Edgework and Mixed Martial Arts: Risk, Reflexivity and Collaboration in an Ostensibly ‘Violent’ Sport
University of Brighton, GB
Alex Channon is Senior Lecturer in Physical Education and Sport Studies at the University of Brighton, UK. His research interests lie broadly at the intersection of sports, martial arts and society. He is a member of the Board of the Martial Arts Studies Research Network, and the Special Advisory Group of UNESCO ICM.
In this paper I outline the ways in which Stephen Lyng’s concept of ‘edgework’ offers a valuable and unique vantage point for making sense of the contemporary practice of full-contact combat sports. With a specific focus on the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), I propose that theorising this form of fighting as an example of edgework helps clarify the experiences and motivations of its participants within a social-psychological framework that is well-attuned to the extant research literature. In illustrating its potential utility, I focus on how the concept provides a means of addressing the paradoxical problem of ‘violence’ in MMA; that is, in understanding how and why people might engage in ostensibly ‘violent’ activities with those whom they simultaneously claim to respect and admire. I contend that edgework adds depth to our understanding in this domain by illuminating the nature of the relationship existing between competitive opponents in full-contact fighting, arguing ultimately that it can be used to reconceptualise the action of MMA as a form of mutually-constructed risk, instead of ‘violence’. Central to this discussion is the importance of collaboration between competitive opponents in MMA, whose purposeful attempts to beat one-another are necessary in order to sustain the activity’s appeal in offering opportunities to experience ‘authentic’ reflexivity, identity construction, and community formation.
How to Cite:
Channon, A., 2020. Edgework and Mixed Martial Arts: Risk, Reflexivity and Collaboration in an Ostensibly ‘Violent’ Sport. Martial Arts Studies, 9, pp.6–19. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18573/mas.95