An Epistemic Context for Martial Arts Practice

Keynote talk at the 2016 Martial Arts Studies Conference, University of Cardiff.


This talk will place martial arts practice and studies in the context of an ongoing sea change in the university as a social institution. A generation of embodied practitioners — across the martial, healing, performing, ritual arts and more — is entering academia. Individually these hybrid scholar-practitioners and artist-researchers are developing exciting new ways of combining theory and practice, or of transcending or cutting through that binary altogether. But in many cases such innovative methodologies lack historical context and are not yet in conversation across disciplines.

Drawing on the framework of social epistemology developed in What a Body Can Do (Routledge 2015), this presentation will argue for an understanding of martial arts themselves as active fields of knowledge sustained by a dialectical relationship between training and research. According to this model, martial arts studies is to martial arts practice as performance studies is to performing arts and as science studies is to scientific research. Once we place martial arts practice in this context and examine its interdisciplinary relationships both to conventional academic disciplines and to neighboring fields of embodied research, a host of new questions arises regarding the ethical, political, and epistemological role of embodied research in the twenty-first century.