November 5, 2015 Martial Arts Studies

Martial Arts as Kulturwissenschaft


This essay by Sixt Wetzler deals with some of the key theoretical issues of martial arts studies: the definition of martial arts, the possible objects of research, adequate methods, and the search for an applicable theoretical framework. After a very short introduction to the German-speaking martial arts studies (from whence the following ideas derive), the differences between Anglophone cultural studies and German Kulturwissenschaften will be briefly shown. The text will then discuss the problem of normative/ object-language arguments in martial arts studies, and follow with a critical assessment of terminological distinctions between terms like ‘martial arts’, ‘combat sports’, etc.

As an alternative, a very wide working definition of martial arts will be proposed, as well as five dimensions of meaning ascribed to martial arts practice, which can help analyzing any given martial arts style. In a next step, the various actualizations of martial arts, from body images to cultural contexts, will be grouped into classes of phenomena. Then, Itamar Even-Zohar’s polysystem theory (devised for the study of literature) will be introduced and its applicability to martial arts studies demonstrated. Finally, a short discussion will highlight the method of scientific comparison.


DOI 10.18573/j.2016.10016


Wetzler, Sixt. 2015. ‘Martial Arts Studies as Kulturwissenschaft: A Possible Theoretical Framework’, Martial Arts Studies 1, 20-33


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) and works as curator for Deutsches Klingenmuseum (German Blade Museum) in Solingen, with a focus on the European fencing tradition. His research interests lie on the comparative study of martial arts as an anthropological constant, European martial arts, and blade fighting systems in general. Wetzler has published several articles on martial arts related issues, and is among the highest ranked European practitioners of Pekiti Tirsia Kali, a Filipino martial art.

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