George Bradley Jennings
University of Exeter, Sport & Health Sciences, 2010
Traditionalist Chinese martial arts (TCMAs) are popular in Britain, and some advocates have made extensive claims of their body-self transformation through sustained training. Despite extensive physiological research, there are few investigations of these practices regarding their socio-cultural practice. This qualitative sociological study examines long-term British practitioners’ experiences of transformation via Taijiquan (Tai Chi) and Wing Chun by addressing five issues:
1) Rationales behind practice
2) Resulting transformations
3) Explicit/implicit pedagogic strategies
4) Cultural transmission
5) Relations to broader social life.
It approaches these questions through an emergent research design incorporating autobiographical vignettes as a practitioner- teacher-researcher, life histories of experienced practitioners and ethnographic fieldwork of two case study schools. Following thematic, metaphorical and narrative analysis, a structurationist theoretical framework illuminates the data by incorporating sensitising concepts from diverse thinkers including Bourdieu, Frank, Giddens and Yuasa. The findings are represented through autobiographical, modified realist, impressionist and confessional writing and structure the thesis as follows: Firstly, my own story demonstrates shifts in transformation from a technique-orientated approach to a more spiritual/holistic perspective, finally emerging as a scholarly position of a thinker-martial artist. Secondly, practitioner case studies further articulate transformations along a flexible continuum of changing body-self-society relations interpreted here as three ideal types: Fighters, martial artists and thinkers. Thirdly, the connecting pedagogical issues are addressed, as well-rounded TCMA systems possess specific partner exercises to develop intercorporeal awareness and embodied sensitivity, which are explicit aspects of each association’s martial habitus and body lineage.
Meanwhile, socio-linguistic metaphors articulate these transformations and are also interpreted as transformations in thinking and schemes of perception. Overall, these sensitising concepts and empirical findings offer a social theory of shared cultivation that acknowledges transformation on individual, relational, institutional and art levels. This shared cultivation framework may be useful for future methodological, theoretical and empirical considerations of wider physical culture.