American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Mindful Movement as a Cure for Colonialism

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Ethnic Studies

First Advisor

Vikki Krane

Second Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Marv Belzer (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Don Callen (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Christina Guenther (Committee Member)


This study investigated aikido, a martial art that emphasizes non-violent conflict resolution. After an extensive period of preliminary research including personal study of aikido and historiographical contextualization of aikido lore, fifteen aikido students and instructors were interviewed, and thirty-four students were observed during a total of sixty-four classes at two different aikido schools, each of which were led by female head instructors who taught a mixed-sex student body. Ethnographic data was analyzed from a multidisciplinary perspective that blends feminist cultural studies with decolonial and psychoanalytic theories. Connections between research participants' understandings of the concept of power and their approaches to conflict resolution are explored. Participants described power as: physically internal, the ability to be grounded and centered, the ability to direct and re-direct energy, the ability to maintain awareness of one's self and environment, and the ability to cultivate growth. Study participants' sense of generative power resonated interpersonally through participants' self-reported and observed conflict resolution strategies, which include: maintaining awareness of one's environment, adjusting one's posture through practices called centering and grounding, not fighting by turning (tenkan) and blending with one's "opponent" while entering (irimi) the conflict with measured assertiveness, and maintaining a capacity for a wide range of reactions (ukemi). Participants demonstrated an ability to think about and productively engage with large-scale social conflicts (such as gender violence) by relying on philosophically and kinesthetically sophisticated understandings of links between the personal and the political. This is because the movement practice aikido challenges colonial ways of knowing by functioning as an embodied meta-ideological deconstruction, one of several (r)evolutionary tactics discussed in decolonial feminist theory. This dissertation concludes with a meditation on the application of aikido philosophy to a practical deconstruction of the social institutions of contemporary American imperialism.