Japanese martial arts like Budo Aikido have a lot of common with Japanese and Chinese performing arts like Noh, Kabuki or Chinese Opera. Those cultural arts have a history which spans more than 700 years. The ideas of training in Noh or Chinese Opera can be usefull for modern martial arts. In our bodywork, kyokotsu, koshi, yōbu and tanden have the most important role in training.
From an article by Ashley Thorpe
Observations on the importance of the yao/koshi to the actor in Japanese no ̄ and Chinese jingju (‘Beijing opera’)
Ki or chi/qi
Energy may be considered as a culturally specific phenomenon, but there is correspondence between no ̄ and jingju. In Chinese, qi can mean breath, air or spirit, but it is also a technical term used in traditional Chinese medicine to refer to a vital life energy. The conception of qi as referring to the energy of the actor is in evidence in jingju, as Jo Riley explains:
Qi means more than mere breath control. A performer who has qi is considered to be ‘in-spired’, moved by a special kind of energy or filled with presence. During training, the master will often point to the student’s abdomen and demand that the student draw up his qi. This is the heart or residence of qi, the undefined and indefinable centre of the human body from which presence( force) flows.
Shelley Fenno Quinn has suggested that qi [in Japanese, ki, 気] was used by Zeami Motokiyo (c.1363-c.1443) to describe the technique of the no ̄ actor in producing his voice.
The focus on basic training automatically raises significant differences between the two forms. In no ̄, an actor develops through the learning of kata [型], movement patterns that form the basis of plays. Techniques that might be regarded as basic, such as kamae [構え] and suriashi [摺り足], underpin all kata, are used on stage in performance, and thus cannot easily be demarcated as a distinct set of basic training exercises (even though these techniques might still be described as the ‘basics [’基本]). Incontrast, jingju has training explicitly conceptualised as jiben gong [基本功], ‘basic techniques’that are only practised off-stage, but nevertheless are central to underpinning the quality of movement on-stage. Jiben gong includes exercises designed to cultivate specific skills, fitness and endurance in the actor, including in the yao [腰] ‘lower abdomen and thighs’, tui [腿] ‘legs’, taibu [台 化] ‘stage walking’, yuanchang [垈 魁] lit.‘circular course’, a training exercise in which the actor practices fast stage walking by repeatedly circling around the room, shanbang [山膀] ‘mountain arms’, yunshou [云 手] ‘cloud hands’, tanzigong [毯子功] lit.‘carpet training ’but meaning the conditioning of the body for acrobatics, and bazigong [把子功] ‘weapons training’. Thus, jingju performers do not begin by studying particular plays or characters, but by focussing on how these foundational skills and movements should be mastered. Once central aesthetic ideas are understood and the body has become accustomed to the demands placed upon it, jiben gong is extended according to the conventional requirements of one of four role types in which the actor may specialise: male [生], female [旦], painted face [昌], and clown [丑]. A professional actor must have technique “inside the heart” (xinli you, 心里有), a state fully achieved only by solid training in jiben gong as a child, and further consolidated throughout adulthood. Thus, the conceptualisation of the ‘basics’ and its relationship to the actual material performed on stage is different in each form.
Building presence (kigurai) – harnessing tension: the significance of yao/koshi
In no ̄ and jingju, I have experienced energy emanating from the lower section of the trunk of the torso (yo or koshi in Japanese, yao in Chinese). The term yao/koshi is difficult to neatly translate into English. Koshi can variously refer to the pelvis(to include the hips, pelvic carriage, lower spine, sacrum and coccyx), the lower abdomen, the upper thighs, the centre of gravity in the lower abdomen, and all the muscle and other bodily material situated around these areas.
In my own experiences of training, although I can locate the central locus of energy reasonably precisely to a specific area of the body, I would never describe it as only element of the lower trunk working to produce, support and distribute energy. I find the yao/koshi to exist as a kind of ‘interconnectedness’ between the skeletal and muscular structures in the lower section of the torso. For instance, in no ̄, I find that the locus of energy emanates from the base of the spine. Yet, tension is also achieved by pushing the base of the spine inwards and extending the hips backwards, creating a solid central focus of compressed energy around the lower back more generally, which is then forced further downwards. Indeed, teachers have often stressed to me the importance of having good koshi, which supports the basic kamae stance. In jingju, energy is considered to emanate from an area described as the dantian [丹田], an ‘energy centre’ situated towards the front of the waist just below the navel which is also cited in relation to Chinese martial arts, Qigong, and Taiji. Basic exercises aim to strengthen the yao as a means to cultivate stamina and suppleness in the dantian, which, in turn, supports all movement, from walking, to gesturing, to acrobatics.