Panel 11: Women’s Martial Arts 2: Friday 2.00-3.30, room 0.05




Room 0.05


PANEL 11 – Women’s Martial Arts 2

Room 0.05

Helen Owton

Performative Female Boxing Embodiment

This paper draws upon data generated by an autoethnographic research project on sporting embodiment within the physical cultures of boxing.   The researcher, H, actively started participating in women’s boxing in the Midlands (UK) with an aim to become a fully-fledged insider member of a boxing club in 2012. The methods of data collection and analysis included keeping very detailed and critical field notes in personal logs and reflective journals. Commensurate with a phenomenological approach, lived, corporeal experiences of boxing are portrayed through the use of vignettes. Key findings are grounded in the researcher’s female lived-body, with a focus on the gendered dimensions of embodiment, as well as the intense and heightened sensorial forms of embodiment encountered in the physical and masculinist cultures of boxing. Analyses of the findings draw upon this previous research which includes rich detail of carnal experience to explore the intense and heightened sensorial aspects whereby the hard-contact, bloodying, bruising, sensory dimensions of boxing strongly emerge. Findings of this research offer a greater understanding through a critical analysis of female sporting embodiment with an aim to generate potent insights to the female boxing experiences as lived and felt in the flesh.

Catherine Phipps

“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.

George Jennings

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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