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The invention of martial arts: popular culture between Asia and America

Bowman, Paul 2021. The invention of martial arts: popular culture between Asia and America. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

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Through popular movies starring Bruce Lee and songs like the disco hit 'Kung Fu Fighting,' martial arts have found a central place in the Western cultural imagination. But what would 'martial arts' be without the explosion of media texts and images that brought it to a wide audience in the late 1960s and early 1970s? In this examination of the media history of what we now call martial arts, author Paul Bowman makes the bold case that the phenomenon of martial arts is chiefly an invention of media representations. Rather than passively taking up a preexisting history of martial arts practices—some of which, of course, predated the martial arts boom in popular culture—media images and narratives actively constructed martial arts. Grounded in a historical survey of the British media history of martial arts such as Bartitsu, jujutsu, judo, karate, tai chi, and MMA across a range of media, this book thoroughly recasts our understanding of the history of martial arts. By interweaving theories of key thinkers on historiography, such as Foucault and Hobsbawm, and Said's ideas on Orientalism with analyses of both mainstream and marginal media texts, Bowman arrives at the surprising insight that media representations created martial arts rather than the other way around. In this way, he not only deepens our understanding of martial arts but also demonstrates the productive power of media discourses.

Item Type: Book
Book Type: Authored Book
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780197540336
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2021 10:15

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