Sharing Women’s Stories of Martial Arts: Language, Audience and the Life of Marisela Ugalde, the Founder of Xilam

The stories of women’s martial arts experiences are typically overshadowed by those of men in the popular martial arts media. This paper draws upon a recent life history of Marisela Ugalde (Jennings, forthcoming), the founder of Xilam, who is one of the few verified female founders of a martial arts system. It first charts Ugalde’s life story through key periods: from her early days of training in various Asian martial arts; to research into pre-Hispanic martial arts and indigenous wrestling styles; to an apprenticeship under a shaman-master; to the founding and promotion of her own martial art and life philosophy within Mexico and beyond. The second focal point is stimulated by ongoing discussions with Ugalde and a reflexive musing on my own positioning and limitations in how to portray and share her story in different tongues and outlets in order to maximize its potential for an audience outside academia and social scientific martial arts studies. At the close of the presentation, I suggest ways to analyse, portray and communicate (particularly female) case studies such as Ugalde’s story to a wide variety of readers and listeners: Martial arts practitioners and instructors; academics and martial arts scholars; local communities and wider society; alongside international, online audiences. My presentation thus invites colleagues to reflect upon their own research into martial arts, gender, and related sociocultural issues, and dwell upon the possibilities and challenges of working with different languages, writing styles and formats, readership, and the potential for martial arts research to be appreciated by non-specialists. In sum, it provides an example of how gender-sensitive martial arts research can lead to broader considerations of methodology and communication that can be adopted at various stages of a study.

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