Thesis on Music of the Martial Arts

“Music of the Martial Arts: Rhythm, Movement, and Meaning in a Chinese Canadian Kung Fu Club.” 2014. PhD Dissertation, York University.


To download a PDF of my dissertation, please visit York University’s open-access repository, York Space.



This dissertation is an investigation of the percussion used to accompany Chinese martial arts and lion dancing at Toronto, Canada’s Hong Luck Kung Fu Club. It is based on six years of participant-observation and performance ethnography there, as well as a nine-month period of comparative fieldwork in Hong Kong. The diasporic environment presented questions of identity, and the research also engaged with the emerging field of martial arts studies. The discussion’s primary lines of inquiry are the use of percussion-accompanied lion dance and kung fu in the construction of identity for performers and audiences in a multicultural context; embodied knowledge in the movement and music that undergirds a Chinese, martial way of being-in-the-world; and the experience of learning, performing, and observing these practices. This study draws on phenomenology, semiotics, practice theory, and cognitive semantics, which have been tempered by discipleship at Hong Luck. The primary argument of this dissertation is that, despite the challenges of diaspora, Hong Luck’s transmission process uses intense physical training to engrain a distinctly Chinese, martial habitus onto practitioners; this set of dispositions is the prerequisite for becoming a drummer and is sonically—and physically—manifested in percussion-accompanied kung fu and lion dancing with important implications for the identity of performers and patrons. The main thesis is augmented by an argument for experiencing combat skills through music. With over fifty years of history, the ideals of self-strengthening, resistance to domination, and respect for Chinese culture that are embodied in Hong Luck’s practices have had a lasting impact on not only the local Chinatown community, but also the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.



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