Sarah Elizabeth Smith Mkin Paper Presentation

Title: “Creating a Fighter: Embodiment and Agency in Theatrical Martial Arts and Combat Performances”

Supervisor: Dr. Andrea Bundon
Second Reader: Patricia Vertinsky

Abstract: Martial arts and combat sports (MACS) encompass a wide variety of bodily expressions of culture, history, athleticism, and martial skills. Practitioners of MACS perform movements usually meant to physically overcome another person(s) in combat or self-defense. In film/television/theatre settings individuals give MACS performances as representations of martial ability; they embody fighters to create credible, skilled characters. This small study seeks to better understand how practitioners utilize concepts of agency, embodiment, and practice in MACS performances given in film/television settings. Based on interviews with four MACS practitioners currently working as stunt/body doubles the author identified five interrelated themes; risk, performance construction, believability, collective practices in embodiment, and expertise representation. These themes illustrate how individuals conceptualize their MACS performances and use their bodily knowledge to create characters recognizable to broader audiences as “fighters”.