“The person cringes with each large beat, as if the drum mallet descended upon his very skull; he ricochets about the peristyle, clutching blindly at the arms which are extended to support him, pirouettes wildly on one leg, recaptures balance for a brief moment, only to be hurtled forward again by another great blow on the drum. The drummer, apparently impervious to the embattled anguish of the person, persists relentlessly; until, suddenly, the violence ceases, the head of the person lifts, and one recognizes the strangely abstracted eyes of a being who seems to see beyond whatever he looks at, as if into or from another world.”
(Deren: Drums & Dance 206)
About 5 years ago, in I-Movie, I did a little (its 1 minute long) video refix of Maya Deren’s(voodoo priestess, mother of experimental film most well known for ‘Divine Horsemen: the Living
Gods of Haiti’) martial arts/dance short ‘Meditation on Violence'(1948). . .the refix is called ‘Meditation on Speed’. . .might upload it one day. . .anyway, here is an excerpt of the text (quite difficult to find) that accompanied Deren’s original verson of the film. . .there is more, it includes some cool diagrams mapping the movement of the body in relation to camera angles etc. But in this bit, she discusses the difference between internal and external martial arts. . .
“Mayan Deren – Meditation on Violence
Just as the actual movements of Chinese boxing are a physical statement of certain metaphysical concepts, so the film MEDITATION ON VIOLENCE is, in filmic terms, itself a statement of those same concepts, employing the physical movements as only one of the visual means.
The Wu-Tang school of boxing derives from philosophical concepts in the Book of Change, edited by Confucius, and also from The Way of Life of Lao Tzu. In the Book of Change, the emphasis is upon life as an on going metamorphosis, a continuous alternation between negative and positive. From Lao Tzu obtain such principles as the non-aggressive defence, by the conversion of the opponent’s strength against himself (rather than by an answering aggression) and the idea that an extreme extension may become its own opposite. The Wu Tang movements are consequently characterized by a constant dynamic flow, in which each movement is a preparation for the next. It is also known as ‘Interior Boxing’, since it is governed by breathing rhythm, and the movements related to the inhale-exhale alternation. The movements do not aggress upon the opponent, they ‘swallow’ his aggression and reconvert them into a defence. And finally, instead of arriving at any extreme extension – a point of status from which there would be need to recover balance and élan of power – the movements always round back upon themselves before they have lost their dynamic flow.
The film consists not only of photographing these movements, but attempts an equivalent conversion, into filmic terms, of these metaphysical principles. The film begins in the middle of a movement and ends in the middle of a movement, so that the film is a period of vision upon life, with the life continuing before and after into infinity. The rhythm of the negative-positive breathing is preserved in the rhythm at which the boxer approaches and recedes from the camera. Both the photography and the cutting of the Wu Tang sections are deliberately smooth and flowing, so that no ‘striking’ shots or abrupt cuts occur in these sections. This whole approach is further amplified in the diagram and notes.
Moreover, it seemed significant that not only were these movements related to metaphysical principles (an inner concept) but that they were training movements – the self contained idea of violence, not the actual act. Training is a physical meditation on violence. So, too, the film is a meditation. Its location is an inner space, not an outer place. And just as a meditation turns around an ideas, goes forward, returns to examine it from another angle, so here the camera, in the Wu Tang section , revolves around the movements of the figure, returns to some previous movement to examine it from another angle altogether, to achieve a ‘cubism in time’.
However, Meditations investigate extremes, and life, while ongoing and non-climactic in the infinite sense, contains within it varieties and waves of intensity. So this film, as a meditation, proceed beyond the Wu Tang School, to examine where the Shaolin concepts of aggression would lead. This school, called ‘exterior’ is based on exterior conditions of opportunity. Its emphasis is upon strength, impact, sudden rhythms and the body is not treated as a whole. Rather, the sharp strength of the arms and legs is emphasized for independent action. The logical conclusion is to even implement this sharpness with a sword. And so, in the film, the increasing violence bursts into an extension: the arm sprouts a sword.
Even this is carried forward. The climax of this Meditation on Violence is a paralysis. From which point the return is a reversal. The movements are actually photographed in reverse from this point on.”