Presentation: Bruce Lee’s Broken Rhythm and Music

I’m excited to be presenting on Bruce Lee and a musical hearing of hand combat at the Martial Arts Studies Conference in Cardiff!

Wednesday July 11th, 2018 at 14:00
Bute Building
Cardiff University

It’s All About That Rhythm: Timing in Bruce Lee’s Writings as Inspiration for a Musical Hearing of Hand Combat

Timing is how we know when to do something in order to achieve our aim and it is essential to all manner of human endeavour. In his posthumous international bestseller Tao of Jeet Kune Do (1975), Bruce Lee discussed timing as a quality of martial arts. Not surprisingly, his choice of vocabulary was eclectic, drawing from music, fencing, chess, and the military. Lee’s concept of broken rhythm has probably had the most impact on martial artists, but the idea of timing remains poorly expressed in hand combat discourse. That is not to say that martial artists have poor timing, but rather that most martial artists are not very good at explaining how exactly they time their actions. This paper takes up the question of timing in two ways. First, I re-interpret Bruce Lee’s ideas about the rhythm of combat using music theory, which provides precise, self-consistent vocabulary for the task. Second, I explore the meanings that a musical hearing of hand combat reveals at the intersection of sound and movement. Based on extensive fieldwork at a Chinese Canadian kung fu club, I ask how timing embodies strategic approaches indicative of cultural, stylistic, and personal paths to martial being-in-the-world.

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