A vintage french postcard showing military uniforms from various Asian countries.  Source: Author's personal collection.
A vintage French postcard showing military uniforms from various Asian countries.



Benjamin Judkins. 2014. ‘Inventing Kung Fu’. JOMEC Journal. June. Issue 5. 26 pages.


I am very happy to announce that the latest edition of the JOMEC Journal has just been released.  This volume, edited by Paul Bowman, is dedicated to the newly emerging field of martial studies.  It also includes a paper that I wrote looking at the introduction, evolution and uses of the term “Kung Fu” in the English language literature on the Chinese martial arts.  Interestingly this paper actually started out as a blog post that intended to release on Kung Fu Tea but I never seemed to be able to finish it off.  There was always another reference or perspective that I wanted to explore.  Eventually the project grew to the point that I decided that it would make a better article than a post, and I am very happy to see that it is out.

Given that the first drafts of this paper began as a Kung Fu Tea project, I decided that it was only proper that I use it as this week’s Monday morning update.  After all, this article was conceived of and partially written with all of you in mind.



‘Kung fu’ has become synonymous with the traditional Chinese martial arts in the popular imagination. Yet some practitioners and writers object to this usage, insisting instead on the adoption of other labels such as ‘wushu’. Increasingly authors in both the academic and more serious popular literatures are moving away from ‘kung fu ’, as it is perceived to be both inauthentic and ahistorical. But is this really the case? The following article examines the use of ‘kung fu’ in both the Chinese and English language literatures on the martial arts from the middle of the 19th century to the 1960s. It finds that the term ’s adoption as a descriptor of a set of martial practices is older than is generally acknowledged. There are also specific regional and social reasons why certain Chinese martial artists have chosen to adopt and promote this term in describing their own practice.

Like the traditional Chinese martial arts themselves, the term kung fu has meant many things to various practitioners in different times and places. By studying the evolution and spread of this terminology, students of martial studies can gain insight into the changing nature of the Chinese martial arts.


It is always great to see a project that you have worked on in print.  Yet the thing that I am most excited about is the venue that this paper was published in.  Paul Bowman has been a guest here at Kung Fu Tea and is an important force in promoting and defining “martial studies” as an academic field of inquiry.  The special edition which he edited highlights the work of a number of talented authors and researchers.  I am sure that you will already be familiar with many of these names.  And of course he has also featured the work of some promising younger scholars to watch in the future.

Much of this material will be of interest to readers of Kung Fu Tea and all of it is freely available on the internet.  To aid in exploring this material I have included the journal’s table of contents below complete with links to the relevant article.  As always I would recommend that you begin your review by taking a look at Paul’s brief editorial statement in which he discusses the project and attempts to situate these papers in relation to the broader academic literature.  In the coming months I hope to discuss a number of these research projects in greater depth.

Lastly readers should note that the this journal also contains a call for papers to be presented at a forthcoming conference on martial studies to be held in June of 2015 at Cardiff University.  If you have an idea for a project they will be accepting proposals until the end of December.  I look forward to meeting a number of you there.


Paul Bowman: Editorial: Martial Arts Studies

Kyle Barrowman: No Way as Way: Towards a Poetics of Martial Arts Cinema
Keywords: martial arts l film studies l cultural studies l theory l post-theory l poetics

Esther Berg and Inken Prohl: ‘Become your Best’: On the Construction of Martial Arts as Means of Self-Actualization and Self-Improvement
Keywords: shaolin kung fu l martial arts l Bruce Lee l religious exercise and self-cultivation l digital media l medialization l translocative analysis

Daniele Bolelli: How Gladiatorial Movies and Martial Arts Cinema Influenced the Development of The Ultimate Fighting Championship
Keywords: ultimate fighting championship (ufc) | mixed martial arts (mma) | martial arts films | gladiatorial films | choreography

Paul Bowman: Instituting Reality in Martial Arts Practice
Keywords: reality martial arts l institution l discipline l pedagogy l keysi fighting method (kfm) l taijiquan

Greg Downey: ‘As Real As It Gets!’ Producing hyperviolence in mixed martial arts
Keywords: ultimate fighting championship (ufc) l mixed martial arts (mma) l hyperviolence l hyperreality l virtualism l reality

Adam D. Frank: Unstructuring Structure and Communicating Secrets inside/outside a Chinese Martial Arts Association
Keywords: Taijiquan l structure l lineage l secrets l martial arts

Leon Hunt: Enter the 2-Disc Platinum Edition: Bruce Lee and Post-DVD Textuality
Keywords: Bruce Lee l dvd textuality l dvd extras l the big boss l game of death

Lynette Hunter and Richard Schubert: Winning, Losing, and Wandering Play: Zhuangzian Paradox and Daoist Practice
Keywords: zhuangzi l martial arts l daoist movement l the undifferentiated l play – non-teleological l performatives

Benjamin Judkins: Inventing Kung Fu
Keywords: kung fu l wushu l Chinese martial arts l definition l globalization l Chinese martial studies l etymology

Gina Marchetti: Does the Karate Kid Have a Kung Fu Dream? Hong Kong Martial Arts between Hollywood and Beijing
Keywords: The Karate Kid l choreography l wu shu l movie fu l real kung fu

Dale C. Spencer: From Many Masters to Many Students: YouTube, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and communities of practice
Keywords: YouTube l Brazilian Jiu Jitsu l communities of practice

Mark Walters: Martial Arts Cinema as Post-Capitalist Cinema: Akira Kurosawa, Johnnie To, and Critical Intertextuality
Keywords: Akira Kurosawa l Johnnie To l neoliberalism l capitalism l judo l humanism

Sixt Wetzler: Myths of the Martial Arts
Keywords: martial arts l belief l myth

Luke White: Lau Kar-leung with Walter Benjamin: Storytelling, Authenticity, Film Performance and Martial Arts Pedagogy
Keywords: Lau Kar-leung l Walter Benjamin l storytelling l authenticity l film performance l martial arts pedagogy

Douglas Wile: Asian Martial Arts in the Asian Studies Curriculum
Keywords: Lau Kar-leung l Walter Benjamin l storytelling l authenticity l film performance l martial arts pedagogy


Conference Announcement and Call for Papers: Martial Arts Studies Conference
Keywords: martial arts studies conference l 10-12 June 2015


A typical market place demonstration.  Note the two oxtailed Dao's held by the central figure.  these swords are very similar to the ones being sold above.
A typical market place demonstration. Note the two oxtailed Dao’s held by the central figure.