Accepted Paper:

Becoming animal in the Chinese martial arts  


Douglas Farrer (University of Guam)

Paper short abstract:

Based upon performance ethnography in Hong Kong and London “Becoming Animal in the Chinese Martial Arts” advances beyond the limits of animal or natural metaphor, movement, and myth read as symbolic, rehearsed, or mimicked potentialities, to explore the way embodied understandings of nature unleash hidden skills within the bodies of the practitioners.

Paper long abstract:

Southern Preying Mantis is a Chinese martial art whose practitioners embody movements, skills, and abilities formerly derived from the monastic contemplation of insects, animals, mythological creatures, and plant life encompassed within a framework of Daoism, Buddhism, and Five Element theory—earth, wood, fire, water and metal. Under the glare of eagle eyes martial movements range through mouse, plum-blossom, and unicorn steps, dragon, horse, frog and crane stances, tiger, eagle, and bear claws, alongside leopard, phoenix and ginger fists. The favored weapon is a seven-foot staff twisted like a yellow cow's tongue. Practitioners should move like cats. Fluid arms slither and snake, or swing like an elephant's trunk, or wipe like the forelegs of a fly. Each animal and element possesses special attributes, such as heaviness, stickiness, agility, ferocity, tenacity, pinpoint accuracy, or rapidity. Death strikes lash out with lightning speed towards acupuncture points. Although considered spiritual, the Southern Mantis embodiment of nature is predominantly practical, revealing a complex, sophisticated, and intricate understanding of the human animal. Specifically, the style develops the "hidden powers:" sharp eyesight, strong bones, iron fingers, flexible sinews, and extraordinary strength, trained through sweat, blood and breath. Meditation heightens sensitivity to the enemy's movements, feelings and intentions. Such embodied martial knowledge is taught, harnessed, and developed through a series of increasingly complex partnered training procedures. The practitioner's understanding of the human body, mind, and spirit is reconfigured by the application of training methods, skills, and epistemologies derived from the embodied revelation of hidden natural potentials.

Panel P07
'Natura artis magistra': nature is the teacher of artful skill