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RHYTHM, FLOW AND THE ART OF FREESTYLING

March 27, 2017

'A good BBOY or BGIRL does not become tense but ready, not thinking yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the MUSIC expands, I EXPAND. When it contracts, I CONTRACT. And, when THAT BEAT IS ABOUT TO HIT, I do not hit - MY BODY hits all by itself.'

 

Sound familiar?  I took one of Bruce Lee's famous speeches from his most well known movie, 'Enter the Dragon,' and tweaked it a little to fit the Art of breaking.  His original speech goes:

 

'A good martial artist does not become tense but ready, not thinking yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And, when there is an opportunity, I do not hit - it hits all by itself.'

 I remember watching this scene as a kid not really understanding the wisdom Bruce was imparting.  Then, after years of studying martial arts, one day my mind suddenly opened to what Bruce meant, and it changed the whole rhythm and flow of my martial arts training.  And, as a Bboy, I have learnt that the methodology and mentality behind those words that Bruce spoke, carry over into everything, including breaking. It's just all about Rhythm and Flow.

 

When I first began to take breaking seriously I was mesmerized by the Bboys and Bgirls who somehow always managed to rock and kill a beat.  Born, Machine, Focus, I watched guys like these come out time and time again and ride the crash, roll, and sporadic waves of the music, as if they knew what was coming before it even hit.

 

I wanted to know what was running through their minds when they were throwing down? If they planned their runs? How they so easily let go and just free styled with such musicality?  I was constantly in search of the magic formula to be someone that could also ride the beat like a surfer rides a wave.  So I'd go to training and spend hours upon hours dancing to the music, trying to achieve a connection with the beat that ran deeper than the timing of the snare.  I was looking for that something that would cause the music to flow through me, instead of myself just doing a few Indian steps on the 2, 4, 6 and 8, before going to the floor and losing all connection with the beat.  

I would do 3-5 songs of nothing but Toprock to start every session.

I'd Practice hitting my freezes on beat.

I'd make up footwork steps that allowed me to play with the music. 

I worked going down on beat and getting up on beat.  

I tried to enter my power on beat, and finish it on beat.

Session, after session, after session. Music, music, music.

 

Then, once in a blue moon, I'd find myself dancing on auto pilot, in a battle. Something unknown would take over my body and suddenly I'd be freestyling, riding whatever beat was spinning.  But when it was over I never knew how I did it, it just felt like I was in a trance and it just happened, 'all by itself.'  But this wasn't what Bruce meant, it wasn't what I had discovered in my martial arts training, because 'all by itself' was useless, if it only happened when, 'it felt like it.'  

Even when I'd re-watch the footage of myself to try and figure out what I was thinking at the time, or what had triggered me, I still didn't know what had happened. I'd go to training and try and figure it out, but I couldn't find what had brought me to the place I was constantly seeking. So I'd go back to practicing:

3-5 songs of Toprock to begin the session.

Practicing hitting my freezes on beat.

Making up more steps, and working on the ones I already had, to play with the music in my footwork. 

Going down on beat, getting up on beat.  

Entering power on beat and trying to finish it on beat.

Session, after session, after session. Music, music, music.

 

There were times when I felt like my quest to reach musically-driven freedom would be lost in random rounds of freestyle musicality that I never saw coming. It's a beautifully-terrible thing to achieve a goal but not be able to repeat it. 

 

It would take years of training and battling, as well as actively taking the time to actually learn about music and how it's constructed, along with more spontaneous rounds of musical freedom I was never prepared for, before I finally figured it all out, and learned to let go and ride a track whenever I was feeling the beats the DJ was feeding me. 

 

I don't actually know when I realised it, but I had been teaching my body to let go and just dance, all along

3-5 songs of Toprock to start every session.

Practicing hitting my freezes on beat.

Playing with my footwork to the music.

Going down on beat, and getting up on beat. 

Entering power on beat and trying to finish it on beat.

There was no magic formula.  The simple answer was teaching my body to listen and move to the Rhythm and Flow of the music, until my body became that Rhythm and Flow.  And that's what I had been doing every session, no matter what. 

 

Those spontaneous moments that came out of me were the results of that practice. I just wasn't ready to do it all the time yet, my body was still learning the Rhythm and Flow with which it needed to move.

 

If you've ever watched or do a combat sport like Boxing, kicking boxing or MMA, you'll constantly hear the commentators, or your coach, talk about fighters getting into their Rhythm, and also sometimes figuring out their opponents 'Timing.'  By Rhythm they basically mean the way in which the fighter moves in and out of positions.  And by 'Timing,' they basically mean one fighter learning the Rhythm and Patterns of the their opponent, so they can anticipate when they will throw a strike. 

Dance is no different. Music has a Rhythm and a Flow to it, based on Timing and Patterns. And just like a fighter has to teach their body to slip, duck, block, punch and kick, with Rhythm and Flow, as Dancers we have to teach our bodies to listen for the hit, the break, the bridge, the Drums, the Sax, the Strings, the Horn, the 1, the 2, the 4, the 6, the 8, and everything between.  The pattern of a track is our timing, and you have to teach your body, within the first few beats, to instinctively pick up on the timing of any track the DJ spins.  We have to teach our bodies to listen for when to Go down, when to Get up, when to Freeze, when to play on the music, when to Spin, Jump, Slide, or just break.  You have to train your body to listen at all times.

 

Bruce Lee also said, 'I fear not the man that has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man that has practiced one kick 10,000 times.'

 

Without knowing it, I taught my body to listen, over and over again. Maybe it was 1,000 times, maybe 2,000, 10 or 20,000, I don't know.  All I know is I kept doing it, I never stopped, until I was able to let go and allow my body to work on auto pilot, because I had taught it what to do and therefore no longer needed to think about doing it.  

 

Rhythm and Flow were the keys.  Only by finding it can you be free to let go, stop thinking, and just ride the music, as the beat flows through you.  You can let go because you trust in your training, you know your body knows what to do, when to go and how to move, because it can feel the beat pulsating and vibrating through your bones, it can hear the Sax, the Snare, the Drums, the Horns, the Strings, the 1, the 2, the 3, the 4... it can feel everything working together, and feel the music speaking to your very being, so when that beat comes, you don't hit, your body hits all by itself.

 

Emmanuel Adelekun

Vivid Scribe 

Bboy Manny (Soul Mavericks crew)