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.