At the start of this decade, my seven-year-old son, Marshall, started drum lessons. I take him to the lessons each week and convinced his instructor to let to me sit in with them. Having dabbled with lion dance drumming, I’ve always had an interest in learning. Now I think I’m practicing more than Marshall!
Over the two weeks surrounding the Lunar New Year, our lion dance team had thirteen gigs. For many of our performances, we were joined by professional drummer, Adam Bowman. I love when he accompanies our team; his drumming injects a tremendous energy into both our lion dancing and Kung Fu performances. With the timing of Marshall’s lessons, connecting with Adam was a good opportunity to chat about what we were learning.
About ten years ago, having recently taken up Kung Fu with Sifu Robin, Adam wrote an article for Canadian Musician Magazine, discussing the foundations of Kung Fu as they relate to drumming. This article is my perspective on the foundations of drumming as they relate to Kung Fu.
I regularly describe our style of Kung Fu and self-defence as being percussive. Through my research and discussion with Adam, it became clear that drumming really is a martial art. At its inception, snare drumming rudiments were used to communicate military commands to soldiers. I see both arts as the study of coordination.
Marshall’s drum instructor has 50+ years of experience and is keen about teaching good technique. So far, we have been focussing on these rudiments—a new term for us. Per Wikipedia:
“In percussion music, a rudiment is one of a number of relatively small patterns which form the foundation for more extended and complex drum patterns. The term “rudiment” in this context means not only “basic”, but also fundamental.”
In drumming, examples of rudiments are single strokes, double strokes, paradiddles, drags and flams. These make me reflect on the rudimentary techniques of our Kung Fu style, for example: single alternate punching, forward-reverse punching, block counters, jabs and sidekicks.
While initially frustrating, the speed bag is a training tool that eventually rewards you with a feeling of rhythm. When teaching, I compare proficiency on the speed bag to a drum roll. Both can be intuitively understood, however attaining any degree of skill can only be achieved by putting in time practicing. This is true of the rudiments of Kung Fu and drumming. While fun and challenging to learn, to make them as natural as breathing, the only path is repetition.
Foundational concepts are shared in both arts: posture, breathing, relaxation, timing, efficiency of motion and intent. I strive at these in Kung Fu; with 10,000+ hours of practice, I can feel them in my body. I know with drumming, I can think about these concepts at a cerebral level, but time and practice will be the only way to eventually start to get a feeling for them. From paradiddles to block/punch/kick combinations, the lesson is the same: cultivate your chosen skill through mindful repetition!