The AHRC supports Martial Arts Studies


I am delighted to announce that I have just been informed that the Martial Arts Studies Research Network will be funded for the next two years by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This is great news for martial arts studies in the UK because it will enable us to have more face to face events.

Here is some information about the Research Network.


Four decades after being kicked off by the ‘kung fu craze’ of the early 1970s, participation in martial arts in the Western world now rivals (and often exceeds) participation in traditional physical cultural practices connected with sport, health and exercise. Taekwondo and t’ai chi are as common in schools, college campuses and community centres as football and tennis; and Mixed Martial Arts are now globally bigger business than boxing. Yet, in the UK (and the English language in general), the academic study of martial arts remains in the shadows. This is so even though academics from a range of disciplines are contributing to diverse international scholarly fields via explorations of the many questions attached to martial arts, culture and society. Indeed, martial arts studies is demonstrably emerging, in diverse academic disciplines and across many geographical regions. Clusters of overlapping problematics are emerging within disciplines such as anthropology, cultural studies, ethnography, film studies, history, medicine, psychology, religious studies, sociology, and sports studies.

However, as these studies have developed within discrete disciplines, researchers have rarely engaged in cross-disciplinary dialogue. In fact, in the UK (and across Anglophone academia), the proliferation of academic writing has outpaced academic events, and there is little face-to-face exchange of ideas and approaches. Yet, there is evidence of not only a national but also an international appetite for a research network to foster cross-disciplinary communication in the development of martial arts studies. As well as increasing publications, there are growing numbers of conferences and events internationally, yet very few events have ever taken place in the UK or in the English language. There are regular academic conferences on martial arts in Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and all over Asia. Around the world, a growing number of degree programmes involve elements of martial arts studies, including some in the UK.

Yet, despite this growing research context, there is little sense of community or network for the development of martial arts studies. To address this lack, the Principal Investigator has already organised an international interdisciplinary Martial Arts Studies conference (Cardiff University, June 2015). The call for papers attracted over 100 proposals, some 60 of which were accepted. Proposals came from the UK, Australia, Guam, North America, China, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, South America, Germany, Finland, and France, and represent fields as diverse as anthropology, cultural studies, ethnography, film studies, history, medicine, philosophy, psychology, religious studies, sociology, and sports studies. This wide national and disciplinary sweep is matched in a broad spectrum of work, spanning from theoretical to practical orientations. As well as pure academic work, there will be talks by surgeons, security experts, diplomats, and medical doctors involved in research into ways of incorporating elements of martial arts as therapy into NHS treatment for post-stroke rehabilitation and depression.

The Martial Arts Studies Research Network will bring more researchers together in face to face events that advance the study of martial arts and ask what studying martial arts can contribute to knowledge more widely. Each event will engage with a cluster of questions around a specific theme, and will involve the participation of academics, researchers, practitioners, and professionals, in order to explore core social and cultural questions. In this way the research network will stimulate multi-disciplinary conversations that advance our understanding of martial arts in broader cultural contexts. Through these dialogues, the network will generate knowledge and lead the way in the development of martial arts studies that contributes to multiple areas.


The primary objective of the Martial Arts Studies Research Network is to connect up disconnected disciplinary and cultural discourses on martial arts by fostering dialogue through cross-disciplinary events. In connecting and engaging diverse researchers, the network will develop knowledge of the significance and impact of martial arts in the contemporary world and set the agenda for future research in the interlocking multidisciplinary fields around them.

Over a period of 24 months, a series of UK seminars will take place on key questions. Events will be held in institutions where there is ongoing research into related areas.


To discuss the network, please feel free to contact me at my Cardiff University email address.

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