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The Legacy of Pankration: Mixed Martial Arts and the Posthuman Revival of a Fighting Culture
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of culture and media studies.
2013 (English)In: The international Journal of Combat Martial Arts and Sciences ICMAUA, Vol. 13, no 5, 40-57 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article is based on fieldwork conducted over several years with deep participant observation in a mixed martial arts (MMA) club. The study uses the concept of cultural performativity to analyze the close relationship between MMA and the ancient sport of Pankration. Informed by social scientific ideas assembled from what is generally known as the performative turn in cultural theory, and advancing a notion of the posthuman, I explore the bodily performances of MMA fighters engaged in combat fighting. In terms of the violence represented in MMA, the article asks what knowledge has been integrated from the legacy of Pankration and what impact it has had on contemporary cultures and societal norms. The explicit goal of the training sites is to recode the body, increasing the somatic potential to affect, and to be affected. Practitioners (or researchers) of martial arts must immerse themselves in an entire world of meaning, that is, a new cosmological order composed of movement, senses, emotions, fluidity and inter-subjectivity. Therefore, this article provides a philosophical account of MMA, in which I briefly touch on epistemological and ontological questions related to the legacy of Pankration in our time. Finally, in conversational deep interviews, I discuss fighters’ views on the subject.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 13, no 5, 40-57 p.
Keyword [en]
Posthuman, Materiality, Fighting, Ancient, Pankration, MMA
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-107585OAI: diva2:848290
Available from: 2015-08-24 Created: 2015-08-24 Last updated: 2015-09-02Bibliographically 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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