Cardiff Metropolitan University
Brown, Jennings, Contreras-Islas, Yun and Dod_George Jennings.pdf (764.97 kB)
Download file

Sacred Imagery and the Sacralisation of Violence in the Martial Arts

Download (764.97 kB)
journal contribution
posted on 2022-10-24, 14:49 authored by David BrownDavid Brown, George JenningsGeorge Jennings, David Sebastian Contreras Islas, Jungjoo Yun, Simon Dodd

 Engaging   in   martial   combat,   whether   for   military,   self-defence   or   cultivation purposes, is taken to sensitise practitioners towards existential issues which in turn enliven potential religio-spiritual experiences and awakenings. In this paper, we  draw  on  Girard’s  (1977) Violence  and  the  Sacred, and  in  particular  his  proposition that,  “religion  shelters  us  from  violence  just  as  violence  seeks  shelter  in  religion” (Girard,  [1977]  2005:  25)  to  examine  sacralisation  processes  in  the  traditional martial arts with a particular focus on highlighting how violence, sacralised through sacred  imagery,  is  used  as  a  structuring  force  to  instill  dispositions  that  counter ubiquitous  human  tendencies  towards  unfettered  violence  and  violent  vengeance. We  highlight  the  phenomenon  and  function  of  sacred  imagery  used  in  martial  arts with  very  different  cultural,  ethnic,  and  spiritual  influences,  specifically:  Japanese Karate, Korean Taekwondo, Brazilian Capoeira and Mexican Xilam. For authenticity, each  section  is  written  by  an  experienced  scholar-practitioner  of  the  art  and combines  literary,  empirical,  and  biographical  reflection.  Despite  these  variations, we  identify  two  modalities  of  sacred  imagery  use.  The first  is  representational imagery  used  as  sacred  signifiers  which  embed  the  art  in  a  tradition  of  sacred attachment. The second form of sacred imagery is metaphorical discourse which is designed   to   invoke   creative   visualisations   aligning   practitioners   with   idealised experiential  states  taken  to  have  sacred  (as  well  as  practical)  value  in  relation  to combat. We conclude that the use of sacred imagery in these ways becomes part of an affective body pedagogy used by the traditionalist martial arts to transfer valued knowledge   through   the   corporeal   medium   to   offset   and   sacralise   violent tendencies.   It   is   qualified   that   in   practice,   this   sacralisation   process   involves complex  entanglements  of  the  cultural  origins,  practitioner  interpretation  and  the contemporary  context  of  the  martial  art  in  question.  The  outcome  is  an  evolving sacralisation process which rests in constant tension with the underlying problems initiated by the ubiquitous body-in-conflict problem and the propensity for violence and violent vengeance that the learning of combative skills might otherwise unleash in the body and onto society. 


Published in

Imago: A journal of the social imaginary


Edizioni Mimesis


  • VoR (Version of Record)


Brown, D.H.K., Jennings, G., Islas, D.S.C., Yun, J. and Dodd, S. (2022) 'Sacred Imagery and the Sacralisation of Violence in the Martial Arts', Im@ go. A Journal of the Social Imaginary, (19), pp.35-66.

Electronic ISSN


Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences

Cardiff Met Authors

David Brown George Jennings Simon Dodd

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group

  • Qualitative Research Methods and Social Theory

Copyright Holder

  • © The Authors


  • en

Usage metrics

    Culture, Policy and Professional Practice - Journal Articles