Welcome to the seventh entry in our series of guest posts titled “Doing Research.”  If you missed the first essay by D. S. Farrer (which provides a global overview of the subject), the second by Daniel Mroz (how to select a school or teacher for research purposes), the third by  Jared Miracle (learning new martial arts systems while immersed in a foreign culture), the fourth by Thomas Green (who is only in it for the stories), the fifth by Daniel Amos (who discusses some lies he has told about martial artists), or the sixth by Charles Russo (who has great advice on the fine art of hanging out) be sure to check them out!

Compared to other fields of scholarly inquiry, Martial Arts Studies has a distinctly democratic flavor.  Many individuals are introduced to these systems while students at a college or university and are interested in seeing a more intellectually rigorous treatment of their interests.  And certain practitioners want to go beyond reading studies produced by other writers and undertake research based on their own time in the training hall.   The emphasis on ethnographic description, oral and local history, as well as the methodological focus on community based collaborative research within Martial Arts Studies (itself a radically interdisciplinary area), makes participation in such efforts both relatively accessible and highly valuable.

Today’s post will be a bit of a departure from previous entries in this semi-regular series.  Prof. Dale C. Spencer and Prof. Kyle Green were kind enough to give me permission to re-blog a podcast that they collaborated on in the Spring of 2015.  In this interview Spencer discusses both the value and challenges of observant participation in martial arts studies.  More specifically, he explores the process of writing his dissertation in which he explored the phenomenological experiences of becoming a mixed martial artist.

As such this methods discussion is aimed squarely at graduate students who are confronting these or similar issues in their own research.  But Prof. Spencer also has a rich personal to story to tell that will be of interest to the entire Kung Fu Tea community.  I highly encourage everyone to check his story out.

Graduate students and other researchers may also want to explore some of the other offerings that Prof. Green has brought together through his fascinating podcast (produced with Sarah Lageson) titled “Give Methods a Chance.”  There is a lot of good material in here, and apparently we may get an edited volume out of this project.  You can also follow them on Facebook.

Dale C. Spencer is an assistant professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa.  He is the author of Ultimate Fighting and Embodiment: Violence, Gender and Mixed Martial Arts (Routledge, 2011).  Along with Raul Sanchez Garcia he edited Fighting Scholars: Habitus and Ethnographies of Martial Arts and Combat Sports (Anthem Press, 2014).  Readers of Kung Fu Tea might also remember the article that contributed to the 2014 special edition of the JOMEC journal titled “From Many Masters to Many Students: YouTube, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and communities of practice.

Kyle Green is an assistant professor at Utica College. He received his MA degree in geography and a PhD in sociology from the University of Minnesota. His research interests center on culture, gender, research methods, sport, storytelling, and the body. Green’s recent publications include “Tales from the Mat: Narrating Men and Meaning Making in the Mixed Martial Arts Gym” (Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 2015) and “It hurts so it is real: sensing the seduction of mixed martial arts” (Social & Cultural Geography, 2011).


Click on this link, or the picture below, to explore: Observant Participation and the Process of Becoming a Mixed Martial Artist.


Prof. Dale C. Spencer
Prof. Dale C. Spencer



If you enjoyed this interview you might also want to see:  Five Moments that Transformed Kung Fu