George Jennings Abstract, July 2017 Conference

Out of the Labyrinth: The Recently Invented Mexican Martial Arts Riding the Wave of Mexicanidad

 George Jennings

Sociology and Philosophy Research Group, Cardiff School of Sport

Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK


In the celebrated essays of Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1969), the unique identity of Mexico remained uncertain and dubious: a resistance of the native “Indian” Mexico, the colonial era and the long road to modernity. In the last decades of the twentieth century, however, various veteran martial artists and visionaries developed different fighting and human development systems across the nation as a response to the lack of warrior traditions and martial identity in the country. These forms of combat include Xilam, a traditionalist approach to martial arts inspired by ancient Mesoamerican culture and warrior philosophies, and SUCEM, a form of full-contact mixed martial arts that includes armed combat in a ring or octagon with or without adapted, pre-Hispanic style weaponry of shields and clubs. There are others, such as Pok-at-Tok and Tae Lama which overtly acknowledge the use of Asian martial arts techniques, but with an indigenous Mexican “flavour” through the grading system and native language terminology. Despite their geographical, technical and cultural origins, all of these arts provide a new way of looking at Mexican national identity following a long period of foreign influence and subordination during the colonial and post-colonial period. As part of an emergent indigenista movement commonly referred to as Mexicanidad (“Mexicanness”), the social and political strive towards national pride and a revival of Mesoamerican civilisation and grandeur. This social movement includes the resurgence of ancient games and dances along with the development of the holistic, native and pre-Hispanic industries, all of which give Mexico a unique sense of self to present to the world: To no longer struggle in seeming solitude, but to contribute to global physical culture and martial arts. This paper seeks to highlight the case of these new martial arts and what they can tell us about Mexico’s past, present and potential future.

Keywords: Mexican martial arts; Mexicanidad; cultural studies; invention of tradition; social anthropology.

Contributor note

Dr. George Jennings is a lecturer in sport sociology / physical culture at Cardiff Metropolitan University, and has previously taught research methods and the social science of sport at universities in London, Scotland and Mexico. George’s research centres around alternative physical cultures and novel ways to study them. More specifically, his main area of investigation is on the social practice of traditionalist martial arts as explored through various qualitative research approaches and sociocultural theory. George collaborates widely, and is currently looking at the notion of self and shared cultivation in martial arts across the world.