Singer/ songwriter/ producer/ dancer FKA Twigs has just added another skill to her already impressive and diverse resume: wushu artist. The music star began practicing the martial art between albums. Now’s she incorporating what she’s learned in video and stage performances in support of her new release, Magdalene, to beautiful effect.
What is wushu?
Wushu, sometimes known as Kung Fu, is the collective term used to describe martial arts practices that originated in China. The roots of these martial arts practices date back to the Bronze Age (3000-1200 BC), but wushu as we now recognize it was established in the 20th century.
“Over its long history, wushu has developed into numerous distinct styles and systems, each incorporating their own techniques, tactics, principles and methods, as well as the use of a wide variety of traditional weaponry,” the International Wushu Federation explains on their official site. “The differing styles that have emerged focus on many aspects of combat, but more importantly they have absorbed the popular philosophies and moral practices of the people in China over the past 5000 years of development. With that, wushu has developed into more than just a simple system of attack and defense and has become a way to cultivate the body, mind and spirit in a positive way that is beneficial to all that practice it.”
There are two types of competitive wushu. Taolu, or forms, is the discipline that focuses on patterns, techniques, and acrobatic movements. Sanda, or sparring, is a full contact combat sport that involves kicking, punching, and wrestling.
Although FKA Twigs hasn’t specified what type of wushu she is training in, it appears that her techniques are more taolu than sanda-based.
How did FKA Twigs become involved in wushu?
According to a recent interview with Rolling Stone, FKA Twigs began pursuing wushu training after recovering from health issues in late 2017. It had been recommended to her by filmmaker Chloe Zhao. “We kind of had quite a fun but lonely and disastrous Cannes Film Festival together a few years ago,” she told the outlet. “Chloe was a relatively new director then; she’s now going on and is directing an incredible Marvel movie. We just ended up hanging out together for the whole of Cannes, sort of like two misfits. And she’s Chinese and she said to me like, ‘Oh, you should have a look at Wushu, with your movement and stuff, I think you’d really love it.’ And I was like, OK.”
Twigs took the recommendation seriously, and began researching local wushu training opportunities when she returned to LA. That’s how she found her instructor, Master Hu. In addition to training in forms with Master Hu, she has also been learning sword dance.
Wushu is one of a number of new physical pursuits that Twigs took up as her health improved. She’s also been pole dancing. She recently told the Guardian that her wushu practice balances out her pole dancing because it is a grounded art that is “weighted in the pelvis.” While her aerial work has developed her upper body strength, wushu has taught her how to use her legs. Thanks to this new routine, she tells the paper, she feels stronger than she ever has before. And more confident. “If I express myself honestly, or if I’m pole dancing or wushu-ing excellently, you can’t question that. I’ve never felt more beautiful because I’ve never been more skilled,” she says.
Martial arts meets performance arts.
There has always been a strong physical aspect to FKA Twigs’s performances. She worked as a dancer before her musical career took off, and it showed in her compelling videos and live performances. This already intriguing component of her work as an artist has only grown as she has matured as an artist. Now she’s introducing her new influences, including wushu, into her performances for Magdalene, which was released on October 25. She’s even begun to incorporate sword dancing into her live show.
And it appears that the wushu influence in her work might continue to expand. In late September, she put out a call for martial artists trained in wushu or stunt work for a secret new project.
FKA Twigs’s future martial arts plans.
It looks like the musician’s martial arts journey will continue to grow, too. When Billboard recently asked her what skill she’s like to learn next, FKA Twigs suggested adding to her wushu training. “I can definitely get deeper into martial arts,” she said. “There’s an amazing Filipino martial art that manages your stress through having someone attack you and then you learn all of the blocks. It’s hard to explain but it’s naturally beautiful. Contortion, too, in terms of how flexible I can get.”