One of the longest-standing debates in the martial arts relates to their being either ‘sports’ or methods of self-cultivation. Traditionalists often ascribe unique spiritual characteristics to the martial arts, while criticising the ‘sportification’ of certain practices. In this view, the martial arts are seen to have declined from ancient ideals and become focused on ‘superficial’ competition and techniques. This paper argues that the supposedly intrinsic connection between martial arts and mental self-cultivation is largely a product of the last 150 years, and developed from the historical context of Japan’s modernisation in the late nineteenth century, as martial arts were codified while experiencing a powerful challenge from the arrival of Western sports. This dynamic was closely related to the development of the nationalistic ideology of bushido, the ‘way of the samurai’, which was frequently invoked by promoters of the martial arts. In this context, intangible elements such as ‘spirit’ were used by martial artists to include and exclude people along lines of gender, nationality, and ethnicity. This paper uses three Tokyo Olympics, 2020, 1964, and the cancelled 1940 games, to examine how the Japanese martial arts were ‘spiritualised’, and to consider the enduring legacy of imperial ideologies.
|Journal||Sport in History|
|Publication status||Published - 10 Mar 2020|
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- Martial Arts