I was pleasantly surprised when Aimee Grant offered me to co-convene this blog and group. I couldn’t hide the smile on my face when I checked my emails during a mid-class break. We had only properly chatted after her thought-provoking seminar for the Ethnography Study Group that I attend at Cardiff University. After exchanging some literature and ideas on using documents as data sources and in mixed qualitative methods designs, I was delighted to be one of the lucky few to soon look at some of Aimee’s forthcoming book chapters. Aimee was kind in considering me part of the Cardiff group, and her welcome showed the strength of cross-university thinking and collaboration. I hope that my different, yet complementary, academic background and experience with documents-based research and other qualitative methods approaches will help provide a balanced, interdisciplinary perspective.
I must confess that I never studied anthropology or sociology on a formal basis. Instead, I read exercise and sport sciences at the University of Exeter, and continued to postgraduate level, where I specialised in the sociology of sport and qualitative research of physical culture as part of the former Qualitative Research Unit (QRU). My PhD, which investigated the experiences of long-term practitioners of Chinese martial arts (Jennings, 2010), involved a life history approach, which followed from my previous ethnographic study of a Wing Chun Kung Fu association (Jennings, Brown & Sparkes, 2010). Up to that point, I had encountered the use of documents in martial arts cultures through the circulation of pirated DVD instructional tapes among core members of the said association, and the photocopied (and equally copyrighted!) syllabi of certain groups that marked the right of passage as new members. During my subsequent doctoral research, numerous participants eagerly mentioned the names of authors, websites and associations that were recommended for me to better understand their lifeworlds and social practices. However, due to the depth and density of the interview and observational data, I have to admit that I overlooked this possibility of using broader documents of life.
At a later point, when I had already written some articles and chapters using the interview and fieldwork data as an independent researcher and English teacher in Mexico, new possibilities emerged for me to return to the data sources cited by my former research participants. In Jennings (2014), I combined case study interviewee data with an examination of the official websites of their martial arts institutions. Within the same special edition of the open-access journal Societies, I published another article with my former PhD supervisors on a Tai Chi Chuan association and its cosmopolitan approach towards an environmental awareness (Brown, Jennings & Sparkes, 2014). Not long after that, I was able to look at new cases, as one of my students and I engaged in an analysis of an online petition calling for greater gender equality in terms of weight categories for female Olympic boxers that considered the narratives of legacy of London 2012 (Jennings & Cabrera, 2015).
Shortly before my return to the UK and full-time academia to work at Cardiff Metropolitan University, I teamed up with a colleague at the Health Advancement Research Team (HART) for a pedagogical study of the use of digital documents and media before, during and after formal Kung Fu training sessions – first published as lengthy blog article (Jennings & Vaittinen, 2016). This project coincided with another analysis of the official Facebook group, YouTube channel and website of the Xilam Mexican Martial Arts Association in terms of its engagement with the idea of a deeper, hidden Mesoamerican civilisation driving the destiny of the country (Jennings, 2016), which has now paved the way for several ongoing articles, invited talks and conference papers on the invention of this and various other Mexican fighting systems. These will continue to scrutinise the discourses, narratives and core philosophies of these emerging groups with the assistance of cultural and anthropological theory. Finally, I am fortunate to have been invited to write a chapter (Jennings, Forthcoming a) on the concept of sexuality as seen through the Aztec philosophy that is embodied in Xilam, using a strategy which juxtaposes observations, personal interviews and analysis of shared online documents. This coincides with another invited contribution on Mexican conchero dance as embodied, living heritage (Jennings, Forthcoming b) – a case study focusing on an archive lecture “The Path of Quetzalcoatl” given by the late shaman, university professor and pre-Hispanic dance pioneer, Andres Segura Granados.
Brown, D., Jennings, G. & Sparkes, A.C. (2014). Taijiquan the ‘Taiji World’ way: Towards a cosmopolitan vision of ecology. Societies, 4(3), 380-398.
Jennings, G. (Forthcoming a). Aspects of Mexican sexuality in the martial art of Xilam. In J. Piedra (Ed.), LGBTIQ people in Latin American sport. New York: Springer.
Jennings, G. (Forthcoming). Crossing borders and forms of heritage: Following the path of Quetzalcoatl of Andres Segura’s Conchero Dance. In V. Lo Iacono (Ed.), Dance as living, embodied heritage.
Jennings, G. (2016). Ancient wisdom, modern warriors: The (re)invention of a warrior tradition in Xilam. Martial Arts Studies, 2, 59-70.
Jennings, G. (2015). Transmitting health philosophies through the traditionalist Chinese martial arts in the UK. Societies, 4(4), 712-736.
Jennings, G. (2010). Fighters, thinkers and shared cultivation: Experiencing transformation through the long-term practice of traditionalist Chinese martial arts. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Exeter.
Jennings, G., Brown, D. & Sparkes, A.C. (2010). “It can be a religion if you want”: Wing Chun Kung Fu as a secular religion. Ethnography, 11(4), 533-557.
Jennings, G. & Cabrera, B. (2015). Gender inequality in Olympic boxing: Exploring structuration through the online resistance to weight category restrictions. In A. Channon & C. Matthews (Eds.), Women Warriors: International Perspectives on Women in Combat Sports (pp. 89-103). Palgrave MacMillan.
Jennings, G. & Vaittinen, A. (2016). Mediated transformation: The role of multimedia in Wing Chun pedagogies. In www.chinesemartialstudies.com (Kung Fu Tea blog).