The Connection Between Dancing & Fighting.

Have you seen any movies where some small detail just isn’t right?

For instance, imagine a movie about the Wild West, but somebody has a Rolex on. Timewise, that would be strange, right? Often moviemakers make these small slips, and that’s called an anachronism. A chronological misplacing of persons, events,  or objects.

Actually, many people claim to have seen a car drive by in the background during a scene in The Lord of The Rings! Oops!

Anyway, now that you know what an anachronism is, ponder this:

Because of the drastic change in the world around us since our birth (the birth of mankind, that is), we humans are living anachronisms.

Our world has changed rapidly in the past 150 years. Human physiology, in contrast, took millions of years to create, and has not changed much in 150’000 years. This means that your body – even if it’s in superb condition – is designed for success in the past.

Your body is an antique biological machine, that evolved in response to a world that no longer exists.

Isn’t this a quite scary thought?

Although we live in a world where computer processing speed doubles roughly every second year, human information processing has not changed substantially over the past 150’000 years.

Our physiology is clearly behind the times.

I mean, if we continue with the computer terms, a typical human brain has a processing speed of about 4 hertz. People who know brains better than me calculated that. In comparison, modern desktop computers have CPU’s that clock speeds of over 3 gigahertz.

In other words, they are roughly 750’000’000 times faster than we are.

So, clearly, we are living anachronisms.

And some of the stuff we do are because of that.

For instance, dancing.

I like dance.

You like dance.

We all like dance, because it is a physiological phenomenon which has been practised since before the birth of the earliest human civilizations. This means that dancing triggers our lizard brain very easily.

Just like combat does.

Like  Karate does.

And interestingly enough, dance and combat have even been intertwined for a long time:

You see, one of the earliest structured uses of dances may have been in the performance and in the telling of stories, and events. Of course dancing was also sometimes used to show feelings for the opposite gender, but let’s focus on the storytelling.

(Since we all know that body language stands for 90% of communication, it’s not surprising that using the body to convey a message was the earliest way we used).

Now, what was the most important event every day, before we became civilized with our iPods, iPhones and iPads?


Gathering food, to survive yet another day.

If we, as cavemen, had killed a giant mammoth, we celebrated it by dancing at the spot, growling and running around. We then later danced around the fire, when we ate our newly killed dinner together with friends and family, celebrating that we’ll survive at least this week. And later we again danced, when we reenacted the hunt in front of our children, teaching them how to kill (= get food = survive).

This last part, handing down combat proven ways and methods of killing, was the precursor for kata.

At least that’s what some researchers think.

Sounds good to me.

So, where am I heading with this?

Well, take a look at these pictures I found stored on my computer:

The above photos were taken in Okinawa, and thruthfully some of these traditional dances are just like Karate kata done in slow motion. (I’m sorry I didn’t get the best moves on camera).

But they’re not called Karate, they’re called odori.

One dance even begins just like the kata Kanku/Kushanku/Kwanku/Kosokun! You sometimes see a little bit of Gojushiho here, Chinto there…

Anyway, there’s an interesting story on this:

One day the founder of Goju-ryu, Chojun Miyagi, heard about a man named Machaa Buntoku, who had been to China a long time, learning “secret” techniques. Obviously Miyagi was interested, so he visited him together with a couple of his disciples (Jinan Shinzato and Seiko Higa).

Miyagi sensei approached Machaa Buntoku and asked him to show them his best kata that he had learned in China.

Sure enough, Machaa Buntoku put on Hachimaki (Japanese style headband) and started. But he didn’t show a normal kata. Instead, he performed a weird dance in front of them. Miyagi and his disciples were confused.

But Machaa Buntoku just danced and danced.

Seeing his strange dance, they thought this old man must be crazy because of his old age. After watching patiently for a while, Jinan Shinzato (who was yet young at that time) finally lost his temper and suddenly shouted “Okay. Enough dancing! Show me your fighting skills! I will be your opponent!” Shinzato then delivered a karate blow at the old man, but was immediately thrown down by the dancing old man and hurt his back.

In other words, he lost face.

Of course, everyone “suddenly felt awkward” about it, so they bowed to the old man and hurried home.

On the way home no one spoke.

So, it seems the dancing old man did infact show them his best kata! Because they had never expected that his dancing technique was his best fighting technique.

So, I think dancing and fighting has always been, and are probably always going to be, intertwined.

That’s how we work.

And if you don’t believe me, check out these two pictures, which are a little bit more “modern” than that Okinawan dance:

(Click to enlarge)

This a Thai Boxing instructor from our dojo.

Does this look like dancing or what?!

It’s like some kind of a bloody, messy, beautiful, dangerous ballet.

It’s wonderful.

And here, another scenario, but look at the feet.

This time it’s not really ballet though, more like some kind of folk dance. Maybe even Riverdance!



We are so freakin’ anachronistic!


  • Diego Romero
    wait, you ate the fire as you danced around it?
    • U damn right! Who doesn't eat fire?! :S
  • My brain does not operate at 4Hz. It is well beyond the current technological state-of-the-art, thank you very much! For lots more about the relationship between dance and martial arts, be sure to check out:
  • Tibz
    I actually just came back from a course with Barry Wilkinson, 7th dan from WadoKai England. At some point when practising Kata, he said something like that too. Kata is like music, with a rhythm, tempo, etc. When practising kata, the only thing, according to him, that differs with dance, is the mind. The state of mind, the thoughts, basically, Kime. A few years ago, I went to another course with my Sensei (though it was Aïkido). It was in a complex with several rooms, one of which was used by classical dancers. My sensei being quite social, at the end of the course, he went to the dancers room and talked with the teacher. One thing leading to another, he performed Seishan (Hangetsu). The dance teacher could find similarities and said Kata looked like dancing too... After all, Karate people think Kata looks like a dance, but dancers also think Karate does. I find it quite interesting how two arts at first looking totally different (one is martial the other aesthetic) actually have much more in common than what we could think!
  • Igor
    Our sensei gave us some time to relax yesterday, and this kid started doing some dance, it was in fact a folklore dance, I think from Serbia (or Bosnia and Herzegovina, from where I am), and the hoping was almost the same as in modern box... And also, we all know that Bruce Lee was a tango (if I'm not wrong) champion, and Masaki Hatsumi is also a big fan of it... And off course there are also capoera and some filipino martial arts who translated their footwork through the dancing...
    • in 1958 he become the Hong Kong Cha Cha Cha Champion ;) Cheers!
  • I have studied various martial arts and various dance styles. I have to say that I constantly see similarities going both ways. I sometimes think that martial arts could learn a lot from dance classes such as Modern Jive: - senior students ask beginners to dance - learn 5 or 6 moves in a lesson then mix it up. Go out together and mix up each others moves. (sparring etc.) - maybe kata could be practised now and then with the ipod playing music (just a suggestion) - dancing really helps strengthen and encourage moving around with your partner (tai-sabaki) - the more you practise the more flowing and rythmic you become and flow from move to move without thinking (mushin?) I thought Bruce Lee was a Hong Kong Cha Cha champion of some sort? Patrick Swayze was also well known for martial arts and dance (Roadhouse and Dirty Dancing).
  • Dan
    the human brain, neurologically, is far faster than today's (2010's) supercomputers, estimated to be in the petaflop range. It's only human conscious thought that's slow, something computers can't do at all currently.
  • Sebastian Sanders
    i remember Patrick Swayze with Jennifer Grey on Dirty Dancing movie;`'
  • dendrias
    An example of dancing and fighting:
  • Michel Hua
    One aspect you didn't mention is how dancing and fighting are similar in the way of developing a relationship with your partner. It involves instinct, rythm, emotion, different distance... Sensing what your partner has to propose and reacting to them in a close environment. For example, if you study tango you will find a rich set of techniques similar to kihon in karate. Learning how to dance also improves your capacity to analyse your partner reaction (which women tend to do better than men in general).
  • To much intellect do karate schools actually prepare people for a real fight don't think so.If you punched the average karate practioner in the mouth he or she is done,there is no face conditioning!
  • Nicole
    I have been a ballet dancer all of my life ( I’m now knocking on 40). I have decided to take Karate classes with my 4 year old son, and I am amazed at how easily my muscle memory is adapting! I would never have expected it. I was terrified that I would be completely useless at martial arts as a ballerina, but the science of movement remains the same-despite very different application!
  • Fer
    Here i am learning a dance coreography that i like and boy.. my propioception is making huge leaps ?

Leave a comment