I just stumbled upon this excellent quote by Dr. Karl Friday from his book Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryū and Samurai Martial Culture. I think it encapsulates one of the fundamental problems in martial arts as they are currently studied.

Errors . . . persist in Western writings due in large measure to the insularity of both the audience and the authors. The overwhelming majority of the literature on Japanese martial art has been directed at practitioners and other aficionados, and penned by journalists, martial art teachers, and others without formal academic training in premodern Japanese culture or history. Not surprisingly, then, most English-language books and articles on the topic have relied almost exclusively on other English-language martial art books and articles, supplemented by survey histories. Thus, mistakes and misinformation tend to circulate and recirculate largely because those with the wherewithal to correct them – the community of experts versed in Japanese history and thought, and trained to read primary sources – have generally viewed [martial arts] with little more than bemused condescension.

Dr. Friday was talking about the confusion surrounding Japanese terms such as bugei, budo, and bujutsu. But it applies more generally to a wide variety of misconceptions about martial arts. There is very little overlap between martial artists and academia, and that is a shame. It really makes me wonder whether I should pursue a PhD.

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