‘It used to be brutal, now it’s an art’: changing negotiations of violence and masculinity in British karate

Chloe MacLean*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


In most western (and indeed eastern) cultures, fighting is seen as an ultimate symbol of masculinity – an embodied display of dominance, control and violence (Bourdieu, 2001). As a space legitimising and praising performances of mimetic violence (Dunning, 1999), combat sports provide an arena where the virtues of dominance and power at the heart of conceptions of orthodox masculinity (Anderson, 2010 ) or hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 2005) can be symbolically presented by men through bodily displays of strength, physical aggression, and the taking and overcoming of pain (Bourdieu, 2001; Messner, 1990; Wacquant, 2004). Yet, over the last twenty years the focus of karate in Britain has been perceived to shift from aggressive acts of 'hitting hard' to developing and displaying controlled, acrobatic and technically precise movements. Drawn from a nine-month ethnography and 7 semi-structured interviews, this chapter explores how British male karate practitioners re/negotiate ideas of masculinity and embodiments of a masculine identity in the context of karate’s changing emphasis on, and practices of, 'violence'.

This paper suggests that a 'civilising' shift (Elias and Dunning, 1986) in the competition rules increases in women’s participation in karate with men, and subsequent negotiations of mimetic violence, complicate the use of violence as a symbol of praised masculine identity within British karate . A praised masculine identity is crafted by carefully blending traits conventional deemed feminine such as technical precision, elegance and agility alongside displays of strength and dominance. Such performances challenge conceptions of an orthodox sporting masculinity and notions of hierarchical gender distinction.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave handbook of masculinity and sport
EditorsRory Magrath, Jamie Cleland, Eric Anderson
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783030197995
ISBN (Print)9783030197988, 9783030198015
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2019


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