Martial Arts as Performance Art
Jhoon Rhee's "Might for Right" to Exodus
- Video Credit -- bab1978 - YouTube
Might for Right in Tampa Florida, 2006
A Performance I Witnessed in Person - 1990
Artistic Movement in Martial Arts
In the 1980s, the Korean martial arts schools (dojangs) with which I first trained performed dozens of public demonstration events yearly to promote the art of a particular style of Taekwondo and elements of other styles that were specialties of the schools. These demonstrations were performed in parades and in churches, Boy Scout gatherings, clubs, shopping malls, camp gatherings, cultural festivals, and many other venues. For decades, a local Memorial Day Weekend Asian Festival presents dance and martial arts demonstrations – including musical and creative categories - in stiff competition with the popular science fiction convention of the same weekend.
Even the sci-fi gathering features such elements as an art gallery/shop(s) and sci-fi folk music (filk), making some attendees at either event wish to be in both places at once in order not to miss anything. Cultures contain art as a unifying and expressive element as important as language and martial arts include this element as well as the futurist realm and any society on Earth.
The dojangs I mention above participated in a huge annual city arts festival in a metro area of at least 1,000,000 people every year for several years. This was a special celebration for me, because early in elementary school, one of my art projects – a poster of a lion’s head and shoulders - was featured at the very first annual event. As a member of martial arts classes, I was able to perform form patterns, called kata in the Japanese, outdoors in a plaza by a large river at this arts festival.
The Action of the Moonflower
Musical and Creative Forms at An International Tournment
Pictures on a Mountainside
Much later in my martial arts career, I discovered that each one of the basic eight forms we learned would form a picture on the side of a mountain, given enough students were involved and a geometric figure were formed with them at the start of the pattern. For instance, several students standing in a circle with their backs to the center of the circle at the beginning of our 5th form that represents the concept of wind produces a breathtaking result. As the synchronized form progresses, the circle becomes the Korean moonflower opening at night and closing again during the daylight hours (see video to the right).
Placing a child that knows another particular pattern in the center of the circle at the start of the demonstration of the 5th pattern produces a bee flying into and out of the blossom.
All this art is only in addition to the inherent art of the martial arts that I have learned and am still learning. These arts were designed to span an entire lifetime as an important part of culture as well as defense and a method of maintaining increased physical fitness and health. Learning never stops and art never stops.
The five martial arts that I have learned and practice are all forms of art as well as of self defense. They would not be as effective in defense if the techniques themselves were separated from the artistic power -- the practiced artistic expression increases the flow of energy and power throughout the discipline – e.g., the economy of movement, the concentration of power and thought, and the flow make these martial arts a beautiful cultural element as well as a set of defensive methods.
In this college sports town, it was decided that “karate” is not an art and so my the first schools that trained me were eliminated from the yearly arts festival, but not form the Asian Festival. Many other schools locally and from distant places joined the festival and dozens are featured today from all over Asia, including India and Pakistan, SE Asia, China, S. Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and all Asian places.
Literal 100s of martial arts federations and associations exist across the globe – probably 1000s. Many of these sponsor tournaments yearly or more often and a special category of competition sometimes included is the Musical Form Pattern or Creative Form Pattern. Sometimes these include weaponry as well as self-written patterns and/or musical accompaniment. These competitions often include a large demonstration event for the edification of the audience as well.
One summer in Washington DC at the Jhoon Rhee Tournament, I witnessed over 50 Tai Chi practitioners on the raised platform in the middle of the arena space, performing a pattern to music. Although they were from different schools and different cities, they all knew this form. I felt the waves of the ocean as I viewed them and will never forget this event. Then, a Hawaiian group performed in the dark with lighted weapons - another unforgettable presentation.
At another of these yearly tournaments, I met a young boy that introduced himself as Grandmaster Rhee’s grandson. He was a delightful boy and his whole family seemed graceful and health-conscious.
Jhoon Rhee brought Taekwondo to the United States in 1956. Judo came to us first from Japanese individuals that arrived in America and worked on the railroads and elswhere in the 1840s, but likely even before that. Judo was likely the first martial art from overseas that came to America after the US was founded; there may already have been Chinese arts practitioners in our country a few centuries previously and the Native Americans have had their own arts as well. However, GM Rhee brought us Taekwondo. In the early 1970s, he released the now-collectible film When Taekwondo Strikes (yes, of course I have a copy) about the fight against Japanese occupation of Korea – and it included women martial artists.
Jhoon Rhee invented the Martial Ballet or what we call musical form patterns and he has, in the past, advocated for including it in the Olympic Games. Only sparring is so far included, but tournaments worldwide include his musical event. One of the best offerings in this category I have seen is his Might for Right musical form set to the music of Exodus, which I first say in the early 1990s. Aside from this form, the best to me has been one performed to Spanish guitar by a large dojang from Mexico City, wearing high quality cream colored uniforms with traditional brown shoulder embroidery and beautiful traditional Mexican sombreros. Again, breathtaking.
80th Birthday 2010
Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee
GM Jhoon Rhee has trained US senators and representatives at no charge for over 4 decades and has included Russian demo teams in his presentations before the fall of the USSR. His classes have been taken into the inner city in Washington DC to help youth become healthier and more successful in school. His hope for improving life for all, including his use of exercise, music, and creativity, is an example for us all. And it is an art that spans the globe (see below).
Grandmaster Emmanual Ikpeme
On September 1, 2009 I am most pleased and honored to recognize and promote Grandmaster Emmanuel Ikpeme to 9th Dan in Jidokwan Taekwondo through The New International Jidokwan Federation. We also recognize the achievements of his martial arts and sporting associates in Nigeria, Western Africa, and across the continent as well as other regions of the Earth. GM Ikpeme's advocacy for global Human Rights is also well known.
GM Ikpeme has been a consistent fountain of creative results and tireless, effective promotion of Taekwondo and all martial arts and sports through Nigeria Taekwondo Foundation75.
GM Ikpeme has made myriad connections around the globe for these disciplines and their tournaments, celebrations, traditions, and accomplishments, especially on the behalf of youth, student, and women, but for victorious Taekwondo, Boxing, and Wrestling Olympians, and really for all humanity.
There is no finer spokesman for the arts and no finer organizations than his and those others I have encountered through GM Ikpeme's efforts. I stand amazed at the total effort that keeps growing and living into the future for our next generations.
All of you there with Grandmaster Emmanuel Ikpeme, 9th Dan in Nigeria and surrounding countries and others he has touched be blessed of God and the Universe and never stop what you are doing.
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