Videos of 2015 Conference Keynotes

2015-06-12 17.40.51

Thanks to the extremely generous efforts of two of our MA (hopefully soon to be PhD) students, Esther Nan Hu and Amanda Ning Wu, we now have videos of three of the four keynotes at our 2015 Martial Arts Studies Conference. They are all available on Esther’s YouTube channel.

Our opening keynote was Professor Stephen Chan from SOAS. (His talk is preceded by an edited down section of the conference introduction). His talk is here.

Our second keynote was Dr Benjamin Judkins  author and editor of the Kung Fu Tea blog, and co-editor of the journal Martial Arts Studies. His talk is here  Dr Judkins has also posted the written version of his talk here.

The third keynote was Professor Douglas Farrer from the University of Guam. His talk is here.

Unfortunately, we do not have video of the final keynote, Professor Meaghan Morris from the University of Sydney, but we look forward to the published version of her lecture.

The call for papers for next year’s Martial Arts Studies Conference, from 19th to 21st July 2016, is here.

Further information on Martial Arts Studies Network activities can be found at these locations:

Martial Arts Studies Conference (July 2016) Call for Papers


Call for Papers

Martial Arts Studies: An International Interdisciplinary Conference

Cardiff University, 19-21 July 2016



The Martial Arts Studies Conference in 2015 brought together eighty academics, PhD students, scholars and researchers, from a very wide range of fields and from all over the world, for two and a half days of keynotes, special sessions, workshops and socialising. Many new relationships were formed and new collaborations initiated. It clarified that the future is bright for Martial Arts Studies. The second conference in July 2016 seeks to build on these strong foundations, and to bring more martial arts studies scholars and more disciplinary perspectives together, into face to face dialogue and debate.

In 2016 we remain open to proposals for papers on any aspect of martial arts studies. In addition, we are particularly keen to see proposals that engage with the relations between two dimensions that are often regarded as opposed, or worlds apart: namely, the relations between media representation and embodied practice. (This is not mandatory. Abstracts on any aspect of martial arts studies are invited. But we are keen to stimulate discussions and academic discourse on these relations.)


  • NB: Conference presentations will be 20 minutes (max)
  • Proposals should be 200 words, plus a biographical note of 100 words
  • The deadline for proposals is 31st January 2016
  • Email proposals to



Win A Free Registration

Why not sponsor a student?

  • In 2015, the conference received generous donations from RDX Sports, Rowman and Littlefield International, as well as from generous individuals. All sponsorship donations were used to reduce costs for students attending.
  • We invite sponsorship again for the 2016 conference, and again all sponsorship donations will be used to reduce prices for students.
  • Sponsors will receive full public acknowledgement and publicity on our websites, social media, correspondence and publications.
  • Interested parties should contact Paul Bowman to discuss:

Martial Arts Studies

Martial Arts Studies Film Competition


The Martial Arts Studies Conference at Cardiff University in June 2015 was a great success. Kind donations from Rowman and Littlefield International and RDX Sports were used to help students to attend, by covering some of their costs.

We want to continue to support research students and at the same time to carry out important martial arts studies work.

So we have decided to run a competition that can help one or more students and that can also advance the field of martial arts studies.

Here’s the plan: make a short five minute film on any aspect of martial arts and submit it to us. We will host the films on martial arts studies media channels and assemble a committee to judge the entries.

Winners will have free conference registration, free conference dinners and (if possible)* free conference accommodation at the next Martial Arts Studies Conference at Cardiff University in July 2016.

It’s as simple as that.

You may want to document an obscure martial arts style for posterity, or give insight into a system, culture or field of practice. You may want to deal with theoretical or practical issues in martial arts studies. You may want to showcase your own research. You may want to do any number of possible things. And we are open to them all.

Just share your five minute film with us and allow us to host it open access on various platforms (i.e., YouTube and Vimeo). We’ll give you full credit as creator, of course. And you will be helping to advance the visibility and insights of martial arts studies as well as standing a chance of free registration, meals and accommodation at the Martial Arts Studies Conference in Cardiff in 2016.

The Deadline for Submissions is 31st December 2015.

If you have any questions, contact Paul Bowman on

* We are attempting to secure flats in Cardiff University Halls of Residence for attendees. However, availability is yet to be confirmed.

On Kicking

I posted this on, here: – but I thought I’d also post it here. The version on has pictures, but is otherwise the same:

A kick, a high kick, a well formed kick, signifies martial arts – or what a young Roland Barthes might once have called ‘martial art-ness’. It certainly used to – particularly back in the days when most Westerners had only ever even heard of a small handful of martial arts: karate, judo, kung fu, and maybe (for readers of Sherlock Holmes novels or people connected with the military) jujitsu.

The kick is or was once the pinnacle, the very symbol of martial arts prowess, related to but different from its more esoteric relatives, the ‘karate chop’ and the ‘judo throw’. The chop and the throw became clichés that were easily sent up, as in the 1990s nostalgia comedy Austin Powers. However, the difference between the world of kicks and the world of throws and chops is that the latter suggest a truly other, mysterious and alien world, whose workings are obscure to the point of being occult. Popular culture registers this alterity. In Star Trek, Spock could nip the neck or trapezius muscles of a victim who would fall to the floor unconscious. This was (crypto)oriental(ist) ‘inscrutability’ par excellence.

But the kick – the kick was different. The chops and throws of orientalist fantasies of judo, karate and kung fu all implied atechnical precision. These techniques tend towards what would come to be known in the west as ‘dim mak’ or pressure point fighting. Visually, semiotically, they reduce fighting to the technical pushing of buttons. The kick, however, demonstrates a physical prowess. Anyone can fashion their hand into the shape of a knife and chop. It fast became a cliché of the order of hitting someone on the back of the head with a handgun: the movies made it look simple, although I don’t know anyone who tried it. When I was a child everyone tried nipping necks to induce unconsciousness, but it never really seemed to work – at least not for anyone I met in the playground, in the street, whether I nipped at them or they nipped at me. Those mystical Vulcan secrets seem to remain beyond our ken.

But the kick is something different. It fashions the whole body into a bouncing and flexing weapon, from the well rooted standing or stepping thrust kick, to the whole body flying through the air. It is obvious to any viewer that total body coordination is essential – and total body training. So it not only signifies but exemplifies a very different kind of ideal of martial arts prowess to chopping, locking, throwing, punching or rolling.

With the kick you can fly in and you can lash out. The side kick is perhaps the exemplary kick. It is the neatest, the tidiest. It can be posed, and held. The hands, arms, torso, head and face, can all be posed to suit the situation. Bruce Lee shows us this best, when O’Hara intrudes upon his private training in Enter the Dragon. Standing on his left foot when he perceives O’Hara at the door, Lee pivots on his foot and points his right side kick directly at O’Hara. The camera shows us Lee’s gaze. Looking down the leg and across the outside of his foot, O’Hara stands as if in gun sites. And that’s precisely what a good sidekick does: it shoots out, and blasts into anything in its way.

The sidekick can be turbocharged too. With a step in, it covers more ground, closes more distance. And from a little skip it can be jumped. Indeed, the jumping sidekick covers all the ground from effectiveness to spectacularity in one fell leap.

A jumping sidekick can be devastating. It also exemplifies spectacular, flashy, celluloid, cinematic, staged, animated or simulated martial arts. And these are in fact two of the main reasons why kicking has long been reviled in a range of ‘western’ discourses. As many commentators have noted, before Chinese and Japanese martial arts exploded onto cinema screens, more and more especially since the 1960s, kicking was principally regarded as ‘dirty’ fighting. I recall that, in my childhood in Newcastle in the 1970s, people would often denounce anyone who kicked in a fight as ‘dirty’, and when kicks were thrown in fights, I remember people gasping ‘ooh, dirty!’, in shock and disdain. Davis Miller (in the US) and other English language biographers of Bruce Lee have also noted that before Bruce Lee popularised kicking, they were roundly frowned upon as dirty, cheating, sly and excessive.

After Bruce Lee, another discourse frowned upon kicking as excessive in a different sense. Kicking became regarded as excessive because of it being regarded as dangerous for the person who is trying to kick. It is dangerous because it is high risk. You might lose your balance. Your leg might be caught. You might miss and find yourself facing the wrong direction, or off balance, or having been closed down upon by your opponent.

Scoring a good hard high kick, ideally to the head, is possible, yes, but is it probable? This is the question that many martial artists ask. The stakes are high, at least when fighting is serious. So is the kick serious? This is a good question. In my experience, landing a good, crisp, clean head kick is a moment of joy and jubilation. And kicking is fun in a way that other techniques cannot measure up to.

The kick that contacts with the opponent’s head will probably not be a sidekick, however, unless you are really tall or really flexible. But even so, it will always be easier to land a turning kick or a hook kick. To land, the kick will have flicked up and out before being arced into the face or head. There will be no loud thwack, snap or crack. There will be a pleasing thud, and the other person will be rattled, at least, or stunned, or even floored or knocked out. Yet it will feel like the sound should be a snap or a whack or a thwack. This is surely the main reason why in taekwondo training, the type of focus pad that they hold up for each other to kick is designed to emit a pleasing cracking sound when a kick lands crisply.

There is a delight in landing such kicks. It is not matched, in my experience, by any other achievement in martial arts. A choke submission or tap-out is a world away. A good punch, while satisfying in its own way, is a lot closer to the normal day to day world than landing a head kick. There is something about using the feet like hands… Surely everyone who ever started studying a kicking style has gone through periods of time opening doors and turning lights on and off with their feet. It’s a delight, because it is so novel. Even a throw or sweep, while beautiful, does not feel as beautiful.

A good kick is perfectly beautiful. There are a few archetypes, a few paradigms. The side kick of Bruce Lee, the jumping reverse turning kick of Van Damme, the devastating power of the turning kicks of Muay Thai fighters, Daniel Laruso’s Crane Kick in The Karate Kid – these are all models to be emulated. What makes them so beautiful? The physical frame in the fully locked out sidekick is at once stretched out – thrust – and contracted – held back. Bruce Lee’s six-pack abdomen, the complete control of where his arms and hands are – all make the kick desirable, because the perfection is multiple. Compare Bruce Lee’s sidekick with that of Olympic taekwondo. In Lee we see perfectly grounded full body control. A kind of tension. In sport taekwondo we see bouncing, arms by the sides, almost like a puppet, with baggy white pyjamas, flapping belts and padding that rounds and softens the body aesthetics. These kicks are not desirable. In the 2012 Olympics, when women’s boxing was first featured, and the UK won a gold medal in both the women’s taekwondo and the women’s boxing, even one lifelong taekwondo practitioner complained to me (about the taekwondo) ‘how can you win a medal by touching someone else’s head with your toe?’

Many in my circles compared the women’s boxing to the women’s taekwondo that year, and the floppy flailing tip-tapping of the taekwondo fared badly in the face of Nicola Adams’s fantastically tight, precise, technically brilliant boxing. The visual semiotics are familiar. We don’t prefer flopping and flapping when there is tight precision, sharpness and control on offer elsewhere.

All good fighters on film have this sharpness. The body opens, flows, then snaps into a pose, the pose that can become the poster, the pose that can be held in front of the mirror. The culmination of the kick is the freeze frame moment, the screen grab, the moment of one’s internal mental selfie.

However, as every kicker knows, the success or failure of this culmination is dependent on a first, considerably less photogenic moment: the moment of preparation, the moment you initiate, the moment only you know about. Again, the sidekick is my favourite. I can feel it now. The thought of that feel excites me. It’s the last vestiges of the taekwondo I once loved, and lived and breathed. I’m sure I will still be able to feel it on my deathbed. Even now, I miss it. I don’t kick much anymore, and when I do, it’s low (shins, thighs, groin). But, even now, as I sit here typing, I can feel my weight move to my right foot. I’m side on. My left knee rises. My foot sharpens into a sword-foot. I’m half way there. And there, that moment, not kicking yet, but primed, loaded, as I once said into a camera, and I can and do laugh about it, but it is no word of a lie, Iam Bruce Lee. And then it’s gone. And I’m not. I’m just me. But I want to do it again.

Visiting Scholars

We are very pleased to announce that Douglas Eacersall will be attending Cardiff University as a visiting scholar to carry out martial arts studies research under the supervision of Paul Bowman in the Autumn of 2015. Douglas is a Doctor of Philosophy candidate in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland, Australia. He has worked on a number of research projects in the areas of History and Sociolinguistics including a major Australian Research Council project examining language and cultural maintenance in the Australian Sudanese community. His forthcoming doctoral thesis White Men Sporting Swords: The Revival of Western Martial Pursuits in Australia, 1969-2012 is a history which examines the ways in which predominately male practitioners of European descent have engaged with a martial sporting activity. In terms of his martial arts background Douglas has participated in a number of Asian arts including Kendo, Aikido, Muay thai, Iaijutsu, Ninjutsu, Taijiquan and Xingyiquan as well as non-Asian arts, such as the Maori art of Mau Rakau and Western historical swordplay. He currently leads the Historical School of Defence study group in his local area.