Sixt Wetzler 2016

Straight Lines and Magic Circles: The martial arts myth of geometry

Martial arts have a tendency to justify their techniques and practices by mythic narratives, as has been discussed before.[i] One of the most persistent forms of such myths is that of the geometrical foundation. It claims that combative movements based on abstract geometrical principals are in line with the physical foundations of the world itself, and thus superior to other combat methods, or even invincible.

The presentation wants to trace this myth back in time, from internet discussion boards of the 21st century, via the writings of Bruce Lee, to the fight books of early modern Europe. The idea of the straight line as the perfect method of attack is the myth’s incarnation to be discussed, for which a clear historic transmission can be shown. The development of the geometrical myth seems to be connected to a learned book culture, and its depiction in medieval fight books is one of the foremost examples for the connection of embodied practice and media representation highlighted by this year’s conference.

Furthermore, it shall be demonstrated that the geometrical myth exists in various shapes in martial arts all over the world. The question will be raised if we are encountering independent parallel developments, or if there are historic connections between these different examples. If the latter is the case, the consequences for our images of regionalized vs. globalized martial arts culture(s), and for the distinction between Eastern and Western martial arts will have to be discussed.

Sixt Wetzler studied religious studies, Scandinavian literature, and medieval history at the universities of Tübingen, Reykjavík, and Freiburg. He is currently finishing his PhD on ‘The Martial Arts of Medieval Iceland: Literary representation and historical form’. Wetzler is a member of the board of spokesmen of the commission Kampfkunst und Kampfsport (Martial Arts and Combat Sports) in the dvs (German Association for Sports Sciences). He works as curator for Deutsches Klingenmuseum (German Blade Museum) in Solingen, with a focus on the European fencing tradition and other blade fighting systems, and is among the highest ranked European practitioners of Pekiti Tirsia Kali, a Filipino martial art.

[i] Wetzler, Sixt. 2014. ‘Myths of the Martial Arts’, JOMEC Journal 5, available at: