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"Just be Natural With Your Body": An Autoethnography of Violence and Pain in Mixed Martial Arts
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of culture and media studies.
College of Education New Mexico State University USA .
2015 (English)In: International Journal of Martial Arts, ISSN 2287-8599, Vol. 1, 1-24 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The aim of this article is to investigate bodily experiences through an autoethnographic fieldwork study in a mixed martial arts (MMA) club, and to analyze what experiences of pain can contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon of MMA in general and the violence associated with the sport in particular. We argue that the experience of pain can give one the opportunity to sense the emotional and instrumental effects of MMA practice. We have crafted a definition of scripted violence in MMA, comprehended the body’s development and evaluated the bodily accomplishments gained from the fighting process. Informed by Julia Kristeva’s notion on horror and Maurice Merleau-Pontys’ phenomenology of the body, we discuss the concept of “stained-violence” by applying an inter-subjective approach to the notion of a body’s inner abject. The autoethnographical knowledge we acquired in this study allows us to assert that a researcher’s own bodily reformation is an important asset to apply to examine the consequences of engaging in MMA training. We also apply a body-based method of performing autoethnographic research in order to examine the kinds of bodily improvements that can develop through MMA practice.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Seoul South Korea, 2015. Vol. 1, 1-24 p.
Keyword [en]
Abject, Pain, Autoethnography, Phenomenology
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-107584OAI: diva2:848285
Available from: 2015-08-24 Created: 2015-08-24 Last updated: 2015-09-07Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. The body in pain and pleasure: an ethnography of mixed martial arts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The body in pain and pleasure: an ethnography of mixed martial arts
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a sport on the rise within the field of martial arts in which competitors fight in a cage and utilize full-contact movements using their fists, elbows, and knees as well as kicks, other strikes, and submission techniques to defeat their opponents. MMA has become a modern social movement in combat sports that has become globalized in a short time and is the fastest growing sport in the world.

MMA encompasses disciplines from various martial arts and Olympic sports such as boxing, kickboxing, karate, kempo, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, tae kwon do, wrestling, sambo, judo, etc. The rounds are five minutes in length and there are typically three rounds in a contest, unless it is a championship fight in which case the contest lasts five rounds.

The aim of this study is to analyze the bodily constructions and productions within the MMA culture and especially the constructed human violence associated with the sport. Based on autoethnographic participation in three Swedish MMA clubs, as well as shorter fieldwork case studies conducted in Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Brazil, and the US, this thesis investigates the interrelationship between MMA, excitement, sensationalism, and the spectacular physical violence that stains the participants’ bodies.

Concepts taken from performance ethnography are applied to an analysis of what is reconstructed bodily. This is followed by an analysis that attempts to outline what body-violence means and how this understanding of the informants’ bodies, as well as of the researcher’s body-knowledge, reconstructs the definitions of MMA.

A phenomenological approach to the concept of fighting is also included in relation to the MMA landscape. Thus, I present how the body learns the cultural enactments in fighting and how these forces shape the fighters’ gender, habitus, and way of resisting the discourse of critical opinions on MMA practice.

Moreover, in trying to grasp the inner sense of MMA, I argue that the physical phenomenon of MMA is dependent on an intersubjective engagement and on the control of one’s inner coordination, which teaches a fighter how to deal with power, pain, suffering, aggression, and adrenaline flows.


Keywords: abject, adrenaline, anthropology, athletes, autoethnography, body, combat arts, culture, desire, embodied, enculturation, ethnology, fieldwork, field-making, flow, fighting, full-contact, gender, harm, homosociality, intercultural, interobject, intersubjectivity, martial arts, materiality, masculinity, MMA, method, pain, personal, performance, performativity, phenomenology, pleasure, posthuman, postmodern, power, ritual, risk-taking, rush, self-reflexive, sportive, sport, stained, struggle, suffering, thrill, UFC, violence.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå University, 2015. 86 p.
Etnologiska skrifter, ISSN 1103-6516 ; 60
MMA, Violence, Embodiment, UFC, Gender, Masculinity, Pain, Flow, Ethnography
National Category
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-107527 (URN)978-91-7601-325-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-09-25, Hörsal G, Humanisthuset, Umeå universitet, 901 87 Umeå, Umeå, 10:00 (Swedish)
Wenner-Gren FoundationsForte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare
Available from: 2015-09-04 Created: 2015-08-24 Last updated: 2015-10-14Bibliographically approved

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