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The body in pain and pleasure: an ethnography of mixed martial arts
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of culture and media studies.
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.
Series
Etnologiska skrifter, ISSN 1103-6516 ; 60
Keyword [en]
MMA, Violence, Embodiment, UFC, Gender, Masculinity, Pain, Flow, Ethnography
National Category
Ethnology
Research subject
Ethnology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-107527ISBN: 978-91-7601-325-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-107527DiVA: diva2:848305
Public defence
2015-09-25, Hörsal G, Humanisthuset, Umeå universitet, 901 87 Umeå, Umeå, 10:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
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
List of papers
1. "Just be Natural With Your Body": An Autoethnography of Violence and Pain in Mixed Martial Arts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>"Just be Natural With Your Body": An Autoethnography of Violence and Pain in Mixed Martial Arts
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
Keyword
Abject, Pain, Autoethnography, Phenomenology
National Category
Ethnology
Research subject
Ethnology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-107584 (URN)
Available from: 2015-08-24 Created: 2015-08-24 Last updated: 2015-09-07Bibliographically approved
2. Actors of Violence: Staging the Arena in Mixed Martial Arts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Actors of Violence: Staging the Arena in Mixed Martial Arts
2011 (English)In: Nordic Theatre Studies, ISSN 0904-6380, E-ISSN 2002-3898, Vol. 23, 86-97 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Actors of Violence: Staging the Arena in Mixed Martial Arts Through ethnographic participation in a Swedish mixed martial arts club, this article investigates the interrelationship between theatre and mixed martial arts. Concepts taken from theatre are applied to an analysis of what is constructed in the mixed martial arts arena. Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a growing sport where competitors, in a ring or a cage, utilize elbows and knees as well as kicks and other strikes and submission techniques to defeat opponents. The constituents of MMA are similar to those of American wrestling; the main similarity being a staged fight. The distinction is that MMA involves 'authentic' fights. Yet the activity surrounding the event is staged, like in American wrestling, structured and constructed as a public happening, thus, a directed play of sorts. Mixed martial arts competitions (galas) are full of cheering crowds of fans. Music plays and the fighters' artistic handlers are presented as the fighters enter the arena, dancing down the ramp while advancing towards the centre of the stage - the ring. Through data gathered from fieldwork with MMA practitioners as well as participant observation in an MMA club, I explain in this study, interviewing ten key informants, the components of acting and drama-performance that are integral to the production of an MMA fighter's entrance into the arena. I explore how fighters' bodies, through acting and re-enactment of performative staging, become sites of meta-theatrical happenings. I also look at how MMA fighters transform themselves into bodily artists while dramatizing their performance of violence. A fighter's character is transformed into a concept of a warrior-figure in that the fighter's habitus is modelled and then reconstructed in relation to the audience and the eventness of the happening; that is to say, the show and the violent performance on stage.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Föreningen Nordiska Teaterforrskare, 2011
Keyword
Actor, Bodies, Drama, Stage, Theatricality, Violence
National Category
Ethnology
Research subject
Ethnology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-52494 (URN)000306391800008 ()
Projects
PhD Thesis
Available from: 2012-02-23 Created: 2012-02-23 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved
3. Hybrid masculinity in mixed martial arts: gender, homosociality, and homoeroticism
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Hybrid masculinity in mixed martial arts: gender, homosociality, and homoeroticism
2015 (English)In: Men and Masculinities, ISSN 1097-184X, E-ISSN 1552-6828, 1-12 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Submitted
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
New York: , 2015
Keyword
Masculinity, MMA, Violence, Gender, Homosocial
National Category
Ethnology
Research subject
Ethnology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-107586 (URN)
Available from: 2015-08-24 Created: 2015-08-24 Last updated: 2017-12-04
4. The Legacy of Pankration: Mixed Martial Arts and the Posthuman Revival of a Fighting Culture
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Legacy of Pankration: Mixed Martial Arts and the Posthuman Revival of a Fighting Culture
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.

Keyword
Posthuman, Materiality, Fighting, Ancient, Pankration, MMA
National Category
Ethnology
Research subject
Ethnology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-107585 (URN)
Available from: 2015-08-24 Created: 2015-08-24 Last updated: 2015-09-02Bibliographically approved

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