Shūkongōjin, painted clay, 733; in the Hekkedō (Sangatsudō), Tōdai Temple, Nara, Japan. Height 1.739 metres.Sakamoto Photo Laboratory, Tokyo


This week saw the successful completion of the sixth annual Martial Arts Studies conference. The evolving situation with COVID-19 led the conference organizers to undertake the daunting task of transforming their traditional, in-person, conference to a virtual one. While allowing scholars from the around the world to participate in these meetings, this choice has has also left us with a wonderful video archive of all of the papers presented at this year’s meetings. Gabriel Facal and Jean-Marc de Grave of Aix-Marseille Université (the hosting institution), and all of the other organizers, deserve our applause and thanks for creating such a memorable event which, despite disease and global travel bans, will probably be remembered as the most open and widely attended conference yet.

We kicked of our discussion of this event with a guest post by Daniel Morz examining the origin and purpose of taolu, or forms training, in the Chinese martial arts. Obviously this is a question that is near and dear to the hearts of many readers here at Kung Fu Tea. In this post I would like to take a step back and examine some of the larger issues suggested by the conferences theme. Specifically, what is martialité and how does it relate to more familiar concepts such as “martial arts” or even “martial arts studies”? In what ways does it intersect with religion or spirituality?

A number of papers touched on martialité, and I know that it also came up in a few of the panel discussions. However, the concept was most fully explored in the opening and closing keynotes. The first of these was given by D. S. Farrer, while the second took the form of a seminar style conversation between Paul Bowan and Sixt Wetzler.

In a turn both provocative and fruitful, Farrer claimed that “martial arts” may have run its course as a useful organizing concept for academic work. Despite the raid growth of our research area in recent years, he suggested that work on the subject is often seen as trivial by department hiring committees and other academic gatekeepers. Farrer suggested the adoption of the French concept of “martialité” (an animating force that rests behind the generation of specific combative or martial phenomenon), would both increase the professional standing of the field and allow for a new generation of theoretical advances.

Obviously there is much to unpack, explore and contemplate. I suspect that I will address at least some of these questions here at Kung Fu Tea in the near future. Until then, I decided to let Farrer’s arguments, as well as Bowman and Wetzler’s engagements, speak for themselves. Best of all, this critical conversation is happening in the introduction and conclusion to the conference, meaning that one should start here before you check out the other papers on YouTube as this discussion is really frames everything that came in-between.

What follows are Gabriel Facal’s opening remarks, which also provide a brief introduction to the conference’s themes. Next is D. S. Farrer’s keynote, which lays the theoretical foundations for the meetings. This is followed by a conversation between Bowman and Wetzler engaging with, and responding to, a number of Farrer’s points, as well as other issues having to do with the intersection of martial arts, religion and spirituality. Finally, some concluding thoughts are provided by Prof. Jean-Marc de Grave. Enjoy!