“That’s how they handled longswords…”: Historical European Martial Arts, towards a critical definition of a concept.

This paper attempts a critical definition of the concept “Historical European Martial Arts”, also known as “Western Martial Arts” to set those apart from the western modern day mental construction(s) of Eastern Martial Arts. These terminologies have been lately accepted by broad communities of practitioners and by scholars attempting to ground a dedicated field of research. The late medieval and early modern conceptions of such a “discipline” and its associated bodily knowledge would be defined from direct source material (technical literature from an heterogeneous corpus known as Fight Books) and discussed through relatively large areas (modern day North Italy up to Central Germany, early 15th up to early 17th c.) regarding their perception and place within history of ideas, especially in perspective of what A. Tlusty (2010) defined as “martial ethic”. This comparative documented approach will then be questioned through its broad reception in the late 19th c. up to today, especially in the context of groups or initiatives which intend to “re-vive”, “re-create” or “reconstruct” or even “replicate” those martial arts. At the crossroad of academic research, cultural mediation and establishment of a growing martial sport, the concept will be critically analysed. A focus point being the distance between original conceptions and its reception by epistemology of social sciences, modern day representations and myths about martial arts and the concept of tradition in the context of the creation of a “new” martial sport.

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