Georganna Ulary 2016

“Muay Thai, Agonism, and Creating Oneself as a Work of Art: An Existential-Phenomenological Account”


Georganna Ulary, Ph.D.

Chair & Asst. Prof. of Philosophy

Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY


Abstract: In this paper I offer an existential and phenomenological account of how and why martial arts (with particular attention to the art of Muay Thai) can be one of the most fruitful, meaningful, and rewarding means by which to recreate oneself, and one’s life, as a work of art. Drawing on the philosophical insights of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Kristeva, coupled with the personal accounts from martial artists themselves, I first offer a philosophical analysis of the appeal and promise of martial arts training; moreover, I also point to some of the limitations these practices might have for fully delivering on this promise. While I agree that one of the most important roles that martial arts training can play in one’s life is in fostering and practicing virtue (something that most martial arts philosophies stress and pride themselves on), I go further and suggest other, equally important aspects of practicing martial arts, aspects that are central and integral to creating oneself and one’s life as a work of art – including the value of agonism, the revaluation of values that such training entails, and the way of ‘being in the world’ that martial arts training orients one towards. Ultimately, I suggest that martial arts training can provide and help sustain a sense of “ontological rootedness” for a human life that is all too easily unmoored.