Importing a German kampfsport: The reception and practice of Japanese martial arts in interwar Germany

Sarah Panzer, Missouri State University


During the latter half of the nineteenth century the twin motors of imperialism and globalization propelled the global diffusion of Western politics, science, industry, art-and sports, the last typically represented by the adoption of cricket across the breadth of the British Empire. The privileged status enjoyed by Western culture invariably reflected too on the sporting traditions and practices of the imperial powers. The evolution of sporting cultures in the age of empire was therefore not simply a matter of leisure and play; it was deeply embedded in the landscape of imperial modernity. In the marketplace of international sports at the turn of the century, the “winners” and “losers” were identified by their ability to conform to a certain set of values and priorities, very often the same priorities valorized within the structural framework of liberalism and capitalism. As a result, the development of modern sports, with their emphasis on increasing efficiency, rationality, and standardization, and the intrinsic value assigned to competition, mirrored the governing principles of the societies that birthed them and encouraged their global transmission. At the same time, the spread of Western sports – under the guise of benevolent internationalism – often meant that local and national sporting traditions were abandoned, delegitimated, or forced to adapt to the new “rules of the game.”.