Paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on Martial Arts Studies (Hong-Kong, 11-12 December 2020). This paper will lead to a publication in the proceedings of the conference.
Abstract: Martial arts are cultural phenomena shaped by the society in which they develop. They were – and still are – transmitted through interpersonal exchanges, from body to body. Martial arts experts use speech for devising these martial skills into complex system of bodily knowledge. Once the systems are complex or vast enough to be verbalised, they are transmitted through bodies and speech with mnemotechnical texts such as poems, codified knowledge canons or a constellation of technical words associated with metaphors or images. Some of these mantras (mnemonic devices) found their way into writing or depiction. This process is a transliteration from speech to the page, or to a depiction. The written word or the depiction of bodies fighting on a wall, a painted canvas or embedded into a sculpture challenged time and survived the masters who invented them. However, in most cases those who wrote the words, painted the images, or sculpted the stone were not the martial experts themselves. The documents, depictions and sculptures preserved for the study of martial arts culture of the past have to be explored while taking into account the perspective of those who created them. Based on previous research on circulation of knowledge in the corpus of European fight books, this contribution allows for a new categorisation of martial arts knowledge, on and beyond the page, with a focus on early modern fight books.