January 29, 2018 Martial Arts Studies

Captivation, False Connection and Secret Societies in Singapore


Interminable ritual repetition of set movements (taolu) has resulted in Chinese martial arts facing trenchant criticism as being useless in fight sports, mixed martial arts, and actual combat. In Singapore, the neglect of body-callousing or conditioning methods in Chinese martial arts may render them unfit for unarmed combat. This led me to ask whether the entire edifice of set practice in the martial arts is based upon a false connection. Researching Hong Shen Choy Li Fut, a Chinese fighting style notoriously infested with gangsters in the red-light district of Singapore, I was informed that all Chinese martial arts and lion dance associations are triads. Nevertheless, even here I was shown curious dancelike interpretations for martial arts moves taught. Does the endless repetition of sets captivate the performer into a delusional belief that they are becoming a better fighter? Are the audiences of such sets, performed in dramatic rendition, similarly held captive in a false connection?


DOI 10.18573/mas.48


Farrer, D.S. ‘Captivation, False Connection and Secret Societies in Singapore, Martial Arts Studies 5, 36-51.


Douglas Farrer is Visiting Professor of Performance at the University of Plymouth, and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Guam. He has conducted extensive field research in Singapore, Malaysia, and Guam. Dr. Farrer’s research interests include martial arts, sorcery, anthropology of performance, visual anthropology, sociology of religion, social theory and psychoanalysis. His publications include War Magic: Religion, Sorcery, and Performance [2016]; Martial Arts as Embodied Knowledge: Asian Traditions in a Transnational World [2011]; and Shadows of the Prophet: Martial Arts and Sufi Mysticism [2009].

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