PANEL 9 – ANALYTICAL METHODOLOGIES: INNER AND OUTER PERSPECTIVES
Methodological approaches along continuities between representations and practices: Vernacular notions and categories, body-mind experiences, subjectiveness, self-reflective writing, agency, phenomenology.
- Discussants : Edouard L’Hérisson (IFRAE, INALCO) & Fanny Caron (IrAsia – Aix-Marseille University/CNRS)
- Sixt Wetzler (Deutsches Klingenmuseum Solingen) – Martial Arts and Religion – An Evident Connection?
Popular culture regards the inherent connection of martial arts and religion as a given: Do the roots of all Eastern martial arts not lie in the Shaolin Monastery, where combative movements were introduced as meditative practices? Are the Japanese styles not a form of embodied Zen-Buddhist practice? And have the martial arts not carried along this spiritual dimension when they spread over the world in the course of the 20th century? Academic research into the history of the martial arts has shown that this narrative, though persistently told by pop culture and martial arts self-mythization alike, bears only small resemblance to the reality of both past and today – and even less when not only Chinese and Japanese styles are taken into account, but the vast number of styles that have/are developed before various other cultural backgrounds all over the world. In the Western world of the 21st century, tying a martial art to a religious background can be a strategy to both legitimize one’s practice, and to add an important selling argument on an open, highly competitive market of recreational activities and systems for the generation of meaning (‘sinnstiftende Systeme’). However, that does not mean that martial arts and religion were not linked in many and important ways. On the background of a functionalistic understanding of ‘religion’, the talk will discuss three possible modes of interaction between these two fields, both theoretically and based on historical and recent examples: a) Religion as a function subordinate to martial arts: This encompasses religious rituals and symbolic acts that are believed to support/ensure the ‘proper’ – that is, victorious – application of martial arts: prayers and spells for protection in combat, practices of invulnerability (‘iron shirt’), weapon enchantment, etc. b) Martial arts as a function subordinate to religion: This describes martial arts practices that are components within a larger network of religious believes, customs, and practices. As described before, this connection is less common then widely believed, but not non-existent; examples are the martial aspects of Chinese religious sects in the late 19th/early 20th century, or the importance of silat training for some Muslim groups in Malaysia. c) Martial arts as a ‘substitute religion’: Following Thomas Luckmann’s term of ‘shrinking transcendence, expanding religion’, it is not difficult to describe certain forms of martial arts practice in the 21st century as similar to religious systems in structure and function. Were this is the case, they can easily be linked with other systems for the generation of meaning, like New Age esotericism, yoga, and even Christian social work; prominent examples can be found within aikido and taijiquan, among many others. The aim of the talk is thus to demonstrate (again) that existing notions about ‘how martial arts are’, even though not necessarily wrong, but must be taken under a careful and differentiated perspective, and that the results of such a perspective are the additional value that comparative martial arts studies have to offer.
- Noora J. Ronkainen, Anna Kavoura, Heli Siltala & Olli Tikkanen (University of Jyväskylä) – Is this spirituality? Exploring Reflective Writings on the Spiritual in Martial Arts
While the data collection is on-going, the preliminary thematic analysis indicated that our reflections on the spiritual were mostly connected with the search for a meaningful way to practice, values and relationships, embodied experiences of joy/pleasure/transcendence, and tensions and anxiety associated with competing. We also reflected on the difference in the spiritual dimension of martial arts compared to other physical culture practices (e.g., surfing, running, horse riding and snowboarding), finding that the notion of (lack of) harmony with training partners is an element specific to our martial arts practices. The identified themes are generally aligned with literature on spirituality as an existential dimension of the sport life-world. While the spiritual aspect of sport is deeply personal, martial arts practice cultures can have an important role in facilitating or hindering the experiences and expressions of spirituality.
Keywords: Christianity, athletic identity, spirituality, athletic career, intersectionality.
Bio & contact
Dr Noora Ronkainen is a senior researcher at the department of psychology at the University of Jyväskylä. Her research has focused on meaning and spirituality in sport, athletes’ career development, and existential learning in sport.
- Anna Kavoura (University of Jyväskylä) – Methodological Challenges and the Potential of Self-Reflective Writing
In popular imagination, martial arts are often thought as encompassing spiritual components. Yet, few studies to date have attempted to examine experiences of spirituality in martial arts and combat sports (MACS). Some scholars have argued that the lack of spirituality research might be a reflection of the epistemological and methodological challenges of the field. In order to understand this, we first review the extant empirical research of spirituality in MACS, paying attention to the different approaches, methods and epistemological frameworks that previous scholars have employed. Second, we draw on our own collaborative autoethnography during which we used diary writing, group discussions and inspirational readings in order to understand whether and how we experience spiritual components in our martial arts training. We discuss the methodological, ethical, and interpersonal challenges that we met in our project and we argue for the potential of self-reflective writing in exploring and making sense of the spiritual in MACS.
Bio & contact
Dr Anna Kavoura is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä. Her research is positioned in the field of cultural sport psychology, focusing on issues related to gender, sexuality, culture, and identity in sport, and primarily in martial arts and combat sports. She is a martial arts enthusiast with her main sports being Judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu.
- Gabriel Guarino de Almeida (PUC-Rio) – “The Energy Manifests Itself”: Techniques of Body, Performance and Agency in Taijiquan
This communication brings an analysis of taijiquan trough a glance of a theory of agency: observing taijiquan movements and routines by it own terms and effects, remarked neither as a strictly martial, artistic or religiously performance. Our aim is to appeal to a theoretical approach able to surpass exogenous categories related to an occidental approach, and look to taijiquan in its own native terms. I am at the first steps of an on-going fieldwork, anthropologically orientated, and held in locals of teaching and practice of taijiquan in Brazil. By now, I see that the place of the notion of qì 气 (translated as energy, in Portuguese) can be analyzed with the tool of the theory of agency of Alfred Gell, providing a specific reading of taiji that can rearrange the supposed dichotomy of body/mind, martial/health and religious/sportive practice. As partial results, we describe the practice as a performance/action of the qì through the body; qì that is related not as a individual component, exposing the relation between taijiquan and an specific cosmology that sees body as a integrated to extra-body world – provisory expression that we use here to expose that the cosmology of old Taoism. This body integration in Taiji practices does not operate within the dichotomy nature/culture as body/mind. Also, we can analyze how multiple agencies trough the lineage can be read as factor of the legitimacy of the individual practice. The conclusion that we bring is that the partition religion/art – developed in a specific time in post-illuminist Europe – perhaps is not enough to explain cultural practices that hold perspectives of the world that do not separate mind from body or soul, or even forms of spirituality that do not fit in the definition of religion in the way we see in European modern thought.
Keywords: taijiquan; agency; techniques du corps; energy; Chinese martial arts.
Bio & contact
Gabriel Guarino de Almeida is a doctoral student in Education, at the PPGE/PUC-Rio, Kung-Fu Martial artist and Wushu professor at the Confucius Institute at PUC-Rio. As an Athlete of the Brazilian Traditional Kung-Fu/Wushu Team, he is three times Brazilian Champion (2016, 2017, 2018), Pan American Champion (2017) and South American Champion (2018) of Traditional Wushu. Master in Legal and Social Sciences by (PPGSD-UFF) (2017). Bachelor of Laws (UFF, 2016). Black Belt 1st Degree in Eagle Claw Kung-Fu (少林鷹爪翻子門) by Lily Lau Eagle Claw Kung-Fu Federation International. Currently developing research on transmission of Chinese Martial Arts, Anthropology of the Body and Education.
- Thabata Castelo Branco Telles (University of São Paulo) – Framing Spirituality in Martial Arts: An Embodied Comprehension through Phenomenology
This study aims to frame the notion of spirituality in martial arts through a phenomenological perspective as a philosophical and a methodological point of view. We consider martial arts as embodied experiences especially based on the pre-reflexive acts in fighting processes. In these practices, the body constantly moves and there is not much time for the practitioner to reflect before choosing and doing each technique. This comprehension consists of a reflection about the unreflecting, as the understandings on spirituality based on phenomenology. As discussed by Merleau-Ponty, a movement is not only related to what we think about the world, but also to what we can do in it and through it. This involves not only perceiving the object, but also an specific situation and how to be able to do something in a certain time and space. This phenomenological understanding pertains that a movement is never randomly executed, but on the contrary, it is always related to an object and to the world. We do something, always engaged in a specific situation. This comprehension can broaden the way we usually understand martial arts, which cannot count only on explanation of techniques but rather on living experiences. A practice to be embodied must be lived by the body. Through this perspective, when framing spirituality in martial arts, we highlight the relationship between subject and things which are considered as meaningful to enable or enhance such embodied practices. This sort of experience (spirituality in martial arts) consists of an act that one may not be consciously aware, even as feeling guided by something called here as meaningful to a specific movement or practice. This study can be fruitful to further investigations on the relationship among martial arts, phenomenology and spirituality, especially regarding the body and the pre-reflexive processes.
Keywords: phenomenology; martial arts; embodiment; spirituality.
Bio & contact
Thabata Castelo Branco Telles is a postdoc researcher at the University of São Paulo (EEFERP/FFCLRP) and the Institute of Sport and Health Sciences of Paris (I3SP, University of Paris-Descartes), and also currently the president of the Brazilian Association of Sport Psychology (ABRAPESP, 2020-2021). She is a psychologist and holds a Master (University of Fortaleza) and a PhD (University of São Paulo) degree, both in Psychology. Her academic interests include phenomenology, martial arts & combat sports, embodiment, sport & exercise psychology. She is a martial art practitioner, focusing on Karate and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu