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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
Formal dance and its martial application

Hi All,

Please find below two interesting clips of formal dance followed by its martial application. Not at all convinced by the practicality of what is shown, but I found it very interesting nonetheless. I hope you do too!

All the best,



shoshinkanuk's picture

Hi Iain,

What do you find interesting about it?

It's not for me in terms of a functional martial art, but I do accept that as part of it's traditon it is significant - and also culturally there is certainly a movement concerning Okinawan Martial Arts and the connection to Okinawan Dance, how factful and useful that really is is way beyond my understanding, or indeed area of interest.

chrishanson68's picture

Hi Iain,

Well, as a dance form, it's useful, as a fighting art, i don't think so.  But just like kata, if you look closely, the angles of the movement and some of the body mechanics can be utilized in fighting.  It's all about the body mechanics.  This clip reminds me of all the Aikido-ka's I know out there.  Aikido, like dancing, has various body mechanics that are fluid, and the partners are all very co-operative, like dancers.  Nothing wrong with it, so not a negative criticism here, however, again, it's about the body mechanics.  The turns, twists, and lines etc., are all very similar in actual combat, when you need it.

Happy New year!


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

shoshinkanuk wrote:
What do you find interesting about it?

I’m just one of those people who finds all things “martial” to be of interest. Even if it is not something that I’d personally wish to practise, or invest any time on, I still like looking at how other people and systems practise. I think I learn something about my own approach every time I do that. As Miyamoto Musashi said, “One must be aware of all of the arts by becoming familiar with many of them as possible as part of one's complete devotion to one of them”.

This clip reminds me that things are not always what they appear and that there can be “hidden levels” to things. The movements of the dance are aesthetically pleasing, but the movements are not devoid of “function”. This tells me a little about Okinawan culture when it comes to both their formal dances and their martial arts (hidden levels are present and nothing is done for beauty alone). On perhaps a more negative note, it also reminds me that anything works when compliance is total.

As I say, not something I’d want to practise, but an interesting and educational watch nonetheless. Twelve minutes well spent I thought. And I posted in so that others who also find such things interesting could share in it.

All the best,


shoshinkanuk's picture

I see Iain,

I'm of a similar mind, I would really enjoy the Dance if I was over there, but not as part of my martial studies on any serious level.

I have never seen anything in Motobu UndonDi done with strong resistance, granted a lot of it simply cannot be done regarding safety of training partners, but that doesn't make it functional!

michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

Actually Dance and kata are one in the same in many martial culturess. Both are mneominic tools used for retaining and transmitting information and knowledge. Mark Wiley wrote about the relationship between dance and the Filipino fighting arts as did Mark Bishop concerning the use of folk dance in Okinawan combatives to transmit, store and hide techniques. Come to think about it I did also in my book: Kata and the Transmission of Knowledge in Traditional Martial Arts.

The trouble though is when we in the modern world try interpreting traditions that originated in a different period in history and a different culture. While the movements may seem logical to us their symbolic value may have had different meaning at a another time in history. Therefore its pays to be carefull that we don't use one brush to paint everything. Or else we'll end up believing that a dance celebrating beer, that originated in the 14th century, is in our eyes a hidden kata filled with ground grappling/falling/ twrilling techniques. Or, a broom dance was in fact a hidden staff kata. Seriously, I made that misstake once and it proved quite embarrassing.

Still though the relationship is there and it is a strong one.

Mike R

shoshinkanuk's picture

Hi Michael,

I was being specific with the example shown, your points about a relasionship (across many cultures) is of course very true and appropiate in many cases.

rshively's picture

One additional point on martial dance:

When I was in grade school, our music teacher helped organize a number of school plays. In one demonstration she incorporated a filipino "stick" dance. Basically, you have two long poles that are held at the ends by two "players" (not sure of the term) about shoulder's width apart. Anyway, you bang the poles on the ground twice, then slam them together on the third count...1,2-3; 1,2-3; etc. There was some form of music being played at the time that provided the proper beat or rhythm.

A dancer stood on the left-outside with their right foot in the air. Keeping with the rhythm, the upraised foot steps between the poles, changes feet, then steps to the right-outside with the left foot now in the air. The idea was to keep in time with the music and the sticks, thereby avoiding the painful experience of having your foot caught in the middle when the two poles came together. this dance pattern was repeated dozens of times through out the song-music being played.

To a lot of people, this is nothing more than an unusual or quirky method of tribal-village dance. However, to a martial artist, this type of dance teaches a highly evasive method of stepping, since many of the dancers often executed some rather complex foot maneuvers-spins and turns, etc.

Has anyone else either seen or heard of this method of filipino dance before?


Harald's picture

The relation between martial arts and dancing is an interesting one.

In the Asian countries you will recognize lots of famiilarities between folk dance movements.and (formal) fighting movements. Why? Probably because when dancing you have to move in a natural way from one position to another, otherwise it dosen´t look nice. Similar principles apply when you fight a person: if he blocks jodan,he opens chudan...you work harmonically like dancers  (tori and uke) - this is a fighting drill.

But I don´t like the modern kind of sound karate where you move along the line the music dictates.

('Traditional) Karate does not know a rhythm. A fighter could read your attack in advance, otherwise..

But I found some examples of Bavarian dances that show explicit information about application, I recommend it for a warming-up. It is not as subtle as the Japanese example, I´m afraid. If the Bavarians do it, you will notice light contact, after five beers it will become semi-contact, since they are used to drink at least ten pints, you will be good advised to bring some experience in MMA (if you don´t have their shape) when joining the dance. You´ll find mae-geri, mae-tobi-geri, mae-geri, haishu and palm strikes, and nami-ashi from naihanch (tekki), even kiai might be present. Enjoy! ;)




You see, it´s no good, if the guys dance alone (or two with only one girl)

Sebastian B.
Sebastian B.'s picture

Interesting topic! I was just thinking about the fact, that all over the world martial artists used dances to teach their techniques. Look at the Capoeira in south america, the old forms of Kali in Asia and the Katas in Karate. It is often said, that these "dances" were designed because another country conquered the land, and the martial artists would have to hide their training as "dancing courses". But is this true? In my opinion all of these "dances" existed before the homeland of any martial art was conquered. Take the bavarian dance in the link below as an example. Or the european "sword dance". But why did this happened? Maybe the dance as a martial arts training form is as old as humanity.