Taolu: credibility and decipherability in the practice of Chinese martial movement
University of Ottawa, CA
Daniel Mroz is a theatre director, university professor and student of the martial arts. His recent performances have been presented at the Canada Dance Festival and the Évènement Zones Théâtrales. The Dancing Word, his book on how to use the Chinese martial arts in the practice of contemporary theatre, is published by Brills. He studies martial arts with Chen Zhonghua and studied acting and directing with Richard Fowler. He holds a Doctorat en études et pratiques des arts from the Université du Québec à Montréal. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Ottawa where he teaches acting and directing.
The practice of taolu (tao4lu4, tào lù, 套路), the prearranged movement patterns of the Chinese martial arts, has been explained in fantastically diverse ways spanning a range of interpretations from the essential and functional to the narrative, theatrical and religious. Rather than trying to find a universal reason for the practice of taolu, this paper proposes to look at the idea of prearranged movement patterns through the lens of credibility and decipherability. These twin concepts, borrowed from the Great Reform movement in 20th century theatre practice, helpfully embrace both the criteria by which the performance of taolu is usually judged and also the deficiencies in our contemporary understanding of reasons behind this palimpsestic training method. As conceptual tools, credibility and decipherability also offer us insight into how the practice of prearranged martial movement patterns is presented and interpreted as a personal and phenomenological experience of embodied practice. This paper hopes to pragmatically present new perspectives from which the practice of taolu can be understood.