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Way of the discourse: mixed-sex martial arts and the subversion of gender

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posted on 2012-05-09, 10:16 authored by Alex Channon
This thesis examines the gender-subversive potential of mixed-sex martial arts. The research problem takes its significance from the well-documented linkages drawn within feminist research between combat sports and hierarchal gender differentiation. It is posited that from a feminist perspective, gender-subversive physical practices are desirable because they instigate a shift towards fairer and freer bodily discourse, and as such they are deserving of critical academic attention. Furthermore, sex-integrated sports have the potential to lead participants towards embodying and propagating such subversive gender discourses, and when these changes take place within highly masculinised activities such as combat sports, the significance of this subversion is amplified. While existing literature has addressed these themes with reference to women s participation in these kinds of activities, there is a relative paucity of sociological work explicitly examining mixed-sex participation, which this thesis is intended to redress. Using semi-structured interviewing, qualitative data were gathered from a group of male and female martial artists across the English East Midlands. The interviews were transcribed and then subjected to discourse analysis. Findings suggested that mixed-sex martial arts does involve gender subversion but that the practice also remains structured by dominant, hierarchal gender discourse in several significant ways. It is therefore suggested that mixed-sex training can present the possibility of gender subversion under particular conditions, such as: martial arts being accessible to both men and women at multiple levels of participation; a normalised presence of women, particularly at higher levels such as being coaches and competitors; participants coming to share an identity as martial artists which is irrespective of sexual difference; and ultimately training being integrated as much as possible, particularly with regard to the more intensely physical, combative aspects, such as sparring. The participants indicated that under these conditions they were able to conceive of and practice their gender differently, in ways which portrayed little or no hierarchal distinction between the sexes, and as such is considered subversive . Following these findings, the thesis ultimately concludes with a brief outline of some recommendations for good practice in martial arts clubs. In this way, the thesis contributes towards feminist understandings of the body and of physical culture, by highlighting one possible way in which to conceive of the sexed body differently from the prevailing norms of hierarchal sexual differentiation.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


© A.G. Channon

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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