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Looking East and South: Philosophical Reflections on Taijiquan and Capoeira

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posted on 2023-11-06, 16:21 authored by George JenningsGeorge Jennings, Sara Delmont

n a precarious occupation, martial arts instructors must be inspiring and build a shared philosophy. Drawing on Taijiquan and Capoeira, which have their philosophical or epistemological roots in Asia and Africa, this article explores core concepts that feature in students’ enculturation. These concepts are grounded in epistemologies contrasting with Papineau’s work on popular and elite sport, Knowing the Score. More specifically, the philosophical approach used builds upon Papineau’s chapters on focus, cheating and racism, although these martial practices are not grounded in the Judeo-Christian Western epistemologies underlying Papineau’s thinking. Indeed, one of the attractions for Western Capoeira and Taijiquan students is precisely their “strange” or exotic philosophical concepts driving specific pedagogical practices. Ethnographic fieldwork in Britain and written and oral accounts of embodied expertise are used to explore the practical uses of these non-Western epistemologies by teachers to build shared cultures for their students. Specifically, we examine the concepts of axé (life force) and malicia (artful trickery) in Capoeira, noting its contrast to Western ideas of energy and fair play. We then examine Taijiquan and the concepts of song (鬆 or “letting go”) and ting (听 or “focused listening”), considering the movement skill of systematic relaxation and the focus on specific components of human anatomy and body technique among adults unlearning embodied tension built throughout their lives. We close with considerations for projects examining the diverse, alternative southern, non-Western, and potentially decolonial and subaltern epistemologies in such martial activities.





  • VoR (Version of Record)


Jennings, George, and Sara Delamont. (2023) 'Looking East and South: Philosophical Reflections on Taijiquan and Capoeira', Philosophies 8, no. 6: 101.

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Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences

Cardiff Met Authors

George Jennings

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group

  • Qualitative Research Methods and Social Theory

Copyright Holder

  • © The Authors


  • en

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