The Littlest White Belt Is Still a Ballet Dancer at Heart

In kobudo, I have begun learning bo (staff) kata. Shihan randomly had one of the senpai teach me the second bo kata last week; I’m trying to hold onto that sequence in my head just ’cause I don’t want to forget it, but today one of the sensei mercifully retreated a step and taught me the much less complicated first kata.

But they both begin with the same preparatory movement, and this is where my ballet training reasserts itself with a vengeance. It’s a bit complicated to describe, but there’s a point at which the bo is held vertically in front of your right shoulder, with your right hand gripping it low and your left hand gripping it high, over your head. You lower the left hand in an arc, sweeping it outward rather than down the front of your body; then, when you begin the kata, you sweep it back up the same path to grasp the bo again, before moving into the first strike.

To all the ballet dancers who just said, “Oh, you mean like a port de bras” — EXACTLY.

Guess whose arm immediately defaults to a gentle curve, whose hand turns to make an elegant line? If you pointed at me, give yourself a gold star! It’s like when I try to say something in French, and my accent is so Spanish it would give your average Parisian a coronary. I’ve hunted down and trained out a lot of my ballet habits over the last two years — in shizentai-dachi, I no longer rotate my foot outward into fourth position before stepping through; I’m learning not to tuck my butt under in shiko-dachi — but wow, do I still go first to ballet assumptions when doing something new. It isn’t even a simple matter of reminding myself before I begin the motion; if I don’t keep my attention on my hand every inch of the way, it goes straight back to what it knows best.

(I’m kind of afraid of the expression on Shihan’s face if he ever catches me doing that. I suspect it will be some flavor of baffled amusement, and I will want to sink through the floor out of embarrassment.)

Ah well. I’ve only been doing bo kata for two classes; I can’t expect to lose the habit that fast. But I’ve opened up my own private betting pool for how long it will take.

0 Responses to “The Littlest White Belt Is Still a Ballet Dancer at Heart”

  1. la_marquise_de_

    Several of the top Hong Kong female martial arts stars of the 80s and 90s started with ballet, and you can see it in them, too, particularly in back kicks. It looks beautiful and it always makes me smile.

  2. mrissa

    I have talked, off and on, about the benefits of giving a kid a movement vocabulary to work from, whether it’s dance or martial arts or what. I have found it immensely useful as an adult to have reference points, things to which I can compare and say, “Ah yes, it’s like in ballet but modified so.” And I have also found it useful that when I just want to move, I have very natural starting points for doing that.

    This sounds to me like a tiny bit of a down side to that movement vocabulary.

    • Marie Brennan

      A tiny one; you’re right in general that having that vocabulary is dead useful. Especially since it means I pick up kata very quickly — the sequence, at least, though getting my form right takes a lot longer.

  3. lady_jade_01

    about 6 weeks. ish.

  4. kizmet_42

    I love watching kata. When I have to explain it to people, I call it dancing with weapons. Your referrals to dance vocabulary are spot on.

    • Marie Brennan

      The problem is, it’s a totally different kind of dance! Like trying to do classical ballet when you’ve been trained in ballroom.

  5. elizaeffect

    Oh my GOD I know exactly what you’re talking about. The kenpo I learned as a teen and the kenpo I take now have minor stylistic differences, and no matter how many times I consciously do things the new way, the instant I’m not thinking about it I snap back to the old way. Muscle memory: Real and impossible to get rid of.

  6. icedrake

    I’m curious as to whether people have the same experience when going in the opposite direction: Going into dance (ballet or otherwise) with a childhood martial arts background.

  7. swords_and_pens

    I have a similar issue with anything involving a sword or a staff: long sword, side sword, quarter staff, irish cudgel — a lot reverts back to rapier technique and stance unless I am extremely conscious of it. It’s the pattern and set your muscles and skeleton know — it’s only natural for them to flow into it until you explain to them (repeatedly) that, no, it’s this other way now with this new thing.

    However, in the long run, your form will likely be much better due to your constant attention and self-evaluation. 🙂

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