Qays Stetkevych 2016

Both the fornaldarsögur and Íslendingasögur  (Legendary and Icelandic sagas of Iceland) are replete with grappling sequences, techniques, and maneuvers. These sequences and maneuvers, however, have all too often been overlooked by the academic community. Through the passing of time, changing of cultural interests, and poor translations, much of the once-understood sequences and techniques that are found in the sagas are lost upon the modern reader. Furthermore, what little scholarly attention has been directed towards these specific grappling passages has often had underlying motives whose goals are not to understand and accurately represent the maneuvers and techniques to the modern reader, but rather to promote modern glíma (traditional Icelandic wrestling).

         This paper aims to clarify, expand upon, and describe specific grappling techniques and sequences that are chronicled in the fornaldarsögur and Íslendingasögur to the modern reader in a way that is accurate, accessible, and easily understood. In conjunction with this, I will touch upon the accuracy, detail, vocabulary, and realism of these grappling sequences, and promote the idea that medieval Icelanders (both the scribes and their contemporary audiences) were well- versed in grappling and understood these passages to be accurate portrayals of realistic wrestling as opposed to solely sensationalized fiction.


Qays Stetkevych is currently studying Icelandic at The University of Iceland, where he also holds a Masters degree in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies, with a thesis on the topic of grappling in the Icelandic and Legendary sagas.  He also has a Bachelors degree in History from Emory University.  His areas of academic concentration are in the sagas of Icelanders, medieval combat, and grappling and wrestling in medieval literature.  Along with these academic interests he has been active and competing in wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for over 15 years, as well as training and competing in Mixed Martial Arts for the last 10 years.

Alex Channon 2016

Martial Arts Studies Conference 2016

Sexualisation, female fighters, and the UFC: #feminism?

Alex Channon, University of Brighton

In the wake of the recent and somewhat sudden emergence of women’s mixed martial arts (WMMA) into the cultural mainstream, thanks in no small part to the iconic former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, the notion of a feminist victory having been scored in the historically male-dominated realm of full-contact combat sports has become widespread. There is no doubt that the growth of WMMA has the potential to inspire change in the way that women are generally positioned in sporting discourse, but history has shown that women’s gains in sport (as elsewhere) are rarely straightforward or unproblematic. By discussing the ways in which certain fighters are marketed, specifically via highlighting the persistent issue of female athlete sexualisation, this presentation will question how well WMMA stands to meet certain feminist goals. Doing so will invite unpicking debates between competing visions of feminism, as well as attending to the appropriation and commodification of feminist sentiment by the corporate interests driving the current development of WMMA. The presentation will conclude by inviting debate over how best to continue the growth of this emergent sport without compromising on the important political ambitions that have begun to be attached to it.


Biographical note

Alex Channon is Senior Lecturer in Physical Education and Sport Studies at the University of Brighton. Along with Christopher R. Matthews, he is the editor of Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sport: Women Warriors around the World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Alex’s research interests include sex integration in martial arts, the mediated representation of combat sport athletes, and the value of martial arts as forms of physical education.


George Jennings 2016



Ancient Wisdom, Modern Warriors: The (Re)Invention of a Mesoamerican Warrior Tradition in Xilam


George Jennings [1]

[1] Universidad YMCA, Mexico City, Mexico




Xilam is a modern Mexican martial art that is inspired by pre-Hispanic warrior cultures of ancient Mesoamerica, namely the Aztecs (Mexica), Maya and Zapotec cultures. It provides a noteworthy case study of a Latin American fighting system that has been recently invented, but aspires to rescue, rediscover and relive the warrior philosophies that existed before the Spanish Conquest and subsequent movements beginning in 1521. Using the thought-provoking work of anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, México Profundo, I aim to analyse the Xilam Martial Arts Association through the way that they represent themselves in their three main media outlets: The official webpage, the Facebook group and the YouTube channel. I argue that their portrayal of the art as a form of Mesoamerican culture and wisdom for current and future generations of Mexicans is contrasted to contemporary Mexico, a Western (Occidental) project that is far removed from the foundations of this diverse country. Overall, the data suggests that certain elements of Mesoamerican civilisation may be transmitted to young Mexicans through a mind-body discipline, which in turn acts as a form of physical (re)education. As a presentation of an article for the recent special edition of the Martial Arts Studies Journal on the invention of martial arts, xilam is posited as both an invented tradition (in a technical sense) and a reinvented tradition (in a cultural sense) that provides lessons on the timeless issues of transformation, transmission and transcendence.

Keywords: Mexico Profundo; Mesoamerica; pre-Hispanic Mexico; martial arts cultures; warrior philosophies.



George Jennings is a qualitative sociologist interested in traditionalist physical cultures. His previous work has examined the traditionalist Chinese martial arts such as Wing Chun and Taijiquan, and he is currently investigating the dynamic relationships between martial arts, health and society. He is a researcher and editor at the Universidad YMCA, Mexico, and an associate researcher at the Health Advancement Research Team, University of Lincoln, UK.

Gehao Zhang 2016

From Red Spear to bayonet drill: a media archaeology on marital arts weapon in China


The spear has been one of the martial arts weapon with a history from remotest antiquity and the widest impact on almost all cultures. In Chinese martial arts, it has been considered “the king of all weapons”. It is also one of the marital arts weapons to keep its popularity among secrete societies and through the communist revolutionary during 20th century.

This research based on some remaining fragments of historical evidence to provide a media archaeology on the intertexture of the application of spears and bayonets from early modern military drill until the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s training. The paper will discuss the interaction between the materiality of martial arts weapons and body techniques in the shadow of the invented revolutionary tradition of bayonet fighting techniques in the Chinese PLA as well as the ideological naming of the red-tasseled spear.


Gehao Zhang, assistant professor in Macau University of Science and Technology. He got his PhD in Loughborough University with an ethnography on British Tai Chi Practitioners, his recent research includes martial arts studies, media archaeology, digital anthropology and qualitative data analysis.

Mario Staller and Jon C. Cole 2016b

Mario S. Staller & Jon C. Cole

The simulated armed confrontation: A novel paradigm for studying the neuropsychology of human defensive behaviour

The simulated armed confrontation paradigm potentially provides a novel method to ethically investigate the neuropsychology of violent confrontations. Given the acknowledged problems with existing laboratory paradigms this may represent a significant step forward. In the current study we investigated the effects of a simulated armed confrontation on executive cognitive functioning in police officers.

For this purpose, 68 violence-experienced participants (police officers and martial artists) were exposed either to a simulated armed confrontation, that required the establishment of dominance over an aggressor or a control treatment, where participants were required to exercise for five minutes. Phonemic fluency was measured before and after the treatment along with physiological measures.

Results for both treatments revealed an increase in executive cognitive functioning, whilst non-executive functioning was not affected. The current results are inconsistent with previous research looking at aggression and violent behaviour in the normal population where executive dysfunction is considered an aetiological factor. These results indicate that executive cognitive functioning is enhanced in simulated armed confrontations, suggesting that it is an adaptive human defensive response due to the increase in cardiovascular functioning.



Mario Staller is a German police officer working more than ten years as a police use of force, self-defense, and firearms instructor. His main areas of research are psychological aspects of conflict management in police contexts, skill development and pedagogical practice in police use of force and self-defense training.

Professor Jon Cole is the academic group lead of the tactical decision making research group af the University of Liverpool. His main areas of interests are conflict psychology, temporal psychology, decision making, and prevention science.

Daniel Mroz 2016

Taolu: credibility and decipherability in the practice of Chinese martial movement

Daniel Mroz, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Theatre, University of Ottawa, Canada

The practice of Taolu (套路), the prearranged movement patterns of the Chinese martial arts, has been explained in fantastically diverse ways spanning a range of interpretations from the essential and functional to the narrative, theatrical and religious.

Rather than trying to find a universal reason for the practice of taolu, this paper proposes to look at the idea of prearranged movement patterns through the lens of credibility and decipherability. These twin concepts, borrowed from the Great Reform movement in 20th century theatre practice, helpfully embrace both the criteria by which the performance of taolu is usually judged and also the deficiencies in our contemporary understanding of reasons behind this palimpsestic training method.

As conceptual tools credibility and decipherability also offer us insight into how the practice of prearranged martial movement patterns is presented and interpreted emically and etically, both as a consumed representation in the media and as a personal and phenomenological experience of embodied practice. This paper hopes to pragmatically present new perspectives from which the practice of taolu can be understood.


Daniel Mroz is a theatre director and martial artist. His recent performances have been presented at the Canada Dance Festival and the Évènement Zones Théâtrales. The Dancing Word his book on how to use the Chinese martial arts in the practice contemporary theatre is published by Brills. He studies martial arts with Chen Zhonghua and studied acting and directing with Richard Fowler. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre of the University of Ottawa in Canada where he teaches acting and directing.

Craig Owen 2016

Masculine identities and the performance of ‘awesome moves’ in capoeira classes

The high-flying, almost gravity defying, acrobatic movements of capoeira practitioners are increasingly being viewed in movies, advertisements and computer games. Drawing upon four years of ethnographic fieldwork in capoeira classes in the South West of England, this paper will demonstrate how capoeira is primarily represented in the mass media, at live demonstrations and through multi-media artefacts through the visual spectacle of the capoeirista performing ‘awesome moves’. It will be argued that these representations legitimate capoeira as a masculine practice and work to attract men to class by producing a visual discourse that embraces numerous aspects of orthodox masculinity (Anderson, 2009). The paper will then examine how, once in class, in order to acquire the body techniques needed to perform ‘awesome moves’, male beginners must negotiate a series of capoeira practices that problematize their embodied masculinities. By working through these ‘gender troubles’, male capoeirista undergo a process of embodied, visual and discursive transition, wherein they demonstrate a shift towards the performance of more inclusive masculinities.


Biographical Note

Craig Owen in a Lecturer in Psychology at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He teaches in the areas of Social Psychology, Health Psychology and Qualitative Methods. His primary research interest focuses on the performance of masculine identities in capoeira and Latin and ballroom dance classes. His PhD provided an in depth ethnographic account of how, by learning to dance, young men are able negotiate a range of complex discourses of masculinity and enact shifting identities. Currently, he is collaborating on a new research project that explores the negotiation of identities in the process of becoming a UK citizen.

Approaching Martial Arts Studies Events

Happy New Year!

As the first martial arts studies research network event is approaching fast, I just wanted to send a quick reminder: if you are planning to attend the Gender Issues in Martial Arts Theory and Practice Event at Brighton University (Eastbourne Campus) on Friday 5th February, please could you register via Eventbrite as soon as possible.

Registration is free, but we need to know how much (equally free) food and drink we need to order.

For anyone travelling a distance, there are any number of hotels and lodgings available in Eastbourne. However, the Devonshire Park Hotel, where the organisers and speakers will be staying, are offering a concessionary rate for anyone else who books directly with them and mentions that they are coming for this Brighton University event (£60 per night inc. breakfast).

The line up for the day is excellent, and is sure both to advance key issues around gender and martial arts. I hope to see you there!

In other news, there is still a small window of time to submit contributions on ’the invention of martial arts’. Accepted articles will be published as issue two of Martial Arts Studies.

There is also some time left to submit abstracts for the July 2016 Martial Arts Studies Conference in Cardiff. Anyone planning to attend the conference who will need accommodation should register as soon as possible in order to ensure get on the list for a room in a Cardiff University Hall of Residence. There will be other accommodation options available in Cardiff, of course, but the university halls will be the most convenient, sociable, high quality cost effective accommodation option. A list of confirmed speakers is available here.

The other research network event on the horizon is the one day conference on contemporary debates around martial arts film at Birmingham City University on 1st April. As with all our other events, we have an absolutely excellent line up of speakers.

I don’t want this update to get too long, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

For automatic updates, you can subscribe to the Martial Arts Studies Research Network feed. For both lighthearted and serious conversations, you can join the Facebook Group, like the Facebook Page, and, if you are so inclined, follow us on Twitter.

Here’s to 2016!


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Timetable: Gender Issues in Theory and Practice

Martial Arts Studies: Gender Issues in Theory and Practice

Hosted by the Centre of Sport, Tourism and Leisure Studies, University of Brighton, Eastbourne Campus, 5th Feb 2016, 10am-5.30pm

Please Register Free via EventBrite, Here

Time Session Speaker(s)



10.20-10.40 Welcome address from the Martial Arts Studies Research Network and the University of Brighton Dr Paul Bowman, Cardiff University

Professor John Sugden, University of Brighton

10.40-11.20 Engaging marginalised young men in a local boxing club Adam Hanover, Eastbourne Boxing Club

Dr Christopher R. Matthews, University of Brighton





Sex, gender and boxing: What’s changed since 2012?

Professor Kath Woodward, The Open University
12.20-13.40 Lunch
13.40-14.20 Creating supportive environments for LGBT people in martial arts clubs Anna Kavoura, University of Jyväskalä

Catherine Phipps, University of Greenwich


Plenary session: Engaging girls and women in martial arts & combat sports

15.00-15.20 break

Tales from the ring: Young boxers’ narratives of desistance from violence


Dr Deborah Jump, Manchester Metropolitan University


‘Love Fighting, Hate Violence’: Building an anti-domestic violence campaign within martial arts and combat sports

Dr Alex Channon, University of Brighton

Dr Christopher R. Matthews, University of Brighton

17.00-17.30 Book launch – ‘Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sports’ & wine reception

Wayne Wong 2016

From the Martial to the Art: Slow Aesthetics in Transnational Martial Art-house Cinema


This paper will argue that there is a paradigmatic shift of cinematic martial arts from fast-paced “chopsocky” actions of the 1970s and 80s to aesthetic marital art-house cinema emphasizing slowness and stillness. Martial arts has always been considered a frivolous genre with little affiliation to “slow aesthetics” of European art cinema. From King Hu’s bamboo forest in the 1960s, Bruce Lee’s flying kicks in the early 70s, to Tsui Hark’s new wave “wire-fu” and “undercranking” in the early 90s, speed has been accentuated as a signifier of martial arts skills, training, and power. However, the transnationalization of Hong Kong cinema in the past two decades has gradually transformed the popular genre from the martial to the artistic, the bodily to the spiritual, and the external to the internal. Rather than accentuating what David Bordwell calls “the glimpse” and the “burst-pause-burst” pattern reminiscent of the Chinese operatic traditions, cinematic martial art-house films such as Zhang Yimou’s Hero, Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster, and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassins feature extended long takes, lengthy pauses, and sparse narrative, which aim not to highlight, in Leon Hunt’s terms, the (archival, cinematic and corporeal) “authenticity” of martial arts performance, but an abstract embodiment of yijing (idea-image) through slow aesthetics created by an uncanny synthesis of mechanical mediation (wirework) and digital reproduction (computer generated imageries). More intriguingly, this accentuation of slowness emerges not only from the fantastical world of wuxia, but also from the kung fu genre with much emphasis on realism and violence. In addition to being a critique of and an alternative to fast-paced Hollywood action spectacles, this new paradigm is an exit strategy for a disappearing genre with aging talents and discontinuing lineage.

Wayne Wong is a joint PhD researcher at the Department of Comparative Literature at The University of Hong Kong and the Film Studies Department at King’s College London. He has published in Martial Arts Studies and is interested in Hong Kong martial arts action cinema, digital effects, and game studies. His current research focuses on martial arts action cinema and its digital reproduction.