Sunday, November 7, 2010

Martial Arts and Philosophy: Out Now

Martial Arts and Philosophy: Beating and Nothingness is now in stock in the United States.  It'll be in the UK and Australia later this year.

If you're spoiling for a smart, funny marriage of fighting and thinking - well, suit up, take a bow and put up your intellectual dukes. (And other lame puns).

You can buy it in all good bookshops, and online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Powell's.  And for lovers of ereaders, there are Kindle and Nook editions.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CFP: Philosophy and the Martial Arts

We are currently intending to produce an edited collection of academic essays on the philosophy of the martial arts, to be published by a good academic publisher. We invite contributions.

The martial arts may be Eastern or Western, ancient or modern. The scope is not restricted to any school or tradition of philosophy, and we do not favour any particular area of expertise, e.g. aesthetics, metaphysics, ethics. The important thing is that the essays be of high philosophical quality and be related to a or some martial art(s).

Papers will be peer-reviewed by at least two scholars before inclusion in the volume. An appropriate publisher will be approached if and when we have a sufficient number of suitable papers.

Papers must be received by the editors by 1st July, 2011. Expressions of interest and requests for information can be sent to Damon Young,

Please circulate this CFP widely.

Damon Young, University of Melbourne, Australia

Graham Priest, University of Melbourne/CUNY, USA

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conference Abstracts

Here is a list of abstracts for the upcoming Philosophy and the Martial Arts conference, at Melbourne University, 12/13th July 2010.

Barham, 'Genius and Technique'

All martial arts develop, codify, and teach various techniques (kihon waza). And yet, many arts claim that such formalisations are always only ever mere stepping-stones on the way to manifesting true movement. In this presentation, Arthur Schopenhauer’s characterization of genius will be considered as a vehicle for better articulating this philosophy, its attendant phenomena, and what it means for our pedagogical practices.

Beattie, 'Stop Monkey, no violence! Watching martial arts films and tv'

Any Australian whose childhood coincided with the late 1970s, early 1980s will have some memory of the TV show Monkey, many also bear residual scars from wielding garden tools in imitation of the heroes of the show. But did we also absorb something else along with this penchant for mayhem? Could it be that the act of consuming martial arts media carries with it a potential for absorption of perspectives on other philosophies and belief systems?

Australia in the 1970s was a place of homogenous cultures and beliefs, particularly in suburban Brisbane. The screening of Japanese TV show Monkey on public broadcaster the ABC was a bolt from the blue. While lurid, silly and hyperactive, the show involved exploration of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism as core thematic and plot elements. Yes, the translation involved a certain amount of orientalism, but it was also true to the original text unlike many other translations of the era such as Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets which also played on the ABC.

Based on the legends of the Journey to the West, as written down by Chinese author Wu Ch'eng-en, these stories also contained a critique of these belief systems. This was never more cutting than monk Tripitaka's constant preaching of non violence, until he was himself in peril when he shifted stance to 'save me, Monkey!'.

This paper asks if the consumption of media can go beyond passive spectatorship, can it also involve an ethical engagement? How do the heroes, villains and anti-heroes of martial arts films and tv shows, from the Shaw Brothers to the Karate Kid, from Lone Wolf & Cub to Buffy, cross paths with our own philosophical journeys?

Evans, 'To be a teacher'

Martial practices differ as to what constitutes a teacher. Conceptions vary wildly, from teachers being revered as near-supernatural objects of worship through to mere instruments in the attainment of martial skill. These conceptions have been critiqued historically for varying weaknesses in the relationship between student and teacher, the efficacy of the transmission of martial arts knowledge, and the politics of being given the title of “teacher” (or one of its non-English analogues).

In this paper, I will outline what I believe to be a plausible conception of what it is to be a teacher in a martial practice. This will focus on the teacher as the point of transmission of martial skill to a student. I will then outline some ethical commitments a teacher has that follow from my conception of a teacher. Namely, a teacher has a responsibility to a) their school or tradition, b) the students under their care, and c) a larger society. I will examine these responsibilities in terms of the practice of teaching in the martial arts. I will conclude by examining how these responsibilities might inform our views on a number of historic and contemporary practices in martial arts circles: the mass formation of schools, the writing of martial arts manuals, and the evolution of martial arts into sports.

Koussoulis, 'Personal transformation and the Japanese martial arts'

How does one refine reflexive and subconscious patterns using the conscious mind? Given the infinite manifestations of attack, can one defend with any certainty? The practice of Japanese martial arts provides a structured environment to reconnect the student with the spontaneous life. Inherent in the requirements of these arts is the cessation of excessive thought. The dojo, in its structure, training methods, practice and technique grooms the practitioner for a confrontation with ones idea of ‘self’. Typically burdened by intellectualism and abstraction, the challenging dojo environment draws the practitioner into more integrated levels of awareness. Systematically, the body, beliefs and emotions of the student are fundamentally challenged. Seemingly insoluble difficulties give way when the conscious mind is driven to crisis. Once reacquainted with his/her spontaneous nature, the practitioner embodies both the form and spirit of the art: unlimited potential.

Krein, 'Worldmaking in the Martial Arts'

Martial artists often claim that the study of their art changes not only who they are but how they experience the world. In this paper, I argue that martial arts dojos provide structures of worldmaking in Nelson Goodman’s sense of the term. In his 1993 presidential address to the Philosophic Society for the Study of Sport, “Sport, Theater, and Ritual: Three Ways of Worldmaking,” Gunter Gebauer argued that, like theater and ritual, sports function as ways of worldmaking. In a recent article I argue that alternative sports are better suited than traditional sports to create new and original worlds that instantiate value systems in opposition to mainstream culture. In this paper, I compare martial arts to traditional and alternative sports as ways of worldmaking.

Martial arts differ from both alternative and traditional sports in that many dojos explicitly see their role as promoting certain moral values and metaphysical claims. As well, dojos vary significantly in the world-versions they offer. In the paper, I explore the methods and products of worldmaking in the martial arts. In particular, I argue that many aspects of martial arts training are very well suited to educating students and bringing them to states in which they experience new world versions.

Mortensen, 'General Yue Fei's Ten Theses'

General Yue Fei was an important Chinese warrior of the 12th century. He is credited with the invention of the internal gungfu style of XingYi, and the well-known qigong exercise Pa Tuan Tsin. I will give an account of his treatise on personal combat The Ten Theses.

Petersen, 'Foucault, Feminism and Martial Arts'

The point of this paper is to discuss the nature of power, as conceived by Foucault and Shito-Ryu karate. It shall be argued that contrary to much feminist doctrine and ideology, power is not something that women have or don't have - it isn't a thing that one can point to or possess - it is a relationship.

Priest, The Martial Arts and Buddhism

Buddhism has a long and close connection with the East Asian martial arts; yet the connection appears paradoxical. Buddhism advocates peace, and the martial arts are a training in violence. So how is this? I will suggest an answer.

Saltzman, 'The Spiritual Warrior: Martial Arts and the Virtue of Courage'

One of my first martial arts teachers said that the aim of karate is overcoming the fear of death. Furthermore, this attitude of mind applies to the practitioner facing the fear of obstacles, the fear of failure, and fear itself. Fear is self-concern, leading to hesitancy, doubt and confusion. In the sayings of martial arts masters, overcoming fear is high on the list of instructions. For the Ninja, bravery is second only to loyalty. These ideas lead to the question of what courage really is. Of the Four Platonic Virtues, Courage Justice, Temperance and Wisdom, courage may seem most easy to define, but his dialogue Laches shows its complications. If courage involves having wisdom and a just cause, is the person who is ignorant or imprudent incapable of courage? Is the martial artist who fights when he has no chance of winning courageous or simply fool hardy? For example, at the end of Macbeth, the tragic hero who is afraid of his own wife’s opinion in the beginning fights against MacDuff, although he knows he is doomed. Is this real courage in a man who has abandoned all sense of justice and compassion? How does the daily practice of the martial arts translate into courage in life? This essay will argue that real courage always involves the four Platonic virtues, which are comparable to those of the budo masters. Ultimately, courage, or overcoming fear, Includes justice and wisdom, and sometimes the good sense to run away.

Sandell and Quintana, 'Feminism and Kuk Sool Won'

In our paper we explore relationships between feminism and the martial arts. In particular, we look at Carol Tavris’s (1992) view of equality-as-acceptance. An equality-as-acceptance point of view looks to the consequences of our policies and practices on sexual differences. If those consequences are systematically disadvantageous to women, then the policies and practices responsible should be altered in order to achieve acceptable, equal consequences. Tavris’s position is not one that would have us try and pretend that sex-based differences don’t exist, or acknowledge sex-based differences with preference for standards set by men alone or by women alone. We inquire into the Korean martial art of Kuk Sool Won™ by interviewing women who are practitioners in the art. We ask to learn what their experiences are of the standards they are expected to perform to, and answer the question of whether Kuk Sool Won™ exemplifies equality-as-acceptance in Tavris’s sense.

Shinn, 'Aikido as a joke'

I demonstrate the intimate link between the Nietzschean account of the truth process and Aikido praxis via the reference to a joke. This joke exemplifies and illuminates a particular structure, what is designated as the ‘negation of negation’. I demonstrate this link, not to defend Aikido from accusations, often coming from Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) social networking sites, that it is a joke. Rather, I do so to show this structure is the very source of Aikido’s power.

This structure is also shared by the process of truth, as described in the late work of Fredrick Nietzsche. Truth, here, is said to ‘turn back on itself’. This description emphasises how truth, as a process, undermines it’s own validity. Nietzschean truth, then, demonstrates how a set of historical circumstances has led to an internal critique of truth, and, subsequently, other objects – including ourselves.

Aikido technique, when faced with an aggressive force, finds itself in an analogous situation. The attacking force, ‘turns back on itself’ in order to nullify the aggression and bring about peaceful resolutions. It does so through the concept and application of entering (the aggressors space) and spherical rotation.

Both Aikido and Nietzschean practice and description, then, illuminate each other and assist in understanding these otherwise complex concepts. Funnily enough, they assist us in comprehending the negation of negation – a truly philosophical exercise.

Tanaka, 'No-self in martial arts'

The no-self doctrine is an important Buddhist doctrine, yet it is often thought to also play an important role martial arts. What role it plays is, however, is a question for which no satisfying answer has been given. The no-self doctrine is often taken to be a metaphysical doctrine. It is taken to mean that there are no 'real' persons: it is an illusion to think that there really are persons. However, this is not the only way to understand this doctrine. Japanese Buddhists often distinguish self-hood from person-hood and emphasise the importance of no-self rather than no-person. Indeed, they not only simply emphasise no-self, they also embrace person-hood. For them, no-self is primarily a phenomenological notion (or a notion to do with intentionality) whereas person-hood is an ethical and social notion. The famous Zen Buddhist, Takuan S?h?, who explicitly applied the no-self doctrine to martial arts understood the doctrine in that way. In this paper, I will show that a phenomenological understanding of the no-self doctrine is applicable to martial arts. Consideration of such an understanding not only advances our understanding of martial arts but also that of the no-self doctrine.

Thompson, 'Martial Arts Sentences: Analytic or Synthetic'

Martial arts teaching involves the use of language to give instructions and to explain the general theory of what one is doing in executing techniques. In the case of some martial arts terminology like Ki, ch'i and so on, or westernized approximations like center, one point, or so on, are used to give these explanations and instructions. Call them: martial arts sentences.

Verificationism is a view which thinks of itself as giving an explanation of what sentences mean which is very faithful to the guiding investigative principles of western science. Since western science seems to recognize at least two kinds of sentences that are scientifically respectable, theoretical and observational, verificationism tries to recognize sentences of both kinds. But verificationists draw the divide differently. Some theoretical sentences are analytic, which means their status as scientifically acceptable is granted on grounds other than testability of their truth. Some theoretical, and all observational, sentences are synthetic which means their status as scientifically acceptable is granted on the grounds that we could do a scientific test that will tell us if they are true on any particular occasion.

In this paper I will offer the suggestion that in fact the meaning of certain martial arts sentences is analytic. Such sentences do not need to have their meaning tested scientifically to be regarded as meaningful from within a perspective friendly to western science. I will argue that just as some analytic sentences are provable in virtue of their meaning, namely the truths of logic, martial arts sentences are executable in virtue of their meaning - once one comes to understand the sentence one does so because one has come to understand how to execute the technique in which the sentence instructs one. It remains to explain how those sentences whose meaning cannot be explained in this way get a meaning in a way that is friendly to western science.

Whittlesea, 'A man in space: Yves Klein, Judo and the Void'

In 1952 the 24-year-old French artist Yves Klein left Paris for Japan, to pursue his first love: not art but judo. After receiving a 4th dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo, Klein returned to Europe and was appointed technical advisor to the Spanish Judo Federation before opening the Judo Académie de Paris. In 1954 Grasset published his book Les Fondements du Judo, illustrated with hundreds of photographs of Klein and the leading Japanese teachers demonstrating the six major kata of judo.

This paper will give a historical overview of Klein’s judo career, illustrated with film shot in Tokyo in 1953 by Hal Sharp and Klein, and concentrating on his shift from shiai and randori to the study of kata. It will explore the relationship between Klein’s judo practice and the development of his concept of the Void, exemplified in the proto-conceptual manipulated photograph Leap into the Void.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

AV Requirements for Presenters

A quick note on audio-visual requirements for our presenters.

Some of you will be showing videos, photos, Powerpoint, and the like. We can certainly provide a data projector. If you need a computer for your presentation, it's best to bring your own.

However, if this is inconvenient, we will have one for you to use (a MacBook running OSX). If you want to use our laptop, we suggest you bring all the files you need - e.g. photos, screenshots, videos, sound - on a CD or USB drive. Wireless internet in the Quad is unreliable.

Let me know if you need any more information.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Martial Arts and Philosophy: On Amazon Now

Martial Arts and Philosophy: Beating and Nothingness, edited by Graham Priest and Damon Young, is available on Amazon now.

In today’s popular imagination, ‘martial arts’ means flashy moves, bad dubbing and cheesy plots. But for the last thirty years, it’s also meant philosophy. From Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do to the moral lessons of Kung-Fu: The Series, fighting and philosophising have gone hand in hand. Parents send their children to Karate class for intellectual and ethical virtues, and New Age hipsters turn to Aikido for ‘oneness with the universe’. For many, fighting is simply applied Zen philosophy.

But the martial arts aren’t tied to ancient Eastern wisdom alone – they’re spurs to philosophical dialogue and discussion today. They inspire metaphysical questions, like the paradoxes of Zen in Japanese sword fighting, or the mind/body problem. They lend themselves to crucial debates in ethics, including the role of violence in civilised life (individual and social), and the nature and significance of Aristotle’s work on virtue. They suggest important existential questions about ethnic identity, mortality and recognition. They also provide fascinating case studies for arguments in the philosophy of education – the founder of Judo was a noted educationalist. The fighter’s craft, properly examined, is a genuine philosophical matter.

Of the many millions of Americans, Britons, Australians and Canadians who practice martial arts, a great many are interested in the philosophical dimensions. The magazine Black Belt, for example, often has philosophically-themes columns and articles. Martial arts websites (e.g. Martial Arts Planet, e-Budo) have dedicated philosophy forums. For every more mystical Aikido adept, there’s a Brazilian Jujutsu player quoting Popper. It’s clear that many martial artists are interested in genuine philosophical thinking.

Martial Arts and Philosophy aims to provide readers with a thoughtful, exciting and funny exploration of philosophical ideas. Readers will find familiar icons, styles and techniques used to open up crucial philosophical debates. While replete with nods to pop culture and combat, it’ll also be intellectually punchy!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Second Call for Papers: Philosophy and the Martial Arts, July 12-13, 2010

Conference on Philosophy and the Martial Arts Melbourne University, July 12 and 13, 2010

The website for the conference, including details of accommodation, can now be found at:

If you wish to present a paper at the conference, please send a one paragraph abstract by March 31, 2010 to both of

Formal acceptances will be announced shortly after this; we will seek and require confirmation of attendance by June 1st.

Damon and Graham