Martial Arts Studies. Issue 4 (Summer) 2017.


Get the Issue Now!

The last week has been a whirlwind of travel, fieldwork and conferences.  I am now back and cannot wait to tell you more about it.  But before we delve into conference discussions and after-action reports, I have some very exciting news.  The latest issue of the interdisciplinary journal Martial Arts Studies (an imprint of Cardiff University Press) is now on-line and available at no cost to anyone with an internet connection and a desire to see some of the best work in the field today.  Simply click this link or the cover image above.

If you are wondering where to start, be sure to check out the opening editorial, authored by Paul Bowman which asks the provocative question, “Is martial arts studies trivial?


Before introducing the articles comprising this issue of Martial Arts Studies, this editorial first undertakes a sustained reflection on the question of whether the emergent field of martial arts studies might be regarded as trivial. In doing so, it explores possible rationales and raisons d’être of the field in terms of a reflection on the legitimation of academic subjects, especially those closest to martial arts studies, from which martial arts studies can be said to have emerged. The first draft of this reflection was originally written by Bowman in response to certain reactions to his academic interest in martial arts (hence the occasional use of the pronoun ‘I’, rather than ‘we’), but Judkins proposed that the piece form part of this issue’s editorial, because of the importance of thinking about what this ‘martial arts studies’ thing is that we are doing, what the point of it may be, and whether or not it may be trivial.

Not only will this editorial help to introduce and conceptually tie together the various papers in this issue of the journal, but it constitutes one possible jumping off point of my own keynote at the recent MAS conference titled “Show, Don’t Tell: Making Martial Arts Studies Matter” (which will be posted on the blog next week.)  Anyone concerned about the state and development of the field will want to start here.




Research Articles


This issue of the journal features four major research papers (two of which are quite lengthy) which will be of great interest to anyone interested in the Chinese or Malay martial arts, questions of pedagogy or the interaction between on-line and embodied martial communities.


Douglas Wile



Martial arts historiography has been at the center of China’s culture wars and a cause célèbre between traditionalists and modernizers for the better part of a century. Nowhere are the stakes higher than with the iconic art of taijiquan, where, based on a handful of documents in the Chen, Wu, and Yang lineages, traditionalists have mythologized the origins of taijiquan, claiming the Daoist immortal Zhang Sanfeng as progenitor, while modernizers won official government approval by tracing the origins to historical figures in the Chen family.

Four new document finds, consisting of manuals, genealogies, and stele rubbings, have recently emerged that disrupt the narratives of both camps, and, if authentic, would be the urtexts of the taijiquan ‘classics’, and force radical revision of our understanding of the art. This article introduces the new documents, the circumstances of their discovery, their contents, and the controversies surrounding their authenticity and significance, as well as implications for understanding broader trends in Chinese culture and politics.

Lauren Miller Griffith



Previous research on capoeira suggests that face-to-face training is the ideal mode of learning this art. However, there is a robust corpus of capoeira tutorials available on YouTube. This paper asks what the function of these videos is. I analyze six comment threads taken from YouTube that exhibit a common pattern, concluding that beyond the video’s utility as a source of information, the comments shared by community insiders serve as an invitation for aspiring students to join the embodied capoeira community, paving the way for their adoption of the underlying ethos of capoeira by socializing them into the ‘anyone can do it if they work hard enough’ discourse that is common in capoeira academies. And while this discourse itself is somewhat deceptive insofar as not everyone can do all of the moves of capoeira – even if they work hard – it is actually the mediating link between technical mastery, which could theoretically be achieved from watching videos, and embodiment of capoeira’s generative grammar, which must be learned in an embodied community setting.
Gabriel Facal



This article explores continuities in fighting techniques of martial ritual initiations found across the Malay world (Dunia Melayu). Comparison with other neighboring Asian and Southeast Asian regions shows that these techniques follow patterns and principles that can be considered as ‘properly Malay’. I argue that ‘Malayness’ is socially and politically consolidated through these initiations, not least because the techniques mobilize local cosmologies and notions of the ‘person’. These cosmologies and notions are mainly articulated through conceptions of space and time, an aspect that is underlined by the transmission processes themselves. Transmission steps show parallels with life processes such as maturation, growing and purification. The correspondences between these processes are also expressed through a specific material culture. The structures of the technical fighting systems are oriented towards principles based on religion and morality, cosmology and philosophy. All of this suggests that the efficacy of techniques should be analyzed in conjunction with larger questions of the efficacy of rituals.
Mario S. Staller, Benjamin Zaiser, Swen Körner



Physical assaults are an inherent problem of modern society. One strategy available to try to prevent violence is to strengthen one’s personal capacities to defend oneself. This is the scope of various self-defence programs and systems within the civil domain. While training in self-defence facilitates the use of self-protective strategies in real life situations, it is important to ascertain whether individuals learn the skills taught in self-defence classes and whether they are able to perform the skills when these are required. In order to test the effectiveness of self-defence skills in an ethically acceptable way, instructors and scholars have to design environments in which valid and practically relevant results about the performance of the learner can be obtained. The imprecise nature and the multidimensional use of terms like ‘realism’ and ‘reality-based’ leads to difficulties in designing such environments. In this article, we argue for the need to shift the emphasis from ‘realistic’ to ‘representative’ design in testing and learning environments, with the aim of developing transferable self-defence skills within the civil domain. The Trade-Off Model of Simulation Design that we propose is intended to help instructors and scholars to make more informed decisions when designing tasks for testing or training.





The issue concludes with a number of discussions of newly published Martial Arts Studies volumes, all reviewed by scholars in the field.  As always, it is gratifying to see so much good work coming out.

Sixt Wetzler
Kyle Green
Benjamin N. Judkins