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European Journal for Sport and Society 2006, 3 (1), 55-61

The institutionalization of martial arts

Wojciech J. Cynarski
University of Rzeszw, Poland
Abstract: This paper discusses the basic symptoms and aspects of the institutionalization
process of the Far Eastern martial arts. These aspects are: the acceptance of sports regulations
and the foundation of new sports organizations; the establishment of legal regulations; the
internalization of Far Eastern martial arts; the creation of specific social roles and the process
of socialization through Far Eastern martial arts; the institution of student and master degrees;
the training of instructors and the teaching of Far Eastern martial arts; organizational development. Western teaching methods and forms of promotion overlap with traditional Eastern
forms of teaching and verification of degrees and titles of the system passed on by tradition.
Keywords: martial arts, institutionalization, organizational development.

The sociology of Far Eastern martial arts must be associated with a general theory of
martial arts using a socio-cultural perspective, and being one of its branches, with the
sociology of physical culture (Krawczyk, 1995). The sociology of Far Eastern martial
arts should also take into account the borderland sociology which was described by
Thomas Parsons (1971) as the theory of the highest level. This involves a perspective
from the point at which sociology, anthropology and psychology meet and which
draws upon a heritage of various (European and American) trends in sociology
(Cynarski & Obodyski, 2003).
In the functional dimension of Far Eastern martial arts, different processes
connected with their institutionalization can be distinguished, including the broader
issue of the way in which institutionalization manifests itself in a system of physical
education in society in a single country, in Europe and worldwide. Issues of this kind
need to consider cultural, recreational and health values of the systems of the individual martial arts. An additional consideration is the extent of the phenomenon worldwide as well as the range of participation and the direction of trends. Furthermore,
the continuum joining the world of sport and that of martial arts as well as the
processes of commercialization and the transformation of classic martial arts into
combat sports are phenomena needing to be taken into account. Japanese researchers
in particular have analysed the issue of changes in the martial arts which have been
taking place as a result of general socio-cultural changes (Inoue, 1992; Chiba, Ebihara
& Morino, 2001).
Institutionalization may be generally understood as an accepted and established
manner of behaving in a particular case. In the case of the martial arts, one can list at
least the following symptoms or aspects of institutionalization:


Wojciech J. Cynarski

the acceptance of sports regulations and the foundation of new sports organizations;
the establishment of legal regulations;
the internalization of Far Eastern martial arts;
the creation of specific social roles and socialization through Far Eastern
martial arts;
organizational development;
the introduction of student and master degrees;
the training of instructors and the teaching of Far Eastern martial arts;
new forms of martial arts.
With regard to the first aspect referred to above, i.e. the acceptance of regulations and
the foundation of organizations, it is important to point out that some organizations
have benefited significantly from association with the Olympic Games:
The recent 50 years of the International Judo Federation have been a
period of great development and expansion of judo as a sport known
worldwide. Beginning modestly in 1951, the IJF grew to 186 members
all the countries concerned being concentrated in five continental
Olympic committees (Bach, Cynarski & Litwiniuk, 2004a).
In this period, judo has undergone great development and made huge progress that is
reflected in the immense growth of its popularity. However, this was achieved at the
expense of judos moral dimension as a martial art, a process that is discussed in detail
by Villamon, Brown, Espartero and Gutierrez (2004). Of course, organizations which
choose not to cultivate a high profile for their sport can fail or risk seeing their sport
remaining a minority interest (cf. Cynarski, 2000b; Sieber & Cynarski, 2003). Therefore, several of the classic martial arts have opted for a competitive dimension as a
means of improving their chances of survival and the prospect of commercial success.
Regulations of combat sports have been evolving in the direction of greater
alignment with the requirements of enhanced public appeal: they must be safe for the
participants, comprehensible to the audience, and appropriate for broadcasting. Penalties awarded for a lack of aggression are intended to force the participants to show
fighting spirit and to make the fight more dynamic and thus more spectacular
(Obodyski, 2001; Bach, Cynarski & Litwiniuk 2004b).
Popularizers of the martial arts have discussed the regulatory aspects only
peripherally: for instance Kondratowicz (in his series of articles published in onierz
Polski) and Czerwenka-Wenkstetten (1993, 133-136). The issue has been treated in
more detail by lawyers (Stiebler, 1979, 257-274; Niewczas, Czarny & Rusin, 2001).
Stiebler was the first to discuss the legal issues associated with practising kobudo
(owning traditional weapons, training with side-arms). Other authors, however, have
concentrated on the issues of self-defence in general in the context of legal liability
(necessary defence, commensurability of defence with the degree of danger etc.).
The American Journal of Asian Martial Arts has published a work by Nunberg
entitled Civil and criminal liability: the martial artists potential (Nunberg, 2001;

The institutionalization of martial arts


2002). According to the author, decisive restraint of aggressive behaviours in a dojo

and in the streets is, in the case of martial artists, an ethical code of the martial arts that
is inculcated into students by their instructors. Therefore, the additional problem here
is the internalization of values of Far Eastern martial arts. The topic of research
conducted in Central Europe is the maintenance of ethical rules and pure amateurship
in of martial arts circles. In this context, a newly evolved model of physical culture
ascetic or neo-ascetic has been described (Cynarski, 2001; Obodyski & Cynarski,
2003). The internalization of the rules of axionormative martial arts systems is also an
important aspect of cultural exchange and adjustment in the process of globalization
(Cynarski, 2003). As results of research conducted by the author show, a great number
of instructors of Far Eastern martial arts obey ethical rules that are present in the codes
of the various schools of martial arts.
Institutionalization is also evident in the creation of a system of social and
professional roles in the martial arts. The professions of instructor and businessman,
both operating in the market of martial arts, are each connected with the professionalization of the martial arts. People with martial arts function, depending on talent and
type of personality, occupy various professional and social roles. Some are outstanding
technicians, e.g. the prematurely deceased Bruce Lee (1940-1973). Some instructors
become highly respected teachers, while others in the context of martial arts
becoming sports become trainers and activists. A social role results from the expectations of a group towards a particular person, and it is also the product of their idea of
the role in question and the sum of their objective social conditions (life situation) as
well as their personal predispositions. Models of the senpai roles the elders in a
dojo (place of way) group and the sensei (teacher) are partly characterized by
tradition, partially by memory of ones own experience of a particular person. Thus,
socialization through Far Eastern martial arts is teaching of its action in a particular
role from a student to a master.
Institutionalization also relates to the organizational development of martial arts
societies (Cynarski, 2000a; 2004). This process can be seen at three levels: 1) in an
organizational structure imposed by authorities (ordering); 2) in a growth of the
number of organizations operating in this field (quantity, though, does not always
mean quality); 3) in respect for organizations.
Traditionalists base their approach on the authority of Asian masters and tradition.
Other representatives of the martial arts, however, are guided more by the local rules
and the authority of local societies and associations, as is frequently seen, for example,
in Poland and Germany. (This has the dubious benefit of making it easier to gain
higher master degrees.) Aiming to have representatives in the important international
federations and to obtain money from their respective ministry of sport, leaders of
particular martial arts have been racing against each other to register their associations.
From among a large number of German organizations of martial arts, the German
Association of Dan Holders and Budo Teachers (DDBV e.V.), which is well known
for the high standard of its technical criteria and rigorous application of its rules,
recognizes only about a dozen.


Wojciech J. Cynarski

National, continental and world organizations control the further development of

the martial arts to a certain extent especially the varieties which became sports and
have applied to gain Olympic recognition. Other martial arts often remain in the hands
of private schools run by descendants of ancient Chinese, Japanese or Korean masters.
A number of new eclectic styles of fight have appeared, created for the sake of
somebodys personal ambitions or greed. Cooperation between clubs, associations and
particular instructors depends fundamentally on the whim of those running them.
The institution of student and master degrees, as a measure of the level of
education, has been borrowed from Japanese martial arts to be used for various
Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or twentieth-century American and European martial
arts. It means awarding technically-determined degrees by way of examinations and
conferring honorary degrees as well as master titles. In the martial arts, the way to the
highest technical degree is most frequently divided into two stages: 6-10 kyu and 3-7
dan. They are student and master degrees, but in some schools students take exams to
obtain dan degrees directly. At a higher level, honorary degrees and titles are awarded.
In these cases, all the achievements and the reputation of the martial arts teacher are
considered: teaching achievements, education, promotion of students to master degrees, active popularization (publications), prestige of the school, impeccable morality
and respect in the community of martial arts.
The awarding of honorary degrees, especially the highest ones, is practiced differently in various countries. In Japan, there are few jujutsu hanshi with 9 dan, and there
is probably no 10 dan master at the moment. On the other hand, in Germany alone
there are at least about a dozen holders of the highest degrees. What does this result
from? Is it not a symptom of the devaluation of honorary master degrees? On the one
hand, jujutsu is not very popular in Japan at the moment. On the other hand, it is very
hard to obtain the highest master degrees there. Therefore, they are more often
awarded and accepted in Europe and the USA. Here, honourable master assemblies are
replaced by national and international federations. The same applies to the highest
master titles. Sometimes, a European grand master is only an outstanding technician.
The really outstanding experts who have been involved in the development of jujutsu
in Europe over the past hundred years have been few.
The training of instructors is a separate topic. Traditionally, it has taken place in
direct contact between the master and his student, and in private schools. Now, the
training of instructors and the awarding of appropriate licences, distinctions and honorary titles, degrading in justified cases, recognition of status and conformity with
regulations are in most cases in the hands of sports authorities. Of course, national and
international licences and entitlements can demonstrate the institutional advancement
of particular martial arts. So the training of instructors, trainers and judges and supplementary education are an important goal for these associations. The teaching of martial
arts has not yet acquired fully mature and universally standardized benchmarks
(Cynarski & Obodyski, 2004). Institutions originating in the traditions of the feudal
society of Japan and Confucian China mix with the modern market orientation of
companies teaching the martial arts, e.g. in the USA.

The institutionalization of martial arts


The training of teaching staff in the martial arts has a long tradition in the Far
East. In Thang Long (todays Hanoi), Vietnam, as early as the eleventh century, there
was an academy of the martial arts awarding the title of doctor of the knowledge of
war. Studies took three to five years, and students were required to take eleven
exams. In the sixteenth century, a treatise on the Vietnamese martial arts was written,
and this demonstrated the already high level of systematically codified knowledge on
the subject. It is also known that in feudal Japan the teaching of martial arts was very
professional and wide-ranging. In the Nisshinkan Institute, for example, samurais from
the Aizu clan were required to study Chinese classics, religion and national literature,
calligraphy, etiquette, classical music, mathematics, medicine and astronomy as well
as military skills (archery, spear-fighting, fencing, jujutsu, the use of firearms, horseriding, swimming in armour and the art of fortification), and, optionally, tea-making,
poetry, poetic improvization and hunting.
The actual state of affairs is far different from what one might expect. Various
institutions (including private ones) award doctorates of martial arts to practising
experts. Many American non-accredited universities award academic degrees in the
martial arts, e.g. the Martial Science University in Los Angeles, the Israeli International Budo Academy (IBA), the British International Budo Association and other
institutions taking advantage of global Internet possibilities. What is interesting is the
fact that the American Society of Martial Arts recognizes the degrees awarded by
these schools, and holders of the degrees pride themselves on having obtained them.
In general, as is shown by an analysis of offers, doctorates in the
martial arts can be obtained for US$ 540-3000. Sometimes, fee-paying
membership is required by a particular organization. Requirements of
other kind especially the content-related ones are very diverse. It
has been possible for a long time to buy a certificate confirming the
right to wear a black belt and claim master degrees (business-type
frauds are known in the international community of the martial arts),
and now it is quite easy to get the right letters after ones name
(Cynarski & Obodyski 2004).
Other forms of action accepted in the field of martial arts are especially traditional
exhibitions, tournaments, training camps, training or master fieldwork trips abroad,
integrative events of sayonara party type etc. In general, the development of institutionalization is conducive to regulation in the field of social and cultural functioning of
the martial arts, particularly when these have been imported by foreign cultures.
It would be undoubtedly helpful and valuable to establish commissions of
scientific research in sports associations and federations of martial arts, which would
facilitate an approximation of sciences of physical culture, the interdisciplinary theory
of martial arts (including sociology of martial arts) and dojo training.
The martial arts movement has been developing quite spontaneously. Teaching
and forms of promotion originating in the spirit of organization of the Western world
overlap with traditional forms of teaching and approval of degrees and titles of the


Wojciech J. Cynarski

system passed on by tradition. Private companies and schools award degrees, including the scientific ones. However, some initiatives seem to be interesting e.g.
introductory study majors in the field of martial arts.

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Wojciech Jan Cynarski is a Professor at the University of Rzeszw. He is Head of the
Department of Combat Sports and Individual Sports, and Chair of Sport in the Faculty of
Physical Education, University of Rzeszw. He is a doctor habilitated of physical culture
sciences and sociologist of culture and sport. His areas of research and teaching are: the
sociology of tourism and recreation; globalization and dialogues of cultures; the theory of
martial arts; the oriental philosophy of sport (contact: