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Question for Jaana about Martial Arts


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So, I've figured something out. Between the time that I studied ballet all through childhood and the time that I took it up again as an adult, I trained somewhat seriously for a few years as a martial artist, in Goju Karate. In Karate (for any non-martial artists here), before any movement, there is a head phrase in which you look in the direction of your movement/your attacker. Then you move.


I've realized that I have retained this ingrained head phrase training, and when I go to turn (Piqué, pirouette, anything!) the first thing I automatically do is - the head phrase! It's no wonder I can't spot anymore! It's a miracle I can do any turns at all. They are all happening without spotting. I get yelled at all the time.


Do you do this head phrase in your sword training, and if so, how do you separate the 2 sets of training and re-train for spotting? Can you give me any tips or exercises to re-train my brain? It's been at least 15 years since the martial arts training, but it's 25 since my earlier ballet training, and that head phrase is now built-in. I realize that if I don't turn my head first, I actually have fear! To turn, you actually have to go without seeing first where you're going to go! I can't believe I did this so easily as a child!


Any tips from anyone would be greatly appreciated. :wink:

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I'm having trouble understanding what you mean by "head phrase"!...


Could you elaborate?




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If I understand you correctly, I know the concept but you don't really do that with any of the martial arts styles I've trained other than in special cases. But now that you brought it up, I did realize I think of spotting as "keeping my eyes on the target", which is a very familiar concept from other... forms of art. :) And I do spot not so much by staring at a spot but by a general relaxed look at the direction, more suitable for spotting movement to any direction than to reading small print, if you see what I mean; a way to look at an opponent in a duel. I find it keeps me more relaxed, and for me, the most trouble with spotting tends to come from tensing up my shoulders -- which is not a martial arts related thing, I think.


(I don't currently take swords lessons; too much other stuff going on and in the end, having to pick between the two, dance got preference.)


Thank you for asking! I know there's others who have done different martial arts here, maybe they can contribute more.

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The head phrase is a head movement which precedes the movement of the body. For example, in a kata, which is a pre-determined choreographed fight with an imaginary opponent (a dance, if you will), for each move, the head turns first on count 1, for example, then the shoulders and body would turn in that same direction on count 2. You would never move the body first, as that would leave you more vulnerable to the attacker.


A more specific example would be (in dance language), say you were in a deep 4th lunge facing croisé with arms in first and you had to become ecarté to the other corner. In karate, you would turn your head to look in that direction, and only then lift the front leg and turn the body to that side next.


So, I have to undo this tendency in order to re-learn how to spot, which I think I did okay as a child...

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I know what you mean about the head phrase. In the service they taught us just enough martial arts to keep us from getting killed in an alley fight, and Jaana is right about addressing the objective in swordplay. It's really just a matter of slipping the head phrase back one cog on the wheel. Body move, head move, wax on, wax off.... :D (The Miyagi-do School of Ballet)

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The way to train your head is, just as with martial arts, to have specific places where you DO look. That makes you look directional, as opposed to lost in space.


In our training, we always look to the front of the room ("with both ears showing in the mirror") unless otherwise specified. Again, that is used to "anchor" the mind/body in the room. Some ballet training involves looking in other directions, such as where you're going or facing. Either way, the head is in a specific direction.


In the specific example, you could train with your head facing the front of the room in the croise and ecarte positions, and moving your body "under" your head. That is the basis of epaulement. But in choreography, other things could happen --- like exactly what you described.

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After some thought, I think there is a head-phrase on a pirouette. After all, if I have not completely misunderstood the mechanics of spotting (which is very likely!) the movement goes, look to the spot, body starts turn, quickly turn head round ahead. I guess in a sense the first "taking of the spot" (to where you first leave your head slightly and then quickly turn it back to) is a head phrase... It happens to be in the same direction where you are very likely looking anyway, but that should not change the fact that a pirouette still starts with knowing where you are spotting? (And in fact any movement in ballet begins with knowing where you are going and looking the right way, no?)

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Jaana, that was what I thought too.


I think the difference may be that in ballet, you don't ALWAYS look where you're going. It's like if you're crossing the street, you look toward on-coming traffic, which is to your side.


In spotting a pirouette, it's common to spot to the front of the room but land on a diagonal in croise. But in spotting chaine turns, it's more universal to look in the direction you're going.

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I've done some martial arts work as well, and for me the difference lies simply in knowing what I'm looking at and why. It probably helps that I have a vivid imagination. I didn't learn the head phrasing for kata without really visualizing an opponent there. In my mind, I was always reacting to something that was there to which I needed to attend, just as with spotting, I am reacting to the need to turn and keep my balance. I suspect if you go into an exercise clear about where you are going to spot and why it is you are looking there, you'll be fine.

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