“I’m not the Type of Person who does Yoga”: Women, ‘Hard’ Martial Arts and the Quest for Exciting Significance

This research explores the experiences of elite women in two ‘hard’ forms of martial arts – Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). The study utilises data from two separate studies, both of which were completed in a British context. Using data taken from semi-structured interviews with 14 professional female Muay Thai athletes and 6 elite female MMA athletes, we draw upon the notion of ‘exciting significance’ to understand the emotional aspects of women’s experiences, as a means of further detailing women’s participation in Muay Thai and MMA. We found that Muay Thai or MMA provided these women opportunities to enjoy the feeling and significance of being physically ‘violent’ and feel pleasurable emotions that were difficult to achieve in other realms of social life. For instance, in entering their respective sports, these athletes sought forms of emotional experience which they argued were often not been accessible in their previous sporting careers, which often included participation in several forms of ‘softer’ martial arts. Women were also motivated by the physical and mental challenges of their respective sports; Muay Thai and MMA offered the opportunity to be physically tested, physically suffer and test their mental ability when pushed to their physical limits. Finally, these women enjoyed the opportunity to test their mental and physical defences against ‘realistic’ forms of violence. Overall, this research provides an insight into the symbolic meanings athletes attach to their participation in combat sport, and explores the situational significance of these social spaces in women athletes’ search for self-discovery and self-realisation.

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