Journal of Theatrical Combatives May 2003

Martial Arts and Acting Arts

By Paul Turse

Editor's Note:
Paul Turse attended the Teachers College at Columbia University, where he earned his doctorate in Theatre Arts.

While in the Army, he was stationed in Japan, where he studied Japanese theatre and martial arts.  His experience led to his dissertation topic: Shakespeare: Kabuki-style, which presented guidelines for performing Shakespeare via the Kabuki production mode and utilizing martial arts to create fight choreography.

Turse is a writer/editor for www.raiderdrive.com and Raiderdrive's Bay Area Sports digest.

 A 6th dan in both judo and jujitsu, Turse teaches at the Toms River, NJ, YMCA, and is available for instructional clinics through the United States Judo Association's program

The editor wishes to thank Tony Wolfe for bringing her attention to an earlier version of this article, making this revised, updated version possible.

It seems to be the "in" thing for actors to engage in some type of martial activity.  Indeed, knowledge of the martial arts can add to the realism of their fight scenes should they waive the right to use stand-ins, and the reputation gained by such training can certainly enhance the actors' macho image or femme fatale mystique, whichever the case may be.  No doubt, most of these performers are aware of the extrinsic value of the martial arts activities as an aid to their careers, but many performers may not be are aware of the intrinsic value martial arts training can have in the preparation and performance of a role.  Some form of physical training is essential to the performer's development, but most procedures utilized by actors may not include mental or philosophical aspects, and they may not be organically related to the art of acting.  This paper outlines some of the similarities between the martial arts and acting arts.

The origin of acting art and martial art lies in the concept of imitation:  the re-creation of a ritual combat.(1)  The first actors may very well have been warriors.  When primitive fighters wanted to tell of their exploits around the campfire, they could not re-create in actuality the overcoming of the enemy, human or beast.  Rather they communicated, no doubt, through dance-like pantomime a stylized re-creation of the event.  Soon campfire audiences began to enjoy the warriors' skill as storytellers and dancers perhaps more than their skill as hunters or warriors.  Naturally, there were those members of the tribe who, although not as martially endowed as the warriors, were better dancers and performers and thus better able to record the heroic traditions of the tribe.  Thus the acting tradition may have been born.

The common origin of martial art and acting art can best be understood by an examination of karate art and Kabuki acting art.  Kabuki developed as a popular theatre form in early 17th century Japan.  Plots for plays generally reflected famous warrior stories as well as love-suicide scandals and reflections of everyday life.  Eventually, ways of enacting types of characters and situations, as well as makeup and costumes, became stylized.  Actors mastered these movements through many years of training, then subsequently improved upon them or even invented new stylizations.

Karate practitioners also learn basic techniques through kata (form).  Once karateka have mastered in a controlled fashion the various punches, strikes, and blocks, they can then work to master them in the context of a simulated combat situation in which they and their partners freely move and attack when an opening is created.  This form of training in the Japanese and Okinawan non-contact martial arts is known as jiyu-kumite and is an excellent style of practice for the development of confidence and control.  Since an opponent's attack can come at any moment, without warning, and can be directed at the throat and groin or other vulnerable areas, it is all too easy to miss the timing and actually make contact; thus one could easily injure a partner unless discipline and control are exercised.

Because the performers engaged in this form of free fighting never make contact, the flowing pattern of the form is never interrupted, and the movement takes precedence over the potential effect.  (Styles of karate in which the use of protective gear is advocated during free fighting so that the practitioners may be allowed "safely" to make full contact are not in accord with the art of Kabuki.)  An important comparison between karate and Kabuki can be seen in the previously mentioned jiyu-kumite and the Kabuki stylized sword fight techniques, called tachimawari.  H.S. Langfeld says that the basis of the aesthetic attitude is a perceptual change in the artistic person that enables him or her to view nature and the world at large in terms of an aesthetic experience.  That is, artists are able to detach themselves from the realistic considerations of a tragic phenomenon and perceive beauty and tranquility.(2)  This phenomenon is similar to a samurai who, while bleeding to death on a frozen battlefield on a snowy day, is able to produce a jisei (final poem) extolling the beauty of the falling snowflakes.

This kind of objectivity and recognition of form is the basis not only of karate but also of the Kabuki.  In the stylized Kabuki fight sequences, the hero's position remains relatively fixed, and he achieves a victory not by attacking but by standing back in a stylized pose and awaiting the attack of his opponents.  "His enemies attack alternately to the left and right while the hero waves his sword in their direction," says Ernst.  "It is characteristic of the Kabuki to present to the audience not the thing itself, but the designed impression of the thing, and this principle dictates that 'real' conflict be avoided."(3)   Tachimari is a sequence that the audience appreciates not for the clash of swords but for the formal excellence of the dance-like activity.

One fundamental part of the martial arts, on the stage or in the gym, is immobility.  All strength--whether in the form of a sword technique, a karate strike, or a judo throw--depends upon the proper balancing of the performer and the unbalancing of opponents.  Strength is dependent ultimately upon balance; that which does not move cannot be unbalanced and is therefore strong.  The attackers are placed at a disadvantage because their bodies are already in motion and therefore subject to possible unbalancing.  "This philosophy is borne out in Kabuki sword fighting in which the hero is almost invariably attacked and his attitude throughout the scene is defensive," explains Ernst.(4)  Immobility, however, should not be confused with being unyielding or rigid.  In soft karate styles, particularly, the artists learn to unbalance their opponents by "giving way" to the attack and readjusting their postures, causing the attackers to become unbalanced.  True balance is achieved by an ability to adjust mentally and physically to the ever-changing flux of existence.  Kyuzo Mifune points out that no matter how long or far a rubber ball is rolled, its center of balance remains unchanged; thus, it can be said to be immobile in the sense that nothing can change its relative posture.(5)

The tachimawari of Kabuki depends for its effect on the yielding quality of the movements, which tend to flow together in one fluid motion rather than on bodily contact.  The strike of the Kabuki actor's sword is never completed; it is only suggested in the same way the non-contact karate practitioner's strike is never fulfilled.  Both activities suggest an end that is never realized in actuality; thus, both demonstrate, from the viewpoint of behavioral psychology, a common artistic origin.

Perhaps the most artistic part of karate training, as far as behavioral psychology is concerned, is that aspect called kata.  The term "kata" has two meanings in karate that are not unrelated to each other.  First, kata is a general term used to designate bodily movement or form.  Secondly, kata means a highly stylized and formal series of movements put together in dance-like patterns of progressive difficulty, which can be performed individually by the performer.  It is kata in the latter sense that is the fundamental basis of karate mastery and the link between the artistic spirit of karate and Kabuki.  It is no accident that the word for the stylized and formal actions in Kabuki is also kata.  In Kabuki acting, the actor does not re-create a phenomenon in nature as it might occur in actuality but, rather, reduces an action to its barest essentials and removes it somewhat from reality.  The kata of the Kabuki does not achieve its ultimate effect in the flow of the movement itself, but realizes its full aesthetic potential in the attainment of a point of tension.  The flow of the Kabuki kata is made up of isolated gestures, some of which glide into the succeeding unit of movement and others that become the climax of the kata.  This fundamental aspect of Kabuki is the foundation upon which the art of this classic theatre rests.  Each unit and objective of a scene is highlighted by a static tableau, a moment that is more important than the movement that precedes it because the tableau suggests an end never realized.

The kata of karate do not attempt to re-create movements that might actually occur in a real fight but, rather, to reduce an actual technique to its barest essentials and remove it somewhat from a real life and death encounter.  A karate kata, like the Kabuki dance-like movement, is made up of isolated techniques, which become the focus of the entire kata.  These isolated units of movement, which are emphasized in a moment of muscular tension, become the climactic point of the intervening smooth-flowing movements.

The artistic genesis of karate can be better understood by a direct comparison between Kabuki acting and the martial arts.  The next few pages will explore the similar approaches utilized by Kabuki actors and martial artists in terms of the following aspects:  the learning-teaching process, feeling emotion during performance, spontaneity of performance, identification with the artistic creation, concentration during performance, and cultivating a "way of life" approach to art.  Because the martial arts attempt to unify mind and body into one harmonious whole and because they are art forms generically related to the art of acting, they should aid not only the Kabuki actor but also the modern naturalistic actor, both in the training and preparation for a role.  Therefore, the discussion of the six aspects mentioned above will include parallels to modern acting theory and technique, especially those developed by Stanislavski and carried on by "The Method" school of acting.

Learning-teaching process--  There is perhaps no theatre in the world that possesses such disciplined and athletic actors as the Kabuki.  Because of their superb body control, these actors can (even in their later years) play a lithe young maiden and give a convincing illusion of femininity.  Just as easily, they can transform into a monstrous demon and offer the essence of the supernatural; or they can project the image of a fierce warrior and epitomize the spirit of the samurai.  What is the reason for this stylized virtuosity?  George Fuchs sums it up:

The Japanese art of acting is indebted for this supremacy of style to its vital connection with fundamental principles, that is, with the elementary physical sources of mimic art.  These principles are identical with those of the dance, of acrobatics, of wrestling, and of fencing.(6)

Implicit in the above quotation is the idea that the initial phase of Japanese actor training is imitation, and not creation.  That is, the young actor must discipline himself to master—through imitation—certain fundamentals and basic patterns of movement.  These movements have been created and perfected by his elders.  Only after mastering these basic kata can the actor go on to create and perfect his own kata.  Onoe Baiko VII, the famed onnagata (female impersonator), said that he first learned his art by being made to imitate his father's kata.  The actor's senior, however, was a physically bigger man; thus, it was nearly impossible for him to master his father's forms.  But because Baiko forced himself to attempt the practice and perfection of his father's forms, it became easier for him to develop his own.(7)

This same phenomenon of imitation leading to creation occurs in the martial arts.  Before students can create their own techniques that will work in a free-fighting situation, they must discipline themselves to imitate and perfect the standard kata.  One important aspect of karate training, for example, is for short, stocky practitioners to practice the kicking forms more suited to a long-legged, lanky build, even though they may never become kicking specialists.  This training will develop their overall bodily movement and ultimately enhance their hand techniques because the increased leg strength gained will improve stability and increase their range of skills.  The hand techniques, which are more natural for a shorter practitioner, will become that much more potent because upper body power is dependent upon lower body balance and because their opponents will then have to respect their foot techniques, and not just focus on their hand techniques.

Perhaps the most interesting similarity in the learning of Japanese acting and martial artistry occurs in the kata of Kabuki and karate.  Almost all Kabuki actors, even if they will specialize only in male roles, must learn to perfect the feminine forms and movements before moving on to learn the masculine ones.  Since it is easy for a man to learn the more natural masculine moves, he must force himself to first master the more difficult, less natural ones.  In stressing the importance of kata training in the perfection of karate, Louis Delgado makes an interesting observation.  He says that one important difference between kata and actual fighting is that the former are feminine.(8)  An example of what Delgado means might be seen in certain blocking patterns.  In some forms, the imaginary kick to the groin might be blocked by an open-handed downward fanning motion; however, a real kick by a powerful opponent in a life and death encounter might have to be blocked with a closed fist and tense arm.  Strength and tension, however, if used too early, may cause a beginner to lose precious sight of the formal aspects necessary for real perfection and for true effectiveness against a more physically powerful opponent.  In karate training (as in Kabuki), one must grasp the flexible, graceful feminine movements before full power (masculine force) can be generated.

A modern Method actor might show his disdain for imitation and believe that such a technique leads to artificial performances.  Indeed, a superficial understanding of Stanislavski's system could lead actors to believe that they need not look to nature or copy outside sources in the development of a role.  When actors try to live their parts on stage, it does not necessarily make their creations come to life, especially when the characters may be beyond their physical capabilities and mental grasp.  Actors will be called upon to handle certain roles for which no personal prototype exists within their inner resources.  The author had, at age thirty-nine, the opportunity to portray an eighty-two-year-old senile vicar in a play produced by a local theatre group.  Obviously the character's age and, I trust, his mental state were beyond my personal experience.  There was no way in which I could call up from my unconscious any images of the character I wished to create.  Therefore, I had to rely on imitation.

Because my grandfather was in a nursing home, I had numerous opportunities during my visits to observe the posture, habits, and speech patterns of the many unfortunate physically and mentally infirm seniors.  There were many hours of rehearsal in which I merely practiced walking (a pattern I borrowed from my grandfather), in the same way that I would polish my favorite throw in judo.  And just as a martial arts pattern becomes a natural instinct and later a creative action, soon the walk became an automatic and creative action.  In judo, when practitioners can apply their throws in every situation as an automatic response, they are no longer imitating but creating because the throw is now theirs, and not merely a pattern they have borrowed from another practitioner.  When I could apply my grandfather's walk as an automatic response, even outside rehearsal and under all conditions, I knew I was no longer imitating but was creating and the walk was my own.  The walk was only the beginning; later the same imitative process was repeated to create mannerisms and speech patterns for the character; finally, costumes and props were added, and the Vicar was brought to life.

In explaining the Stanislavski system, Sonia Moore summarizes the imitative process discussed above:

Having studied the laws that govern human nervous activity, Stanislavsky gradually developed a System that permits an actor consciously to control his entire apparatus of experiencing and incarnating.  The System progressed...and his greatest discovery...was the fact that we behave in life in a psychophysical way.

Moore goes on to quote Stanislavski:  “I thought before that for a moment of creativity an actor needed this technique and that….  Now I insist that only one inwardly justified physical action is necessary.  The method of physical action is the greatest achievement of the System.”

Moore sums it up by indicating that the actor's role "is built with typical psychological and physical behavior."  To fulfill their theatrical aspirations, the actor "must master the choice and fulfillment of typical, expressive actions" for the role or character.(9)

A common misconception is that the actor becomes the character or lives the part; however, the converse may be the case, and the character might become the actor and live in the actor.  Stanislavski states it this way:

You can understand a part, sympathize with the person portrayed, and put yourself in his place, so that you will act as he would.  That will arouse feelings in the actor that are analogous to those required for the part.  But those feelings will belong, not to the person created by the author of the play, but to the actor himself. (10)

Feeling in kata-- Before embarking upon a discussion of "feeling" in the Kabuki role, it is necessary to first summarize two seemingly antithetical acting theories that have pervaded the western acting scene:  the Stanislavski system (the forerunner of the Method) and, for want of a better term, "the technical."  In the former approach, emphasis is placed on the building of a proper emotion-state that, when created, will automatically give rise to the corresponding external form.  In the technical approach, emphasis is placed on the external action that, when properly performed, will cause the proper emotion to rise.  In reality, neither of the above works exclusively of the other; however, in Kabuki acting it appears that the actor works in a way closer to the technical style because he strives to re-create a formal character.  This goal seemed to be evident in the acting of Nakamura Jakuemon IV, an onnagata, when he created his role in the play Narukami. (11)

In this drama, the hero has taken the Dragon God, who is in charge of rain, hostage and refuses to release him.  In order to remove the resultant drought, the Imperial Court sends a beautiful woman, Kumo-no-taena, (Jakuemon) to inveigle the secret from the celibate Narukami.  After beguiling the naïve hero and plying him with wine, the seductress finally breaks down his resistance.  Before Narukami succumbs to the effects of intoxication, he reveals that the rain god can be released from the waterfall in which he has been imprisoned by cutting the sacred rope that stretches across the water.  As Kumo-no-taema prepares to climb the rocks along the waterfall, in order to cut the sacred rope, she pauses and looks at the prostrate figure of Narukami.  "Yurushite (Forgive me)," she cries and then climbs the rocks to perform the deed.

When asked whether the character is sincere when she asks to be forgiven, Jakuemon's answer was evasive in that he maintained that Kabuki is not psychological.(12) What this actor might have meant was that it did not matter what the character feels or what the actor thinks the character feels; what is important is that the actor re-create and execute the proper physical and vocal mannerisms conventionalized by the Kabuki style.  If these tasks are carried out effectively, the audience will make the proper emotional response.  It is more important that the spectator feel than the actor.  This writer certainly believed that the character was sincere.

The reader should not get the impression that there is no inner preparation on the part of the Kabuki actor.  Baiko recounts how, after an interminable practice session, which started well after his father had returned from an evening Kabuki performance, his father still was not satisfied with his twelve-year-old son's particular way of walking in the "snow" on stage.

It was February, and there had just been a heavy snowfall.  At last my father ordered me to go out into the garden and practice barefoot in the snow.  When I came back to the warm room, my feet were tingling, and there must have been fire in my performance, for my father finally said, "There, you've got it."(13)

Baiko does not make a distinction between emotion (kimochi) and physical action (kata) in the preparation and performance of a role.  According to this performer of female roles, he must have feeling or else his form will be lifeless.  Likewise, his kata must be precise in order to help him evoke the proper kimochi.(14)

When I teach I try to approach the art of acting through the emotions after which I concentrate on form.  The forms, you know, have come into being only because of an interior psychological need to express something.  The forms, therefore, have meanings…. The fundamentals of Occidental and Oriental acting are the same—it's the externals which differ…. The kimochi, however, is the same.  Unless the actor has an interior approach he will never be great.(15)

Onoe Baiko VII instructs his son, Kikunosuke, in the performance of an acting kata for the kabuki play "Kumagai's Battle Camp" during a rehearsal at City Center, New York City.  Photo by Paul Turse.

Kikunosuke rehearses the kata on his own.  Photo by Paul Turse.

In terms of Zen, Suzuki explains that any art which is formed by external means does not belong to the individual.  Only that which emanates from the inner self and emerges after all intellectual and physical efforts have been exhausted can be truly called personal.  All individuals, whether artists or not, possess in their inner recesses a dormant Zen "genius" that “demands an awakening.”  The arousal of this genius is satori, which when it “artistically expresses itself, it produces works vibrating with ‘spiritual (or divine) rhythm’ (ki-in), exhibiting myo (or the mysterious), or giving a glimpse into the Unfathomable, which is yugen.”  According to Suzuki, in Japanese literature, the concept of myo is sometimes referred to as yugen or gemmyo:

Some critics state that all great works of art embody in them yugen, whereby we attain a glimpse of things eternal in the world of constant changes:  that is, we look into the secrets of reality.  Where satori flashes, there is the tapping of creative energy; where creative energy is felt, art breathes myo and yugen.(16)

However, it often takes an external approach to awaken this creative force in the actor.  Unfortunately, there appears to be a common misconception on the part of student actors studying the Stanislavski system, and that is that the Russian director's approach precluded an external approach.  This is not the case, as Stanislavski explains:

In order to express a most delicate and largely subconscious life it is necessary to have control of an unusually responsive, excellently prepared vocal and physical apparatus.  This apparatus must be ready instantly and exactly to reproduce most delicate and all but intangible feelings with great sensitiveness and directness.  That is why an actor of our type is obliged to work so much more than others, both on his inner equipment, which creates the life of the part, and also on his outer physical apparatus, which should reproduce the results of the creative work of his emotions with precision.(17)

The question which arises now is one that plagues all beginning actors, regardless of style:  how does one approach a role or kata in terms of feeling?  This question can be answered perhaps by a discussion of Kabuki and the martial arts in terms of Zen, the philosophical and religious force that pervades much of Japanese art.  An approach toward feeling can be gained through an examination of the Zen concept known as kufu, which implies that there is no distinction between thought and action.  Suzuki clarifies this Zen notion:

Kufu literally means "to strive," "to wrestle," "to try to find a way out," or, in Christian terms, "to pray incessantly for God’s help."  Psychologically speaking, it is to remove all the inhibitions there are, intellectual as well as affective or emotional, and to bring out what is stored in the unconscious and let it work itself out quite independently of any kind of interfering consciousness.  The kufu, therefore, will be directed toward how to remove the inhibitions, though not analytically.  If such an expression is permissible, let us say the kufu is to be totalistic, growing out of the depths of one’s own being. (18)

Martial artists train to decrease reaction time because in an emergency situation, the thought to act must be accompanied by the action itself.  Any hesitation or excess mental deliberation could result in injury or death.  A karate artist's action, for example, must come as quickly as when one pulls a hand away from a hot stove.  In the latter action, the person does not think that the iron is hot, and then decide to withdraw the hand.  Before realizing that the iron is hot, the person pulls away.  The thought comes, so it seems in such a situation, significantly later.  Likewise, when an attacker strikes, the karateka must react and block without thinking.

When martial artists act to achieve victory in a life and death struggle, they do so as a spontaneous, unconscious reaction and are in the realm of a force known as myo.  Suzuki points out, in regard to the swordsman, that myo generates a creative moment not at all consciously performed but carried out as though by an external force.(19)  It is as though the sword had acted of its own volition and not by the will of the swordsman.  In other words, “it is really not he but the sword itself that does the killing.”(20)  In fact, many martial artists may have no conscious realization of the particular technique used in victory.  Only afterward will they be able to recall which technique it was, but they still may not be able to recollect all the conditions that precipitated its execution.

The idea of uniting thought and action is identical to the amalgamation of feeling and action in the art of acting.  Indeed, in Japanese, the mind and the heart can be expressed by the same word, kokoro.  The activity of the mind, heart, and body as an integrated whole is the basis of the Zen response.  Training in the union of thought and action in the martial arts could benefit actors in an attempt to understand the relation between feeling and movement in the art of acting.

When the character takes on a life for itself during a performance, it is evoked from the unconscious.  Herbert Read explains that, although artists can conceptualize, they are carried away by emotions which control all of their actions as an intuitive and spontaneous activity.  They are not blocked by usual methods of perception and responsive behavior, but react in uniquely creative fashion, a pattern that may never have been practiced, rehearsed, or demonstrated before.(21)    What normally would be considered a stumbling block becomes a catalyst for creativity.

Thus, in preparing for a role, it would seem that actors should strive to avoid feeling the part in a conscious way but must train themselves to become emotionally carried away by the role in the Zen sense.  In other words, there should be no separation between their physical performances and their logical impulses.  The actor suddenly becoming the character in a “Zen-inspired” moment is not a phenomenon that can ordinarily be sustained throughout an entire performance, nor does it have to be.  For me, these moments have been sporadic indeed, but generally occurred as the result of an unforeseen miscue or technical problem during a performance.

In a community theatre production of William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba, there was a scene in which the character “Turk” (played by me) approached the bedroom of his intended conquest, “Marie,” who rebuffed his advances before he could enter the room.  When I approached the doorway, I discovered that the door was closed; thus, my co-star could not know her cue, which during all rehearsals had been visual.  Suddenly, instead of walking toward the door, I found myself slinking in that direction and then scratching on the door like a male feline marking his territory.  The unusual clawing sound evoked not only a response from “Marie” but also from some appreciative audience members.  The closed door did not block the action of the play, but provided an opening for a moment of creativity.

The coalescence of emotion and movement is the also the prime requisite for performance in karate.  Kata cannot be properly performed unless the martial artist feels something of the competition instinct.  Similarly, the performance of kata will quickly create the proper martial spirit necessary for great training or inspired competitive feats.  The specialized training of karate practitioners, for example, creates (just as it does in the case of the Kabuki actor) a conditioned response to the performance of kata.  As far as the modern actor is concerned, even Stanislavski was careful to caution against the conscious attempt at feeling when he says, ”Don't think about the feeling itself, but set your mind to work on what makes it grow, what the conditions were that bought about the experience….  Never begin with the results.  They will appear in time as the logical outcome of what has gone before." (22)

A judo practitioner could easily re-state Stanislavski in terms of judo:

"Don't think about the throw itself, but set your mind to work on what momentum forces make it come into being, what the necessary conditions are to effect the opening in your opponent's defense.  Never begin with the throw; it will emerge in time as the logical outcome of the pattern of movement that has gone before."

Returning to acting, actors should, according to Stanislavski, attempt to achieve a state where their character moves and acts as a product of their unconscious intuition.  It would seem, then, that after an unrehearsed, spontaneous action during the practice or performance of a play, actors should feel—in retrospect—as if it had been their characters who had acted during that inspired moment, and not themselves.  As Stanislavski points out, when players become fully involved with the action of the play, they achieve a state called "inspiration."  In this state, the Russian teacher and director concludes that "almost everything he [the actor] does is subconscious and he has no conscious realization of how he accomplishes his purpose." (23)  The parallel between Stanislavski's state of inspiration and the Zen state of myo is obvious.

Spontaneity--  In terms of the martial arts, it would seem that if actors "feel" in the conventional sense, their feelings could destroy the spontaneity and bodily control necessary to their performances on the stage, just as analogous feelings will destroy the warriors' responses on the battlefield.  It is interesting to note here that when discussing the Noh actor's technique, Zeami stresses the moments of non-action.  Although the Noh is a different theatrical style than that of the Kabuki, it is based upon fundamental Zen precepts that are inherent in the martial arts and Kabuki and thus is basic to this discussion.  Moments of non-action (intervals between dialogue and gesture) are the most important because the real action occurs mentally, and not visually.  The actor must not allow his inner power to become obvious or "telegraphed" to the spectators.  Zeami explains:

If it is obvious, it becomes an act, and is no longer "no action."  The actions before and after an interval of "no action" must be linked by entering the state of mindlessness in which the actor conceals even from himself his own intent.  The ability to move audiences depends, thus, on linking all the artistic powers with one mind.(24)

Perhaps the best training in concealing one's technique from one's self occurs in the martial arts, where a combatant's attack must come without being "telegraphed" to an opponent.  The best way not to telegraph, of course, is to be unaware of one's own attacking technique.  Martial artists must, in a sense, detach themselves from the combat situation and without preplanning allow the technique to flow forth of its own volition as the natural response to an opponent's attack, a reaction occurring as a result of the martial artists' training.  Unless martial artists regard a real encounter as nothing more than another rehearsal, or practice, they may find themselves in trouble because undue tension may impede their response.  This idea of detachment is equally important, though less serious, for the Japanese actor who must face his audience for the first time.  Takayasu Tomonoshin, a Noh actor, states it this way:

That it is the opening day is of no importance.  What is important is regular rehearsing.  What is regular rehearsing?  At rehearsal time you should put your heart in your work and learn your part thoroughly, but on the opening day you should put all that out of your mind when you go on.  If one thinks that the opening day is of special importance, one has not made the art of acting one's own.(25)

Ernst carries the idea of detachment a step further by noting that the Kabuki actor "detaches his own personality from that of the character he is portraying, so that the audience finds its aesthetic satisfaction not in an illusionistic identification of actor and character, but rather in the technical skill of this performance." (26)  This detachment may also be necessary for the spontaneous revelation of the character.  The Kabuki actor appears to wipe out his own personality and his personal feelings so that nothing will impede the role from taking on life for itself.  A famous Kabuki master once put it this way:  "All you need to do is dance as your heart dictates; attempts to display your skill, however well meaning, will deform your dance.  Dance innocently with no cloud in your heart.  If in your mind you are expecting applause, your dance will fail."(27)

One could very easily change the word "dance" in the above quote to "compete" in the first instance and "technique" in the second.  Indeed, as all contest veterans know, if in their minds they are anticipating victory, they will surely lose.  It is not uncommon for martial artists, after calmly disposing of several adversaries in a contest or a self-defense situation, to become nervous and shaky afterwards when contemplating or discussing the result of the conflict.

Tension can be disastrous to both martial artists and actors.  Thought of one's self, one's part, or one's lines can very well impede the character's coming to life upon the stage, if not destroy that spontaneity that is essential to a believable performance.  There is a story told about Marlon Brando that will illustrate recognition of this important concept on the part of this fine actor.  When asked how he could remember all of his lines, Brando's reply was that he knew his lines only when he forgot them.  As Brando says:

I am good when I forget.  When I can sit on stage and think of catching a fish.  I have just sunk the hook, there's a tug on the line, and at the preoccupied moment, I hear my cue.  My God, what is my line?  And then I say my line, because the motor memory will save you if you really believe.  So I say my line, the line I thought I'd forgotten, and it's good, man.  It's really good.(28)

What this Method-trained actor presumably meant was that he can remember his lines when they are consciously lost but unconsciously recalled.  In other words, the actor's lines are evoked as the direct result of stimuli occurring in the context of the dramatic action upon the stage.  The evocation of the lines comes as a spontaneous reflex action, much in the same way that the karate strike or block is practiced.  It is interesting to note here in regard to the forgetting of the actor's lines that Sakata Tojuro, a famous Kabuki actor and producer, seems to have held the same theory as that of Brando:

I am the same on the first day; I too am in confusion.  But the reason that I seem to others as if I am playing a play that I am familiar with is that when I am practicing I commit the words well to memory, and on the first day I forget them completely.  However, I listen on the stage to what the other actors say to me, and then I remember my lines and speak them.  The reason why I do this is that when one encounters people in the ordinary course of events, or fights or disputes with them, one has not the advantage of having lines prepared in advance.  One hears what the other has to say, and then, and not before, one's reply comes to one's lips.  In acting, I think that everyday life should be the model, and that is why I commit the words properly to memory and forget them when I appear on the first day.(29)

The confidence to forget one's lines on the stage creates a more spontaneous and decisive delivery on the part of the actor.  Indeed, few forms of physical training work to develop the ability of decisiveness as completely as judo.  In this martial art, the proper time to execute a throw is momentary.  Any hesitation on the part of the thrower means the loss of the moment.  In addition, many teachers have pointed out that judo artists must attack with a do-or-die spirit, or the move will be detected, blocked, and possibly reversed-a defeat that might mean taking a hard fall, or much worse.

By advocating gymnastics, Stanislavski, perhaps unwittingly, might have been working toward one major goal of the martial arts:  to achieve sammai, which Suzuki defines as a mental state where there is “perfect unification of ‘man and weapon,’ ‘actor and action,’ and ‘thought and deed.’” (30)  Sammai appears to be the essence of spontaneity.  The Russian director utilized acrobatics as a means of developing the quality of "decisiveness" necessary for the culminating point of the actor's performance.  In these moments, there is no time for hesitation or contemplation regarding the role; the actor must spontaneously act.  Most actors, however, according to Stanislavski, are fearful of the climactic moments and try to aid their performances by consciously dwelling upon the key moment, especially during less important moments of the production.  This kind of advance preparation causes tension that inevitably prevents spontaneous and decisive action on the part of the actors.

Since improperly performed acrobatics can lead to injury, Stanislavski believed that proper training would be essential.  A small bruise for the sake of art, he maintained, was only a small price to pay.  He explains the benefits of gymnastics this way:

It will teach you to make your try next time without extra thought, without shilly-shallying, with manly decision, using your physical intuition and inspiration.  When you have developed will power in your bodily movement and actions it will be easier for you to carry it over into living your role and you will learn how, without thinking, to surrender yourself instantly and utterly into the power of intuition and inspiration.(31)

Because of their Zen influence, the marital arts would be ideal training to enable actors to "surrender" themselves or, more precisely in terms of Zen, to be carried away by intuition and inspiration.  It is interesting to note that, according to Leonard Pronko, Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery was an important influence in the technique of the great Jean-Louis Barrault.(32)  Indeed, the mechanics of his portrayal of the "Hyde" character in the French film version of the Stevenson classic curiously resemble the mechanics of a Zen-influenced martial art.(33)  There are two scenes that particularly display an amazing spontaneity on the part of this talented actor.

First, when Hyde is captured on one occasion, he does not resist his captors.  On the contrary, when roughly handled, he lets his body go limp--that is, until his would-be captors are off guard.  Then, in a flash, he spontaneously (without any overt indication) strikes out, sending his captors sprawling and thus effects his escape.  The second scene in which the evil of Hyde is pronounced because of this spontaneous technique is when the character follows a cripple who, with the aid of crutches, is limping down a street.  Hyde walks along side the cripple and begins to imitate the poor man’s limp.  Then, suddenly, with no warning, he kicks the crutches out from under the cripple.  Barrault's Hyde is shocking because he does not "telegraph" his evil intent; his evil thought and action are one.  Since Barrault was, perhaps, trying to present a study in "depravity for depravity's sake," his spontaneous, unpremeditated bodily movements helped to achieve this effect.  Barrault's acting in this particular film seemed to be in no small way influenced by Zen and appears to epitomize Stanislavski's quality of decisiveness.

Identification with one's artistic creation--  The fact that the Kabuki actor detaches his own personality from that of the character would give the impression that he does not in any way identify with the role.  However, our analogy with the martial arts does not bear out such a conclusion—at least not on an unconscious level.  It is, indeed, the prime requisite in Zen-inspired swordsmanship that the swordsman identify with his sword:  the martial artist and his instrument become one, inspired by a divine force.(34)  Thus, one feels that by analogy, actors must also identify in some way with their roles.  Let us say, then, in terms of Zen, that a conscious attempt on the part of the actor to identify with the role is not one goal of the Kabuki actor.  Indeed, any conscious identification on the part of any actor during a performance creates a conceptualization of the actor's technique, which may reduce spontaneity and produce a poor performance.  Conscious identification on the part of the actor is analogous to the Zen idea of feeling, whereas unconscious identification is analogous to the Zen state of emotion.  In this respect, actor and role perform as an activity of the psyche as a whole.

This unconscious activity by the Japanese Zen artist has been summarized in the Zen poet Basho's advice to art students:  "Feel like the pine when you look at the pine, like the bamboo when you look at the bamboo."  As Ernst explains, "Truthful artistic expression can arise only with the complete surrender of the artist to the nature of the object before him, a surrender uninhibited by the artist's intellect or emotions." (35)   It is no accident that the fighting styles of kung fu are based upon the movements of creatures in nature.  To truly master the praying mantis style, for example, some experts believe the practitioner must identify with the organic growth and form of the insect.  So too must the actors identify with the organic growth and form of the role they are to perform.  Both fighters and actors must, in the moment of creative truth, forget both self and form.

But the Kabuki actor does not live his role in the sense that a good many western actors do.  There is a distinction in the word "live" that in the spiritual thinking of the East implies an "egolessness" or a "not living."  The Kabuki actor, it seems, attempts to wipe out his own ego so that he may unconsciously identify with the organic growth and form of the role.  Many western actors live their parts so that their individual egos may thrive and live through their performances.  Regardless of how talented these actors may be (and they may be the finest in the world), it is often their own egos that live on the stage, and not those of the characters they are playing.

The effort to rid the stage of ego-centered actors was carried to the extreme (theoretically at least) by Gordon Craig's concept of uber-marionette, the super puppet that would be capable of unifying all elements of production.  The idea can be somewhat observed in practice in the Bunraku Theatre of Japan, in which four-foot-high puppets are manipulated by three puppeteers.  A film version of a famous puppet play created an illusion of tragic life powerful enough to evoke tears from a group of seventh graders to whom the writer presented the film as part of a social studies class.  Audiences can be affected sometimes more by puppets than by humans because the marionette has no life or movement except that which it derives from the action.

It was no accident that Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Japan's greatest playwright, wrote for the puppet theatre and that the puppets greatly influenced the stylized movements of the Kabuki.  This idea may be one reason why watching an onnagata perform is aesthetically satisfying, especially for a male spectator.  It is not as easy to get involved with an onnagata on a kinesthetic level as, say, with Demi Moore.  The average male filmgoer might become more involved with Demi than with the character she is portraying.  However, when viewing Jakuemon performing, the same male might respond only to the emotions being expressed by the character, and not to the physical allurement of the actor.

An analysis of the traditional attitude toward the onnagata, however, indicates that the illusion of femininity (not actual femininity) is essential to the creation of a theatrical reality.  In the following quote, Yoshizawa Ayame, the most renowned female impersonator of Kabuki's Genroku period (1688-1704), explains why the preservation of illusion is necessary, even when the impersonator is off stage.

The onnagata should continue to have the feeling of an onnagata even when in the dressing room.  When seeking refreshment, too, he should turn away so that people cannot see him.  To be along side a tachiyaku [performer of male roles] playing a lover's part, chew away at one's food without charm and then go straight out on the stage and play a love scene with the same man, will lead to failure on both sides, for the tachiyuki’s [sic] heart will not be ready to fall in love.(36)

It is apparent that, despite what some critics maintain, even in modern times, Kabuki actors do to some degree live their parts--even when off stage.  The following incident may illustrate how deeply ingrained femininity can become in some performers.  During this writer's interview with Jakuemon in his dressing room, the question of the actor's age was raised.  When I learned that this trim, youthful looking man was in his fifties, I responded with what I hoped would be a flattering display of my disbelief and a subtle revelation of my linguistic ability.  "Wakarashii! (You seem young!)," I exclaimed.  The actor responded by turning his head away, demurely casting his eyes downward, and placing his hand over his mouth.  Jakuemon displayed these conventional gestures, utilized by Japanese women to denote modesty, even though he was not in costume, in make-up, or on stage.

Identification between artist and his instrument in the Zen-fostered martial arts is first brought about by a detachment from the life and death encounter on the part of the performer.  Only by negating all personal feeling could the samurai swordsman, for example, achieve a state where the innate need for self-preservation could flow unimpeded and where both he and his sword could act as if products of a divine force.  Expert swordsman Takano Shigeyoshi explains that when all thought of winning and fear of losing are wiped from the mind and when the state of muga (no ego) is obtained, "one can realize the state of oneness in which you are the sword and the sword is you—for there is no distinction between the two."  Furthermore, Takano perceives no opponent.  Rather, he transforms himself into the opponent so that every technique, every strategy, every thought is known as though they belong to him.  Thus, as this master explains, “I intuitively, or rather unconsciously, know when and how to strike him.”(37)

In discussing "restraint and control," Stanislavski points out that if actors can create the typical external gestures for a character, they will bring him closer to an identification with the role; however, the intrusion of personal "motions," he hastens to add, divorces actors from the part and places them into the realm of purely personal feelings.(38)  It has already been pointed out in a discussion on feeling the role that when the Zen swordsman is forced to kill, it is as if the action is carried out by an agent outside himself.  When myo is released in Zen, it is as though a duality has been created between the conscious and the unconscious.  This duality does not impede the identification (or the creation of oneness) with the sword on the part of the swordsman.  On the contrary, it is only through the creation of this duality that "oneness" can occur on an unconscious level.  This separation of the conscious and the unconscious seems to cause the conscious part of the psyche to become isolated and "wiped out" so that the unconscious can be evoked.  Stanislavski believed that the actor is split into two parts when performing and that this duality is essential to the promotion of creativity on the stage.  Stanislavski quotes Salvini to clarify this phenomenon:  "An actor lives, weeps, and laughs on the stage, and all the while he is watching his own tears and smiles.  It is this double function, this balance between life and acting that makes his art."(39)  Moreover, Stanislavski was aware that this duality would aid actors in the release of the role from the unconscious part of their psyches.  This idea can best be ascertained by Stanislavski's explanation of what happens when the threshold of the subconscious is reached by the actor:

Your head will swim from the excitement of the sudden and complete fusion of your life with your part.  It may not last long but while it does last you will be incapable of distinguishing between yourself and the person you are portraying.  Then, as I already told you, truth and faith will lead you into the region of the subconscious and hand you over into the power of nature.(40)

Concentration on performance--  One of the best examples of concentration building can be seen in the practice of karate and judo because both work to achieve a state of self-effacement on the part of the performer.  This Zen state, mentioned earlier, is called mushin no shin (no mindedness).  Louis Delgado describes his feeling during kata, a response that parallels what occurs during an acting performance.  "When I perform my kata it flows through my body and I think of nothing.  I am shut off from everything.  I do not see the referee, the crowds.  I do not hear anything.  My whole being is in kata."(41)

Another good example of concentration building can be seen in judo.  In this form of training, concentration and balance cannot be separated; in terms of kufu, concentration is performed with the entire being.  Physical balance and mental balance thus are one; therefore, if the mind wanders, the judo practitioner's physical stability will be weakened and he or she can be thrown.  Implicit in the concept of concentration is relaxation.  Unnecessary tension--muscular or mental--will impede the full activity of the psyche and thus disrupt balance.  From a Zen point of view, then, the cultivation of balance through judo or karate will aid in the growth of concentration control and aid in the relaxation of the actor.

In a discussion of relaxation, Stanislavski tells the story of an American woman who had devoted many hours to the study of balance, equilibrium, and the center of gravity.(42)   This woman would allow herself to be pushed and flung about, but she would not lose balance or be knocked down.  And she had developed such remarkable control over her own body and had cultivated such an intuitive understanding of the laws of motion that she could readily discern if others were off balance and could easily knock them over.  Stanislavski was very much impressed with the degree to which this woman had trained her physical apparatus.  The close similarity between this woman's skill and aikido is indeed striking.

The ability of aikido artists to defend against being knocked down comes as the result of an introspective kind of self-communion in which both mental and physical powers are united.  The balanced aikido practitioners must be able to focus unconsciously their mental energies upon the center of balance located in the abdominal region (hara).  As a female assistant aikido instructor explained to Hyams:

If you imagine all your energy coming into your body at a point in your midsection, running down through your legs and running up through your trunk, through your arms, and up into your head—and then, with your mind, you project this energy through your body in the direction you wish—you can be said to be extending your ki.  Ki can be sent in any direction, depending on what you plan to do.(43)

The concentration upon this vital area keeps the mind from wandering during a practice or a self-defense encounter, a condition quite undesirable, not only for aikido but also for acting.

In reference to the union of mind and body, Stanislavski discusses the Hindu concept of prana (vital energy radiating from the brain and solar plexus).  In Eastern fashion, the great Russian director and actor tried to bring about a communion between the two vital centers, an experimentation that caused him to feel "not only that they existed, but they actually did come in contact with one another."  Thus from that time on, he was able to commune with himself on the stage during an acting performance.  It is interesting to note that whether such a phenomenon truly existed did not concern Stanislavski:

I have no desire to prove whether Prana really exists or not.  My sensations may be purely individual to me, the whole thing may be the fruit of my imagination.  That is of no consequence provided I can make use of it for my purposes and it helps me.(44)

To further strengthen the corollary between acting and martial arts, it should be noted that the sentiments of Stanislavski toward prana were similar to Hyams' reaction to "ki" after his introduction to the art of aikido:

I find this [ki] an especially difficult concept to understand.  But on rare occasions I have been aware of a spontaneous flow of steady strength (or energy) flooding my entire body without consciously seeking it…. For me, the lesson in this can be reduced to a simple statement:  It is sufficient to know that there is such a think [sic] as ki, an available inner strength that expands the concept of one's own resources.  Merely knowing that ki exists in all of us is, in itself, empowering.(45)

To illustrate the epitome of concentration development, Stanislavski tells the story of a maharajah who, in order to choose the best man for the prime minister's job, made all candidates walk along the high and narrow city walls, holding a dish of milk.  The one who could perform this task without spilling a drop would be selected.  During this ordeal, the spectators would scream, and the soldiers would fire over the candidate's head.  All who tried failed.  Finally, the story goes, a man appeared who, regardless of the shouts and shots, could not be shaken.  When the maharajah asked him if he heard the noise, the newly acclaimed minister replied that he did not hear the noise, simply because he was watching the milk.(46)  Indeed, the involvement with a physical task on the stage (or in the dojo) can aid in shutting out all distracting stimuli.  The prime minister in the above story reminds one of Delgado's performance of kata.  This karate expert does not hear or see anything because his whole being is in the kata.

One might recall the story of the humble tea man of Tosa.  He had accompanied his master to the city, where, while strolling through the streets by himself, he was accosted by a brigand, who challenged him to a duel.  Although he was trembling in fear, the tea man did not want to bring shame upon his master’s house.  Thus, he could not refuse the combat.  He was, however, able to bide some time by postponing the encounter until noon.  Knowing nothing of swordsmanship, he hoped he could at least learn to hold a sword properly and to die with honor.  So, he sought out a local fencing master, who, in return for having the tea maker prepare tea, agreed to help.  During the preparation of the tea, an amazing alteration occurred:  The nervous and quivering tea man suddenly became calm and seemed to be carried away by his art and unmindful of his forthcoming duel.  The tea man’s whole being was in his “kata.”  The fencing master was struck by this change in demeanor.  “You are already a master and know how to die,” said the sword master; and then he advised the tea man to prepare for combat in the same manner as he had prepared for the impromptu tea ceremony and to hold the sword as if holding an instrument to stir the tea.  Following the fencing master’s advice, the tea man prepared to meet his foe, not in a duel but in an artistic endeavor.  No longer the quivering victim, the tea man stood serene and poised as if as one with his sword.  When the brigand saw this transformation in the tea man, he saw not the easy prey he had encountered earlier, but one who embodied truth.  The brigand then knew that he did not have a chance and backed out of the encounter with his reborn adversary, who, as Suzuki says, “now appeared to him an embodiment of fearlessness, that is, the unconscious.” (47)

Suzuki further clarifies the attitude of the tea man:

When one is resolved to die, that is, when the thought of death is wiped off the field of consciousness, there arises something in it, or, rather, apparently from the outside, the presence of which one has never been aware of, and when this strange presence begins to direct one’s activities in an instinctual manner wonders are achieved.(48)

When artists achieve such a state, neither their mental nor physical balance can be disrupted.  An interesting anecdote concerning the mental balance of the Kabuki actor should be related here.  When the Grand Kabuki toured the United States in 1969, the author was fortunate to attend a dress rehearsal at the New York City Center.  That afternoon, Leonard Harris, arts editor for WCBS-TV, was on hand with a camera crew.  Harris wanted to film a segment of Baiko's performance for his evening newscast, but he found the lighting less than desirable.  Before he inundated the stage with high-powered floodlights, Harris asked permission of Faubion Bowers, interpreter for the performers.

Concerned about the effects the lights might have on the dancing Kabuki actor, Harris explained, "I wouldn't want to throw him."

"Throw him!" exclaimed Bowers with indignation.  "You can't throw a Kabuki actor."

A way of life approach to the arts--  It must be pointed out that the martial arts are guided by the concept of Do (The Way), in which the experts' training pervades all of their everyday actions.  Indeed, many of us fail to adapt to a situation because we are too quick to employ aggressive words and actions.  Judo masters, for example, can best achieve their goals in the world by being able to apply judo principles rather than force, by defusing a potential confrontation rather than fueling it.  Judo experts learn to wait (a form of flexibility) until the time is right and then act—either in the form of a throw in judo or a proper social action in life.  How many failures—in applying for a job, asking for a raise, proposing matrimony, or declaring war—have occurred in life because the protagonist was not flexible enough to wait and discern the proper moment for action?  Indeed, one tragic motif in drama and in life is the inflexibility of the characters.

According to yin-yang philosophy, the only certainty in life is change.  Thus in order to be in accord with nature, men and women must be able to predict and adapt.  If they can intuit (in terms of Zen) the correct response, then they will be in harmony.  In judo, one's opponent becomes mimetic of all the changing forces in the cosmos.  As Mifune so aptly states it:

The secret of Judo lies in finding stability promptly suited to the change amid the consistency of the quick and innocent mind and smooth mover of body… A good Judo man being well aware of the above never anticipates his action in a match, but his mind is as clever as a polished mirror which enables him to foresee precisely anything to happen and he displays freedom of his physique to cope with any change.(49)

It can be noted that Stanislavski also was aware of certain natural forces that dictate the creative process, whether biological or imaginative:

You can go astray only if you do not understand that truth; if you do not have confidence in nature; if you try to think up "new principles", "new bases", "new art".  Nature's laws are binding on all without exception, and woe to those who break them.(50)

The acting system envisioned by Stanislavski was a discipline that was to be carried out by actors, not only in the preparation for a play but also in daily life.  Thus, the system would make them better people and better members of their society.  Since actors create powerful images in terms of their personal character and attributes, they must be careful not to weaken that image through an immoral public life.  Nothing can be so discouraging to the public, thought this visionary teacher, than to discover that their idols are less than golden.  Because of the emotional and spiritual hold of actors over their public, Stanislavski believed that actors must be circumspect enough not to betray the confidence of their fans; thus it was important that the system carry over into the daily lives of the actors, the entire process taking, perhaps, a lifetime.  As Stanislavski states in regard to the system:  "It is not a hand-me-down suit that you can put on and walk off in, or a cook book where all you need to find is the page and there is your recipe."(51)

It would appear that the Method to Stanislavski was a whole way of life, requiring the same discipline, training, and inspiration that form the essence of Zen-inspired martial arts.  How many actors today have what it takes to make a way of life out of their art?  Obviously, to many for whom fame has come too easily, the ideas of Stanislavski would certainly be alien.  Indeed, there are also many practitioners of the martial arts for whom the true path has been lost.

Just as in Stanislavski's system, in the martial arts, the perfection of one's technique is coincidental with the perfection of one's self.  Thus, attainments in the martial arts are never directly sought.  Generally speaking, perfection to the western actor of today is often a tangible goal that can be attained and maintained.  But to the Zen artist, there is no such thing as attainable perfection.  The end of one's art is never achieved in the form of an artistic product, per se, but is constantly realized in the means by which the artist strives toward that end, especially through indirect means.  A proverb reads:  "When you seek it, you cannot find it; your hand cannot find it; your hand cannot reach it nor your mind exceed it; when you no longer look for it, it is always with you."(52)  Stanislavski understood that his approach to acting was not a direct pursuit for inspiration.  He cautions the actor:

If I were you, I would give up chasing this phantom, inspiration.  Leave it to that miraculous fairy, nature, and devote yourself to what lies within the realm of human conscious control.  Put a role on the right road and it will move ahead.  It will grow broader and deeper and will in the end lead to inspiration.(53)

The real goal of actors and martial artists is to mold their minds and bodies into an artistic pattern of life.  Judo artists, for example, train not to perfect a throw but to achieve complete mental and physical harmony.  Ju in judo means flexibility, the achieving of oneness and harmony with the continuous flux of existence.  Thus, judo artists are not learning to fight, per se, but striving for the integration of mental and physical pursuits into a harmonious pattern of living, a lifetime goal.  This same spirit pervades classical Japanese acting.  In discussing the concept of "one mind linking all powers," in the revelation of the Noh actor's role, Zeami stresses the importance of making this phenomenon a way of life:

If this is done the actor's talent will endure.  This effort must not be confined to the times when the actor is appearing on the stage:  day or night, wherever he may be, whatever he may be doing, he should not forget it, but should make it his constant guide, uniting all his powers.  If he persistently strives to perfect this, his talent will steadily grow.  This article is the most secret of the secret teachings.(54)

There is a parallel in Zen to the work ethic expressed above, as Suzuki asserts:

Every one of us, however ordinary he may be, has something in him, in his unconscious, that is hidden away from the superficial level of consciousness.  To awaken it, to make it work out things of great value to our human world, we must exert ourselves to the utmost and thoroughly purge ourselves of all our selfish interests.(55)

It is perhaps this spirit that pervades the thinking of those Kabuki and martial artists who continue their training well after the age of eighty.  Matsumoto Koshiro, the great Kabuki actor, performed on the stage even though he was too old and weak to leave his dressing room and return home in the evening.(56)  Another example of this attitude is Kyuzo Mifune, the great judo teacher, who until his death at eighty-two was still training and searching for perfection.  This attitude on the part of the Japanese artist can be summarized by this brief testimonial by Mifune:

Trained and taught under Jigoro Kano, founder of Kodokan, I have been with Judo for the last fifty years.  Despite being more than 70 years old, I do not yet retire from severe Judo practice with a vigorous and ever-fresh hope.(57)

Because the martial arts depend heavily upon the practice of kata, they are ideal for older trainees.  In these pre-arranged exercises, perfection of technique rather than competition is emphasized; thus eighty year-old kendo practitioners can, in the solitude of their shady gardens, perform alone the stylized steps of swordsmanship, at their own pace without a challenger.  Even if they are teachers who still work out with their students and are so old that their students can beat them, there is no humiliation for the venerable martial artists because they have never been in competition with their students.  They have been devoted and dedicated only to developing their students to their fullest potential.  When the students begin to beat their teachers (and they will if the teachers have given them all they have to offer), the teachers know that they have been successful, and they may even begin to learn from their students.  Even when the masters can no longer perform physically, they can still contribute to the art or, as the writer's teacher, Ginnosuke Yanagizawa, puts it, "practice judo with the mind."(58)

The following Zen proverb can, by way of conclusion, summarize the way of life attitude on the part of martial artists and acting artists.  "If you want to attain a certain thing, you must first become a certain person.  Once you have become that certain person, the attainment of that certain thing will no longer be a concern of yours."  Indeed, this proverb can be expressed directly in terms of acting:  "If you want to attain stardom, you must first become a certain actor.  Once you have become that certain actor, the attainment of stardom will no longer be a concern of yours."

This essay has attempted to develop a parallel between the external and internal dynamics of martial arts and acting arts, including both Japanese classical actors and modern naturalistic actors of the Stanislavski system, in terms of the following aspects:  the learning-teaching process, feeling during performance, spontaneity of performance, identification with the artistic creation, concentration during performance, and cultivating a way of life approach to art.  The purpose of this comparison was to help actors and martial artists (expert, student, and fan) to better understand the artistic genesis of their activities.  Since martial arts training is primarily geared to evoke a creative response through an ability to tap the inner, and often hidden, resources of the unconscious, such training should aid actors in the preparation and performance of a role.


(1) The concept of warrior turned actor is based upon the theories of behavioral psychology presented in Robert Morris Ogden, The Psychology of Art (New York:  Scribner’s, 1938).

(2) Herbert S. Langfeld, The Aesthetic Attitude (New York:  Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920).

(3) Earle Ernst, The Kabuki Theatre (New York:  Grove Press, 1956), p. 178.

(4) Ernst, p. 179.

(5) Kyuzo Mifune, Canon of Judo, trans. K. Sugai (Tokyo:  Seibundo-Shinkosha, 1962), p. 29.

(6) Georg Fuchs as quoted by Leonard C. Pronko in Theatre:  East and West (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1967), pp. 150-151.

(7) Onoe Baiko VII, interview with author, NYC, Sept 1969.

(8) Pat Alston, "Kata:  Karate's Better Half,” Black Belt (November 1969), pp. 16ff.

(9) Sonia Moore, Training an Actor (New York:  The Viking Press, 1968, p. 6.

(10) Constantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood (New York:  Theatre Arts Books, 1936), p. 167.  (Stanislavski presents his ideas mainly through the character of Tortsov, the Director, and the young actor, and other characters in his novelistic approach.  To simplify the reading of this essay, I have not attempted to distinguish between the "alter egos" and Stanislavski himself; thus, regardless of which characters provide the theories presented, the source has been designated as "Stanislavski."

(11) Narukami is a portion of the play Narukami Fudo Kitayama Zakura.  The author viewed this play in July of 1978 at The Kabuki-za in Tokyo, Japan.

(12) Nakamura Jakuemon IV, interview with author, The Kabuki-za, Tokyo, Japan, July 1978.

(13) As quoted by Takashi Oka in "The Art of Kabuki:  A Blend of Theatre," The New York Times, 10 September 1969, p. 49.

(14) Onoe Baiko VII, interview with author, NYC, September 1969.

(15) Samuel L. Leiter, "An Interview with Four Kabuki Actors," Educational Theatre Journal, xviii, No. 4 (December 1966), 398.

(16) D.T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture. (New York:  Pantheon Books, 1959), pp. 220-222.

(17) Stanislavski, p. 15.

(18) Suzuki, p. 109.

(19) Suzuki, pp. 198-220.

(20) Suzuki, p. 145.

(21) Herbert Read, "Suzuki:  Zen and Art," in D.T. Suzuki, ed. Keizi Nishitani and Hiroshi Sakamoto (Kyoto:  Eastern Buddhist Society, Otani University) Vol.II, No1, pp. 21-22.

(22) Stanislavski, p. 175.

(23) Stanislavski, p. 293.

(24) Donald Keene, ed., Anthology of Japanese Literature (New York:  Grove Press, 1955), pp. 258-259.  Zeami (1364-1443) and his father Kannami (1333-1384) were influenced by the extant dance forms of sarugaku, dengaku, ennen no mai, and bugaku when they created the Noh drama.

(25) Translated in Charles J. Dunn and Bunzo Torigoe, trans., The Actors' Analects (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 77.

(26) Ernst, p. 193.

(27) Quoted in A.C. Scott in The Kabuki Theatre of Japan (New York: Collier Books, 1966), p. 85.

(28) As quoted by William Redfield in Letters to an Actor (New York: The Viking   Press, 1966, p. 60.

(29) Translated in Dunn and Torigoe, p. 76.  Tojuro (1647-1709) acted in and produced Kabuki plays during the Genroku era, the period in which the Kabuki flourished.

(30) Suzuki, p. 223.

(31) Constantin Stanislavski, Building a Character, trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood (New York:  Theatre Arts Books, 1949), p. 38.  (As indicated in endnote #10, all quotes will be attributed to Stanislavski rather than to the characters in the text.)

(32) Pronko, p. 95. Pronko says “the Zen archery book”; thus, I have assumed the reference is most likely to Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. The analysis of Barrault's creation of Hyde is my own.

(33) The Testament of Dr. Cordelier, Jean Renoir, director.  (French Television, Sofirad and the Jean Renoir Company, Paris, 1959).

(34) Suzuki, pp. 205-206.

(35) Ernst, p. 193.

(36) Quoted in Dunn and Tokigoe, p. 61.

(37) “Takuan’s Letter to Yagyu Tajima no Kami Munemori on The Mystery of Prajna Immovable,” quoted in Suzuki, pp. 205-206.

(38) Stanislavski, Building a Character, p. 72.

(39) As quoted in Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, p. 252.

(40) Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, p. 278.

(41) Alston, p. 27.

(42) Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, p. 98.

(43) Joe Hyams, Zen and the Martial Arts (New York:  Bantam Books, 1962), pp. 56.

(44) Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, p. 187.

(45) Hyams, pp. 56-57.

(46) Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, p. 81

(47) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 192.  A detailed account of this tale appears on pp. 189-192.  The version that appears here is my own.

(48) Suzuki, p. 197.

(49) Mifune, p. 29.

(50) Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, p. 295.

(51) Stanislavski, Building a Character, p. ix.

(52) Quoted in Jiichi Watanabe and Lindy Avakian, The Secrets of Judo (Tokyo:  Charles  E. Tuttle Co., 1960), p. 23.

(53) Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, p. 265.

(54) Suzuki, p. 226.

(55) Keene, p. 259.

(56) Ernst, p. 203.

(57) Mifune, Preface.

(58) Ginnosuke Yanagizawa, discussion, Sapporo, Japan, July 1984.


Alston, Pat.  “Kata:  Karate’s better Half.”  Black Belt.  (November, 1969), pp. 16ff-27.

Dunn, Charles J. and Tokigoe, Bunzo, trans.  The Actors’ Analects.  New York:  Columbia University Press, 1969.

Ernst, Earle.  The Kabuki Theatre.  Trans. K. Sugai.  New York:  Grove Press, 1956.

Herrigel, Eugen.  Zen.  McGraw-Hill, 1964.

Hyams, Joe.  Zen and the Martial Arts.  New York:  Bantam Books, 1962.

Keene, Donald, ed.  Anthology of Japanese Literature.  New York:  The Grove Press, 1955.

Langfeld, Herbert S.  The Aesthetic Attitude.  New York:  Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.

Leiter, Samuel L.  “An Interview with Four Kabuki Actors.”  Educational Theatre Journal, xviii, No. 4 (December 1966), 391-401.

Mifune, Kyuzo.  Canon of Judo.  Tokyo:  Seibundo-Shinkosha, 1962.

Moore, Sonia.  Training an Actor.  New York:  The Viking Press, 1968.

Ogden, Robert Morris.  The Psychology of Art.  New York:  Scribner’s, 1938.

Oka, Takashi.  “The Art of Kabuki:  A Blend of Theatre.”  The New York Times, 10 September 1969, p. 49.

Pronko, Leonard C.  Theatre:  East and West.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

Read, Herbert.  “Suzuki:  Zen and Art.”  In D.T. Suzuki.  Ed. Keiji Nishitani and Hiroshi Sakamoto.  Kyoto:  Eastern Buddhist Society, Otani University, 1967, pp. 21-22.

Redfield, William.  Letters to an Actor.  New York:  The Viking Press, 1966.

Renoir, Jean, director. The Testament of Dr. Cordelier,  (French Television, Sofirad and the Jean Renoir Company, Paris, 1959).

Scott, A. C.  The Kabuki Theatre of Japan.  New York:  Collier Books, 1966.

Stanislavski, Constantin.  An Actor Prepares.  Trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. New York:  Theatre Arts Books, 1936.

____________________.   Building a Character.  Trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood.  New York:  Theatre Arts Books, 1949.

Suzuki, D. T.  Zen and Japanese Culture.  Pantheon Books, 1959.

Watanabe, Jiichi, and Avakian, Lindy.  The Secrets of Judo.  Tokyo:  Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1960.

JTC May 2003