A note from the editor, Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D.
It is with some surprise that I find myself at the helm of the EJMAS Journal of Theatrical Combatives. I study iaido, one of the most traditionally conservative modern budo forms on the planet. A number of my martial arts colleagues scoff at fight choreography, preferring "real" martial arts. How then, can I share space with the likes of everything from action movies to Xena, Warrior Princess?
Well, like a lot of people, not all of whom will admit it, I happen to like this stuff, whether serious, as in Gladiator, or silly, as in Men in Tights. As a kid, I was inspired by those dubbed Italian gladiator movies (hunks in loincloths, half-dressed women, lions, Christians) that I used to watch on Sunday afternoon television. And Steve Reeves as Hercules. And Victor Mature as Samson. Errol Flynn. Zorro. It's a long list that inspired me first to take up sport fencing, then theatrical rapier and rapier and dagger, and finally a "real" martial art. Along the way I became a Performance Studies scholar, nagged throughout my Ph.D. dissertation (on a safer subject) that martial arts was a serious topic for study as a form of self-expressive performance.
From this scholarly perspective, virtually any activity done in front of an audience (even an audience of oneself alone) constitutes performance. Performance therefore includes not only live theatre and music, film and video, but also parades, political rallies, religious ceremonies and yes, martial arts. Richard Schechner has succinctly defined the four major functions of performance: ritual, healing, education and entertainment (1993, 20). I held up some traditional budo to this set of functions in "Towards a theory of martial art as performance art” (1999). The extent to which the four functions coexist depends on the artform itself.
But we are talking theatrical combatives (or as I prefer to call it, fight choreography) here. Is it a martial art? No, I don't think so; for reasons I will make clear in a future article. Is it worthy of study? Absolutely. Fight choreography can and should be studied as an aspect of popular culture, certainly, but also sociological analysis of depictions of violence in human culture could shed some light on our fascination with it, and its ability to entertain us. We can also look at theatrical combatives from an historical perspective. The forums can be reports, interviews, descriptions of techniques, analyses of cinematic and video special effects.
While "fight choreography" often makes one think of staged rapier duels, I prefer to expand the definition of the genre to include not only fisticuffs and low-tech weaponry, but to include battles scenes (period through contemporary), and virtually any form of staged conflict--no matter how many numbers are involved on a side. Mediums from live stage performances (from Western forms to Japanese kabuki and Chinese opera) to Renaissance Faires, films, video, computer games, pro wrestling, the list goes on and on.
I'm inviting readers to make submissions on any aspect of the above. Please make your papers no longer than 20 pages, double spaced (and feel free to make them shorter). Cite any references not your own. Use endnotes rather than footnotes. Send pictures (but make sure we have permission to use them). We will hopefully in the future include categories for film/video/media reviews, since so much that's relevant to our topic takes place in those areas. I am also considering a "letters" section, that would include thoughtful feedback to the material published on the site.
Let's have fun.
1999 “Towards a theory of martial art as performance art” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 8:2, pp8-19.
1993 The Future of Ritual New York: Routledge.