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An Ethnographic Study of Mixed Martial Arts: Experiencing Storytelling on the Mats

Case
By: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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Abstract

This case study focuses on my 6-year ethnographic exploration of the mixed martial arts schools that dot the suburban and rural landscape surrounding the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. These schools are filled with participants, predominantly men, who spend their lunch hours and after work learning to strike each other with fist and foot and submit each other through joint-locks and chokes. In conducting the research, I set out to better understand the allure of participation in mixed martial arts and examine how participants justify their engagement with the painful, expensive, and still somewhat controversial practice. In this case study, I reflect on some of the key methodological decisions I made as I entered the site and trained and competed alongside the men who filled the gyms. I focus on how I learned to take the talk occurring in the site seriously. In this sense, participation allowed me insight not only into the physical experience but also into the power of stories being told. I suggest that these insights would not have been possible through observation or interview alone.

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