The Rhythm of Combat: Understanding the Role of Music in Performances of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts and Lion Dance

Colin McGuire


Toronto’s Hong Luck Kung Fu Club has promulgated martial arts, lion dance and percussion music since 1961. Drawing on my fieldwork there, this paper argues that these practices structure—and are structured by—a combative approach to rhythm. Students begin with martial arts and train without music, but percussion accompanies public demonstrations, creating an unfamiliar situation that I position as a distinct phase of the transmission process. Martial arts performances are both fuelled by musical energy and challenged by the requirement of remaining asynchronous to it. Lion dancers, however, treat drum patterns like signals coordinating manoeuvres on the performance battlefield.

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