Panel 1: Women’s Martial Arts: Thursday 11.00-12.30, room 0.14




Room 0.14



ROOM 0.14


Women Fighters as the Agents of Change: A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Case Study from Finland

Anna Kavoura, University of Jyväskylä, Finland; Dr. Stiliani Chroni, Hedmark University College, Norway; Dr. Marja Kokkonen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, & Dr. Tatiana V. Ryba, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Previous sociological research on women´s martial arts has revealed complex social structures and gender dynamics operating as obstacles in the development and well-being of the female athlete (e.g. Halbert, 1997; Hargreavers, 1997; McNaughton, 2012; Sisjord & Kristiansen, 2008). Feminist scholars have argued on the need of a progressive social change in the male domain of martial arts. Addressing the question of how this change could happen, this presentation discusses (1) the strategies and (2) the social dynamics that can enhance female participation and career development in women’s martial arts. Drawing on interview data with female athletes training in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy in Finland, we argue that women themselves can change their positioning in martial arts by integrating multiple strategies, such as building relationships, creating support networks, and taking responsibility in coaching and administrative issues. Moreover, besides the strategies implemented by female athletes themselves, specific social dynamics, such as a non-authoritative training environment that enables female athletes to make own choices and take the initiative can be beneficial for the development of women’s martial arts. Concluding this presentation, we discuss implications for research and practice in the light of these findings.


Friendships Worth Fighting for: Emotional Bonds between Women and Men Karate Athletes as Sites for Deconstructing Gender Inequality

Chloe Maclean, University of Edinburgh, UK

Sport is argued to be one of the few remaining ‘male domains’ and as such a key arena for constructing masculine identity and reproducing ideas of men’s (hierarchical) distinction from women (Connell, 1990; 2011). It is also recognised and enjoyed as a field founded on generating, encouraging, and amplifying emotions (Elias and Dunning, 1986). As a shared emotional (yet ‘masculine’) experience, sport lays the grounds for building close, intimate, friendships which, in men’s single-sex sport practice, are suggested to be underpinned by sharing sexist ideology (Curry, 1991; Anderson, 2008). Karate is a sport utilising kicks, punches and throws, with intensified emotional excitement due to its close-spaced, fast paced, sweaty body-to-body practice. Within this arena men and women train together, spar together, hurt together, laugh together, contend directly with one-another for sporting capital, and build close emotional friendships. How do such friendships impact upon ideas of difference between women and men, and the (sexualised) subordination of women? Drawing on the sociology of intimacy literature, this paper argues that sex-integrated karate practice not only challenges expectations/interpretations of women’s bodies (Anderson, 2008; Channon and Jennings, 2013; Guérandel and Mennesson, 2007), but can also situate women and men within supportive, mutually respectful, cherished relationships which further pull into question the expected sexualised – and thus unequal – relations between women and men in society (Jamieson, 1997).

Subverting Gender through Combat Sports: Sketching the Limits of Optimism

Dr. Alex Channon, University of Greenwich, UK; & Dr. Christopher R. Matthews, University of Brighton, UK

This paper addresses the broad question of how subversive constructions of gender might be articulated through and within contemporary combat sports settings. Conceived of here as activities primarily centred on preparing for and engaging in competitive, rule-bound fighting contests, ‘combat sports’ are sites which, in Western contexts, have long been conceived of as ‘quintessentially masculine’ pursuits, described as ‘heterosexual male preserves’ or ‘bastions of masculinity’ within otherwise ‘feminising’, gender-democratising societies.   Within such a framework, women’s (and gay men’s) participation in combat sports have been seen to present specific difficulties, and yet also considered to hold possibilities for the subversion of heterosexist male hegemony – two themes which have recently begun receiving much academic attention. Attending primarily to the latter proposition, this presentation addresses the question of exactly how combat sport practices can be thought of as ‘subversive’ of gender, principally through discussing the potential for women’s and men’s participation in such activities to be interpreted in various, sometimes competing ways. The discussion will presuppose that gender exists through institutional, discursive, embodied and interactive dimensions, and will take shape around examples drawn from the presenters’ various research projects and personal experiences, as well as critical commentary on the representation of gender within and around widely mediated combat sports events. The presentation will argue that while the possibility for gender subversion certainly exists within combat sports, claims as to the progressive potential of these activities must be tempered by attending to the numerous ways in which subversive impulses can be stalled, countered, or misrecognised in these settings.


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