Thoughts from a Kung Fu Drummer


I started martial arts at age 11 – four years before I also took up drumming.

Over the decades my loyalty has rotated between the two, but I never lost sight of one in place of the other. Since studying Pak Mei kung fu in particular, I’ve noticed that the two disciplines hold a mutually beneficial relationship.  Drumming represents a parallel manifestation of Pak Mei principles and has undoubtedly supplemented my understanding of the system’s physical demands as a whole.

I’m not speaking of Tun, Tou, Fau, & Chaam  — but rather the external/internal; hard/soft; yum yeung(aka yin yang) concept of power generation.  No drummer, no matter the music genre can play while completely stiff (yeung).  That stiffness is one of Pak Mei’s biggest obstacles.  In both disciplines, there HAS to be a period of loose transition between strikes.  A stiff arm can’t break a drum stick just by hitting a drum.  A stiff arm can’t execute Pak Mei power.  One needs [among countless other things] finesse and flexibility through the shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers in order to add extra torque and whipping power to each hit.

Ever since I started studying -or rather, began “understanding” Pak Mei and translating its internal power into drumming, I break sticks, heads and cymbals left and right. (I play mostly heavy music)  

 This is why practitioners from purely External systems cannot easily learn Pak Mei.  Subtlety and finesse, followed by crushing short-range power only at the moment of impact is what makes Pak Mei so great.

In addition … there’s also the detached consciousness in drummers that allows all limbs to act independently of one another. Just like in Pak Mei, in almost every technique, each limb has its own job to do.  Back leg roots, front leg charges, waist turns, body rises/sinks, one arm defends, the other attacks, etc etc — all in the same technique.

There are so many other comparisons, not only with drumming/Pak Mei, but music & martial arts as a whole. I remember reading an old Modern Drummer magazine….forgot the drummer in question, but he said how his time spent studying Tai Chi had also improved his drumming.

Just sharing what runs through my head during my commute… 


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