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The Discipline of Martial Arts ; A fundamentalist argument for Oriental practices

by: Michael Alvavarez

   Do you believe in self-protection? This is a primary question that must be addressed whenever one is to look at the Martial Arts. Essentially, if a person believes in self-preservation on any level, a person then believes in Martial Arts. Do you walk through the South-side of Chicago (a notoriously dangerous area) in the middle of the night with a suit on and a leather briefcase in your hand. Obviously not, and why? Because common sense tells us that there is a good possibility we could be attacked simply by virtue of our clothing or accouterments. Therefore, we take steps to ensure that we will not be harmed. One such step might be to not even go into that particular area at night. If , for example, we have been invited to an individuals house at a late hour we may even refuse to accept that invitation. In such a situation you have made a decision based upon personal self-preservation. You have taken an action to protect yourself. This, on a basic level, is what Martial Arts is about.

   In the fundamentalist belief system that I am a part of, the protection of self goes beyond that of the flesh and focuses abundantly on the protection of the eternal soul. We, as Christians, are eager to go through the salvation process to secure our souls, yet we choose to neglect the protection of the temple of flesh that the soul resides within. Some may argue here that we need not protect the flesh. Some argue that God protects the flesh for us. I believe that God does indeed protect the flesh...on certain levels and at certain times. However, God also seems to allow us to take care of ourselves a little bit. While I certainly realize some Hem's and Haw's are rolling around at this point, I would like you to take time to consider all the preacher families that were attacked last year. Or perhaps the preacher's daughter's that have been attacked in the last couple of years. Do we dare continue and regard the preacher's son's that have been, attacked, or killed? I realize that this is crude and forceful, but the point must be understood and soundly beaten into place. In plain terms the point is this; bad things happen to good people. Indeed, God has wrought many protective miracles in many situations, I do not want to lessen God's power or majesty, but God does not always work protective miracles in every situation and sometimes he expects us to take part in our own security. I certainly wish, as much as any other person may wish, that these things were not true, but it is true. It also leads us to question how much God expects us to be responsible for our own well being.

   Does God force feed us the proper foods? Does he lift our bodies and force us to exercise so that we stay in good health? I can practically hear the conversation, "Well, I am spiritually minded and God tells me which foods to eat and how much to exercise." Indeed? My thoughts immediately race to several great men of the cloth whose minds are continuously stayed upon spiritual things, and yet it is painfully obvious that the message to exercise for health has been unheard or perhaps...unsaid? An individual who has read his Bible cannot help but understand that we (people) are the temples of God. This temple is to be taken care of meticulously. We, as fundamental Christians, raise up all kinds of standards here and there. We will not smoke...Why?...because it defiles the temple. What does this signify? Protection of the temple. What then must this signify? Protection of the body! We will not drink for the same reason. We reject drugs. Yet, we throw junk food down our gullets, quaff caffeine like it's the only fluid on the planet, kill an environment that keeps the air breathable, and refuse to learn how to protect ourselves from the physical violence that lies hissing outside our front doors. We are inconsistent in our beliefs and it reflects in our rejection of Martial Arts as though it were Satan himself. It is my theory that we in the fundamentalist Christian movement do not train, and discourage others to train, in the martial arts for three reasons. We are too eager to reject the work that must go with faith, we are afraid that if we study an Oriental art we will open ourselves to spiritual attack assumed to exist in Eastern practices, and lastly we feel it necessary to 'turn the other cheek' if we are offended.

   The Bible tells us explicitly that faith without works is dead. What might this suggest to us? It suggests that we must take action. We must do something. We can have faith for a financial blessing from God, but if we do not go out and work it is unlikely we will see that blessing. This principle, I believe, underlies all things in life and spirit. We can believe that we will get to optimum weight an physical stature, but if we do not work-out that stature will never be achieved. In the same manner, if we believe that we will be protected from a violent person, but do not take steps to learn how to deal with just such a situation, it is relatively likely that we will get hurt. I say relatively because God has transcended that principle at times... but not all the time. As a Christian, I believe that God does not do the work for us, but gives the strength and moves upon our exertion with His power. He takes what we can do and multiplies it, BUT it still takes us doing something. In Martial Arts training, or self-defense training of any kind, we learn and work-out believing that God will take that training and multiply it and encapsulate it in His power. When we are focused on how God is going to bless our training with health, confidence, and peace, and not on how well we are doing, or how violent we could be to someone, we do what traditional martial arts wanted to begin with; a lifestyle. Though the ancient artists of the Orient may recognize deity differently than we as fundamentalist Christians do, the goal is the same; To be able to maintain health, peace, balance, and confidence. The desire for these things still requires work.

  It is certainly true that some Middle Eastern and Oriental belief systems practice forms of religious activity that would be contradictory to the fundamentalist belief system. Primarily, however, what I have found in my training is that much of what I misunderstood to be mystical thought was merely poetic language. 'Chi' for example, is not some mystical spiritual force, but an actual scientifically measurable energy field that surrounds, or radiates, from us. Check your science, nursing, or other medical textbooks. It's in there. The pressure point systems, acupuncture, or breathing all are systems that work according to and in conjunction with discoveries in the good old fashion science we tend to believe. Many of the things that we have considered spiritual in light of fundamental practicum are not spiritual at all. Now, if you are considering studying the Martial Arts, please be careful because there are some who do practice spiritualism in the dojo. If such is the case we as Christians need no part of that. Do NOT compromise your belief system in any way. Do NOT call on demons to help you train. I imagine some of these things are obvious, but if you have questions about whether or not you should learn to kill people in their dreams please check with your pastor. Martial Arts work on the same principle as anything else. We can drink water, or we can spike it with Vodka. Hmmmm...I think Christians would avoid the Vodka part and stick with the water. It is common sense stuff. Research the art first. Understand what is going on with your training. Find someone who is going to teach you the art and leave your beliefs alone. If an instructor will not do that, that individual has no business training you! He is there to train you physically and mentally. In some cases perhaps even emotionally, but you leave spiritual to your pastor, priest, or spiritual leader (it works vice versa also; do not let your spiritual leader be your physical trainer unless he is versed in that area.). Watch yourself and be sure that your mind remains open--but rooted in God.

  I have heard a joke made about the verse in the Bible quoting Jesus as saying 'turn the other cheek'. The joke says that Jesus was performing a spinning backfist. Turning the other cheek in this context is talking about taking offense. If a person offends you, you are to turn the other cheek. It is talking about a slap, not a sword. I question how much Jesus wanted us to throw ourselves upon swords empty handed. If you will look into your Bible (I suggest New Testament) you will find a story in which Jesus tells his disciples to sell a cloak in order to buy a sword. The word is clear...protect yourself.

   Why would Jesus say that when he knew perfectly well that they could be protected? Because, I suggest, in order to be protected (in the manner of which we speak) one had to protect oneself. There is little doubt that Jesus knew how to take care of business (if we look into the throwing out of the money changers with a whip). Do you really think that he had no resistance to that belligerent action? I doubt it. My suggestion is that he was just so good with the whip that no one dared attack him. Even when the guards come to take him away to what would later become his death, we realize that there were several men. Perhaps they feared Jesus, or perhaps Peter (pretty good with a sword to cut the ear of a Roman soldier), but either way we recognize that Jesus and his disciples knew how to take care of themselves. The only reason why Jesus allowed himself to be martyred was because that was the only way to finish the plan of salvation! He was not turning the cheek at an offense, he was saving the world. Any descent Martial Arts school will make it painfully clear that the only time to utilize the skill being developed is in a life or death situation. One does not train in the Art just to whip a butt, but he or she trains in it to preserve life. If a person offends me as a Christian, it is still my duty to forgive him and turn my other cheek to accept another slap. However, if that same person were to pull a knife and attempt to take my own life or that of my children, it would be a duty on that same level, to protect those lives and stop that attacker. I don't think the Bible makes any qualms about the importance of the human life and to fall upon the sword unprepared is to lessen that very importance.

   Again, it does not hurt to be cautious, especially as a fundamentalist, when training in Oriental Arts, but it does hurt to be completely closed minded. Research it and you will find that it can be one of the most beneficial things you ever do. Inevitably, the discipline it requires, and the focus which you must maintain will help you grow in your Christian walk. I think of the martyr in the medieval days that would run to the authorities in hope of dying for the cause. They were actually, in my opinion committing suicide. They did not die for the cause, they died for the fad. In my opinion, it is never cool to die! I believe in preservation of life and health and martial arts training shoots for the optimum of both.

Michael C. Alvarez
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Junior, English/ Secondary Education.
Green Belt, Traditional Okinawan Karate-Jutsu
(YamaMizu Renmei) under: W. Kent Bergstrom Soke



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