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

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Citations (Scopus)
12 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 legitimizing 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, 2005) 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 20 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 seven 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 'civilizing' shift (Elias & Dunning, 1986) in the competition rules and increases in women’s participation in karate 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
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783030197995
ISBN (Print)9783030197988
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Masculinity
  • Violence
  • Karate
  • Emotions
  • Civilising process


Dive into the research topics of '‘It used to be brutal, now it’s an art’: changing negotiations of violence and masculinity in British karate'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this