Why We Practice Drunken Boxing

drunken Kung Fu I sit here in a state rare for me: a little drunk. I sip my single serving cautiously, slowly. Both my parents were drunks and their drinking left a bitter taste in my mouth for decades, turning me into a spectator, not a participant—a nurser of cokes, a stretcher of seven-ups—instead of an imbiber of drink number four, and beyond.

Of course, our childhoods are breeding grounds for all manner of behaviors that will later threaten our stability and creativity. And most of us, if we pay attention, will find that our lessons in how to survive into and through adulthood come from nature itself, that patient teacher that shines its light in the cavern of traps and blunders just waiting to happen. 

In my case, caution motivated my thirties, pretty much denying me any form of booze stronger than a rum ball. (This made gratuity particularly difficult; it’s hard to authoritatively slam loose change on a bar for a Dr Brown’s cream soda.) 

One thing is clear to me—no matter the personal discipline, no matter how misunderstood or how weirdly interpreted—my modicum of martial training kept me from imbibing anything with enough alcohol to get me into trouble through those troublesome years.

And all of the above is just a circuitous preface as to why it is tough for me to watch Drunken Boxing. When I watch certain top performers mixing the controlled and the random, I have to rebalance myself. Traditionally, “Drunken style” is not its own style at all, but something attached to some other, bigger, more precise style. These family ties signify that Drunken coaches may “do their own thing,” changing at will what they know to be perfectly balanced movements into off-balance, dynamic and dramatic maneuvers. 

Even watching the unexpected skill levels, I can’t help but wonder: do we really need those Drunken movements, those misleading stunts? Although I haven’t fully answered to my own satisfaction, I have come to realize over these many years that the interplay between controlled and chaotic is so much closer to a two-sided coin, where landing on the unpredictable once in a while prevents the art from slowly stagnating. As a matter of fact, it is crucial. Real martial arts is not a robotic, imitative series of movements—even when fighting, where the variety of blows and locks are limited. It can be a beautiful representation of taming the wild without killing the spirit. 

This I know: that no matter how basic a form is, there must be a touch of the chaotic. For centuries, practitioners have wondered why certain actions are so difficult to perfect. It’s because they take at least some of their lives from the explosive and unexpected, the move that freezes the opponent’s entire being just long enough to fulfill its purpose and plan. The true balance we seek when performing or using traditional martial arts is not the double-weighted, feet-planted security of being nailed to the floor; it is the dynamic elegance of keeping upright when inside and outside are swirling.

Watch these chaotic movements as long as you wish, and you will see only a glimpse of the impossible creating its own unique space and consequences. 


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