A new look at Ta Khousaba
“Koireng Umu Ningthang Chung,
Saom Lupang Unna Marong Chungmai Henba,
Ingen Leithet Teina Henmoiba Chungbu,
Marong Ngakta Huk Maram Khongkhap Tei,
Khongkhap Chenglou Mitpu Ngak,
Loibi Makha Chik -Hemba Marei Tam,
Pishum Pagoi Lei Ngakli Lusham Hai,
Yanglen Luchao Khoy……Tilmen Khuta Su…..” -Takhel-Ngamba.
Ta Khousaba - Spear Dance - is a traditional practice in Thang-Ta, or Huyen Lallong. It is commonly regarded as a form of story-telling - a ritualized re-enactment of the search for a foe or animal; encircling, and then attacking and subduing. For the practitioner, it also provides an excellent training for crucial abilities required by a warrior. When performed with vigor and alacrity, it develops useful combat skills, and promotes important physical attributes such as fitness, strength, and athletic ability.
Literally, the word “khousaba” does not mean “dance”. It refers to the frolics of a new-born calf. The calf jumps and hops, dashes randomly, until it develops coordination, reflexes and balance. Calves also indulge in contests with imaginary attackers - head butting, kicking, etc. This same spirit should be manifested in the performance of “khousaba”.
As the meaning of “khousaba” suggests, many of the movements are inspired by animals - for instance the leg movements of birds while running or scratching; the way they spread their wings, preparing to move or fly. Teachers would always encourage students to watch the way animals move, play, and fight; where the animal’s attention is focused, the sudden contraction and expansion of the body, and tactics of body movements.
In general, the spear forms concentrate on developing the physical ability of the lower body while the upper body remains relatively fixed in position. There are many complex movements in the spear forms that involve rapid leg movements, switching balance from one leg to another and leaping and hopping. For example, spear forms always contain a section where the performer jumps in the air searching for the foe or quarry. Usually, there are also several sequences that call for a sudden leap in the air. These increase muscle strength and plyometric capability - enhancing the ability to jump higher, run faster, and change direction more quickly, as recognized by modern sports science (healthline.com). Practicing the vigorous movements of the spear forms also improve lung (aerobic) capacity. In fact, to develop the ability to sprint faster, teachers encourage students to practice the spear form rather than running.
Other aspects besides the purely physical are also developed. Every spear form (dance) has a section where the performer is sweeping the ground with his feet to knock over sharp stakes that have been set in the ground, the movement depending on the height of the stakes. The performer however has to keep his attention on his surroundings during this movement, aware of any possible attack. So he cannot be looking down at his feet. This develops proprioceptive function (sensitivity) in the feet.
There are progressive methods for the training of the spear forms that increase in difficulty as the practitioner advances. One method is to reduce the number of breaths taken during the performance of a form. For example, starting with 3 breaths to complete a form, reducing to two breaths, then one for the advanced practitioner. Another well known practice method is to reduce the size of the area of the performance. Starting with a circle of approximately five feet in diameter, gradually reduce to two feet; ultimately the performer does the form on a banana tree leaf (la-laton amada) - without tearing the leaf !
Traditionally, even warriors devoted to the sword were required to learn at least one or two spear forms - ensuring development of stability and lower body agility. Likewise, warriors specializing in the spear were required to learn some sword forms to develop upper body flexibility and coordination. It was believed that the combination of sword and spear training developed total body coordination. Even mukna practitioners practiced the spear as an aid to developing agility and reflexes in the legs.
Nowadays Ta khousaba is considered as a stylized dance form only, or as a spiritual exercise. We hope we have shown that Ta khousaba actually develops not just physical and mental abilities, but also the neuromuscular integration necessary for martial arts. It was an essential practice of physical development for warriors of the past, and we think it should also be considered an essential practice today for the Thang-ta practitioner - or anyone who wants to improve their muscular and aerobic capacity. This article is a development of ideas from various teachers including Padmasri Pundit (late) N Khelchandra, SNA Awardee (late) Devabrata Sinam (Oja Debo), and particularly the inspiration of Lokendra Arambam, PhD.
Loyd Gore assisted in editing this article. The writer is Member Conseil International de la Danse (CID) ,UNESCO. Dainis Jirgensons, Dipl.Math., CMT