Fight Rhythm

I suppose we run an unusual class. Hearing that we teach fencing, and sticking your head in the door to see what a class looks like, it’s not going to be what you expect.

The first thing you might notice is the music. It varies, but it’s always playing, and always something with a rhythm and swing to it. Music is important to martial arts training. It helps with motivation. When the effort gets to be a real grind and exhaustion sets in, you tend to become aware of the music. It relaxes you. Taking a few seconds to just bounce around or sway to the music is big energy boost. It can occasionally make it a little tricky to hear instruction, though…If I’m teaching something complex I might turn it down for the explanation and demo. Most of the class is drilling, so mostly I only need to shout an instruction or two and it all sorts itself out.

Music gives everyone in class a common reference beat. Students will either move with or around the rhythm…either way they move around a structure that their partners know. It shortcuts a lot of the problems that can show up in a class, that seem to rise up around everyone starting out with a preferred tempo. Some people want to move a bit slow, others a bit fast, and when frustrated there is a tendency to think of the other person as being too aggressive or not involved enough. Locking in a set tempo smooths that issue out nicely.

Music is the invisible partner in our classes. It’s the silent coach that encourages you when you flag, or gets you back in touch with your body in the middle of a complex technique, letting you find an intuitive way to improve your own body mechanics. I tend to choose music that is out of most people’s comfort zone…not the kind of stuff they would listen to at home. It might annoy at first, but as soon as the workout starts, you stop listening. It sinks into the backbrain pretty quickly and is eventually noticed mostly by it’s absence.

It definitely flavours how the students fight. We spar every class, and do slow work as often as possible. The music does lead students towards more athletic interpretations and efforts. It also encourages experimentation and playfulness, with some pretty impressively effective results.

Songza is a good resource. It’s nice to have someone else DJ the music, and offers up some interesting choices…like “Baile Funk” which I recommend. And I neither confirm nor deny that spontaneous b-boy battles break out in class. It’s just a rumour. The best music is always the kind you make yourself. As an instructor, the best way you can control the pace of sparring and slow work is grab a doumbek and establish your own tempo, changing it to control the efforts of class. It’s never a bad idea to invite some musicians to come and practice during your class, if they are the kind of musicians that work with dancers…Flamenco or Belly performers are awesome. They are used to pacing and reacting to what they see, and can develop a fast partnership with the class that’s good for everyone.

2 Comments

  1. My teacher was a musician and always used music in class, varying from trance-y calm stuff to salsa/middle eastern type tracks, to thumping dance music. It took me a while to realize that he would change to certain tracks for very specific reasons … usually to change the ‘mood’ you were playing in.
    He like beats that were slow enough to be able to break into halves, thirds etc, and used familiar songs to accentuate attacks and final hits etc.
    Hugely valuable, and like you say, slotting nicely behind the conscious mind to help everything in front 🙂

  2. I’ve always loved the images of the old german martial arts schools from the 1500’s and later, where you can see musicians playing in the background. …and the occasional salacious activity in the galleries…

    Persian zurkaneh, the schools of wrestling, always include a place for drummers. If I recall, the wrestling master or select coaches beat the drum to maintain the pace in the class.

    I knew I was doing the right thing with music when I started up a drill after explaining a technique, and a student plaintively asked “Can we have the music back?” …I’d paused it to talk.

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