Traditional martial arts and energy: Contemporary (re)interprétations

Research papers
By Alexandre Legendre, Haruka Okui, Alexandre Obœuf, Marie-Hélène Ferrer

This article focuses on contemporary reinterpretations of the concept of energy in the domain of traditional martial practices. It seeks to elucidate the underlying mechanisms in order to clarify some of the expected uses of the body found in modern societies. It begins by outlining the complex cultural and semantic framework in which the idea of energy has evolved in both the West and the East. Based on empirical data from a four-phase ethnographic survey, it then explores the vernacular concepts of jing and energy that characterise the pedagogy of the martial arts, and goes on to demonstrate that they are irreducible to the concept of qi/ ki that is the focus of the contemporary discourse. The latter observation, which is as problematic on the theoretical as on the practical level, is imputed to several factors, which have encouraged the spiritualisation of the traditional martial arts. First, transculturation has reshaped the concept of energy to reflect the dualistic framework of Western thought. Second, ends and means have become reversed due to the decline in the initial purpose of combat arts, and their subsequent instrumentalisation as a path to self-development. Third, the phenomenon of the dematerialisation of the body has led to a focus on the most subtle manifestations of energy.

  • martial arts
  • energy
  • re-semantisation
  • spiritualisation
  • body pedagogy
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