In kung fu class tonight, we were talking about “linear” or “hard” styles of martial arts. In these styles, a punch usually looks like a punch, and a kick looks like a kick. The moves can be fast. They’re very powerful. They’re especially great for people who are already strong. A lot of karate moves are of this sort.* It’s pretty easy to tell, even watching someone do a kata or form you’ve never seen before, what the intention of each move is.
A lot of kung fu moves are what we call “circular,” and sometimes “soft.” There is a lot of redirection of force. When you watch someone do a kung fu form, it’s not easy to tell what’s happening. I’ve heard people describe kung fu as “flowery,” or “dancelike.” Yes, the moves are beautiful, but they’re also deceptive. What looks like a flourish or the flash of the cranes’ wings might actually be a wrist escape or an arm break. The intention of each move is not obvious, and it’s easy to dismiss kung fu as “too much of the arts, not enough of the martial.”
This makes me think about writing. You knew that would be in here somewhere, didn’t you?
A lot of times, I think my themes are too linear and obvious. I’m charging ahead, playing the power game, dealing with whatever issue I want to explore in my story. I’m too “on the nose,” as we say in Lala Land. I recall the picture of a hammer that someone drew on one of my manuscripts at Clarion. In my martial arts metaphor, it’s a fist coming straight and fast.
But what I need to be is more circular and soft with the way I deal with theme. I have to disguise my moves, use more deception. One shouldn’t be able to anticipate my intentions until I’ve already broken their arm…er, I mean gotten them to think about something… and maybe not even then.
The best martial arts styles, in my opinion, use both linear and circular movements, and both hard and soft concepts. (Both karate and kung fu use both, though they tend toward opposite ends of the spectrum.) I’m sure this is true for writing, too. After all, there’s no harm in having more tools in the toolbox, right?
For now, though, I want to play more with deception.