Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles by Sal Canzonieri

This was my sixth column in Han Wei Wushu, it is about the other side of the martial arts.

Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
(December 1995 issues #19)
Article #6

The Other Side of the Martial Arts

By Salvatore Canzonieri, New Jersey

For many people, the martial arts are not just a means of self-defense but a philosophy (philosophy means "love of knowledge") to live by. The martial arts are a way of life for them. They seek to apply what they learn in the practice of their arts to all facets of their daily life. For this type of martial artist, a balance is sought between the physical and the spiritual aspects of their arts. In this way, they can perhaps get to the real, inner essence of their studies and practices. The martial arts are a means to achieve their full potential as a human being, so as to become a complete person who is in harmony and understanding with the world.

The martial arts can give a person many benefits, such as self defense, physical health, mental health, inner peace, strength and power, patience, focus, among others. But, true mastery for one who seeks to use martial arts from insight and enlightenment involves also the practice and study of not just forms (kata) and fighting (sparring) but other forms of knowledge such as philosophy, science, spirituality, art, literature, poetry, dance, and music. The same dedication, discipline, and coordination of the mind and body needed for practicing the martial arts are also valid for all these types of knowledge. The value of knowledge is that it sharpens oneþs awareness and broadens one's perceptions. One's boundaries are extended as one becomes whom one wants to be.

It is easy for others to view the martial artist as a warrior only, but what of the other aspects of a warrior's life? As David Carradine points out in his book, The Spirit of Shaolin (as he does in his portrayal of Kwai Chang Caine): 'The great warriors were and are all poets, philosophers, musicians, and artists. Alexander the Great, Richard the Lion-Hearted, William the Conqueror, Peter the Great, Charlemagene, Sun Gy, and King Arthur, to name a few, were all artists, musicians, and mystics, as well as conquerors.'

In ancient times, a martial art practitioner had to also show mastery of other arts to prove that he was indeed a true master. In Japan, the Samurai had to be proficient, besides in the ways of the sword and fist, but also in calligraphy, flower arranging, landscaping, gardening, poetry in the form of hai-ku, playing an instrument, and in origami (the art of folding paper into animal shape). In China, martial artists had to also show their proficiency in weaving, calligraphy, sculpting, painting, music and math.

The concept behind using other types of arts and knowledge in training for the martial arts is simple. To master the martial arts, one must be patient and one must understand the idea of process (that is, methodology). Likewise, in performing the process necessary to create a brush stroke, compose a song or poem, or play an instrument, there has to be a settling of the mind in order to perform well. The mind has to learn to focus and become calm and balanced in order to do things correctly without being too self conscious.

An artist blends in with movement, in order to control that movement. The mind and body unite as one when an artist executes a movement unselfconsciously. This blending in with movement is true for all artists to be great, whether martial or not. Thus, a parallel can be seen between the focus or relaxed alertness needed to execute a painting, poem, or song, and that needed to execute flawless martial art movements. Both entail, in order to be effective, the application of Ki or Qi, which can be described as the mental and spiritual power that is summoned through concentration and breathing to accomplish physical feats. The energy thus created differs from the normally ssociated with the muscular system alone because it involves the energy created with the internal mind as well as external processes.

In order to focus, certain centers of the mind have to be maintained, using other art forms and knowledge helps to reinforce the ability to focus. The centers of the mind that allow a martial artists to focus and maintain a relaxed alertness when executing a process are further cultivated, strengthened, and developed. When the martial artist learns to feel at home with this state of mind (to have relaxed alertness) at all times, even higher levels of awareness and effectiveness can be reached, thereby greatly improving one's art.

Thus, a martial artist was an artist in all senses of the word. Playing a musical instrument was especially considered an important way to be well rounded and balanced in approach (In fact, there is even a form of fighting based on using the flute as a means of self defense). Music allows one to create structure out of noise; to make form and substance out of the breath with harmony and melody. The thought was that if one could understand how to create music one could understand how to use the body with harmony as well (especially in the practice of forms and technique). In the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee explains: 'An artist's expression is his soul made apparent, his schooling, as well as his 'cool' being exhibited. Behind every motion, the music of his soul is made visible. Otherwise, his motion is empty and empty motion is like an empty word -- no meaning.'

Being myself a writer, graphic artist, researcher, and musician (guitarist for Electric Frankenstein and The Thing) as well as a student of the martial arts (Shaolin Kung-Fu and other CMA), I was surprised to find that in the three places I attend classes, a good portion of the students were also musicians. In fact, musicians outnumbered any single other profession, which led me to write this article. I wanted to explore the connection music has with the martial arts. So, I interviewed some of todayþs more well known musicians who also study the martial arts and also some instructors to get their views on the subject.

Many famous musicians have been practitioners of the martial arts. Much has been written about Elvis Presley's black belt in Karate, and his later studying of Kenpo under Ed Parker. Elvis did much to introduce Karate to his public. He even insisted on using Karate in almost every film he made. Karate was as much an obsession to him as music was. He is possibly one of the most famous celebrities to have achieved the rank of black belt. Elvis picked his friends by basis of their interest in Karate. He even affixed Ed Parker's Kenpo emblem to his guitars.

Elvis first studied Karate in a limited way in his stint in the US Army, in Germany, receiving a brown belt from an unknown oriental instructor. He received a black belt from Hank Slemanky, a Chito Ryu stylist stationed with him at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. In 1960, he attended a demonstration Parker was giving. Elvis had been originally introduced to a rigid, traditional style, but he liked the more fluid movements of Parker's innovative Kenpo style. Elvis felt that Karate was the answer to his years of inactivity and studied Karate with determination, with various instructors. In 1961, he received lessons from Parker on the set of Blue Hawaii and they did not meet again until 1968, during a Karate tournament. Elvis started officially studying with Parker in late 1969, from then on he trained constantly.

The training he received from Parker greatly influenced Elvis' state performance. In 1969, Elvis combined Karate techniques into his stage act. He mixed Karate moves with the suggestive body rhythms that were already his trademark, making for an innovative stage show of his skills. In his book, Inside Elvis, the late Ed Parker writes about Elvis' application of ki or qi. Said Parker, "Elvis' karate training taught him to master body movements and synchronize them with his thoughts. His mind, breath, and strength were totally synchronized."

At the end of each of his concerts, Elvis would drop into a wide forward bow stance, placing his right arm bove his head with his right arm parallel to the ground, and his left arm positioned in an 'L' pattern at chest level. During the years of 1970 to 1977, he also explored the nonphysical aspects of Karate. By the time of his death, Elvis had almost twenty years of experience in the martial arts.

The late jazz drummer, Buddy Rich, was another well known musician who practiced Karate. Buddy had studied Goju Ryu for over ten years under Sensei Aaron Banks. Buddy took Karate because he needed a release for his aggression. Being a drummer, he needed an outlet for the intensity he constantly felt, on and off stage. In an interview he did in 1979 (World Karate Magazine Spring 1979) Buddy stated that his speed on the drums had actually increased due to Karate training. 'I wanted to take out my hostility somewhere, but not on people. For me, Karate is the answer.' Despite serious back problems and several heart attacks, Buddy continued studying Karate until his death.

Even members of the Bay City Rollers studied Karate (Alan Longmuir and Stuart Wood, and tour manager Jake Dungan), taking lessons from Tak Kubota. They originally took Karate lessons out of boredom and to escape the constant presence of their teenage fans. Their bodyguards all were black belts and convinced them to take up the art. They wanted to be able to take care of themselves off tour, when their bodyguards were not around. But, the Rollers' members studied Karate not only for the self defense aspect, but for the art, since they also enjoyed Japanese poetry and architecture. Karate helped them ignore the music business for a change of pace and relax, while still maintaining their physical health. Karate allowed them to handle a life with lots of nightlife and little sleep. Said Roller Alan, "If youþve got a healthy body, you've got a healthy mind."

Other martial art practitioners (of various styles besides Karate including Kung-Fu, Arnis, and Kick-Boxing) have been Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks, Grace Jones, David Lee Roth, Engelbert Humperdink, country great Randy Travis, Glenn Danzig of the Misfits / Samhain / Danzig band, Lou Reed, Loudan Wainwright III, among many others.


That's it for this issue! Click here to read article #7

Sal Canzonieri -

(c) 1995 / 2007 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri