Paul Bowman, Professor of Cultural Studies at Cardiff University, is author of ten books, including Martial Arts Studies: Disrupting Disciplinary Boundaries (2015). He is founder and director of the AHRC-funded Martial Arts Studies Research Network and coeditor of the journal Martial Arts Studies. His most recent book is Mythologies of Martial Arts (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)
This article argues against all forms of scientism and the widespread perceived need to define martial arts in order to study martial arts or ‘do’ martial arts studies. It argues instead for the necessity of theory before definition, including theorisation of the orientation of the field of martial arts studies itself. Accordingly, the chapter criticises certain previous (and current) academic approaches to martial arts, particularly the failed project of hoplology. It then examines the much more promising approaches of current scholarship, such as that of Sixt Wetzler, before critiquing certain aspects of its orientation. Instead of accepting Wetzler’s ‘polysystem theory’ approach uncritically, the article argues instead for the value of a poststructuralist ‘discourse’ approach in martial arts studies.