Supernatural sources of martial power: a cross-cultural investigation


  • Jared Miracle Texas A&M University



Martial arts, cross-cultural, Boxer Rebellion, Afro-Atlantic, sohei, Dog-Men Society, anthropology


This paper utilizes a cross-cultural comparison model of cultural inquiry to approach the question of whether or not there are generalizable trends in the intersection of fighting arts and cultural conceptions of the supernatural. The methods are outlined and background presented to explain how the investigation was undertaken. Sources are limited to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and bounded geographically. The regions included are the Japanese archipelago, China, the Afro-Atlantic, the Great Plains of North America, and the Indian subcontinent. The five regions were chosen at random and do not represent an attempt to be comprehensive. Explanation of the evidence is followed by a comparative discussion. While further study is required, the most apparent tentative conclusion is that cultural understanding of supernatural intervention combines with the martial arts in cases where not only physical, but socio-political power is sought in asymmetrical conflict.


Download data is not yet available.

Métricas alternativas

Author Biography

Jared Miracle, Texas A&M University

Jared Miracle is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA. His dissertation research focuses on fighting arts in a transnational and cross-cultural context. He has been a martial artist since childhood, was a boxer at Japan’s KTT Gym under Naito Toshihiro, and studies Shinkage-ryu swordmanship with Watanabe Tadashige. His research interests include East Asian folk narratives, history, religion and the supernatural, dueling, and Asian-American culture.


Abrahams, R. D. (1983). The man-of-words in the West Indies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Abrahams, R. D. (1985). African American folktales. New York: Pantheon.

Abrahams, R. D., Spitzer, N., Szwed, J. F., & Thompson, R. F. (2006). Blues for New Orleans: Mardi Gras and America’s Creole soul. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.

Adolphson, M. S. (2007). The teeth and claws of the Buddha. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Bolster, J. W. (1997). Black jacks. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Cave, A. A. (2002). The shawnee prophet, tecumseh, and tippecanoe: a case study of historical myth-making. Journal of the Early Republic, 22(4), 637-673.

Dasgupta, A. (1982). The fakir and sannyasi rebellion. Social Scientist, 10(1), 44-55.

Drewel, M. T. (1992). Yoruba ritual. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Edmunds, R. D. (1983). Tecumseh, the Shawnee prophet, and American history: a reassessment. The Western Historical Quarterly, 14(3), 261-276.

Ellis, C. (1999). "We don't want your rations, we want this dance": the changing use of song and dance on the southern plains. The Western Historical Quarterly, 30(2), 133-154.

Ember, C. R. & Ember, M. (2001). Cross-cultural research methods. New York: AltaMira Press.

Fine, G. A. & Ellis, B. (2010). The global grapevine. New York: Oxford University Press.

Friday, K. & Seki, H. (1997). Legacies of the sword. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Galbraith, J. S. (1982). Appeals to the supernatural: African and New Zealand comparisons with the Ghost Dance. Pacific Historical Review, 51(2), 115-133.

Green, T. A. (2003). Introduction. In T. A. Green & J. R. Svinth (Eds.), Martial arts in the modern world (pp. xi-xiii). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Green, T. A. (2010). Plains Indian Warrior Societies. In T. A. Green & J. R. Svinth (Eds.), Martial Arts of the World (pp. 651-657). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Green, T. A. (Ed.) (2009). African American folktales. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Green, T. A. & Svinth, J. R. (2010). Belief systems. In T. A. Green & J. R. Svinth (Eds.), Martial arts of the world (pp. 331-332). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Green, T. A. & White, E. (2010). Belief systems: Africa. In T. A. Green & J. R. Svinth (Eds.), Martial arts of the world (pp. 332-338). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Gump, J. O. (1994). The dust rose like smoke. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press.

Hansen, W. (2008). When tengu talk. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Kaur, R. (2002). Martial imagery in Western India: The changing face of Ganapati since the 1890s. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 25(1), 69-96.

Klapp, O. E. (1954). The clever hero. The Journal of American Folklore, 67(263), 21-34.

Knutsen, R. (2011). Tengu: the shamanic and esoteric origins of the Japanese martial arts. Kent, UK: Global Oriental.

Lewis, J. L. (1992). Ring of liberation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lorenzen, D. N. (1978). Warrior ascetics in Indian history. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 98(1), 61-75.

Moore, J. H. (1974). Cheyenne political history, 1820-1894. Ethnohistory, 21(4), 329-359.

Perry, E. J. (1984). Collective violence in China, 1880-1980. Theory and Society, 13(3), 427-454.

Riggio, M. (1998). Resistance and identity: Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. The Drama Review, 42(3), 7-23.

Said, E. W. [1978] (1994). Orientalism. New York: Random House.

Shishida, F. & Flynn, S. M. (2013). How does the philosophy of martial arts manifest itself? Insight from Japanese martial arts. Ido Movement for Culture. Journal of Martial Arts Anthropology, 13(3), 29-36.

Spencer, J. (1909). Shawnee folk-lore. The Journal of American Folklore, 22(85), 319-326.

Svinth, J. R. (2010). Social uses of the martial arts. In T. A. Green & J. R. Svinth (Eds.), Martial arts of the world (pp. xix-xxi). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Thompson, R. F. (1987). Black martial arts of the Caribbean. Review: Latin

American Literature and Arts, 37, 44-47.

Tu, C., Green, T. A., Zheng, G., & Feng, Q. (2013). Dragon Dance in Tu Village: Social cohesion and symbolic warfare. Ido Movement for Culture. Journal of Martial Art Anthropology, 13(1), 1-9.

Turner, B. (2003). Warrior charisma and the spiritualization of violence. Body & Society, 9(4), 93-108.

Wilson, L., Facal, G., Grave, J. M., & Green, T.A. (2010). Political conflict and the invulnerable body. In T. A. Green & J. R. Svinth (Eds.), Martial arts of the world (pp. 622-625). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Zarrilli, P. B. (1989). Three bodies of practice in a traditional South Indian martial art. Social Science & Medicine, 28(12), 1289-1309.




How to Cite

Miracle, J. (2014). Supernatural sources of martial power: a cross-cultural investigation. Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 9(1), 42–53.