Since the beginning of recorded history man has had the ability to know and worship God. At the same time, man has also been at odds with his fellow man, even to the extent of war and murder. In the equation of war, peace and the advancement of societal culture has come the development of the Martial arts. Every culture that has had a need to fight developed a fighting system that may be called “martial arts”, we are specifically referring to the Asian fighting systems called by this name. The Martial arts core, goals are self defense, self improvement, and strengthening the mind, body and spirit. The highest goal is to “win a fight without fighting” but if it becomes necessary, the martial artist is to defend and protect oneself and those important to his or her principles or honor (Funakoshi). Although it is undeniable that the Oriental martial arts are rooted in the very essence of Asian culture, it does not become evident to a Westerner until they have direct exposure via participation or observation. They may observe a gesture as simple as bowing into a dojo (Martial Arts Training classroom), or hear complex terminology such as the doctrines of concentrating Chakra or Chi (Spiritual Energy) in the Chinese art of Tai Chi (Cardillo). This has the tendency to make some uneasy with the martial arts.
The goal of religion (derived from a Latin word which means “To Bind”) is to approach and worship God. Most religions of the world seek after God, peace with mankind and the propagation of their message. Unfortunately, some of the common problems most religions struggle with is the question of pain, suffering, war, and how to respond to conflict in our world. Christendom is not alone in this debate, although the wisdom for these answers are presently “. . .before him that hath understanding.” (Proverbs 17:24). The point that I will make is that there are a number of Christian and Pseudo-Christian sects in Christendom that advocate the idea of pacifism. Pacifism is the belief that at no time is it proper to behave in a manner that would be considered violent, or aggressive. This applies to both service in the police and military because both require martial training and action. It also extends to believing in not protecting one’s self and family from violence by an equal and appropriate response. This paper will not address pacifism or necessarily attack it. A true pacifist is consistent in his or her beliefs both morally and politically. As long as they are consistent in these two beliefs they may be considered true to their doctrines, provided their actions back up their speech.
Presently, a “pure”pacifist debate is not prominent in our country. Another ongoing debate in Christian circles to whether the martial arts are “unnecessary” “evil” “a gateway to the occult” or “something that is not conducive to Christianity” exists. The same subject of conflict and defending oneself, family and country and keep harmony with their religion and conscience has been a consideration of many people of faith for many years. One paper does not attempt to completely satisfy every religion and belief system, but rather look at American Christianity and the common responses to the idea of martial arts, spirituality and its effects on the man or woman of faith. Is there ever a time raise up arms (or fists) against another person who is also created in the image and likeness of Almighty God?” Is the practice of Martial arts unprofitable and un-spiritual, or can a person become stronger mentally, physically and spiritually? What does the bible say about physical attainments? Can a person be a Bible believing, Spirit filled Christian and still practice the Martial Arts in good conscience? Why do some customs vaguely resemble undue amounts of reverence, and is this acceptable?
At one time in America, the term “Orient” was a perfectly acceptable adjective used to describe anyone or anything East of the Mediterranean sea. These regions were Arabia, India, China and any islands of North east Pacific and Indian oceans. In the day and age we live in it has become a derogatory term which is not in general use. This genders the question of “Why?” In redefining a term, we have lost some of the depth of meaning which was in the original intent. It is an unmistakable fact that the Middle-East is technically part of the Orient. The Middle East in manners, customs Philology and psychology is very Oriental, not Occidental (IE Western). Any person who has a fair knowledge of the Bible will know that many of the customs of the Old Testament Hebrews, or New Testament Christians of the first century had more of an Oriental flavor to their behavior than what we as Westerners are accustomed to. In the Twenty-first century, we as Americans and Westerners do not bow low to the ground to welcome a guest or high public official into our home. Men, within the confines of normalcy and decency, do not kiss each other as a greeting or parting gesture, and we do not look away in submission to royalty or magistrates. All of these things are still practiced frequently in Oriental societies today! Another important facet of the differences between Orient and Occident is the idea of family and respect. Family and clan affiliation still has a great weight in Eastern society. One is identified by his or her surname and often, people can be friendly acquaintances and will still be on a last name basis. Any position of authority, such as a teacher is held in a higher esteem in Asia than what Americans are accustomed to. Most find it odd that other cultures hold such “undue” reverence over these offices.
Let us examine the Teacher student relationship. In America, a teacher is an individual who disperses information on a particular subject, and does not so much impart this knowledge, as he does try to light the fire of learning in the students heart. To accomplish this task, he will serve in the capacity of coach, mentor, advisor and even an encourager to the student. In return, he may receive the respect due his calling, or he may not. During this time, especially with adult students, he may or may not receive courtesy or even a small amount of common respect. We think nothing as Americans of calling even authorities by their first name. We live in an egalitarian society. American institutions of higher learning have rules against fraternization, but uniform enforcement is not strict. In Japan today, teachers are referred to as “Sensei” which is Japanese for “Teacher”. This carries the connotation of a clear division which all take seriously. In a Karate Dojo, the term Sensei is still used frequently, or sometimes the word “teacher” will be used. At the black belt ranks of around 5th to 7th degree black belt (Depending on the particular style) the term “Kyoshi” which is Japanese for “Master” is used. As Americans, the term “Master” has a connotation back to the days of slavery, so it is usually not translated into English. The term is often substituted with the title “Professor” (Parker 2).
The common greeting of a bow, used in many Asian countries was used in Old and New Testament times by both Saints and Sinners alike. It was customary to bow, kiss the hand, kneel before someone, or even prostrate oneself before another of high rank or nobility. These actions were usually followed by elaborate verbal salutations (Tenney). These greetings were in line with the customs and mannerisms of the culture, and nowhere in scripture do we see that they were forbade. One could make an argument concerning Luke 18:19 where Jesus refused to be called “Good master” or in Matthew 23:1-12 where he said to call no man Rabbi, Father or Master. In context he was not calling the accepted practices of good manners into question in his society. Jesus was after the goals of what scriptures proclaimed: obedience to God’s laws and the heart and intent of them fulfilled. It cannot be over stressed that the context of this scripture was saying not to be involved in the hypocritical religious hierarchy. These people loved power and titles, and we should not be like them. The customs of a Karate Dojo reflect the Asian traditions of bowing before entering the Dojo, at class start and end, and during stages of practice. The intent of the custom is to instill respect for the school, instructor and ones fellow classmates. This is the proper context of this custom.
A story was once shared by a missionary to the Philippine Islands. He was asked to give a Bible to a man in a large city on another island. The woman told the missionary that this man was very important and people would bow to him. The missionary went to see him, and did not bow but used the Western custom of a hand shake and explained his purpose and gift (The bible). The missionary explained to us that bowing was considered to be a sign and acknowledgment of the “god” within each person. This point could be argued effectively for the sake of Christianities superiority to other religions however; is it wise to go against common courtesy of the society we live in unless there is a serious reason for going against it? For example, if it was expressly forbidden in the Bible then it should not be performed. We think nothing of a performer bowing on stage, or the acknowledgment of participants of a parade. The simple bows of respect in Karate denote nothing less than mutual respect and not an acknowledgment of the “god” within a person. Bowing is a tradition that is kept alive in the martial arts just as it is in the Orient. Some traditions may have more than one meaning or source, but to say that a tradition is bad or evil just because of a connotation to one aspect of another culture is a shallow argument. Jesus Christ was most likely not born on December 25th, but probably in spring or fall between 6 BC and 2 AD, but setting a date to honor Jesus Birthday is not wrong! The fact of pagan traditions in the early Orthodox Church is undeniable. We still would not abolish Christmas, because of tradition! It would always be good to take a hard look at the true intent of a tradition in past and present context. A bow or opening salute are nothing more than symbols of respect to the martial arts system, their oriental roots and participants. Honor the tradition, but learn the intent (Parker 3)
War, Defense and the Bible
A number of years ago there was a popular anti-capital punishment bumper sticker that read: “why do we kill people that kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” At the time it was provocative, but shows an egregious error in word comprehension and diction. While all murder is killing, not all killing is murder. Throughout the Bible we see that there were murders committed by man such as when Cain killed Able in Genesis chapter 4. There were also times when God killed people for moral evil or disobedience, such as Er and Onan for wickedness, Gen 38:7-10; Nadab and Abihu for drunkenness and disobedience to the law, Leviticus 10:1-3; and the men involved in Korah’s rebellion against Moses in Leviticus 16:30-33. To show continuity between the Old and New testaments, we also see Ananias and Sapphira were killed by God as well in Acts 5:4-11. Some deaths were ordered by God such as the half-Israelite man in Leviticus 24:10 or Achan in Joshua 7:15. Secondly, after the fall of mankind, as recorded in Genesis, we find many accounts man killing each other. We find events such as Cain in Genesis 4 and the admission of Lamech who killed twice (Gen 4:23) but also an account of Tyranny and murder (IE Nimrod in Genesis 10:8) then the first recorded war in Abraham’s time (Gen 14:2). The recorded incidents were all obvious murder and mayhem, but then we see a change in the timber. The injustices were being answered with an equal amount of force to attain justice, or the end of hostilities by a challenge of force to overcome the aggressor. Such was the case of Abraham, the father of the Hebrews who fought to rescue his nephew Lot in Genesis (14:14). Jesus said in Mathew (24:24) that there would be “. . . Wars and rumors of wars, but the end is not yet . . .” In many places Jesus made succinct statements that show deep truths about humanity IE “The poor ye will always have . . . “John (12:8). The state of humanity is the same now as it was in earlier times. Until he returns, there will always be conflicts and wars; this is the sad state of humanity. The Holy land itself has been in turmoil for several thousand years, and the continuing dialogue of “Middle East Peace” is more of a Pipe dream than a conduit to reality! Even St John referred to the city of Jerusalem spiritually being Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11:8). This is evidenced by the religious nature of Jerusalem itself. So many people in one city after God, yet they fight and war with each other all in the name of God!
If we care to trace the cause of most of the worlds armed conflicts, many will say it is “religion” but this is a one-dimensional argument, the true cause is twofold. The first reason for countries going to war is credibility. This means credibility over claims, or powers which the country has asserted to territories or ideologies. The second cause of war is the suppression of religion (C.S Lewis). Had people been free to practice their beliefs uninhibited, many wars would not have been fought!
Religion has struggled with this for millennia, and “nominal” Christianity has this problem too. Ecclesiastes chapter 3 states: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven . . . a time of war, and a time of peace” (Verses 1 and 8). A person unfamiliar with scripture or religion would easily ask such questions as “Why does a loving God kill people?” “Can a Christian be a Soldier, police officer, guard and still be a genuine believer”; “How can you be a true believer and not ‘turn the other cheek’?” These are all valid questions to those truly seeking and unaware of the truth. A quick retort is usually given of “Well . . . it’s not your place to judge” but this is a shallow response that only tends to alienate honest seekers. A question asked by a sincere and reasonable person who does not have “an ax to grind” shall be answered. These questions are answerable using common sense and the “Rightly divided” (properly interpreted) scriptures (II Timothy 2:15).
God is the creator and giver of all life and since it is His, He has the right to give and to take away. Within the context of scripture, we see that there are times that God takes a life for wickedness and orders peoples and governments to do so as well. So far we have discussed that God has taken lives for disobedience, either violation of laws personally from him or against the laws dictated by him (IE Law of Moses). Let us now look at the fact that God has entrusted human government the ability to rule over man, and if necessary punish evil doing with capital punishment. From the end of the Flood of Noah in Genesis 9 God established a covenant with Noah, and as some believe established human government to rule over society. We find nowhere in the Bible after that time where God disavows human government and capital punishment. Jesus, when asked a question to trick him so the religious leaders could find fault over Roman taxation made the statement “render unto Caesar what is Caesar, and unto God what is God” Matthew 22:21. Some have taken this out of context to say various items of their own agenda, however; if we will analyze this statement, we find that nowhere and at no time did Jesus suggest that a lack of government was an alternative, or in other words he did not criticize Rome. Later St Paul wrote in various places to “give tribute where tribute is due” Romans 13:7 and to “Honor the King, and pay tribute” Simply put he was saying to pay taxes and honor the highest civil officials in ones society. One of the commands St Paul gave in many places to the churches he founded was a command to be a good citizen. Being a good citizen and a Christian was not a contradiction as long as the civil laws do not violate Christian beliefs of the fruits of the spirit “LOVE Joy peace, against such there is no law” Galatians 5:23. Later, in another epistle, he also enjoined Christians to not partake of any evil things (I Corinthians 10:1-10), as such St Paul commanded the Thessalonian church to abstain from all appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22). Being at peace with ones fellow man is a goal, but part of being a good citizen and leading a quiet and peaceful life (I Timothy 2:1-3) is also being prepared in case of trouble. Christians should be ready to serve in whatever capacity called for, provided it does not violate the Laws of God. We find a similar question could be brought up in Luke 3:14 when the Roman soldiers heard the preaching of John the Baptist, and asked, as believers what they should do(How they should behave). John did not tell them to become pacifists, or leave the Army, but simply to not engage in extortion and be content with their wages. The ancient church historian Eusebius cited from time to time that there were roman soldiers who were Christians, and fulfilled their duties without violating the laws of God (Eusebius). The only exception to this is when we see persecution as a direct result of being a Christian. This is where we have a command from Jesus to “Turn the other cheek” and to resist not (LUKE’S sermon on the plain Luke 6:29). We also have several examples of this from Paul’s journeys in Acts and his mentions in Romans of his trials (See II Corinthians 11:21-27). Here we see that it is the duty of Christians not to retaliate, moreover not to hold a grudge or be revengeful. We are to “Be children in malice but in understanding be men” (I Corinthians 14:20). Non violence and non retaliation for the cause of the gospel is commanded, but the same does not seem to apply when an unknown assailant picks on you because you are a target of anger or opportunity.
Even our Lord himself realized that there was a time that even the disciples would have to protect themselves. Shortly after the last Supper and Jesus arrest in Gethsemane, he admonished his believers to be prepared (LUKE 22:35-38) “When I sent ye out ye lacked nothing . . . but now . . . he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy him one.” Jesus was not speaking spiritually here but in the natural. There is obviously a time, regardless of one’s faith, when it is necessary to be ready to defend oneself. God’s people were also commanded in the New Testament to fight a spiritual warfare that involves armor (Ephesians 6) and requires walking circumspectly (Ephesians 5:15) wisely use our time and energy and to “Fight a good fight”; not “to wrestle against Flesh and blood.” But this same good book also tells us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, and that one day the Christians will judge angles (I Corinthians). We should be able to judge carnal things on earth as well! With this being said, it should be easy to discern between persecution for the sake of the gospel and an aggressor ignorant of our faith. An attack without cause is violence, an attack or defense with a merciless intent to maim or hurt beyond reason is barbaric. However; a skilled counter attack to stop or incapacitate an aggressor, or to do ones duty in Law enforcement or the military cannot be seen as senseless violence when a worthy cause and imminent danger has been defined. Believers have been commanded that “Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might” Ecclesiastes 9:10. Whatever job or calling we perform in life, it should not be preformed half hearted, slothfully or with ill intent. We should fulfill our careers or callings to the best of our ability. If this means being a peace officer, guard, or even a sales clerk we should perform it to the best of our ability. This also applies to defense or armed service. A reasonable person should be able to “Judge” what is adequate and what is beyond normal control!
Spirituality, Physical exercise and Martial Arts
In St Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthian church, he began to discuss a problem the Corinthian believers were having with eating meat that was bought in the market, but as was custom in ancient Greek society, had been offered as a sacrifice to idols (I Corinthians 8). Earlier, Christians had been commanded to abstain from idolatry and eating sacrificed meat could be thought of as breaking this command. Since these pagan idols were not the real God, Paul went on to elaborate on not offending new believers. Saint Paul’s words are still best in this situation: “. . . we all know that all of us possess knowledge [concerning these matters. Yet mere.] Knowledge causes people to be puffed up (to bear themselves loftily and be proud), but love (affection and goodwill and benevolence) edifies and builds up and encourages one to grow [to his full stature]” (Amplified Bible). A tender heart and humble spirit should never be forced to go against his or her conscience, but conversely a hard hearted person who only goes by the letter of the law and does it in spite will find much to contend with in the following paragraph. So, gentle reader, you will get EXACTLY what you are looking for in the following paragraph!
Paul spoke in I Corinthians chapter eight and sixteen about matters of conscience, and since Christians serve God by Faith, not in works, it could be very easy to bruise or damage a conscience that is not ready for this knowledge. In the context of what Paul was writing about was meat offered to idols, here the knowledge I in question is the belief that there is nothing inherently wrong with studying the martial arts. Just as in Paul’s time he said that there were many gods in the world and they were all just made up idols. Since the writing of Paul’s epistle nothing has changed. There are still many idols in the world, except this time they are invisible, and go by the names or “comparative world religions”. Even in Christendom there are many pseudo-Christian cults which masquerade as “Christian” but deny the Deity of Jesus Christ, his place in the trinity, and his substitution and proprietary sacrifice on the cross for all mankind; past, present and future. For the purposes of this paper, the preceding statement is the meaning of “Pseudo-Christian” religion. The reborn conscience of a new believer in Christ is precious, and this writer was once one of them. I was led to believe by well meaning people that the martial arts was an avenue to take one farther away from God, and that it would hinder the Christian walk. Many of us, to include my first pastor in the denomination I was in for 12 years labored under this belief as well. We were led to believe that the martial arts would eventually lead to Eastern mysticism and even the occult. For this reason, we threw away all our gear, gi, trophies, and anything that was “Un-Christ like” to prove our zeal and dedication for the Lord. I regret none of my actions in the past. What I do regret is that 10 years later the senior Bishop’s grandson wanted to take Karate, and now it was not wrong! Did God change his mind in 10 years, or was it ever wrong? Once again I point to the sins of conscience: Knowledge puffeth up. Perhaps it would have kept us all from the dedication of being in the ministry, but then so could getting married and having a family . . . which was also frowned upon. There are any number of activities which are not morally wrong in which people partake of which could lead to an obsession that could be considered excess and sin. Anything taken out of its natural use and indulged in to au unhealthy excess can be a sin (Compare the language Paul uses in Romans Ch 1) There is an old hymn named “Trust and Obey” by John H. Sammis. One verse in the song that says: “But we never can prove, the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay”. There are things in our lives which may keep us from the true will of God and conversely, there have been burdens and restrictions men have placed on new believers which caused them to break or walk away. The case in point is that artificial restrictions placed on people and well intentions coupled will and ill spirit have kept many from the kingdom of God. One needs to go no farther than the book of I Samuel chapter 2:12-17 and examine the sins of Eli’s two sons who drove people away from God because of their sins. The best examples are the Pharisees of Jesus time who he upbraided with the statement “Ye laden men with heavy burdens but would not lift a finger on them yourselves.” This is the puffed up knowledge that has spiritually killed many a Christian. God does not necessarily want us to give up everything, only to lay down that which burdens us and follow him. If our nature is so given over to an item, even the Martial Arts, then we do need to put it down, if it means the best for you and his glory (Matthew 5:29-30). Anything put before God could be considered an idol, so this is important food for thought in the context of this paper.
We were speaking of the conscience and how tender it is for new believers, so the choice of making a statement of faith has taken on many actions in the past. Some have dedicated their all for God, such as St Paul or William Carrey. Others were bound by duty, and did all they could to facilitate others, such as the Austrian Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf of the 18th century (Kuiper). A person who first comes to Christ will have many voices and battles to face, that is why prayer and staying close to God is essential. Our character and personality are revealed more by actions and behavior than any verbal statement. A black belt can demonstrate a person is a black belt by their very actions. Some studios are given to sport karate, while others may be more self defense and fight oriented but the marks of years of training are unmistakable! This is an apt description of the Christian: actions and speech will be unmistakable.
In conclusion, I call upon the words of the apostle Paul to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12:14) who said to “Follow peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” The paradox of the martial arts can be summed up the adage that “There is no first strike in karate” (Funakoshi). Karate is meant for defense and not necessarily offense. In the realm of the Christian we are to live in peace, be at peace and be holy. Simply put, this means to be set apart for the use of God’s service. Everyone is different and has been endowed with certain abilities and talents which, although may be inherited genetically, ultimately come from the benevolence of God. Our life’s goal should be to fulfill Gods will in our lives, not what we think it is, but what it truly is. A sincere seeker of God’s will shall find it! Many could argue that the martial arts are a contradiction to this but if it improves our mind through training, our body through exercise, and our spirit through endurance, it is far from being a bad thing. If the path of the open hand leads us to God’s will in our lives, and furthers the kingdom of God it is not wrong. It is safe to say many have been lost due to a combative and competitive spirit, or a zealous statement from another believer that: “that’s a carnal thing, and unbecoming of godliness”. Flesh and spirit are portrayed as two separate states in scripture. The flesh is described as weak and vile, yet at the same time we live in this vessel of flesh and maintain, care for and protect it. The spirit is described as willing and strong; it is also in this realm that all the real battles occur. Spiritual battles occur within the mind and the spirit! If a thing is not specifically forbidden in scripture, and does not interfere with the will of God in our life it could not be wrong. As with any activity, it can be taken to an unhealthy or immoral extreme. So is the case of the martial arts. The main reasoning for spiritual arguments is an intellectual one based on the fallacy that the martial arts must be wrong because of Asian influences, and its offensive capabilities. The Martial arts are but a tool, albeit a wonderful and complex one of self discovery, self improvement and self realization. Over 200 years ago, Japanese disciplines of Martial Arts often focused on other refined mental activities to stimulate the mind in order to compliment the entire being. History records activities such as calligraphy, flower arranging and the like. Men such as the Japanese Samurai were once considered to be “Gentleman warriors”. Society has not changed enough to eliminate the need for mental training, nor has the need diminished for Martial arts (Somers). A common retort is expressed in one verse of scripture “bodily exercise profiteth little” (I Timothy 4:8) but again, this was an admonition to Timothy to avoid ascetic practices. Ascetic practices refer to practices related to the monastic life of celibate monks and nuns who engaged in rigorous elaborate devotions which involved self denial and sacrifice. Some of the monastic practices we know from mid evil history were common in late Biblical times as well. This verse of scripture in Timothy had nothing to do with physical conditioning as we understand it today. When Paul did chose to use the subject of athletics, he alluded to the Olympics of his day to compare the striving for winning to the Christian walk and race. To use this scripture as an attack against the Martial arts is a poor interpretation of scripture. Martial Artists and Christians are both on a journey. We operate in the physical and learn spiritual principles with practical physical applications. Both disciplines involve a mental journey. Why should the offspring of this “world” be wiser and better than the offspring of the kingdom of God? (See Luke 16:1-8) There are many Christians who behave in a sanctimonious manner yet have no wisdom or true understanding of the scriptures, and often shame the cause of Christ. Conversely, there are many Martial artists who believe they have arrived on a great spiritual plane or think they are the ultimate fighter, but only make a mockery of the arts by their behavior. There are also the true believers of Christ, who are humble, pray for wisdom, and although they may be imperfect, set an example that makes people want to know more about the Jesus that they believe in because of this positive example. There are men and women who train diligently in a Dojo, make no fuss about knowing the Arts, and are decent people who love the art. Both are on a journey to a destination. Why cannot the two practitioners be in harmony, and be one in the same?
1. Funakoshi, Gichin Karate Do Kyōhan
Kodansha International 1973
2. Parker, Ed Infinite insights into Kenpo Volumes 1-4
Delsby Publications 1982
3. Cardillo, Joseph Be like Water
Warner Books 2003
4. Tenney, Merrill C Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary
Zondervan Publishing 1963
5. Eusebius History of the church by Paul Maier
Kregel Publications 2007
6. Lewis, C.S. The Grand Miracle
Trustees of C.S. Lewis Estate 1970
The Amplified bible
Zondervan Publishing 1987
Dake, Finis J. Dake’s Annotated reference Bible
Dake Bible Sales 1991
8. Somers, David Christian Budo from my perspective
http://www.angelfire.com/fl5/okinawagojuryu/ChristianBudo.html Date Accessed: Dec 2010