Happy Birthday


Attentive readers may have noticed a few changes here at Kung Fu Tea.  This blog launched its first post five years ago, on July 27th 2012.  Since that point we have published well over 500 posts.  Looking back at my drafts this adds up to over 2,500 pages of single spaced type.  This material has received more than a million page views by over half a million visitors.  At this point Kung Fu Tea averages over 20,000 page views a month.  That demonstrates a remarkable level of interest in the academic discussion of the martial arts, and far exceeds my expectations when I first posted this welcoming message.

All projects evolve over time.  Still, looking back on that first post what strikes me about this blog is how much has stayed the same.  It still seeks to provide a home for thoughtful martial arts discussions while showcasing the diversity and strength of Martial Arts Studies as a scholarly project.  It is my hope to continue to do that for many years to come.

Of course, some things have changed.  Since the launch of the blog I have published a book, started work on another, and helped to create the interdisciplinary journal Martial Arts Studies (an imprint of Cardiff University Press).  Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Paul Bowman (with whom I co-edit the journal), the field of Martial Arts Studies has evolved from a mere possibility to a realized fact.  We just concluded our third annual Martial Arts Studies conference at Cardiff University and it was wonderful to see so many old friends and new faces.  At this point in time new books and articles are coming out faster than I can read them.

Technology has continued to evolve and an increasing number of readers were having trouble accessing KFT‘s content on certain mobile devices.  As such I decided to treat the blog to an updated template that not only looks sharp, but will be easier to read across a wider range of platforms.

Nevertheless, if anyone deserves recognition on this anniversary it is you the reader.  Without your support none of this would be possible.  It only makes sense that you should receive a gift as well.  Please accept this essay, presented as my Keynote at the 2017 conference, as a token of my gratitude.  It begins with a discussion of the seeming triviality of a topic like Martial Arts Studies, ruminates on what it is that our field has to offer, and presents a frank assessment of some of the challenges that we may face over the next five years.


Rifles and bayonets for a school military drill class behind two Judo students. Vintage Japanese postcard, late 1930s. Source: Author’s personal collection.



Are Martial Arts Trivial?


Consider the following photograph taken from a vintage Japanese postcard printed in the 1930s.  It is one of the more powerful images of the traditional Asian martial arts which I have come across in the last couple of years.  At first glance, it might seem unremarkable.  Here we have two young men practicing Judo in the campus dojo of a local educational institution, much as young men in Japan had been doing for decades.  And much as they still do today.

Yet while the Asian martial arts are often associated with a sense of peace or harmony (occasionally for entirely orientalist reasons), this image is unsettling.  One’s eyes are immediately drawn to the racks of waiting rifles on the wall behind our martial artists.  And beneath them we can see a row of hanging bayonets.  Anyone familiar with Japanese military history will find this arrangement familiar.  Rifles and bayonets were stored on identical racks in the barracks where Japanese soldiers worked, ate and slept.  In this case these weapons are intended for the school’s drill team and military education classes.  Their presence was not intended to cause any alarm on the part of a contemporary Japanese viewer, who was simply supposed to register a well-stocked modern educational facility.

The very banality of the scene invites a set of subconscious associations to flower within our minds eye.   Compulsory military training became an increasingly pronounced component of the Japanese educational system during the 1930’s, at much the same time that Japanese aggression in China increased.  Indeed, this was an important decade for the Japanese martial arts.  Disciplines like Kendo were reformed to strip them of their sportive elements to better prepare students for battlefield encounters.  Jukendo, or bayonet fencing, which has been in the news recently due to the Chinese protests that erupted over plans to once again make it available in Japanese schools, took on an increasingly ideological character and became the most commonly practiced Budo in the immediate run-up to the second world war.

Yet this image is powerful precisely because none of that is shown.  We do not need to see Japanese naval landing forces in Shanghai, or soldiers digging pill boxes on Pacific Islands, to know what year it is.  We do not need elaborate backstories to understand who these young men are, or what their future holds.  And no one who looks at an image such as this is going to ask whether the martial arts are “trivial.”  Nothing answers that question quite like a row of neatly polished bayonets making an appearance in a Judo dojo on the eve of WWII.

Do the martial arts matter and, by extension, does martial arts studies matter?  Questions of triviality versus substance are interesting to me as a social scientist because they have a cyclic quality to them.  We are privileged to live in a time when we can ask that question in earnest.  In 1941 quite a few people may have been asking whether Kendo was an effective training mechanism for practical swordsmanship, or whether judo or western boxing would provide American soldiers with better self-defense skills.  But no one saw the physical, social or the ideological aspects of these systems as trivial.  During the post-WWII period the American occupation forces in Japan moved to tightly regulate and even ban martial arts organizations and activities because they understood that these things create social externalities that reach far beyond the realm of individual practice.

Nor were these observations restricted to discussions of the Japanese martial arts.  Consider this photograph, printed as part of an American newspaper report on the Chinese resistance to the Japanese occupation in Guangdong on June 7th, 1939.

“Back to Weapons of Forefathers in War with Japanese.” Vintage newspaper photograph. June 1937. Source: Author’s private collection.


Here we see a female Chinese militia leader, silhouetted against a stark sky. The empty expanse at the top of the frame visually highlights the blade of her long handled dadao, or great knife.  While American newspapers readers in the 1930s knew little about the details of the Chinese military, their exotic blades had acquired an iconic status, much like their counterpart, the Japanese Katana.  The reader cannot see where the woman’s gaze is directed.  Nor do we need to see an artillery scarred landscape to understand who she is and what is about to happen.

A backstory is ultimately unnecessary to understand who she is and whether the martial arts were socially significant in China during the 1930s.  Indeed, it is fascinating to compare these contrasting photographs of Japanese and Chinese martial artists, both caught up in the early stages of the same conflict.  On the one hand, Japanese consumers are meant to understand how the discipline of the Budo arts was producing a body of effective and efficient soldiers for the state’s highly modern army.  It goes without saying that they are all willing to make sacrifices for Emperor and country.

In contrast, American voters, wondering about the wisdom of sending war aid to China, were assured that this country’s martial traditions would produce heroes and heroines willing to stand up and individually oppose the Japanese no matter the personal cost.  While not a modern and disciplined fighting force, such brave individuals should enjoy more than our empathy.  They should also receive our support.  Again, it is the essential simplicity of these images that made their message effective.

In the introductory editorial of the Summer 2017 issue of Martial Arts Studies, Paul Bowman and I asked whether Martial Arts Studies is trivial?  These images suggest that the answers to this question are not always obvious.  We cannot really engage such a question without making explicit our scope and domain conditions.  Who is our intended audience?  To whom do these arts matter, or not matter?  When is this question being asked?  Is the year 1939, or 2009?  And by what standard should we evaluate the question of substance?

There is much that could be said about each of these conditions.  For the sake of time I think that we can simplify a few things.  While I have drawn on some historical resources, when asking how we can make martial arts studies matter I am most interested in the current era.

Likewise, the audience that we need to think about is not mysterious, though it has its complexities.  In my own writing, I try to imagine myself being read by an audience of three different persons.  The first of these could be anyone in this room.  I want my writing to speak to, and build off of, critical conversations that are already happening within the martial arts studies literature.  And yet every week I encounter scholars who are writing about the martial arts who do not yet know that our field exists, or who cannot quite figure out where the bridges lay between their projects and ours.  It is important that we continue to work to expand the scope of our discussion, bringing more of these voices into the conversation.

Second, I imagine myself writing for a certain type of practicing martial artist.  While not a processional academic, this individual generally has at least some college education and a burning passion for their chosen style.  They would like to see their art discussed with the same rigor and conceptual toolkit that they were introduced to in school, and yet they want to be able to identify some aspect of their personal experience in the resulting discussion.  Keeping these lines of communication open is not only rewarding, but it helps to ensure that we will continue to have access to the sorts of data needed to develop interpretive or causal theories in the future.

The final, and in many respects most challenging, reader is a fellow academic from one of the disciplines who has no long-term interest in the martial arts.  Given my background I tend to imagine a fellow political scientist, and I recently had an opportunity to present my current research to an entire conference venue full of political scientists, none of whom had any prior experience with martial arts studies. What such readers really need is an assurance that our discussion is both factually sound and theoretically relevant.  In other words, can Martial Arts Studies speak to the big questions in the discipline?

At this point in time our books and articles are likely to encounter all three of these types of readers. And this creates a challenge when asking what we can do to make martial arts studies matter.  Simply put, not every reader, academic committee or funding organization is looking for the same sort of thing.  We must be conscious of our audience and where their desires overlap at every stage in the research process.

It is this last aspect of the puzzle that brings us back to our introductory photographs and the title of this paper.  In truth, it has never been difficult to the make martial arts matter in a narrow disciplinary sense.  One locates a critical debate in the discipline, for instance, how national identity is invented and stabilized through the creation of an imagined past.  You find an aspect of martial arts history, practice or representation that speaks to these specific questions. Next one writes a case study or two in which the martial arts are used to stake out a position on this debate, critique some leading thinkers, and advance a theory of your own.

Success within a disciplinary framework is formulaic by design.  That is because (as Derrida noted) every discipline generates and publicizes its own standards of evaluation.  Knowing how our work will be evaluated, we know something about how to go about doing it.  And in some respects, this is a critical exercise.  As a purely practical matter, Martial Arts Studies must be seen to make contributions to the disciplines before anyone will be willing to engage with us on a more fundamental level.

Still, as we look around this room, it is clear that when writing for other parts of our audience, things become more complicated.  Martial Arts studies draws it strength from the fact that it is a resolutely interdisciplinary exercise.  We do not all share the same methodological orientation.  Indeed, we come from many fields, all areas of the globe and study fighting systems from every hemisphere.  And I have no interest in challenging that to impose a narrow understanding of what good “martial arts studies” must be, or to define substantive relevance in theoretical or methodological terms.

Yet how do we make martial arts studies matter in the absence of shared disciplinary or methodological perspectives?  Or even a shared perspective that these things should be central to an academic discussion?

It may be helpful to remember that we are not the first group of writers to face such a challenge.  Lacking an audience with a unified personal perspective, storytellers and filmmakers long ago discovered that the best way to create understanding was to cultivate a sense of personal investment and empathy.  If we want to continue to encourage the growth of Martial Arts Studies, we will need to do the same sort of thing as we encounter editors, colleagues and funding officers who, while not necessarily hostile to our project, will likely have never heard of, or have thought that much about, it before.

To draw on the classic piece of advice originally attributed to Anton Chekov, it will never be enough to simply tell these individuals that they should be excited about martial arts studies.  Rather, we need to write in such a way that we both show them what we can contribute, and demonstrate the unique perspectives that will be lost if our voices are not represented at the table.


Jukendo in the 1930s and today. Source: a slide presented at the 2017 MAS conference.



Connecting with a non-specialist audience



How then do we “show” that the martial arts, and by extension martial arts studies, matter?  Again, the introductory images of the Judo dojo and the female militia leader provide some hints on reaching a non-specialist audience.  Or perhaps we want to think about some of our favorite martial arts films and what makes for an effective visual story?

Authorities on screenplays have noted that good stories often share three basic characteristics.  First, they feature an active protagonist who reveals their character through the choices they make.[1]  Second, some aspect of this character’s beliefs, either about themselves or society, is challenged allowing the character to develop a meaningful story arc.  This is what K. M. Weiland poetically termed the “lie your character believes,” and heaven only knows that we have a few of these in the martial arts.[2]  Finally, effective writing needs to show that something is at stake.  The audience must feel that the actions of the characters have meaningful consequences both for themselves and other individuals in society.

Our images of the Judo students and the female militia leaders, while single photographs rather than entire screen plays, draw the audience in (and by extension reassure them that the martial arts matter) precisely because they hit each of these points in a remarkably effective way.  The female militia leader is clearly an active protagonist.  The lie that she believes is that her efforts, even in the absence of modern American military aid, will influence the outcome of the war.  That belief defines her story arc.  And obviously there will be meaningful consequences for what happens next if modern military aid is not forthcoming.

These same three hints, with a bit of translation, can also help us to communicate more effectively when discussing our own academic research with a non-specialist audience.   It is not simply enough for us, or half a dozen of our close colleagues, to understand why some aspect of the martial arts matter.  We must get much better at conveying these insights to groups of people who have less of a personal or professional connection to these questions than we do.  And again, editors and funding officers are right at the top of that list.  And these same three principals of communication: developing an active protagonist, describing complete story arcs, and emphasizing meaningful consequences, can with a bit of tweaking, be the key to demonstrating that Martial Arts Studies, as a field, really matters.

A slide presented at the 2017 Martial Arts Studies Meeting.


An Active Protagonist


Let us begin with the idea of having an active protagonist.  In a screenplay, or even a photograph, there is usually little question as to who or what the protagonist is.  Luckily, academic theorizing, whether interpretive or positive in nature, also forces us to focus our attention on certain key actors or variables.  In the social sciences, we sometime make a distinction between independent variables, by which we mean basic causal forces, and dependent variables, the thing that is being explained.  The question then becomes, where do the martial arts, or individual martial practices fit into this equation?

If we always approach these questions from the perspective of the various disciplines, where we start off by saying, “I am a political scientist,” or anthropologist or historian “who researches martial arts,” a certain bias can enter our research design without our realization.  After all, the big questions of political science often take political and social institutions as the key factors in any situation, and they might then ask how other groups, like martial arts movements, are co-opted and subordinated to these larger processes.

Perhaps, as in the previous example, the martial arts come to be tolerated, or even supported, by the state as they can provide a unifying mythology that serves the instrumental needs of a nationalist agenda.  That is basically the story that Andrew Morris told during his examination of the Central Guoshu Institute which was an organization backed by the Chinese state and the ruling KMT during the 1930s.  In a project like this the martial arts organization is examined, but only as an extension (or subsystem) on a larger and more fundamental project.

These can be very interesting sorts of questions, and they clearly focus on the martial arts.  Morris made important contributions to our understanding of the relationship between the modern Chinese martial arts and society.[3]  Yet as the dependent variable, or the thing that is explained and interpreted, the martial arts are being cast in the role of a “passive protagonist.”  As voluntary social institutions, these groups may face dilemmas, but because (in these models) their agency is limited, the choices they make reveal little information about their values or identities.  In this sort of structure, the martial arts might function as a lens for political or social analysis.  Yet they are only one potential lens among many.  Beyond a case study or two, both we and our editors will be forced to ask, is it necessary to look at the martial arts at all?  Why not labor movements, or film industries or sports leagues?

A wide range of other voluntary associations or popular culture phenomenon, most of which are probably better understood and more respectable, would work just as well.  Or to return to our original metaphor, passive protagonist can help us to explore the world.  Yet in the long run narrators tend not be very interesting guides.

In the hands of a skilled story teller, active protagonists reveal their character to the audience not through exposition, or as victims of fate.  Rather, the actions that they take reveal their core identities, values and strategies for navigating a challenging environment.  In our own writing, we can replicate this insight by remembering that individuals often join martial arts groups precisely because they seek to make changes in their own lives or in their communities.

Rather than simply accepting elite views of what a modern Asian state should be, authors like Hurst, Gainty and Morris have demonstrated that martial artists in both China and Japan spent much of the 1920s and 1930s actively opposing elite opinion and championing their own vision of what modern Japanese and Chinese society should look like, and what values should be represented in the educational system.[4]  Indeed, through savvy public relations work and making good alliances, martial artists in both states enjoyed more success than one might have thought in not just carving out a niche for themselves, but using government resources to spread their ideas throughout society.  It wasn’t the idea of the ministry of education to put all of those kendo classes in Japanese schools during the 1910s and 1920s.  Rather, they were the result of decades of lobbying by Japanese martial arts organizations.

In the work of authors like Hurst, Gainty and Morris the martial arts are transformed into independent variables that have a measurable effect on a broad range of other social institutions.  More precisely, the martial arts of the 1920s and 1930s cannot be ignored because they generated many interesting social externalities.  No longer are the martial arts merely a lens.  Cases such as these reveal that Martial Arts Studies is more than an adjunct to the preexisting disciplines, it is critical tool for understanding fundamental aspects of the human experience.

In practice, any sufficiently complex research agenda has the potential to approach martial arts as both dependent and independent variables.  The arrows of social meaning and causality are often deeply recursive, and some mix between the two will be necessary.  Yet we make the best case for the existence of Martial Arts Studies as a truly independent research area when we discuss the martial arts as an active protagonist.

Kickboxing trainig in the Hague. Source: Sports Provocation. Photo by Jasmijn Rana




Giving the Martial Arts a Story Arc – The Balance between Theory and Data


Now that we have established the martial arts as a potentially important social force, what do we intend to do with it?  Good screen plays encourage the audience to empathize with the protagonist as their actions reveal fundamental insights about who they are, and demonstrate how their view of the world evolves.  In short, the martial arts need to do something, they need a story arc.

And luckily for us in academics, engaging story arcs often focus on the process by which a character comes to realize that some of their beliefs, either about themselves or the world, are either false or mythic is nature. This is what K. M. Weiland called “the lie your character believes.”  It is when a confrontation between myth and reality finally erupts that we really discover who our protagonists are.

It seems that there are few areas of social life in which marketing myths, half-truths, lies and legends collide more frequently or forcefully than in the martial arts.  It is very difficult for anyone to think about the historic European martial arts without envisioning a world in which just knights charged around on white horses. Michael Ryan’s work on Venezuelan stick fighting, which I recently reviewed for the journal, evokes images of a world in which small land holders have resisted waves of outside oppression with nothing but their machismo and polished hardwood garrotes.  And it seems that every Chinese folk martial art practiced today must trace its origins to an imaginary burning of the Shaolin temple or it forfeits its right to the title of Kung Fu.

Yet this does not exhaust the potential misunderstandings or lies that seem to define the martial arts.  For every internally generated legend, historical exaggeration or marketing myth, there is also an externally imposed social myth.  In France and the Netherlands various social actors, including successive governments, decided that kickboxing was a good cultural fit for the immigrant Muslim community and so it encouraged the sport as an aid to cultural assimilation.  Yet as Jasmijn Rana points out in her article “Producing Healthy Citizens”, it’s hard to imagine programs like this actually working when supposedly naturally aggressive Muslim youth are encourage to join kickboxing classes, while all the rest of the citizens are given public pools and swimming leagues.[5]  And while all parents in the United States instinctively know that Taekwondo classes are a wonderful mechanism to instill self-discipline in children (the trait that society seem to value above all others), they also know that there is something just a little bit off about adults who continue with these hobbies, rather than turning to more serious pursuits. They get internet parody videos instead.

One would be hard pressed to find a more detailed examination of the stories that we tell ourselves than Paul Bowman’s recent, and highly recommended, volume, Mythologies of Martial Arts.[6]  After reading this book it would be impossible not to see the many ways in which the martial arts, and their social position in the modern world, have been shaped by these myths.  And there is an undeniable thrill that comes with the discovery that seemingly common-sense propositions might be anything but.  Sometimes this might lead to attempts to debunk certain popular misconceptions.  But in all cases students of martial arts studies should first strive to understand the social externalities, which might be either positive or negative, that these myths generate.

Or put a slightly different way, how is it that the lies that you believe about your own practice impact other people who have never thought of themselves as martial artists?  Students and instructors might believe anything they want.  Yet those belief are not without implications. Indeed, Douglas Wile, in his article “Fighting Words” demonstrates at length that the implications of current Chinese academic debate on the origins of Taijiquan stretch far beyond a handful of history buffs.[7]  It touches on vital question of both Chinese identity, academic freedom and the party’s control of traditional culture.  This seemingly arcane dispute has implications for everyone.

Indeed, if you follow the Chinese martial arts, and are wondering why a poorly recorded 10 second challenge fight between a low-level MMA trainer named Xu Xiaodong and the Taijiquan practitioner Wei Lei became such an important cultural moment (even though the vast majority of individuals in China do not really spend a lot of time thinking about either Taiji or MMA), you need to read Wile’s article.  The sudden interest of massive numbers of Chinese citizens in the fate of Taijiquan, not to mention the Chinese government, will become clear.

To fully explore these implications any research project needs to find the appropriate balance between theoretical development and empirical exploration.  Without an appropriate theoretical lens we cannot identify the interesting puzzles that surround the martial arts.  And if we fail to dive into the historical or social data, we will never be able to convince the non-specialist readers that these social discourses and causal mechanisms have a substantive impact on the broader community.  Again, that is the bar we are striving to reach when we attempt to show that martial arts studies, as an interdisciplinary project, really matters and brings something to the table that more traditional approaches might not.


Weapons confiscated in Chinatown, New York City, 1922. This haul shows a remarkable mixture of modern and traditional weapons. Source: NYPD Public Records.



Conclusion: Meaningful consequence


This brings us to the final piece of advice.  We need to clearly convey to our own audience that all of this will have meaningful consequences.  This is one area when I think the Martial Arts Studies literature has come up short in its discussion of these hand combat systems.

After all, who wants to preach to the choir?  We do not need to convince our colleagues and interlocutors within the field that the reconstruction of Spanish fencing systems, or the reemergence of Haitian machete fighting, matters.  Any one of us could come up with half a dozen research questions to pursue through the embodied study of those disciplines before the end of this talk.   Nor do we need to convince the cross-over audiences composed of actual practitioners which many of our books and articles enjoy.  The very fact that they are willing to wade through another ethnography on some aspect of Capoeira speaks to a level of obsession that makes any apologies unnecessary.

Yet it seems that there is a great deal of low hanging fruit, of potential value to wider discussions, that remains un-plucked.  In the opening editorial to the Summer 2017 issue of martial arts studies, Paul Bowman observed that there are very few discussions of actual violence coming out of the field of martial arts studies, yet this is a pressing theoretical and policy issue.  It is also a problem that students of the martial arts, and scholars of Martial Arts Studies, might be uniquely qualified to consider.  Nor is there only one conversation to have.  Violence exists in many modalities, from interpersonal to interstate conflict.  The nature of martial arts schools means that they have often been implicated in, or been forced to respond to, community violence in pretty much every region of the globe.

A few voices in the historical and anthropological literature have picked up on these threads.  Yet as a field we are well positioned to examine the current trend towards greater levels of organized ethno-nationalist, social and political conflict.  How should we approach the rise of organized alt-right groups dedicated to public acts of violence?  Can we speak to the somewhat complex connections between various forms of terrorism and martial arts training? And what insights martial culture might open on the nature of domestic abuse?  I doubt that these topics will reflect our individual experiences with the martial arts, and there is always a bias towards writing what you know.  That is another bit of advice that you might get from a screenwriter.  Yet the many faces of violence are a topic that must be tackled.

Still, I do not want to downplay our accomplishments.  They are important to consider as well.

In the last few years Martial Arts Studies has firmly planted its feet on a new and more difficult path.   For decades pioneers like Burton, Draeger and Hurst attempted to bring the study of the martial arts into the academy.  And yet, for a variety of reasons, they failed.  Hoplology never gained the traction that Martial Art Studies currently enjoys, remaining essentially a hobby, and the few real successes that emerged, such as Hurst’s study of the armed martial arts of Japan, or Wile’s work on the Taiji classics, while a wedge in the door, tended to fall within the confines of disciplinary bounded discussions.[8]

The view from 2017 looks very different.  Rather than studies of traditional fighting systems or combat sports being a personal eccentricity, something that an individual scholar might pursue in lonely isolation in addition to their “serious” academic work, the martial arts are now receiving a greater degree of respect.  We no longer ask whether it might be possible to treat the martial arts as an academic subject of inquiry, we just do it.

And we do it rather well.  The last few years have seen the creation of academic journals, research institutes and networks, a book series, and even annual conferences series such as the one that has brought us together.  Top university and academic presses have taken on an increasing number of martial arts studies manuscripts, and their appetite for these sorts of projects continues to grow.  I know that I have a pile of manuscripts needing to be reviewed as soon as I get back to the United States.

All of this is good news.  And yet a moment of reflection reveals that this rapid success has also raised the stakes.  A university press can only publish so many monographs in a calendar year.  Which means that our acquisition editors must argue not just that our project is interesting, but that it is more important, and will generate more enthusiasm, than something else.

More graduate students in fields like anthropology, cultural studies and history are focusing their dissertations on martial arts related research projects than ever before.  And every year a number of these students hit a highly competitive job market full of interesting and well qualified candidates.  Likewise, the increase in university press publications reminds us that the first generation of assistant professors (to use the American academic terminology) is rapidly coming up for tenure review.  And as part of that process they will need to demonstrate to a number of individuals that not only were they capable of getting works on Martial Arts Studies published, but that these works have made critical contributions both to their disciplines and beyond.

The question posed by Paul Bowman and myself in the editorial of the last issue of our journal may have been somewhat rhetorical.  No one in this room believes that the martial arts, or Martial Arts Studies, is trivial.  Trivialities do not inspire so many individuals to embark on transoceanic flights.

Yet this same understanding may not be shared by the funding officers, tenure committees, and acquisitions editors who are even now getting their own vote in whether and how Martial Arts Studies continues to develop.  Ironically the success that we have enjoyed up to this point has simply moved us into a position where we are likely to meet such gatekeepers with increased frequency in the future.

Our next challenge as a field will be to establish a regular presence at the various professional meetings that dominate the academic calendar.  Beyond that we need to find the sources of funding necessary to institutionalize the gains that we have made to this point. These are exciting opportunities and we are fortunate to be working from a solid foundation.  Yet making Martial Arts Studies matter within the larger academic context is a challenge precisely because the stakes keep getting higher.

Rather than explaining the many ways in which the martial arts have mattered, we need to show the gatekeepers what we as a field can do.  We must show them the unique insights that we can bring to the table.  Of course, all of us in this room will approach that goal from the same perspective, and that is one of the strengths of the interdisciplinary approach.

When we strive to treat the martial arts as an active protagonist, or as an independent variable, we make a stronger case for the independence of Martial Arts Studies.  When we balance theoretical insight with historical or social data, we have the best chance of reaching non-specialist readers and convincing them that the martial arts generate externalities that extend beyond the realm of individual hobbyist.  Lastly, by emphasizing the meaningful consequences of these discourses and practices we answer the question of whether the martial arts are “trivial.”  When we do these three things we show that Martial Arts Studies matter.



[1] Syd Field. 2005. Screenplay: The Foundation of Screen Writing. Delta; Revised edition.

[2] K. M. Weiland. 2016. Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development. PenForASword Publishing.

[3] Andrew Morris. 2004. Marrow of the Nation: A History of Sports and Physical Culture in Republican China. University of California Press.

[4] G. Cameron Hurst III. 1998. Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery. New Haven: Yale UP; Denis Gainty. 2015. Martial Arts and the Body Politic in Meiji Japan. Routledge

[5] Jasmijn Rana. “Producing Healthy Citizens: Encouraging Participation in Ladies-Only Kickboxing.” Etnofoor, Participation. Vol. 26 Issue 2. 2014. Pp 33-48.

[6] Paul Bowman. 2016. Mythologies of Martial Arts. Rowman & Littlefield.

[7] Douglas Wile. 2017. ““Fighting Words: Four New Finds Reignite Old Debates in Taijiquan Historiography.” Martial Arts Studies.  Issue 4 (Summer).

[8] Douglas Wile. 1996. Lost Tai Chi Classics of the Qing Dynasty.  Albany: SUNY Press; G. Cameron Hurst III. 1998. Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery. New Haven: Yale UP.