Friday, January 30, 2015

A Christian View of Martial Arts

I started this concept with my blog on Survivalism & Christian Beliefs, so now I want to talk about Christian views on martial arts. Unlike survivalism which was rooted in fundamental Christian beliefs about the end times, martial arts (especially Asian martial arts) are rooted in other religious doctrines, like Buddhism, Taoism & Shinto. Oh sure, there are Christian martial arts programs but trying adapt a system dedicated to a non-Christian philosophy to Christian philosophy is problematic as best and cultish heresy as worst.

I am often hated on because I stated I only studied Aikido for 2 weeks and quit because I didn't agree with the philosophy. In my two weeks I learned Ukemi (breakfalls), a few wrist locks, a throw, a single arm bar, counting to 10 in Japanese and bunch of quotes from Morihei Ueshiba on the will of heaven, and enlightenment. Basically, not much... most of the time was spent talking about how sparring & competition was bad and how other arts like Karate & Kick Boxing were for the unenlightened. Needless to say this left a bad taste in my mouth when it came to having philosophy crammed down my throat. Not to mention a list of books about philosophy & Japanese history I needed to read.

Judo was very different, the principles of the philosophy were manifested in training and techniques. The concept of non-resistance or yielding to overcome, off balancing an opponent and disrupting an attackers timing were more in place with lose fighting concepts that had deeper philosophical meanings. Even then the philosophy, was less about spiritual enlightenment and more about understanding conflict in a general sense.

As a Christian, I have to address two primary issues in studying martial arts (I use the term "martial art" in a very broad sense here), (1) What do want to learn and (2) Does it agree with my own Beliefs? Sometimes these things come into conflict and sometimes they do not.

What I want to Learn:
This is mostly related to techniques and tactics but basically, its as simple as does this work for me, for my way of thinking and acting? Is it effective? Once I start looking at techniques and decided if the art is what I want to learn I have to address the issue o beliefs.

Does it agree with Scripture:
I have no ranking in Hapkido but I found Hapkido (trained in it here in the States and in South Korea when in the Army) was more my style. I spent far more time on learning to fighting then in learning philosophy, which fits my aggressive nature perfectly. Ultimately, Mr. Kim my Hapkido instructor in Korea a Buddhist, never pushed a philosophy or religious ideology on me. Which allowed to avoid my first concern in this area; and my concerns are...

1) Am I require to adapt a Religious or Quasi-religious philosophy?
Far too many times I see martial arts cults that require a person act out religious ritual that elevate a arts founder to the status of divine being or chant mantras to a plethora of deities. It is one thing to have a non-religious philosophy, in such cases one is free to pick and choose areas one wishes to keep or change to fit one's personal philosophy and views but, any religious dogma that one is forced to ascribe to (and this can be true of even Christian martial arts) is a dangerous area pushing into a martial arts cult.

Techniques can be sound and art good in every way that draws you to want to learn it, but then comes to quasi-religious or religious teachings. lists the Cult Warning Signs as;
  • Single charismatic leader.
  • People always seeming constantly happy and enthusiastic. Especially if you discover that they have been told to act that way for the potential new recruits.
  • Instant friends.
  • If you are told who you can or cannot talk to or associate with.
  • They hide what they teach.
  • Say they are the only true group, or the best so why go anywhere else.
  • Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you.
  • Experiential rather than logical.
  • Asking for money for the next level.
  • Some cults travel door to door during times when women are home alone. They, and this is rather sexist, think that women are easier to recruit and once they have the woman then it will be easier to snare the husband or partner.
  • Saying that they have to make people pay for it because otherwise they will not appreciate it. This is of course a very silly reason, plenty of people are able to appreciate things which they did not pay for.
  • They do not allow their teachings or practices to be questioned. If you question, then automatically the group assumes that something is wrong with you. It can never be the case that anything is wrong with the group’s practices or teachings. Often they will try to shut you down by accusing you of having a “bad attitude”.
  • They will push you to obey by using guilt. They will demand complete “submission” to the group, its leaders and its teachings. They will do this by making you feel absolutely rotten about yourself. They will ridicule you and attack any weakness you might have (or invent weaknesses you might have if they can’t find any). Their goal is to break your will by causing you mental anguish.

  • 2) Am I required to do things that are against my religious faith and moral code?
    This addresses a lot of things here but, to be honest I don't have much against my moral code (low morals and all). However, I do find certain things distasteful and "tradition" should not be used as excuse to force another's morals onto you. Sometimes these morals are suggestive of acceptance of other religious ideas. I, personally, don't try to push my beliefs on others nor do I accept all others religious philosophies, simply because I don't openly voice my disagreement. Believe what you will so long as you don't try to force it down my throat.

    In the Survivalism & Christian Beliefs blog I talked about not believing in the Rapture. I don't try to force this view on other Christians, I'm happy to debate the issue using scripture but that's as far as we can go. Many times I have spoken to high ranking black belts who have old me in order to reach their level one must under the "higher order" of the art. This always meant religious indoctrination by degrees and not all religions; though almost all preach peace, forgiveness and salvation, agree on the moral way to do this. Thus getting us to my third concern.

    3) Am I required to alter my religious beliefs?
    This can go a lot of ways to hardcore combatives instructors preaching a gospel of "kill or be killed" to "chi kung" cults that will turn you into a "human tazer." There are even cults of personality that force a "gang mentality" of the tough guy attitude. When I am required to involve myself in a practice that alters my religious beliefs or practices I have to decide what is more important to me. Since my faith is a large part of my self-identity (how I define myself), I do not want to alter my beliefs without good cause.

    I don't expect everyone to understand what I did, I did out of faith in regards to the terrorist threats charge. Faith in my ability to manipulate the situation and faith in God to see me through. We live in a world of terrorist attacks, armed criminals, mass shootings, stabbings, natural disasters, riots and violent protests, where cops are killed or refuse to do their jobs or are recorded time and time again assaulting and killing innocent people. Where faith in our fellow man is as real as the "Easter Bunny" to most of us. I in particular has a very violent and chaotic personal life. I don't just have to believe that I am able to handle whatever is placed before me but, I have to believe my higher power will handle what I cannot.

    In all this faith in ourselves seems insanity and without suffering the trials of our abilities its all just a false hope. More then us, as individuals we need to believe in something. Our religious faith will be shadowed by doubt, just as our faith in ourselves will be shadowed by self-doubt. Trying that faith, will build confidence in our beliefs and sometimes all that is needed for us to try. Sometimes we are tested, other times we are denied what we want but that doesn't mean are prayers go unanswered (No, is an answer, it is the answer we don't want to hear but...), it means we must accept that something greater has something planned for us. No one likes to be tested, but it is by being tested we learn our faith is not misplaced. For those tests are how we "bare our crosses."

    We must make the choices that best define us, like my interest in aikido that I dropped because I was having a pseudo-religious philosophy crammed down my throat & replaced with my study (though limited) of Hapkido, I found a better fit for me in that art. I believe that my life serves something more then me, my wants and my desires. As a Christian, I have to put Christ first, even in the study of martial arts. This is sometimes difficult when the thing we want, disagrees with our faith. We must set aside one or the other and that becomes a test within itself whether we put ourselves or Christ first.

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