Paul Bowman, Kyle Barrowman and I have all been hard at work over the last couple of weeks putting the finishing touches on Issue 3 of the interdisciplinary journal, Martial Arts Studies. With seven research articles and a number of book reviews there is sure to be something of interest for all of Kung Fu Tea’s readers within its pages. We expect to release the issue on the journal’s webpage right after the start of the new year. As always, it will be freely available to any reader or researcher with an internet connection.
Earlier today I sat down to write my first draft of an opening editorial. Paul and I will be reviewing and thinking about this for the next couple of days. But in the mean time I thought that I would share it here as a way offering you a sneak peak of what to expect after New Years. Also, be sure to check out the journal’s archives to get caught up on anything that you may have missed from Issues 1 or Issue 2. Or maybe just brush up on the 52 Hand Blocks with Prof. Thomas Green?
What is the meaning of ‘forms’ practice within the traditional Asian martial arts? Were Bruce Lee’s movies actually ‘kung fu’ films? Was the famous Ali vs. Inoki fight a step on the pathway to MMA, or a paradoxical failure to communicate? What pitfalls await the unwary as we rush to define key terms in a newly emerging, but still undertheorized, discipline?
The rich and varied articles offered in the Winter 2016 issue of Martial Arts Studies pose these questions and many more. Taken as a set they reflect the growing scholarly engagement between our field and a variety of theoretical and methodological traditions. Each monography, article or proceeding that has been published in the last year directly addresses the question that Paul Bowman raised in the very first issue of this journal . Is Martial Arts Studies an academic field?
Looking back on the rich achievements of the last year, the answer must certainly be ‘yes’.
Yet as Bowman also reminds us in his contribution to the present issue, fields of study do not simply appear. They are not spontaneously called forth by the essential characteristics or importance of their subject matter. Rather, they are achievements of cooperative creativity and vision. Fields of study, like the martial arts themselves, are social constructions.
Over the next year we hope, in a variety of settings, to think more systematically about the various ways that one might approach the scholarly study of the martial arts. Given the diversity of our backgrounds and areas of focus, how can we best advance our efforts? What sort of work do we expect Martial Arts Studies, as an interdisciplinary field, to do?
In this issue’s opening article Bowman turns his attention to the unfolding debate about the definition of marital arts [Channon and Jennings 2014; Wetzler 2015; Judkins 2016; Channon 2016]. This discussion is prefaced with a brief exploration of some of the failed precursors of Martial Arts Studies, including hoplology. Bowman concludes that efforts to theorize the orientation of Martial Arts Studies as a field are likely to put us on a better pathway for sustained development than arguments for or against any particular definition of the martial arts themselves. While Bowman does not suggest that any single methodological approach should dominate the emerging field, he offers a strong critique of ‘scientism’ in all of its forms.
Channon and Phipps, in an article titled ‘Pink Gloves Still Give Black Eyes’, ask what Martial Arts Studies can tell us about the construction and performance of gender roles in modern society . Their ethnographic study focuses on the ways that certain symbols and behaviors, when paired with achievements in the realm of fighting ability, are used to challenge and rewrite an orthodox understanding of gender. This leads the authors to conclude that future scholars interested in the subversion of gender should carefully study the possibility that appropriation and re-signification may be critical mechanisms in their own areas of study as well.
Daniel Mroz and Timothy Nulty draw heavily on their shared background in Chen Style Taijiquan in a set of separate, yet complimentary, papers. Both ask us to consider how various theoretical approaches, drawn from a variety of fields, can help us to pragmatically understand basic elements of the embodied practice of the martial arts.
Mroz begins his paper with a brief discussion of the practical, narrative, theatrical and religious explanation of prearranged movement patterns (taolu) within the Chinese martial arts. Noting the shortcomings of such efforts he employs the twin concepts of ‘decipherability’ and ‘credibility’, drawn from the Great Reform movement of 20th century theater training, to advance a framework that both points out certain shortcomings in the ways that we typically think about the practice of taolu, as well as suggesting a new perspective from which their practice can be understood. Nulty, drawing on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s notion of ‘embodied intentionality’, instead focuses on the concepts of gong (skill) and fa (technique). After demonstrating the ways in which this approach facilitates the understanding of other concepts critical to Taijiquan, Nulty argues that the gong-fa distinction outlined in his article is in fact widely applicable to a variety of martial arts.
The following articles instead examine the representation of the martial arts in various types of media and their use as a semiotic or discursive device. Jared Miracle draws on the realms of applied linguistics and performance theory in an attempt to reevaluate the famous, but ill fated, 1976 bout which pitted the American boxer Muhammad Ali against the Antonio Inoki, a Japanese professional wrestler. After reviewing a number of data sources including newspaper reports, eyewitness interviews and personal correspondence, Miracle concludes that the event should be understood as an example of robust, but failed, communication.
Wayne Wong turns his attention to new trends in Hong Kong martial arts cinema. Following a discussion of the action aesthetic developed in the films of such legendary performers as Kwan Tak-hing and Bruce Lee, Wong turns his attention to Donnie Yen’s immensely successful ‘Ip Man’ franchise. In discussing the innovative fight choreography in these films Wong notes a new set of possibilities for the positive portrayal of wu (martial) Chinse culture on screen. Wong argues that the innovative recombination of images and approaches in Yen’s films present students of Martial Arts Studies with a new, and more comprehensive, understanding of the nature of the southern Chinese martial arts.
Lastly, in ‘News of the Duels – Restoration Dueling Culture and the Early Modern Press’, Alexander Hay attempts to bridge the gap between popular representation of violence and our historical understanding of martial culture. Specifically, he asks what reports in the press both reveal and conceal about the changing nature of violence in British society during the 1660s and 1670s, particularly with regards to duels. Despite pervasive censorship, a review of historical newspapers suggests insights into how these deadly encounters evolved as individual swordsmen gave way to both firearms and groups on horseback. The social upheaval that gripped British society during this period was reflected in parallel transformations both in how violence was carried out and publically discussed.
The issue concludes with reviews of recently published books. This includes a treatment of Jared Miracle’s Now with Kung Fu Grip! – How Bodybuilders, Soldiers and a Hairdresser Reinvented Martial Arts for America [Jared Miracle 2016] by Michael Molasky; Colin P. McGuire then reviews The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and Its Music: From Southeast Asian Village to Global Movement, edited by Uwe U. Paetzold and Paul H. Mason . That is followed by a discussion of Raúl Sánchez García and Dale C. Spencer’s edited volume, Fighting Scholars: Habitus and Ethnographies of Martial Arts and Combat Sports, contributed by Anu Vaittinen [García and Spencer 2016]. Lastly, Alex Channon offers his review of Lionel Loh Han Loong’s The Body and Senses in Martial Culture .
Taken as a set these articles illustrate how various theoretical and methodological approaches make substantive contributions to our understanding of the martial arts. Nor is this list in anyway comprehensive. A wide variety of tools and lens remain to be explored. Yet collectively these authors advance a compelling vision of the type of field that Martial Arts Studies may become.
Our thanks go to all of our contributors, as well as to our editorial assistant Kyle Barrowman, our designer Hugh Griffiths, and all at Cardiff University Press, especially Alice Percival and Sonja Haerkoenen.
Bowman, Paul. 2016. ‘The Definition of Martial Arts Studies.’ Martial Arts Studies 3: xxx. Doi:xxxxxx
___________. 2015. ‘Asking the Question: Is Martial Arts Studies an Academic Field?’ Martial Arts Studies 1 (1): 3–19. doi:10.18573/j.2015.10015.
Channon, Alex. 2016. ‘How (not) to Categorise Martial Arts: A Discussion and Example from Gender Studies’. Kung Fu Tea. September 16. https://chinesemartialstudies.com/2016/09/15/how-not-to-categorise-martial-arts-a-discussion-and-example-from-gender-studies/.
Channon, Alex, and George Jennings. 2014. ‘Exploring Embodiment through Martial Arts and Combat Sports: A Review of Empirical Research’. Sport in Society 17 (6): 773–89. doi:10.1080/17430437.2014.882906.
Channon, Alex and Catherine Phipps. 2016. ‘”Pink Gloves Still Give Black Eyes”: Exploring ‘Alternative’ Femininity in Women’s Combat Sports’, Martial Arts Studies 3: xxx. Doi:xxxxxx
García, Raúl Sánchez and Dale C. Spencer. 2014. Fighting Scholars: Habitus and Ethnographies of Martial Arts and Combat Sports. Anthem Press.
Hay, Alexander. 2016. ‘News of the Duels – Restoration Duelling Culture and the Early Modern Press’, Martial Arts Studies 3: xxx. Doi:xxxxxx
Judkins, Benjamin N. 2016. ‘The Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat: Hyper-Reality and the Invention of the Martial Arts’, Martial Arts Studies 2, available at http://martialartsstudies.org
Loong, Lionel Loh Han. 2016. The Body and Senses in Martial Culture. Palgrave Macmillan.
Miracle, Jared. 2016. ‘Applied Linguistics, Performance Theory, and Muhammad Ali’s Japanese Failure’, Martial Arts Studies 3: xxx. Doi:xxxxxx
_____________. 2016. Now with Kung Fu Grip! – How Bodybuilders, Soldiers and a Hairdresser Reinvented Martial Arts for America. McFarland.
Mroz, Daniel. 2016. ‘Taolu: Credibility and Decipherability in the Practice of Chinese Martial Movement’, Martial Arts Studies 3: xxx. Doi:xxxxxx
Nulty, Timothy J. 2016. ‘Gong and Fa in Chinese Martial Arts’, Martial Arts Studies 3: xxx. Doi:xxxxxx
Paetzold, Uwe U. and Paul H. Mason. 2016. The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and Its Music: From Southeast Asian Village to Global Movement. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
Wetzler, Sixt. 2015. ‘Martial Arts Studies as Kulturwissenschaft: A Possible Theoretical Framework’. Martial Arts Studies, no. 1: 20–33. doi:10.18573/j.2016.10016.
Wong, Wayne. 2016. ‘Synthesizing Zhenshi (Authenticity) and Shizhan (Combativity): Reinventing Chinese Kung Fu in Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series (2008-2015)’, Martial Arts Studies 3: xxx. Doi:xxxxxx
Do you want to read more? Be sure to check out: Ip Man and the Roots of Wing Chun’s “Multiple Attacker” Principle, Part 1. and Part II.