Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
FounderRichard Francis Burton
Key people
  • Richard Francis Burton
  • A.H. Pitt Rivers
  • Bronislaw Malinowski
  • Donn Draeger
  • Mahipal Lunia
  • Michael J Ryan
  • T.J. Obi
  • Hunter Armstrong

Hoplology is the study of human combative behavior and performance.

Etymology and history of the term[edit]

The word hoplology is derived from the Greek terms hoplos (a mythical plate-armored animal) and ὅπλον hóplon, the equipment carried by some warriors in ancient Greece. The word hoplite, derived from hoplon, is the term for the classical Greek warrior who carried such equipment. The field originates in the 19th century with Sir Richard Burton; although the origin of the word is often attributed to Burton, there are earlier references to it.[1] Despite the work of Burton and a few others, it was not until the 1960s that hoplology took shape as an academic field of study under the leadership of Donn F. Draeger.[1]

Hoplology was at some time defined as the science of "arms and weapons of offense and defence, human and bestial" (Burton, 1884),[2] and subsequently as "the study of the basis, patterns, relationships, and significances of combative behavior at all levels of social complexity" (Draeger, 1982).[3]

Sid Campbell, a black belt level, tenth dan-ranked in karate, defines hoplology as "the study of the evolution and development of human combative behaviour and performance ... the study of how people fight, why they fight, and how different cultures manifest those behaviours."[4]

More recently, hoplology is defined as the investigation and analysis of all forms of armed combat. It is most productively seen as an embodied event where the physiological and neurological structures of those individuals taking part in a combative encounter shape and, in turn, are shaped by cultural norms of what is right, effective, and efficient and so changes overtime and across space. As in all human encounters, every combat event is accompanied by a form of material technology and has been learned through a process of apprenticeship.

Warriors, scholars, explorers and their hoplologies[edit]

1800s – The accidental hoplologists: Burton & Pitt-Rivers[edit]

Richard Francis Burton

Several pioneering anthropologists were also contributing to the field of hoplology while Burton was active. A retired military officer who fought in the Crimean War, A.H.L. Pitt-Rivers developed a now outdated view of human evolution. Cultures, he concluded, evolved through time from technologically simpler societies to technologically complex societies. In other words, progress is an integral aspect of human history. Primitive Warfare 2. Oxford: The Journal of the Royal United Service Institution Vol. XII 1868 NO. LI. Working in the Trobriand Islands (just off Australia) around the time of WWI, the renowned Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski also delved into the field of hoplology. "War and Weapons Among the Natives of the Trobriand Islands". Man. Vol. 20 pg.10-12 (1920).

A H Pitt Rivers

Hoplology has always had a theoretical and practical orientation. Seeking to introduce more effective forms of close quarter combat to British soldiers Burton wrote two instructional manuals “ A Complete System of Bayonet Fighting.” London: William Clowes and Sons. 1853. And “A New System of Sword exercise for Infantry.” London: William Clowes and Sons.1876. while the memoir by the ex-Hussar F.J Norman's “The Fighting Man of Japan: the training and exercise of the samurai.” London: Archibald Constable & CO.

1900s – The surveyors: Malinowski, Banks, Draeger and Armstrong[edit]

During the post WWII era the International Hoplology Society ("IHS") was established by Major Donn F. Draeger (USMC Ret.) to study the evolution and development of human combative behavior. Draeger had prior research and personal experience of classical fighting systems. Draeger's student and colleague, Hunter B. Armstrong, went on to carry on Draeger's project as director of IHS. He continues closely with military and law enforcement, and has been central to the most recent recreation of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). Also, during this time working with Basil Richardson of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Roald Knutsen's wrote "Japanese Spear: Polearms and Their Use in Old Japan" (1963). Here he not only described the morphology of these weapons but explored how they were used by different schools or “ryu.”.[5]

Bronislaw Malinowski

During the 1970s, The Republic of China began a number of academically based (and often government funded) investigations into several folk combat traditions. One drawback to many of these works is that they have yet to be translated in English, limiting the exposure of their findings. In other cases, they were inspired by ethno-nationalist or ideological considerations and no real effort has been made to engage with the growing international literature on Martial Arts Studies.

Major expeditions

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1914–1918: Trobriand Islands. An alien enemy on allied land, Malinowski engaged in long-term research of Trobiand culture including warfare, raiding, inter-village conflict and war – magic.

Banks, E. 1930s (est.). Sarawak Island, Indonesia. Research on weapons of the inhabitants of Sarawak.

Draeger, Donn. 1979. Sumatra, Draeger and his team visited the island of Sumatra. While visiting the Aceh tribe there, it appears that the entire group was somehow poisoned, perhaps deliberately.[6]

Overview of Draeger-IHS approach to hoplology[edit]

Hoplology (as professed by Draeger-IHS) has three main research areas: technological, functional, and behavioral.[citation needed]

  • Technological hoplology studies the development of weapons, armor, and other combative tools in relation to the contexts in which they are created.
  • Functional hoplology delves into the structure, development, and organization of combative systems and their relationship to the application of fighting and weapons.
  • Behavioral hoplology encompasses the psychological and physiological factors that affect human's combative behavior and development of combative capabilities such as weapons or fighting systems. The broad subject range of behavioral hoplology means it also includes the effects that culture has had on man's evolution as a group-social animal.

There are three IHS axioms in hoplological studies.[3]

  • human combative behavior is rooted in man's evolution.
  • humans exhibit two types of aggression: affective aggression and predatory aggression. Both forms evolved from different survival needs as both a group-social animal and as a hunting animal.
  • the evolution of human combative behavior is directly linked to the use of weapons. That is to say that the use of weapons is linked with and reflects combative performance and behavior.

A variation on the pragmatics of hoplological understanding is found in theatrical representations of combat.[7]

The Draeger-IHS hoplological view on violence: The entrenched nature of violence in human behavior is generally well understood. The skill and potential of deadly aggression is something within human genetics which predisposes humans to violent behavior. However, the genetics that predispose humans to violence is highly influenced by environmental factors. Humans will only tap into their violent potential once the need has arisen. Human genetics have developed an on-off switch in the brain. On the on side "…the fighting activity itself is stimulated by individual and communal thrill, enjoyment in the competitive exercise of spiritual and physical faculties, and even cruelty, blood lust, and killing ecstasy." (Gat 2006) On the off-side violence is deterred away by emotions through fear, revulsion at violence and bloodshed, physical fatigue, compassion, and spirituality. So if the environmental factors that cause a man to be violent are present, then he will be violent. If the environmental factors that cause a man to be violent are not present, he will abstain and deter violence.[8]


  1. ^ a b Wiley, Mark V. "Hoplology and Combative Culture: Part 1". The International Hoplology Society. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  2. ^ Richard Francis Burton - The Book of the Sword: A History of Daggers, Sabers, and Scimitars from Ancient Times to the Modern Day - 7th page of Chapter 1 - Preamble: on the Origin of Weapons published by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. 20 November 2013, 336 pages, ISBN 1628738472 [Retrieved 2015-07-27]
  3. ^ a b International Hoplology Society - home-page published by the International Hoplology Society, Inc. 1998-2007
  4. ^ Sid Campbell - Warrior Arts and Weapons of Ancient Hawai'i Blue Snake Books 2006, 266 pages, ISBN 1583941606 [Retrieved 2015-07-30]
  5. ^ Masters Magazine Spring 2019 pg 35
  6. ^ Nurse, Paul (May 2006). "Donn F. Draeger: The Life and times of an American Martial Arts Pioneer". Black Belt Magazine. Vol. 44 no. 5. Rainbow Publications, Inc. p. 122.
  7. ^ Langsner, Meron (2006). "Chapter 10. Theatre Hoplology: simulations and representations of violence on the stage". In Constantinidi, Stratos E. (ed.). Text & Presentation. McFarland. p. 112. ISBN 0786455411.
  8. ^ Gat, Azar. War in Human Civilization. New York: Oxford UP, USA, 2006. Print

Further reading[edit]

  • Amburger, Christopher, The secret history of the sword adventures in ancient Martial arts
  • Carolyn Conley (1999) The agreeable recreation of fighting, Journal of social history
  • Desch Obi, TJ (2008) Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Art in the Atlantic World (Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World)
  • Draeger, Donn F. (1979). An Introduction to Hoplology: Part I of II, Hoplos 1:1
  • Draeger, Donn F. (1979). An Introduction to Hoplology: Part II of II, Hoplos 1:2
  • Draeger, Donn F. (1982). The Hoplological Glossary, Hoplos 4:1
  • Forde, Philip (2018) Blocking both Hand and Foot: An Examination of Bajan Sticklicking (Phd. Thesis)
  • Lee, Wilson (2015) Martial Arts and Body Politic in Indonesia
  • Ryan, Michael (2016) Venezuelan Stick Fighting: The Civilizing Process in Martial Arts

External links[edit]