Captivation, False Connection and Secret Societies in Singapore

Abstract

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?

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DOI 10.18573/mas.48

Citation

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

Contributor

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].

Taolu

Abstract

The practice of taolu (tao4lu4, tào lù, 套路), the prearranged movement patterns of the Chinese martial arts, has been explained in fantastically diverse ways spanning a range of interpretations from the essential and functional to the narrative, theatrical and religious. Rather than trying to find a universal reason for the practice of taolu, this paper proposes to look at the idea of prearranged movement patterns through the lens of credibility and decipherability. These twin concepts, borrowed from the Great Reform movement in 20th century theatre practice, helpfully embrace both the criteria by which the performance of taolu is usually judged and also the deficiencies in our contemporary understanding of reasons behind this palimpsestic training method. As conceptual tools, credibility and decipherability also offer us insight into how the practice of prearranged martial movement patterns is presented and interpreted as a personal and phenomenological experience of embodied practice. This paper hopes to pragmatically present new perspectives from which the practice of taolu can be understood.

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DOI 10.18573/j.2017.10094

Citation

Mroz, Daniel. 2017. ‘Taolu: Credibility and Decipherability in the Practice of Chinese Martial Arts’, Martial Arts Studies 3, 38-50.

Contributor

Daniel Mroz is a theatre director, university professor and student of the martial arts. His recent performances have been presented at the Canada Dance Festival and the Évènement Zones Théâtrales. The Dancing Word, his book on how to use the Chinese martial arts in the practice of contemporary theatre, is published by Brills. He studies martial arts with Chen Zhonghua and studied acting and directing with Richard Fowler. He holds a Doctorat en études et pratiques des arts from the Université du Québec à Montréal. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Ottawa
where he teaches acting and directing.

Efficacy and Entertainment in Martial Arts Studies

Abstract

Martial anthropology offers a nomadological approach to Martial Arts Studies featuring Southern Praying Mantis, Hung Sing Choy Li Fut, Yapese stick dance, Chin Woo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and seni silat to address the infinity loop model in the anthropology of performance/performance studies which binds together efficacy and entertainment, ritual and theatre, social and aesthetic drama, concealment and revelation. The infinity loop model assumes a positive feedback loop where efficacy flows into entertainment and vice versa. The problem addressed here is what occurs when efficacy and entertainment collide? Misframing, captivation, occulturation, and false connections are related as they emerged in anthropological fieldwork settings from research into martial arts conducted since 2001, where confounded variables may result in new beliefs in the restoration of behaviour.

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10.18573/J.2015.10017

Citation

Farrer, D.S. 2015. ‘Efficacy and Entertainment in Martial Arts Studies: Anthropological Perspectives’, Martial Arts Studies 1, 46-59

Contributor

Dr. Douglas Farrer is Head of Anthropology at the University of Guam. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Guam. D. S. Farrer’s research interests include martial arts, the anthropology of performance, visual anthropology, the anthropology of the ocean, digital anthropology, and the sociology of religion. He authored Shadows of the Prophet: Martial Arts and Sufi Mysticism, and co-edited Martial Arts as Embodied Knowledge: Asian Traditions in a Transnational World. Recently Dr. Farrer compiled ‘War Magic and Warrior Religion: Cross-Cultural Investigations’ for Social Analysis. On Guam he is researching Brazilian jiu-jitsu, scuba diving, and Micronesian anthropology.

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