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It hurts so it is real: sensing the seduction of mixed martial arts

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This paper explores the seduction of pain within the increasingly popular practice of mixed martial arts. It is based on a three-year ethnographic study of training schools in Minnesota. Within these sites, often-affluent men train their bodies in combat skills, learning to strike and grapple, while building a community around the shared exchange of pain. The drive is often explained with a variation of the statement: ‘I do this because you don't know who you are … you don't feel alive … until you get hit.’ This paper contributes to the growing body of geographic literature centered on practice and affect. Within this approach, there has been little appreciation of physical and violent encounters. Appreciation of the role of pain shifts focus to the moment when the body retreats in upon itself, becoming a united mass of flesh and nerves. I suggest that pain attracts participants through serving three purposes within these fight-based schools: (1) it provides confidence that the experience is ‘real’; (2) it is itself an avenue to encounter the body as a united ‘self’ with clear limits and boundaries; (3) it establishes intimacy between participants, which is necessary for the formation of community within each site.
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Keywords: afecto; affect; artes marciales mixtas; arts martiaux mixtes; body; communauté; community; comunidad; corps; cuerpo; dolor; douleur; mixed martial arts; pain

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, 909 Social Sciences, 267 19th Ave S Minneapolis, MN, 55455, USA

Publication date: 01 June 2011

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