way that’s very similar to the Roman Gladiator experience.


How different is this really to the Roman amphitheater?


But let’s turn it around and look at Europe’s past, not its present. I’m thinking about that killer martial art known as Ballet 🙂


Our aristocracy’s preferred movement art form came out of its martial art of choice – fencing. The aristocracy was obsessed with fencing, especially to settle disputes. (Is it any wonder our leaders lead us into World War I when this was their preferred method of conflict resolution for centuries?)

But anyway, Ballet, with it’s turned out legs, has clear origins in fencing. As this video shows you:


The connection between movement arts like dance and martial arts is deep, and shouldn’t be dismissed because dance is seen as a more feminine expression these days. In 14th century France, Ballet was a very manly occupation.

Remember, Bruce Lee was a dance champion in Hong Kong 🙂 And don’t forget David Branch, a middleweight and light heavyweight champion of the world, swore by ballet classes.

“The first day I went, it was harder than any workout I’ve ever done,” Branch told “I feel it in my balance. I feel it in my overall physical strength. I feel it everywhere. Just in my posture and I feel like when I get into scrambles in a fight or anything fighting wise that involves entanglement and striking, I feel so strong. It’s natural strength, you know?”

Just ask Kate Winslet – she knows:


4 thoughts on “An irrational fear of dance

  1. Mike I think you do a very good job of exemplifying exactly the point I was trying to make in the article, about a fear of being associated with something not martial. N.B. At no point did I say that dance or performance was the only origin of the martial arts.


  2. Mr. Mikesigman,
    I’m very much with you, that it would be a too narrow picture to link martial arts only to different forms of performance.

    Martial techniques surely were and still are a vital part of military as well as civilian combat, self defense and so forth. However, martial arts in their full spectrum as they are practiced today are a multidimensional phenomenon with links to different institutions and (historic) practices. So I think the author’s point, that there is also a strong historic link between martal arts and performance art has definetly it’s value. You can look at different cultures in different parts of the world at different times and you will always see an exchange between martial arts, popular games, and performance art at some point. Martial arts always played an integral role in rituals either as folk games (with spectators) or as dance like practice, e.g. sword dances. Taekwondo for example is a recent example for the interchanging relationship between these aforementioned paradigms and practices.


  3. Pingback: What is the Tai Chi form for? | The Tai Chi Notebook

  4. If you went to China at any time, there were of course some “street martial-artists”, but they had little to do with the village martial-arts and specialized martial-arts. Anyone who has read the histories of martial-arts for the past centuries knows of the various specialized martial-arts, the famous teachers, and most of all about the various “books” and the famous gazetteers recording past martial-arts. The idea that martial-arts went through a dance-filter is ludicrous and reflects a misunderstanding by a very *few* westerners with no understanding of the actual history. Many of the famous martial-artists of past centuries were body-guards and caravan guards. Take a look at Marnix Wells’ book about Zhang Nai Zhou and see if you can spot any mention of traditional dance. I think you may have exploded your credibility for something that sounded cool, as told to you by some westerner. 😉

    BTW, you might want to look up the history of Lion Dances, etc …. there’s more to the story.


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