Should martial arts be active or passive players in politics?

Recently, I’ve been keeping my head down and trying to get stuck into my current research project, which is all about martial arts culture in the British context.

We know a lot about martial arts cultures in America and Asia, but a lot less about little martial arts backwaters like Britain. I hope to redress the balance, at least a bit.

What has prompted me to look up from my own research and compose this has been a recent flurry of activity online, on the Martial Arts Studies Facebook Page and the Group. It has got me thinking about important possible themes for next year’s Martial Arts Studies Conference.

What happened is that Alex from Love Fighting, Hate Violence shared a news article about groups – whatever you want to call them: ultra-nationalist, alt-right, racist, nazi, fascist, etc. – on the ‘far right’ who are politicising their martial arts practice – using it as training for their various forms of violent ‘activism’.

I re-shared the story on the Facebook Page and in the Facebook Group and it prompted a fascinating series of exchanges.

To cut a long story short, it strikes me (belatedly, some might say) that the issues raised here could and should become an important concern of Martial Arts Studies.

  • What is the status of this far right politicisation within martial arts practices?
  • What does it tell us or mean for martial arts practitioners?
  • Maybe we have felt up until now that we should keep politics out of our training, but does that mean we have left the door wide open for others to march right in and disseminate their own political ideas?
  • What does this tell us about the cultural and political world?
  • How do our cultural, sporting, self-defence, aesthetic, health, lifestyle, ethical and philosophical practices and values relate to the wider cultural and political world?
  • Are martial arts active or passive players in wider politics?

These questions are timely, not only in the sense that they have finally floated into full view on my own radar as a real and pressing problem (friends such as Ben Judkins, Sixt Wetzler and Alex Channon, among others, have pointed out that these matters have been fully on their own radars for quite some time), but also because the theme of next year’s conference is, fortuitously, ‘Martial Arts, Culture and Politics’.

In short, I think it is true to say that we would love to see paper proposals (abstracts) on the issues raised by the politicisation of martial arts practice. In fact, I feel it is part of our ethical, political and social responsibility to engage with these matters – and not just as themes that were relevant ‘back then’ (in the mists of history) or ‘over there’ (far, far away, in ‘distant cultures’). But right here, right now, on our own doorsteps, wherever we are.

So, please think about these issues. There are quite a few news stories about these matters available online, and research into racial, ethnic, and cultural politics in fields as diverse as MMA and HEMA is starting to appear. Let’s work to develop our understandings of all of this together.

Obviously, the conference next May will not be devoted to this issue. I may not even present on this matter myself. (I’m toying with the idea of presenting on the ways that certain nation-states seem keen to get their agendas, outlooks and ideologies into universities via side-doors like physical education departments – but I haven’t decided yet and I reserve the right to change my mind!) But I just want to put it out there as a really important area in which martial arts studies might be able to contribute to wider cultural and even political debates.

To submit a proposal for the conference, please email it simultaneously to two recipients: myself at and Andrea Molle at