I’ve been to the 5th Martial Arts Studies Conference, University of Chapman, California (May 22-23, 2019)


I’ve been attending these annual conferences since the start at the University of Cardiff in 2015, only missing last year’s edition. After the first four editions in Wales, it is a moving conference. Next year it will be hosted in France. This first edition on US soil was very colourful. Like the previous editions, it was also full of surprises. Let me share a few highlights and thoughts.

The first thing that really surprised me, is that many of the papers given by American scholars were inflected with standpoints on social justice and cultural appropriation. As if it was a sine qua non while presenting any kind of research about martial arts. While Europeans tend to be more reserved about these matters, it showcased a specific trend or academic culture to an extent which I was unfamiliar with. Gender in martial arts studies was always a thing, like in many other academic fields, but involving matters of racial identity to that extent surprised me.


About gender. The first evening dinner prior to the conference, I found myself at a table full of men. I’m accustomed to this, since it is also the case in the arms and armour field. I even asked where were the female presenters. It turned out I was mistaken, as you can see we had a great turnover of female researchers, including a keynote speaker.


I was also very pleased to see a table full of publications, showing that our field is blossoming, thanks to the relentless efforts of Paul and his team. One, now two book series, and open-access, peer-reviewed and indexed journals. Also several monographs from the network were presented. I brought along the last six issues of my journal, to show that HEMA studies are also part of the network. I carried them all the way while swearing “why oh why…”, but this is part of the game.


I was happy to present my paper “Fight like a true German”. In the same panel, Steven G. Jug presented a paper with similar insights in the context of the Soviet Union and the development of Sambo. But the closest connection I felt was with Ben Judkins’ keynote which addressed Chinese and Japanese Martial Arts’ diplomacy during the same period as mine.

The campus was very nice and welcoming. Andrea Molle and his team made us feel at home. We had a pleasant rooftop party on the first evening, and several highlights on the social side of the conference. One of my personal highlights was the connection made with Stefania Skowron-Markowska, which is involved into the process of listing Polish sabre as Intangible Cultural Heritage in Poland. I’m looking forward to next year’s edition already.