There is a new and exciting topic in the martial arts, and that is the burgeoning prevalence of ‘Martial Arts Studies’ both within and without Academia.

Martial Arts Studies has been defined as ‘the field of martial arts studies must necessarily involve the study of film, media and global movements in popular culture, as much as the movements of history, peoples,and communities in terms of regional, national and ethnic cultures and practices.’ (Martial Arts Studies Network, JOMEC Journal), crucially as the study of martial arts and it’s culture. Part of this definition allows for the study of the types of information which exists within the topic, and within specific examples of martial arts.

One often overlooked subcomponent of the topic perhaps seems to be the actual ‘martial’ information which is within the system itself. The ‘functional’ data. Martial Arts have also been defined as ‘embodied knowledge’ (Farrer, 2011), yet we might further expand the scope of this concept to embrace the potentiality for it to accept all forms of multi-dimensional information which might comprise a martial art.

As an interdisciplinary topic, we might look elsewhere for inspiration for our study. Yet if we were to say that the purpose of martial arts are for self-actualisation and self-improvement, then the life-coaches and spiritualist teachers will reach this purpose sooner. If we say that the purpose of martial art is for fitness, then Cross-fit instructors and Cross-training exponents will reach this end much sooner. And for each facet of the martial arts, the cultural, philosophical et al. purposes which might be overlaid onto them we find concurrent examples of studies which will, in their own right, fulfil that purpose much sooner[1].

1st Order Systemics:


1st Order Systemics exhibits the granular investigation of each school of martial art to appraise the range of knowledge within the System. It embarks on the investigation to answer the following questions:

  1. Identification of Objects: What information is present within the System? What information is absent from the System?
  2. Relationships of Objects (Models): How is the information structured? How does each piece relate to the others?
  3. Views: How is the information presented for learning? In what way is the information reordered for presentation to the student. Are there mechanics or components invented for the purpose of learning? Are they at odds with the content of the System?
  4. How does the pedagogy reframe the meaning of the System’s information?
  5. Why is the System comprised in this way?
  6. Why is the System structured in this way?

During this process, we catalogue the System’s information, based upon the model defined by the Founder, or the chief of the school. These are made from three dimensions:

  1. what the actions are (biomechanics),
  2. what they are called (semiotics, naming conventions), and the compound produced by the two former concepts,
  3. what they mean,
  4. what they are intended to teach,
  5. how that component influences the meaning of the System.

These cover the following topic areas:

  • Techniques
  • Worked Examples (pre-arranged, predesigned behaviour patterns):
    • Single-person, embodiment (Knowledge performance, ‘forms’)
    • Applied: Two-person, embodiment (‘fixed’ sparring)



2nd Order Systemics:

2nd Order Systemics are designed to compare the aggregate of 1st Order Systemics to compare Systems with other Systems.

  1. How does the Object compare to the substance of another Object?
  2. Classifications: In what way can Objects be categorised based upon shared components/traits? Is there a hierarchy involved? Do the traditional classifications (‘Internal’/’External’, ‘Nationality’, ‘Fighting Ranges’) stand up to interrogation?
  3. What are the System’s solutions, and how do they solve problems in their intended environment

So the ultimate question may be answered, ‘Are Martial Arts fundamentally different in characteristics based purely upon the nature of the data which comprise them?’

Further questions which are the concern of Eskirmologists are:

  • Who has organized, codified and selected the repeatable actions and techniques which comprise the system?
  • What was his frame of experience for developing behaviours? Had he experienced all possible combinations and variations of the combats?
  • What was his philosophy, world-view and what were his influences?
  • What were his personal physical attributes and how did they contrive to influence and engineer his selections.
  • Which combats did he have in mind for his Combat System?
  • Which combats did he not have in mind?
  • Why did he select these particular repeatable actions and not the ones omitted part of his system?
    • What is the strategic basis of his approach?
    • What is the technical basis of his approach?
    • What is the structure applied to that body of actions?
    • What is the actual intended function of those behaviours?
  • Did the system undergo a “quality control” process, and if so, how was the system pressure-tested and measured for its effectiveness in the intended combat environment?
    • How has any negative feedback affected the development of the Combat System?
  • Does the system apply with other combats which it had not been designed for?
  • What is the effect of teaching the system on the design of the system?


We may subsequently make the following extrapolations, that a Combat System is;


  1. The product of experience and inquiry in to combat (therefore it is necessary to assess the “Frame”, influences and world-view which lead him to create the system in this format).
  2. System: Defined techniques and theory, and subsequent repetition and retaining of a set of rituals originating from 1.
  3. Behaviour and skill modification (devised combat drills, accommodation exercises)
  4. Instructionist method: Pedagogical devices to transmit some of system and training exercises to others.

[1] “Jesus said, ‘If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.’ (Gospel of St. Thomas, Naghammadi, Item 3);

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