And The Rhythm Of Life is a powerful beat,
Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet,
Rhythm in your bedroom,
Rhythm in the street,
Yes, the Rhythm Of Life is a powerful beat.
So sung Sammy Davis Junior in ‘Sweet Charity’ back in 1969, and what a clever sausage he was. That there is a song that still sends a shiver down my spine when I hear it, one of those bits of music that seems to actually vibrate right through you, as if the sound-waves themselves had some special resonance, making your whole body sing with them.
I’ve had that feeling before, when I was 16 and studying Aikido. One of the senior UK instructors visited our dojo for a class and he asked me up on to the mat to demonstrate a technique. Up I went, lobbed a clumsy strike his way and woosh! Before I knew it, before I’d even finished my attack, I was lifted in to the air and dumped on the floor, all the wind knocked out of me.
I’ve often thought about that moment in times of reflection. I’ve never quite felt that sense of powerlessness, the knowledge that all of my strength, my control, even my will, was taken away from me and I had nothing left to call my own to stop what was happening. When I describe it to people, I often tell them it was like being plucked up by a tornado. I assume.
Harmony was what did it – harmony and rhythm. Just like a song that touches your soul, the right response at the right time can resonate perfectly with the movements of your opponent and woosh! They get dumped by a tornado. When it happens to you – and I’ve only been lucky enough to be on the right side of it several times now in training, and never for real – it feels like magic. Like an ethereal force has picked entered your body and channelled itself through you, transcending your own strength.
It’s so strange to experience throwing around large, powerful men with no effort at all that I can well understand why the Chinese invented the concept of Qi; how to them, the only logical answer was that there really was an ethereal force channelling and crackling through their fingertips.
The only real magic here though is the magic of science. It’s the same magic that makes your skin come up in goose-bumps when you hear your favourite song; it’s the magic of rhythm, resonance and timing that makes best of us seem superhuman.
Old Sammy had it right. And his style of music, Jazz, came closer to real martial arts than any other genre. Jazz isn’t a fixed score of music, to be repeated again and again by musicians through the ages, fixed, on runners, dead. Jazz fizzes with life, is electric and unpredictable. It bounces off people, things, instruments; it has moods, it’s unpredictable, but under it all it still has structure – a structure born of scales, laws and timing that are built up in unpredictable ways; living only for that moment, never to be repeated, shaped by and shaping their environment.
A fight between two people who can’t, is like a one-man-band being dropped from a third story window (come on we’ve all been tempted, haven’t we?). A cacophony of noise with no pace, no timing, no harmony.
A rehearsed form practiced between two martial artists is like a timeless piece of classical music; on runners, never changing, reliant on everyone doing exactly as expected at exactly the right time in a highly structured way, to make something beautiful but in a way that breaks down the second someone does something unpredicted by the score.
A fight with a good martial artist is like Jazz. You bounce off what your opponent gives you, you break down the structure, build it back up again, fill the spaces, control the pace – but always, always, with solid underlying layers and structure.
That’s jazz, baby.