Martial Arts Researchers in Bath

Bowen Collection

Last week we held a Martial Arts Studies Research Network event in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. The event was a great success, with researchers from Japan, Korea, the US, the UK and Europe sharing New Research on Japanese Martial Arts.

Videos of some of the talks can now be found on the Martial Arts Studies YouTube Channel, here:

The day after the mini-conference I took the Japanese members of our research group to visit The Bowen Collection at the University of Bath. The librarian and collection manager, Lizzie Richmond, had set out a small display of a representative cross section of items from the collection, and the visit was extremely rewarding. Anyone interested in the very early days of judo and jujitsu in the UK should consider arranging a time to visit the collection.

Our next martial arts studies research network event is the conference in Cardiff, in under two months’ time! Register now, before it’s too late!

Martial Arts Studies Events, Journals & Books

I just want to update you all on a few things before I sign off for the Easter break.

First, the next event of the Martial Arts Studies Research Network, focusing on new research on Japanese martial arts, takes place in Bath in a few weeks’ time, on 3rd May. The schedule is now online, here.

I also want to remind everyone attending the Martial Arts Studies Conference in Cardiff [11-13 July] that it is really important for you to register for the conference and then book your accommodation as soon as possible. I have it on good authority that most of the hotels in Cardiff are sold out, and rooms that are available are now at extortionate prices. This is not because our conference is so popular, but rather because Coldplay are playing in Cardiff for the exact same three nights…

I’ve updated information about conference keynotes here and about all confirmed conference speakers here.

Finally, I want to note that the next issue of the journal Martial Arts Studies is in the pipeline, as are new books in the Martial Arts Studies Book Series  If you have an academic article on martial arts studies, please send it to the journal for consideration; and if you have a book proposal or draft monograph, feel free to send it to me for informal discussion.

Best wishes – and to all of you in countries that celebrate Easter as a national holiday, I hope you have a good break!


Schedule: New Research on Japanese Martial Arts

‘New Research on Japanese Martial Arts – From Inside Japan and Out’

Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Bath, UK, on 3rd May 2017.


Registration, Tea and Coffee



Welcome and Introduction

Cardiff University, Waseda University



Enlightening the World: Narrating and (Re)presenting the Life of Kanô Jigorô and Ueshiba Morihei in Manga

Ghent University



Critique of Violence in Asian Martial Arts Films: How Mythopoeia Has Displaced It

Rikkyo University



Yasuhiro SAKAUE

The Creation of Kendo’s Self-Image: 1868-1945

Hitotsubashi University



An Ethnographic Study of Shinkage-ryu

Ibaraki University


Lunch (buffet lunch provided)


Bok Kyu CHOI

Dissemination of Japanese Martial Arts to Korea

Korean Institute for Martial Arts


Kotaro YABU

The Dissemination of Judo in Early Twentieth-Century America: The Mission and Struggles of a Pioneer Judoka

Sendai University



Bartitsu and Suffragette Jujitsu of the early 20th Century

Independent Researcher




Orientalising the Orient: Searching for Karate’s Budo Roots in Contemporary Egypt

National Museum of Ethnology, Japan



Japanese Philosophy and Global Sociology: Possibilities for an International Martial Arts Studies

Cardiff Metropolitan

Review of Kendo: The Culture of the Sword (2015)


Reviewed by Paul Bowman, Cardiff University,

Alexander C. Bennett’s monograph, Kendo: The Culture of the Sword (University of California Press, 2015) is an ideal starting point for students or researchers beginning to look into Kendo and other Japanese martial arts. It assumes no prior knowledge and walks the reader through a narrative arc beginning from kendo’s relationship with other Japanese budō arts (1-25), into kendo basics (xvii-xxxv), through swordsmanship in medieval Japan (26-56) to early modern kenjutsu (57-85), the fall and rise of samurai culture and kenjutsu’s nationalisation (86-122) to its place in Japanese imperialism (123-162), the passionate 20th century debates about kendo and/as sport (163-199) and the current vicissitudes of kendo’s global diffusion (200-237).

As a principally chronological history, framed by statements of the author’s personal introduction to kendo at one end and concluding reflections on kendo within the cultures of the contemporary world at the other, Bennett’s work is reliable, accessible and to be recommended. Each chapter is informed by pertinent theoretical debates from the fields of sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, but none of these debates are centralised, nor are they allowed to dominate the historical perspective. So, although we frequently encounter concepts from the likes of Pierre Bourdieu (87, 195, 197), Dipesh Chakrabarty (232, 236), Eric Hobsbawm (87, 121), Joseph Svinth (206), Denis Gainty (23, 116) and Brian McVeigh (22, 182, 199, 219, 225, 229), these encounters are mainly brief and tantalizing. The theoretical dimensions of the work have the status of occasional descriptive stepping stones as we walk through the historical narrative.

Aside from a rightly recurring attention to nationalism, which Bennett approaches in multiple ways, perhaps the most frequently mentioned thinker is Norbert Elias (57, 69, 70, 73, 125), whom Bennett frequently cites on matters such as boxing (83), games of war as displays of warrior virtues (82), etiquette, rituals, protocols (120–21,152, 153, 184, 189, 191), and so on.

Bennett’s use of Elias is exemplary of his use of perhaps all other theoretical concepts and arguments. That is to say, Bennett takes a reasonable, non-controversial interpretation of, say, Elias on civilizing processes, and deploys that interpretation descriptively throughout. The problem here is that sometimes the descriptive gain comes at the cost of an analytical loss. So, although approaching kendo in terms of a binary between civilizing and de-civilizing dimensions is interesting, it is based on a slightly reductive (binary) reading of Elias – a reduction that other recent studies of martial arts have fruitfully sought to challenge (Gong 2015). The point to be emphasized is that, sometimes at least, it could have been beneficial for the study if Bennett had done more with theoretical problematics than use them to add a richness of description.

Conversely, at other times Bennett makes valuable contributions to theoretical and analytical debates – albeit perhaps unintentionally. For instance, I am confident that Bennett’s opening discussion of his own introduction to kendo, whilst visiting Japan on a study exchange as a child, is merely intended to set the scene and describe a ‘baptism of fire’, that started as trauma but ended in his love of and devotion to kendo. But whilst reading it I was immediately reminded of recent attempts in martial arts studies, sociology of the body and sociology of sport to describe and account for any kind of ‘martial habitus’ (García and Spencer 2014).

To my mind, most sociological attempts to demonstrate the existence and operation of a ‘martial habitus’ have failed. This is because the concept of habitus used in these studies is derived from Bourdieu but refracted through Wacquant’s ethnography of boxing (Wacquant 2004), a study that centres on the intense and overwhelmingly closed communal world of a boxing gym in a poor pre-21st century ghetto community in Chicago.

Few social situations in the contemporary world truly meet the requisite criteria of the stiflingly closed context required to make the (pre-internet and media-blind) concept of ‘habitus’ analytically useful. But Bennett’s opening account of being thrown in at the deep-end of intensive and extensive kendo training, from which he could not really escape, certainly does. In this sense, I found in this dimension of the book a way to articulate more clearly my sense that ‘habitus’ is essentially a historically bounded concept that, other than in specific intense contexts, is less pertinent to social and cultural analysis today than it may have seemed in the past (Bowman 2015).

Overall, I found the final chapter of the book to be the most wide ranging and stimulating. In this chapter, Bennett moves much more freely out of the historical narrative and into reflections on the contemporary cultural issues, problems and dynamics of kendo’s present states of existence and elaboration, in which all the forces of globalisation, nationalisation, sport and identity politics are currently condensed.


Bowman, Paul. 2015. Martial Arts Studies: Disrupting Disciplinary Boundaries. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

García, Raúl Sánchez, and Dale C. Spencer. 2014. Fighting Scholars: Habitus and Ethnographies of Martial Arts and Combat Sports. Anthem Press.

Gong, Neil. 2015. ‘How to Fight Without Rules: On Civilized Violence in “De-Civilized” Spaces’. Social Problems, September, spv014. doi:10.1093/socpro/spv014.

Wacquant, Löic J. D. 2004. Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Keynotes 2017

Keynotes for our July 2017 conference include:

  • Benjamin N. Judkins (Cornell University), co-founder and co-editor of the journal Martial Arts Studies, founder and editor of the long-running martial arts studies blog, Kung Fu Tea (, and co-author of The Creation of Wing Chun (SUNY Press).
  • Gitanjali Kolanad (Shiv Nadar University). Gitanjali Kolanad was involved in the practice, performance, and teaching of bharata natyam for close to forty years, performing in major cities in Europe, America and India. Her short story collection “Sleeping with Movie Stars” was published in January 2011 by Penguin India. She has written numerous articles on aspects of Indian dance for well-known Indian publications. She is the 2016 Singapore International Writer in Residence with NUS University Scholars Program and The Arts House. She co-founded IMPACT, which teaches and promotes Indian martial art forms. Presently she a professor at Shiv Nadar University, developing their performing arts program.
  • Professor Peter Lorge (Vanderbilt University), author of The Reunification of China: Peace Through War under the Song Dynasty (Cambridge, 2015), Chinese Martial Arts: From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge University Press, 2012), The Asian Military Revolution: From Gunpowder to the Bomb (Cambridge University Press, 2008), and War, Politics and Society in Early Modern China (Routledge, 2005), co-editor of Chinese and Indian Warfare: From the Classical Age to 1870 (Routledge, 2014), and editor of Debating War in Chinese History (Brill, 2013), Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (The Chinese University Press, 2011), and Warfare in China to 1600 (Ashgate, 2005).
  • Professor Meaghan Morris (University of Sydney). Professor Meaghan Morris is a figure of world stature in the field of Cultural Studies. She was recently Chair of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society and of the international Association for Cultural Studies (ACS), 2004-08. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities, and a former ARC Senior Fellow, from 2000-2012 she was founding Chair Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong.
  • Sixt Wetzler (Deutsches Klingenmuseum – German Blade Museum, Solingen). Sixt Wetzler studied religious studies, Scandinavian literature, and medieval history at the universities of Tübingen, Reykjavík, and Freiburg. He finished his PhD on ‘The Martial Arts of Medieval Iceland: Literary representation and historical form’ in 2016. 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 the Deutsches Klingenmuseum (German Blade Museum), 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.


  • To see a list of all confirmed speakers, click here

Confirmed Speakers: Bath Event on Japanese Martial Arts

edith-garrud-suffragettes-700Edith Garrud, jujitsu trainer to the Suffragette bodyguard, born in Bath, UK

Here is the final line up of speakers (in alphabetical order, not running order) for the next Martial Arts Studies Research Network Event, ‘New Research on Japanese Martial Arts’, which will take place on 3rd May 2017, at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution.


Paul Bowman (Cardiff University), Michael Molasky (Waseda University)

Confirmed speakers and titles:

Bok Kyu CHOI (Korean Institute of Martial Arts): ‘Dissemination of Japanese Martial Arts to Korea’

Emelyne GODFREY (independent researcher): ‘Bartitsu and Suffragette Jujitsu of the early 20th century’

George JENNINGS (Cardiff Metropolitan University): ‘Japanese Philosophy and Global Sociology: Possibilities for an International Martial Arts Studies’

Tetsuya NAKAJIMA (Ibaraki University): ‘An Ethnographic Study of Shinkage-ryu’

Andreas NIEHAUS (Ghent University): ‘Enlightening the World: Narrating and (Re)presenting the Life of Kanô Jigorô and Ueshiba Morihei in Manga’

Keiko NITTA (Rikkyo University): ‘Critique of Violence in Asian Martial Arts Films: How Mythopoeia Has Displaced It’

Yasuhiro SAKAUE (Hitotsubashi University): ‘The Creation of Kendo’s Self-Image: 1868-1945’

Kotaro YABU (Sendai University): ‘The Dissemination of Judo in Early Twentieth-Century America: The Mission and Struggles of a Pioneer Judoka’

Communicating Embodied Knowledge: Workshops and Round Table Debate

Communicating Embodied Knowledge: Workshops and Round Table Debate

Martial Arts Studies Conference

Cardiff University, UK

11-13 July 2017

At this year’s Martial Arts Studies Conference, we will set aside time for workshops and a round table panel discussion that will explore key problematics pertinent to anyone researching, writing about or teaching martial arts.

This problem has been well posed by Loïc Wacquant, who puts it like this:

How to go from the guts to the intellect, from the comprehension of the flesh to the knowledge of the text? Here is a real problem of concrete epistemology about which we have not sufficiently reflected, and which for a long time seemed to me irresolvable. To restitute the carnal dimension of ordinary existence and the bodily anchoring of the practical knowledge constitutive of pugilism – but also of every practice, even the least ‘bodily’ in appearance – requires indeed a complete overhaul of our way of writing social science. (Loïc Wacquant, ‘The Body, The Ghetto and the Penal State’, Qual Sociol, 2009, p.122)

Not everyone working in martial arts studies will regard themselves as a social scientist, and not everyone need be completely satisfied with Wacquant’s own solution. (Wacquant mixes different styles of writing, different modes of address: sometimes literary/descriptive, sometimes confessional, emotional, ethnographic, sometimes analytical, and so on.) But all of us working in martial arts studies will benefit from thinking about this problematic further.

Some of the questions that spring up here include:

·      What concepts, metaphors, images and vocabularies are best able to convey embodied knowledge, skill, technique, experience?

·      Does one have to experience a martial art to be able to know it or write about it?

·      Is the written word actually capable of communicating any of this?

·      Might other, newer media be any better?

·      In addition to the question of how to go ‘from the guts to the intellect’, is it possible to ‘go from the intellect to the guts’, and be able to truly experience what others experienced, as in projects that try to reconstruct lost or past physical knowledge, such as HEMA?

·      Do we need a complete overhaul of our ways of thinking and our styles of academic writing?

In order to dedicate time and space to these questions, we will first break out into different groups and then regroup for a round-table panel and discussion.

The break out groups will be self-selecting and organised by the familiar ways we already tend to categorise the main kinds of approach to martial arts. So there may be a group focusing on weapons-based arts, another focusing on grappling styles, another on striking, pugilistic martial arts, and another on internal martial arts, one on reconstructed arts, and so on.

After working in our groups, we will all reconvene together and spokespeople will report back to everyone about each group’s main findings, issues, agreements and disagreements, which will lead into an open discussion.

Participation will of course be entirely voluntary.

Should anyone have specific ideas and suggestions related to any of this, please let me know by email (