Learn the Land by Watching the Water

It is always interesting to see what you can deduce just from looking and thinking.

Imagine a low quality satellite image of an unknown piece of land with a river in it. The river itself will tell you something about the land, even if the image isn’t sharp enough to see changes in elevation: if the river cuts a roughly straight line then the water is probably moving quickly because the land has an appreciable slope (water travels downhill following the path of least resistance); if the river meanders back and forth, the water is moving slowly because the land is quite flat (the water has to move a long ways for a small drop in elevation, so it isn’t moving quickly).

Or think about how the cuisine of a country reflects both its domestic agriculture and its trade with other countries (tomatoes available in Montreal in January mean international trade), its history (colonial French influence on the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich) as well as climate (a country with little wheat in its diet is too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry), and possible cultural influences (a country that has animals that are not eaten, even if others are).

Now imagine being introduced to western boxing through a video clip. You see punching but never kicking; no hits to the back; no hits with any part but the knuckle side of the glove; they clinch, but don’t grapple to the ground. What can we infer? It is probably not a bladed weapon art being practiced empty handed since the body isn’t positioned to maximally protect vitals from stabs. It is probably not armed forces practice since the third person in the ring seems to be enforcing rules which would not exist on a battlefield, and the participants seem to get short breaks. So maybe it is a competition or a ritual? Something more like sport or exposition, rather than training to survive.

With all that in mind, here is a short video about pencak silat. Watch both the solo and paired movements and see what you notice. What ideas can you form about a sequence’s intended purpose? What can you say about where the practice may have come from (both the culture and the geography)?

And Wednesday students: be on the lookout for a familiar jacket!

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