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Saturday, 11 April 2009

Cor-Chat - The Fighting Art of the Circus

Phineas Taylor BarnumImage via Wikipedia
Cor-chat is the most closely guarded secret of the travelling circus. Loosely translated from circus language the name means “Fight Thing”. For three centuries it was a style that was taught exclusively to circus people and passed from one generation to the next for the purposes of self defence. The life of a travelling performer is a hazardous one. When a community moves to a new site or “tober” they are immediately strangers and not always welcome. This prompted the creation of a system of self defence to deal with would-be attackers and practiced in accordance with circus custom. The lineage of the main schools of cor-chat can’t be traced back to a single circus family, although it is believed that Phillip Astley, the father of the modern circus, introduced various techniques taken from his military experiences. Phineas T. Barnum is also credited with influencing a more deceptive style of cor-chat in the USA. Some say that the famous fraudster’s line “never give a sucker an even break” had a hidden reference to the savage joint-locking techniques found in cor-chat.

The art was practised covertly and training was often hidden in the various acts performed in the circus. Certain techniques hint towards these acts. For example, a low sweeping attack is named the clown’s shoe. Training in cor-chat traditionally takes place on a sawdust covered ground, inside a ringed area and in a training place known as the Big Top. New students from the outside are known as jossers and are rarely taught unless they pass the cor-chat initiation trials. Much of these initiations include a series of gruelling exercises known as “building up” and “pulling down”.

When performing a technique, the attacker is often given the term “anti”. Cor-chat is a brutal system that includes a devastating array of techniques designed to confuse and destroy an antagonist. Methods are both unarmed and armed. Armed methods make extensive use of incidental weaponry, including coupling pins and there is a seemingly inexhaustible list of methods for using bailing string. Like all good martial arts systems, cor-chat teaches evasion techniques that come under the title of “scarpering”. Unlike many traditional martial arts there is no set custom or greeting term before starting a training session, however, after training students ritually use the term “nanti palari”.

Today the art has been made available to the general public for the first time. Schools are opening up all over the country and worldwide. These include intensive instructor programmes and long-distance learning plans. Training in cor-chat is a positively enriching experience. You will find this when you begin to teach. In line with circus lore, the cor-chat instructor works for a mysterious commodity known as dinari. It is the objective of any life long cor-chat instructor to accumulate as much dinari as possible. Lack of dinari is often accredited to the lows faced by many circus people.

Cor-chat is a system trained by many different cultures against a myriad of threats. It is a time-tested martial art with a history that goes back three centuries and practiced by many top circus fighters. Now you can also learn this devastating art.

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