This conference was sponsored by the International Journal of Sport History and organised by Wuhu Normal University, in partnership with Bangor University. We were a very small contingent of European and American speakers in comparison to the Asian speakers. Everything has been done to let us feel welcomed, and as keynotes speakers, we were especially well treated.
The first day included series of keynote speakers about Globalisation and Nationalisation of Sports. The opening lecture of Peter Horton (Indigenous Games as Victims, Casualties or Beneficiaries of Imperialism, Globalization or Sportization) set the stage with emphasis on games as a globalised phenomenon, while addressing areas from South America to the Australian grounds. Martial arts (and games) played an important part in the overall discourse. More than a half of the lectures were about martial arts, struggling with opposing concepts such as tradition versus (re)invented tradition, sport versus art, and how it played a role in government’s propaganda and in forging national identities. I especially appreciated Peter Lorge’s talk (Nationalism, Tradition and Modern Martial Arts), when he exemplified his point of view through the video of the “sparring” between a traditional martial artist and a combat sports expert. This video made quite a fuss on social networks and its buzzing characteristics were well analysed. This powerful video was also used by Sixt Wetzler in his talk (Martial Arts, an Asian phenomenon?).
As usual in such big conference, some papers were really good, and a large amount disappointing from my perspective of specialist. I was impressed by the extent to which several researchers coming from Asia still do not see how modern martial arts consists today of (re)invented traditions and how biased are their analysis of most of the mobilised source material to assess wrong concepts such as authenticity or efficiency of martial systems.
I presented the European fight books as imperfect media to record martial arts tradition, with a focus on its reception now and then. I also outline the potential of comparative studies on such type of technical literature between East and West, relying on the recently published article by my friend Sixt Wetzler. We both promoted the newly founded Society for Historical European Martial Arts Studies (SHEMAS) and the upcoming international conference in Solingen “Fight Books in Comparative Perspective” (Nov. 8-9, 2017), which will focus on this topic.
The second day consisted of shorter paper given in parallel sessions by loads of graduate students, researchers and professors. I had the pleasure to co-chair one of these panels and take part in the ceremonial part of the conference by handing certificates to each of the speakers. The importance given to the etiquette in Asia in comparison to Europe surprised me. Each of the keynote lectures were given with standing young Chinese women in traditional dresses or young Chinese men in suits. The same army of students were posted to each corner bowing and pointing the way to professors in the whole building. Signing partnerships, handing certificates, food and tea, but most importantly the photo records of all of this played a surprising role (to me) in the whole conference.
I am looking forward to see the proceedings published, as it will certainly represent an nice addition to the 2015 conference published as a special issue in the same journal.