I recently noted that it is necessary to begin historical discussions by specifying whether we are examining events (or practices) as they actually happened, or the evolution of ideas about them. This is not to say that these two spheres are totally separate. Indeed, our beliefs about what is proper, and where practices came from, tend to have a notable effect on how things like the martial arts develop. But different types of research questions often call for their own sources and methods.
Once we decide that we are going to address the history of an idea, we must still specify who held these beliefs and how they evolved over time. While ideas about martial arts might be more widely spread than their actual practice, they are still far from universal. Such images are always partial, fungible and slowly shifting. It is that incompleteness that makes them useful to…
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