By Jon J. Donohue
This is an analysis of the martial arts as socio-cultural and symbolic phenomena. As Americans search for a sense of purpose, belonging, and structure in life, they have chosen an Asian cultural tradition and changed it to suit the needs of contemporary American society. A brief historical summary of the development of martial arts in Japan sets the scene for the reinterpretation of the role of these arts by American mass media. Donohue, an anthropologist with a black belt in karate, explores the important role that the martial arts play in the American psyche. As a means of developing personal power, self-defense systems are aesthetic and spiritual practices as well as statements of urban paranoia reacting against street violence and life-threatening situations. Martial arts organizations are seen as symbolic vehicles for enmeshing participants in constellations of actions and philosophies that create a sense of self and community.