D. S. Farrer 2016

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is Therapy: Shifting Subjectivities on Guam


Building upon recent work regarding efficacy and entertainment, and doing research in martial arts studies, I consider the idea of “jiu jitsu is therapy” that emerged during my ongoing performance ethnography of BJJ on Guam. What type of therapy emerges from a martial discipline where symbolic death is inflicted via chokeholds and strangulation upon a willing partner who taps out, thereby avoiding death? This paper reflects upon the convergence of psychotherapy and anthropology towards an interpretation of the practice of Brazilian jiu jitsu.

D. S. Farrer was awarded a PhD in Social Anthropology by the National University of Singapore in 2007. He has taught anthropology, sociology, social psychology, and martial arts since 1992. Before moving to Guam he lectured in universities and colleges in England, Africa, and Singapore. He conducted ethnographic fieldwork for a decade in Malaysia and Singapore, and has also conducted fieldwork in Thailand, London, and Hong Kong. His research specialities include the anthropology of performance, religion, and art, visual anthropology, violence, spiritual healing, and Chinese and Malay martial arts. Dr. Farrer has published an ethnographic book entitled Shadows of the Prophet: Martial Arts and Sufi Mysticism (2009) with Springer, and a volume (co-edited with John Whalen-Bridge) entitled Martial Arts as Embodied Knowledge: Asian Traditions in a Transnational World(2011) with SUNY. In 2011 he won the University of Guam College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Research Excellence Award. On Guam he is interested in mixed martial arts and indigenous cultural revival.