Saturday, September 4, 2010

Building men on the mat: traditional "manly arts" and the Asian martialarts in America.

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In the post-World War II era, the commodification and dissemination of martial sports based upon traditional Asian fighting methodologies has become a prevalent feature of American culture. The institution and popularization of these martial activities at all levels of society--and the prevailing opinion that they are legitimate forms of recreation and physical and moral education for children and adults--is commonly seen as an example of the development of a new institution in American society. This phenomenon is either an outgrowth of cultural globalism or a corollary to America's appropriation of the traditions and cultures of occupied and colonized peoples. However, the adaptation of Asian martial arts into American society is not a break with American tradition, nor is it an example of a recently developed institution in America. Rather, the popularization of martial arts and combative sports based upon anachronistic Asian fighting methodologies should be viewed as the continuation of a long-standing American process of adapting various traditional, often elite, martial methodologies into American popular culture. The American appropriation and dissemination of martial methodologies from a variety of nations at various times and the publicization of diverse forms of violent recreation, self-protection and militaristic character education is a trend that may be observed not only today, but throughout American history.


While the development of practical fighting skills has certainly been important to Americans for a variety of reasons, the expansion of opportunities to practice martial arts in America in the past half-century seems unprecedented. As sociologist Max Skidmore states, "There is hardly a community of any size in Europe and the English-speaking lands in which there is no instruction available in one or more of the martial arts" (Skidmore, 1995: 129).

However, the practice of all sorts of fighting styles, sports, and techniques has a long history in America. Italian and French fencing schools proliferated at times in early American urban areas (Nadi, 1943: 22). Instruction in English fencing, notably instruction in the English small-sword, was extant in North America from the colonial period at least through the end of the 18th century (Blackwell, 1734). Truly American fighting methods developed unique characteristics based upon regional norms and practices throughout much of the 19th century (Gorn, 1985: 18-43). The apparent difference between the traditional practice of the exercises and rituals of the manly arts, including fencing and other militaristic combat skills in the pre-World War II era, and the practice of Asian martial arts in America today seems, upon closer inspection, to be one of trappings, terminology, and mythology rather than one of any significant difference in availability of instruction or technical efficacy.

The difference then is one of appearance rather than substance. The imagery surrounding the martial arts has changed, but their substance and practice in America has not. This imaginary change has occurred for a number of reasons and is not solely, or even primarily, the result of American hegemony in the Pacific following World War II. In fact, the appropriation and Americanization of Asian martial arts began well before Japanese and American military conflict in the Pacific. It began during the first intensive period of East-West state interaction at the end of the 19th century and early in the 20th century. This was a time when Western public culture, particularly American culture, was engaged in a self-conscious attempt to modernize; yet still relied heavily on traditional institutions. It occurred at a time when the American elite articulated a conscious desire for industrial development and a need to reinforce strong moral and social values in boys and men. At the same time, upper-class social reformers sought to do away with practices and traditions of character education that they felt were embarrassing and anachronistic, so they looked abroad for alternative pedagogical modalities.

One traditional educational venue for the development of courage, strength, and loyalty American boys and men had been through the practice of the manly arts, a compendium of exercises that included games involving the risk of physical trauma or death to foster personal courage and loyalty to the group among participants. However, around the turn of the 20th century, the traditional manly arts, which included practices such as fencing, cudgel fighting, wrestling, and bare-knuckle boxing, had fallen out of public favor and new, modern sports practices had yet to completely fill the void. Modern sports were a new kind of social institution, a complex of behaviors and attitudes that complemented and were completed by industrialism in America while they drew on themes and practices made popular through pre-modern games. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, amateur and professional sports, as opposed to participatory games, had yet to find universal acceptance. (1) At that time, Western sports proselytizers, Muscular Christians, and physical culture advocates looked abroad for practices they felt could be integrated into the Western masculine milieu and adapted to fill the void left by many elites' (and subsequently the public's) repudiation of the traditional manly arts. They found, developed, and adapted a variety of martial practices from around the world to meet their needs, notably including the new, "scientific" martial art imported from Japan (partially via England) known as judo. Quickly adopted by Victorian dilettantes and Orientalists, judo subsequently became the first of a series of updated and Westernized Asian martial sports to gain widespread popularity in the West. (2)

The study of the appropriation and dissemination of judo in America around the turn of the century reveals a lot about social and cultural developments occurring throughout the country at that time. It has been noted that "how men fight--who participates, who observes, which rules are followed, what is at stake, what tactics are allowed--reveals much about past cultures and societies" (Gorn, 1985: 18). The study of sports in general and the study of physical practices, which, like many martial arts and particularly judo, contain both aspects of traditional masculine contest and modern sport (despite their participants consciously avoiding most types of professional competition), can tell much about the beliefs and ideals of participants and observers. Since modern sport, as defined by sports historian Alan Guttman, can only exist when there is both participation and observation or patronization, the study of modern sports involves the study of people across the social spectrum (Guttman, 1978). The study of sport is not just the study of frequently poor or under-class players, of frequently wealthy patrons, or of working-class and middle-class fans and observers, it is the study of all these groups and, most importantly, it is the analysis of their interactions. Because of the relatively early date of its introduction to the West and because it is a fighting system that was intentionally molded to fit the requirements of a modern sport from its inception, judo is particularly useful to study (Carr, 1993: 169). The study of the introduction and popularization of judo in America can therefore shed light on many issues of concern to social historians, particularly those interested in the complex set of rules and behaviors surrounding violence, social control, and the perpetuation of militaristic education in American society.


The "Manly Arts" in America

Prior to the introduction of judo to the United States at the end of the 19th century, strenuous and frequently violent recreation was subsumed within a category of athletic practices that were popularly known as the "manly arts." The traditional manly arts in America included a variety of public and private practices and games involving the cultivation of strength and spirit. The manly arts as understood by their participants from the late 18th through the early 20th centuries included boxing; wrestling; fencing; stick, staff, and cudgel fighting; gymnastics; and calisthenics, derived from or used to augment military exercises. The manly arts, "the combative arts of the late 1700's through to the early decades of the last century" (Wolf, 2000: 1), were widespread in America as both elites and working-class people sought to strengthen their bodies, compete for prizes and prestige and to emotionally connect with a glorified and virile, although largely mythological, Anglo-Saxon archetype.

Prior to the rise of the professional sports movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was much less codification of sports and games than exists today and there is a particular dearth of recorded material on the rough and tumble games played by people as recreation from manual, agricultural, and industrial labor. However, these types of pastimes did exist and many people participated in them as sponsors, observers, or players. While the actual number of participants is impossible to determine, the variety of contests and practices and the varied and complex sets of rules and norms applied to combative recreation prior to the advent of the organized sports movement in the late 19th century speaks to the popularity of the manly arts for people of various classes, regions, ethnic, and social backgrounds throughout the United States.

While it may seem absurd to 21st-century observers that the practice of violent forms of recreation would be seen as useful for any purpose other than possible military preparation or popular entertainment, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the cultivation of martial skills were seen as part of the fundamental education of all gentlemen. In America, where an atmosphere of egalitarianism prevailed (at least among a segment of the republican faithful), the idea that there was value in the practice of ritualized violence quickly passed out of elite hands into the public domain. The manly arts and martial recreation became popular, public, and commercial.

This process had already begun by the early 18th century. In 1734, Edward Blackwell, an English immigrant to the American colonies, published a treatise on English fencing with the small sword. In England, small-sword fencing had been the province of gentlemen. The small sword had developed as a weapon for military officers and gentlemen out of the direct line of fire; it was a weapon for personal defense in situations when a saber or firearm would not have been close at hand. In America, however, small-sword fencing was not only the practice of the elite (although elites certainly patronized fencing masters in the 18th century), but quickly became available to the general public. Blackwell published his text on small-sword fencing for the American populace when he found that teaching fencing to the rarified few was neither an acceptable nor very lucrative career in the Colonies. As Blackwell states,

Having, in my small practice in sundry parts of America, met with
much Difficulty in Introducing the ART of the Small-Sword, I almost
despaired of success, and that due Esteem which so ingenious an Art
deserves. ~ 1734: A3Not only were wealthy students scarce, but apparently a segment of the American public felt that upper-class fencing was of little use and possibly socially disruptive to an egalitarian citizenry. In an attempt to popularize his style of fighting, Blackwell responded by outlining a six-point argument in favor of fencing, culminating in the assertion,

But was a Man never to fight with his Sword, no Exercise is more
wholesome, and delightful to the Learner, than this Fencing: For,
by working all the Parts of the Body, it strengthens the Limbs,
opens the Chest, gives good Air, and handsome Deportment to the
Body, a majestick Tread; and makes him active, vigorous and lively;
and also enables him to serve his Friend, and Country. ~1734: ixThe public apparently responded favorably to Blackwell's arguments as various masters in many seaboard cities established fencing schools in the colonial era.

By the 19th century, uniquely American styles of fighting had developed and the cultivation of martiality as a measure of masculinity was common. Some of these American combat systems, like American-rules singlestick fighting, were based on Old World models. Others, however, were more thoroughly American. Gorn relates that in the antebellum south, where fighting was common, "gouging" or fighting with the intent of removing an opponent's eye as a symbol of victory was prevalent. To distinguish themselves from boxers and wrestlers, Southern fighters intentionally labeled their style of combat "rough and tumble" or "gouging." Gouging became a practice that was so widespread and accepted that it developed its own folklore and popular mythology (Gorn, 1985: 20-28). In other parts of the nation and among other classes, different rules of combat applied. In the "north woods," for example, "stomping" or knocking one's opponent down until he was susceptible to an attack with hob-nailed logging boots was far more prevalent and socially acceptable than gouging. In the mid-west, wrestling remained far more prominent than other forms of combative recreation leading to the development of the Catch-as-Catch-Can style popularized by the successes of mid-western wrestlers such as a pre-presidential Abraham Lincoln (winner of a bout with the Louisiana state champion in New Salem, Louisiana in 1831) and Martin "Farmer" Burns (1861-1937), one of the first individuals to make instruction in wrestling commercially viable as a mail-order enterprise in the early part of the 20th century. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, as American identity was tied to the idea of the American frontier, the assertion that, "the early settlers of the frontier were the best wrestlers" became an almost self-fulfilling prophecy (although it is important to note that wrestling matches and other displays of manly arts took place at town meetings and in colleges, too) (Holliman, 1975: 149).

The American elite continued to sponsor and participate in the manly arts. Fencing and singlestick, a method of wooden sword fencing, were practiced by cadets at nearly every secondary and post-secondary military academy in the country throughout the 19th century. Theodore Roosevelt, champion of the strenuous life, advocated the practice of the manly arts for all American boys and men. As president, Roosevelt had American and Japanese instructors of wrestling, boxing, judo, and singlestick visit and practice with him at the White House. Roosevelt encouraged the practice of the traditional manly arts alongside their newer, modern athletic counterparts. (3)

By the end the 19th century, however, Americans' perceptions of the manly arts had begun to change. While the cultivation of masculinity and strength was still admired, the practice of the traditional fighting arts had begun to decline. One reason had to do with the restrictions placed on fighting in urban areas. As America became an urban nation, the behavioral excesses, eccentricities, and violence previously permitted in rural communities, accepted among male work groups such as riverboat, mining, and logging crews and even allowed within small ethnic urban communities characterized by strong social solidarity, became restricted. In urban areas, poor and working class people were confronted by elite culture, religious practices, and commercial expectations that differed significantly from their previous experience. Unable to compete materially with elites they used social behavior including dress, etiquette, and reputation to normalize relationships with supervisors, landlords, and urban officials. Practices that brought to light class and regional differences, such as participation in gouging or stomping matches, were discouraged. Furthermore, in cities with modern court systems and police forces, the recourse to personal violence to mitigate affronts was severely restricted. The editor of the online publication Journal of Manly Arts, Tony Wolf explains (2000: 1),

This period [the first half of the 19th century] saw the decline of
military swordplay, archery, and so-forth, concomitant with the
inexorable advances of firearms and explosives. The age-old
traditions of the duel of honour declined as well, and duels were
eventually banned in most "civilised" countries. Towards the end of
this period, many nations had established professional police
forces, theoretically relieving their citizens of the need to
openly carry weapons.Other beliefs affected the practice and prevalence of the manly arts in America, as well. New theories on hygiene and disease exacerbated the decline in the practice of violent recreation. Physical contact came to be viewed as a vehicle for the transmission of disease. Contact with bodily fluids, such as blood and perspiration in the context of recreation, was particularly distasteful to many elite Americans in the Victorian-era. Elite participation and sponsorship of most traditional manly arts declined.

Fencing was the only of the archetypal manly arts that elites continued to patronize in large numbers. This was probably due to the association of fencing with a mythical Anglo-Saxon ideal and because the fencing accoutrements reasserted elites material and social primacy (Jackson-Lears, 1981: 107-140). Aldo Nadi, an Italian fencing master credited with maintaining classical martial ideals in the modern sportive era, has described fencing as unique among all contact sports stating, "Fencing is a contact sport--a contact of steel, not of fists or bodies" (Nadi, 1943: 13). In the same essay, Nadi compares fencing with boxing, concluding that fencing is physically, intellectually, and morally superior. As urbanization and the rule of law continued to discourage violent recreation in early industrial America, socially sensitive members of other classes followed the elites' lead and the appeal of bloody boxing, singlestick, and other fighting matches declined.

Nativist Americans looked askance at any form of recreation that seemed to celebrate foreign heritage. Fencing manuals, guides to the most cosmopolitan of the manly arts, were eventually rewritten to systematize and Americanize the various European fencing styles. (4) Participation in wrestling styles and boxing systems that seemed to celebrate one's immigrant heritage too strongly were seen as evidence that the practitioner was not sufficiently American. Even American styles of fighting such as Catch-as-Catch-Can wrestling suffered as a result of their rural and regional character and their technical affinity with the Anglo-Gaelic wrestling traditions of Lancashire and Cornwall. (5)

Of the several factors that coalesced to create an atmosphere inhospitable to the practice of the traditional manly arts and favorable to the introduction of new martial sports based on the Asian martial arts in industrial-era America, the creation of modern sport weighed heavily. Modern sport and the sports ideal were disseminated from the upper and middle-classes to workers and the poor. At the same time, increasing urbanization and the concurrent rise in the fear of urban crime created a backlash against the sanitized modern sports that contributed to Americans' rapid acceptance of Asian fighting methods. Finally, widespread disillusionment with the management and practice of traditional fighting sports turned supporters of martial recreation away from the traditional manly arts even though many still had a preference for martial games, forcing them to look for new venues in which to participate in martial recreation. Concurrently, a popular, anti-modernist, nostalgic longing for the (largely mythic) pre-industrial past made American society receptive to the introduction of the Asian martial arts, particularly Japanese jujutsu and judo, which seemed to promise a sort of symbolic initiation into a universal warrior ethos. Examining the interconnected complex of these factors is the only way to explain why the Japanese martial arts were introduced, commercialized, and rapidly accepted in American society.

As the modern sport ethic developed, first among elites and Christian reformers and later among middle and working-class players, popular attitudes toward sports underwent a radical transformation. (6) Sports were transformed from celebratory, local, participatory events into codified, multi-local, and national games that were supported by hierarchical institutions regulated at levels above those occupied by most players and spectators. By the early 20th century, modern sports, as opposed to participatory games and contests, had become "the most universal aspect of popular culture" (Miller, et al., 2001: 1). One eventual result of this shift in the composition of American sport and the growth of modern athleticism was the development of a strange dichotomy among supporters of the athletic movement that pitted two views of sport against each other. On one hand, sports were seen as institutions bound by rules that limited participation and encouraged spectatorship (sowing the seeds of professionalism and commercialism). On the other hand, sports were (ideally) practiced for their own sake with the understanding that diligent practice and good sportsmanship would generate positive behavior and attributes among players off the field as well as on.

It was primarily the latter tenet, which held that sports were good for the soul as well as for the body, that encouraged sports proselytizers to cast their nets wide as they embraced games and game players outside of their upper-class circle. The rise of the new sport ethic (and its proselytizing moral accompaniment, Muscular Christianity) fostered a missionary desire to spread the sport message beyond its original race, class, and national boundaries. Both Christian and athletic missionaries carried the sports message to the far corners of the rapidly industrializing world and consequently brought it into contact with games and attitudes alien to Western upper and middle-class society. These missionary movements initially introduced the Japanese martial arts (especially a new, "scientific" martial art called judo) to the West.

By the end of the 19th century, a crisis in American sport had become apparent. Sports that were acceptable on their face to modernist athletic and Christian associations (such as the YMCA) often held little appeal for the masses that had been raised on a diet of blood sports. Those who pursued modern sports were seen as elitist and effeminate by fighting sports advocates. At the same time though, the moral justification for participating in fighting sports was usurped by sports ethicists. Therefore, those who pursued fighting sports in the tradition of the manly arts were subject to ridicule for supporting an anti-social anachronistic tradition. An unstable position prevailed in which modern athletes appeared effeminate to a significant segment of the public by their refusal to participate in martial recreation, while those who participated in fighting arts were portrayed as morally deficient. Some sports advocates worked diligently to resolve this situation by devising a sport that met modern moral criteria while it appealed to traditional, base motivations, but it was not an easily resolved issue. As late as 1946, when British boxing champion Bruce Woodcock was felled by American Tami Mauriello, sports commentator Red Smith wrote, "[Woodcock fought] like someone who learned boxing out of a book and still believes it is a manly art" (Smith, 1996: 61).

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, participation in basketball, track and field, and bicycling flourished, but spectator patronage of those sports remained weak. At the same time, traditional bare-knuckle fighting was increasingly coming under legal censure and wrestling was beginning to show signs of becoming more show than contest. However, the public continued to patronize local (occasionally illegal) martial contests. Clearly, the manly arts still held some resonance for the American populace. Just as clearly, however, they were not going to receive the sponsorship or support that more sanitized sports enjoyed.

Asian Martial Arts Take Their Place in the U.S.A.

Sports advocates looked around the world for an activity that would meet a new set of criteria. They felt they needed an activity that held the appeal of traditional manly arts, but was free of the sordid history of boxing, free of the rural caricature that wrestling had become, and free of the elite class boundaries of fencing. They also required an activity that was modern in its approach, one that embodied the characteristics of modern sport such as regular record keeping, standardized rules, uniform entrance requirements, and norms of the industrial age (Guttman, 1978: 16). Finally, the ideal sport had to appeal not only to sports enthusiasts, but also to the general population. That meant the activity had to respond to some perceived public need such as health maintenance, the enhancement of physical appearance, or, relevant to any discussion of the manly arts, the need for self-defense. At the periphery of the Western industrial world, these sports reformers discovered a sport that met these three criteria. They discovered the Japanese grappling style called judo.

Judo was a modern synthesis of older Japanese unarmed fighting systems (jujutsu) created in 1882 by Japanese physical education specialist and jujutsu expert, Kano Jigoro. Kano had studied classical jujutsu styles but had found them unsuitable for the temperament of modern Japan and impractical for modern study. (7) Kano, a professional educator, subsequently refined the old warrior arts and organized a new systematic way of teaching the old samurai skills. Kano based his new system on two premises: that the practice of the sport had to be safe for its participants (unlike the older jujutsu styles in which practitioners were often injured) and that the sport had to appeal to practitioners of all ability levels and social classes. To increase judo's appeal within both rational, industrial society and within conservative, anti-modern circles, Kano sought to integrate modern theories on training and competition (influenced by Japanese contact with the West) with neo-traditional warrior philosophies. According to Donn Draeger and Robert Smith, "Judo tuned itself toward physical education and culture" (1980: 139). Kano even consciously planned the name of his new martial art to reflect the moral and physical characteristics he felt would popularize it as both a modern sport and a manly art. He formally called his new system Nippon Den Kodokan Judo, "an expression that implies 'the best budo of Japan'" (Draeger, 1996: 118). It should be noted, however, that not all of the changes initiated by Kano and his contemporaries met with unadulterated success. In Modern Bujutsu and Budo: The Martial Ways of Japan, one of the first rigorous reviews of the Japanese martial arts in English, the author is critical of judo and its derivatives stating, "The grappling systems are the descendants of the polytypic series of tactics that had its beginnings in the martially ineffective styles of classical jujutsu of the late Edo period" (Draeger, 1996: 60). Other martial arts, notably various styles of karate, have also been criticized for their modern emphasis on contests and the standardization of practice. (8)

From its inception, judo met the criteria that Western sports advocates sought. Judo also met most of the seven characteristics that historian Alan Guttman has stated must be present for an activity to be considered a modern sport. These characteristics encompass the sorts of changes that sports reformers had made to 19th-century Western sports such as various kinds of football and bicycle racing, characteristics that were also apparent in judo. Guttmann's criteria include secularism, equality of opportunity, the specialization of roles, rationalization, bureaucratic organization, quantification, and the quest for records (Guttman, 1978: 16). Judo has been examined in Guttmann's terms and found to meet most of these conditions. Carr determined that judo fails to qualify as a modern sport only in its relative inability to be "quantified." This, however, is a condition shared by many performance-oriented sports such as figure skating, gymnastics, and competitive dance, which suffer from subjective judging and standards and should not be seen as automatically disqualifying (Carr, 1993: 185-187).


In addition to sitting firmly in the mold of modern sport, judo also had obvious utility to urban Americans. It was a self-defense system that, theoretically at least, did not require a proponent to possess overwhelming mass or strength to overcome an opponent. It was comprised of a variety of techniques applicable under a wide variety of circumstances and could be augmented by Western fighting methods as necessary. It was reportedly safe for men, women, and children to practice and, from the outset, judo instruction in England and the United States was offered to both males and females. (9) Judo could also be practiced easily in the limited space available in crowded industrial cities (Matsudaira, 1910: 117). Finally, judo was an intentionally moral and philosophical sport (Lindsay & Kano, 1889: 204-205; Carr, 1993: 168). Kano Jigoro consciously included instruction in moral precepts as part of the judo curriculum. Drawn from traditional Japanese philosophy and the Japanese warrior's code, bushido, judo philosophy contained elements that appealed directly to moral sports enthusiasts.

Those who advocated for the expansion of sporting opportunities on the basis that they contributed to moral development through the ethics of good sportsmanship and fair play observed that respect for one's opponent and self-control were cornerstones of judo practice. As a later observer noted, 19th-century sports enthusiasts believed that, "In the martial arts of Asia, conflict appears very rigid, yet consideration of the opponent is very high" (Luschen, 1981: 201). Even many Western anti-modernists, who were at best skeptical of the modern sports movement, begrudgingly accepted judo as they drew parallels between the old feudal samurai code (bushido) upon which judo philosophy was partially based and the legendary chivalry of English knights errant. (10)

In Japan, judo was considered one of the new-era martial ways (shin budo). These arts were seen as distinct from and superior to mere fighting systems because they explicitly contained a moral component. The 19th-century Japanese philosopher Aizawa Yasushi (1781-1863) stated, "To know etiquette and honor, to preserve the way of the gentleman, to strive for frugality, and thus become a bulwark of the state, is budo" (Friday, 1997: 7). While undeniably foreign to Western sports proselytizers, judo seemed to speak to a universal warrior sentiment, an idea that enjoyed widespread appeal among expansionist Americans. Furthermore, the moral codes of judo and bushido bore at least cursory similarities to the ethics championed by modern sports movement advocates. In the commentary to a lecture given to the Japan Society in 1910, Count Mutsu, a member of the Meiji government and the British Japanese Society, offered, "Our Bushido is your sportsmanship" (Matsudaira, 1910: 133). In Nitobe's Bushido, the 1905 English language guide to Japanese culture through its philosophical warrior tradition, chapters three through nine are titled:


III. Rectitude or Justice

IV. Courage, The Spirit of Daring and Bearing

V. Benevolence, The Feeling of Distress

VI. Politeness

VII. Veracity and Sincerity

VIII. Honour

IX. The Duty of Loyalty

These chapter titles bear striking similarities to the goals espoused by organizers of the modern sports establishment who sought to instill the virtues of courage, honor, loyalty, good sportsmanship, and Christian charity in players and spectators. Early judo enthusiasts would likely have agreed with Yuasa Yasuo's (1925-2005) comment that, "Training in sports aims at developing the body's capacity.... On the other hand, the original goal in the bushi [warrior] way is to develop mental (or spiritual) capacity" (1993: 32).

Although never popular enough to rival "American" sports like football, baseball, or even resurrected (gloved) prizefighting in the early 20th century, judo did set the stage for the introduction of other martial sports to America. From the early 20th century onward, successive "waves" of immigration of various fighting sports from around the world became nearly instantly popular only to vanish from the American public consciousness almost as quickly. Since the 1950's, East Asian martial sports with esoteric names such as Wing Chun, kempo (kenpo), ninjutsu, Muay Thai, and the synchretic martial art called Brazilian jujitsu have successively achieved popularity and commercial success in the American martial sports marketplace. American styles of fighting and American "masters" benefited from these successive waves of popularity even as they celebrated their competing martial systems as a foil to new or foreign "tricks" (Burns, 1913).

This process of acquisition, commercialization, and dissemination, begun early in American history with fencing and American styles of fighting, is characteristic of a variety of American cultural interactions. Furthermore, it addresses the situation in which "[w]e find ourselves perplexed as we try to balance winning with fair play, aggressiveness with control, freedom with technique, and the individual with community" (Hardy, 1990: 77).

Cultural historians, as well as historians of the martial arts and sport, can take a lesson from the history of the changing practice of the manly arts in America. The continual process of adaptation and popularization apparent in the evolution of martial recreation in America from one of manly arts to modern martial sports seems to share many similarities with the American penchant for acquiring and "Americanizing" cultural institutions from around the world. Fencing, gouging, judo, and modern martial arts exist in a continuum as they integrate with and complement other aspects of American popular culture.



(1) The two classical arguments among sports historians can be found in the works of Mandell and Sansone. Mandell (1984) argues that sport is a cultural complement to industrialism. Sansone (1988) maintains that sports are the modern expression of the universal human struggle with contest and cooperation.

(2) Most of the hundreds of summaries of judo history available paraphrase the account provided in Lindsay and Kano (1889: 192-205). Judo's history and development have been treated at length in a variety of sources, notably in English in Draeger (1974/1996: 112-123). The integration of judo into British popular culture is described in Wingard (2003: 16-25).

(3) The most thorough description of Roosevelt's martial activities is found in Donovan (1909). For a more complete analysis of the implications of Roosevelt's participation in martial sports on the man and the arts in America see Burdick (1999: 22-54).

(4) See Cass (1930: 17-18), for an example of a consciously Americanized fencing manual.

(5) For an example of the continuing dissemination and adaptation of Anglo-Gaelic wrestling in 20th-century U.S.A., see Pittman (1999: 48-57), specifically pp. 49 & 57.

(6) Some works that treat the rise of modern sports in great detail include Guttmann (1978) and Holt (1989).

(7) In 1868, the Meiji emperor wrested control of Japan away from the last Tokugawa shogun. To solidify his position and assert control over conservative samurai, the emperor embarked on a course to rapidly modernize Japan. Many trappings of the old regime were outlawed and others quickly fell into disuse. Some martial arts changed their curricula to appeal to more popular audiences. An archetypal discussion of the symbolic character and implication of these changes to Japanese martial culture is included in Funakoshi Gichin's memoir (1975: 1-7).

(8) Recently, scholarly examinations of judo's early years of have been published with increasing frequency, including Gray Carr (1993: 167-188), Smith (1996: 60-65), and Bowen (1999: 43-53).

(9) Barton-Wright (1902: 261-264) and Norman (1905) both exalt the suitability of judo and related exercises across class, race, and gender boundaries.

(10) It is important to note that the Japanese warrior ideal the English admired was a concept largely derived from Nitobe (1905) and by pamphlets published by Westerners residing for short periods in Japan (e.g. Norman (1905: 1-3). Nitobe had been educated in English public schools and was Christian. It is likely that his version of the samurai honor code was highly idealized, if not specifically coordinated to appeal to an English audience. Similarly the pamphleteers' accounts must also be viewed critically as their motives were frequently commercial or evangelical.


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BOWEN, R. (1999). Origins of the British Judo Association, the European Judo Union & the International Judo Federation. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 8(3): 43-53.

BURDICK, D. (1999). The American way of fighting: Unarmed defense in the United States, 1845-1945. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Indiana.

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CARR, K. (1993). Making way: War, philosophy and sport in Japanese judo. Journal of Sport History, 20(2): 167-188.

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DONOVAN, M. (1909). The Roosevelt that I know: Ten years of boxing with the president--and other memories of famous men. New York: B.W. Dodge and Co.

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Source Citation
Wingard, Geoffrey. "Building men on the mat: traditional 'manly arts' and the Asian martial arts in America." Journal of Asian Martial Arts 18.1 (2009): 8+. Academic OneFile. Web. 4 Sept. 2010.
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