The Bulletin Board
Christianity and The Martial Arts
by: Dean M. Roach
There are circumstances that are difficult, if not impossible to reconcile. Regrettably, this outcome occurs at times because of stubbornness or lack of knowledge. This is an unfortunate circumstance.
The following article will address the frequently misperceived incompatibility of martial arts and Christianity.
The non-martial artist has little if any knowledge of what the martial arts involve. When non-practitioners observes the martial arts they naturally form their own perceptions however erroneous.
Sadly, some sensei don't know why certain things are done in the martial arts. Since some can't answer inquires they give too little information making the issue seem cloaked in mystery. Some give too much information, to the extent that the question is lost in facts, dates and lineage. If a dojo headmaster can't accurately answer questions, he must develop his teaching skills since teaching involves answering questions (1 Peter 3:15). Yes, I know there are questions that you could spend the entire day answering and not fully cover the subject. However most inquires are not seeking a lecture, but want a simple answer to settle their curiosity. As the individual's training progresses you can answer their questions in greater detail.
With the public's limited understanding of the arts, coupled with limited Sensei knowledge, and poor teaching skills, we are frequently left with chaos and ignorance. Ignorance is sad, because with some quality research all questions concerning the arts can be answered. When I go to a new dojo, I watch, listen, and then ask questions regarding what took place in the class. If the instructor can't or won't answer my questions that raises a red flag!
With the arts coming from the orient, many Westerners are already suspicious. There are terms that we don't understand along with customs and etiquette which seem strange or awkward. With all this 'newness' our uncertainty heightens!
One of the greatest areas of uncertainty concerns religion. Some think that behind every technique is a form of eastern religion. Some may even think that the arts are a way to get people involved with eastern religions by having unsuspecting students ignorantly worshiping a foreign deity. From childhood I have been fascinated with the martial arts. My folks agreed when I begged for judo lessons. But in time the lessons quit due to a lack of dedication. However, as an adult, the opportunity to train resurfaced. Through much time and effort I have earned three Dan ranks.
Another adult milestone occurred when at the age of 24, my life took a very serious turn. I became a Christian by obeying the gospel (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8;1 Peter 4:17; Acts 2:38). In due time I fulfilled my studies and began preaching for the churches of Christ, (Romans 16:16). Everyone that knows me, knows that I am a minister and a martial artist. To some in the congregation I am affectionately known as the "Karate Kicking Preacher". My office is full of books, antique tins and martial arts pictures.
First and foremost I am a Christian. My allegiance is to Christ, his church and his will. There is nothing more important than serving God-not the dojo nor the ryu. Jesus said, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness..." (Matthew 6:33, KJV).1 My philosophy is this: martial arts is a temporal activity, the church is eternal, For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Timothy 4:8). My training never gets in the way of me fulfilling my Christian obligation, nor is my Christian faith ever compromised, nor does it have to for anyone!
Occasionally, people question my martial arts training. They are perplexed that I train in a traditional dojo and maintain my Christian identity. I preach on Sundays, teach Bible classes on Wednesday and train during the week. The only thing better than going to the dojo for a hard workout is a Bible study. Yes, I truly love the arts and those involved with them, but God comes first.
Some fear that a problem will arise when a person wants to serve God and train in the martial arts. Can the two be compatible? Yes!
Religiously speaking, most people don't understand the bowing. In our country we don't bow for any reason. In fact those who bow, physically or metaphorically, are considered soft and cowardly; bowing is a sign of weakness or subservience. When I first began to train, bowing was an area of difficulty. However, through study I now understand what the bowing entails. If your conscience will not allow you to do this, then by all means don't! Speak with your instructor about your concerns and the two of you come to a mutual agreement. I do not and will not bow to worship any man, save Christ. In the scriptures people bowed to God in worship, but the people also bowed to show respect, "And Bathsheba bowed, and did obeisance unto the king.," (1 Kings 1:16). She did not worship the king, she showed the proper respect. Bowing is a great cultural difference, but do you really think that people are worshiping every time they bow? When an Asian bows as he enters a door, is he worshiping the house?
I show the proper respect to all men, Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17). One is to show the proper respect to those in the dojo, the Sensei, Shihan, Soke, but we are not to worship them! My bowing is a sign of respect, the same as saluting an officer, tipping my hat to a lady, giving my seat to the elderly, or being humble before a worthy teacher in the dojo and out!
Another area of concern is that of titles. Some religious folks don't like the dojo instructors to be called Sensei. Sensei means teacher. According to Kyoshi George Parulski, Sensei is defined as, 1) A title of respect for someone older (and wiser) 2) Your teacher 3) A teacher 2. I once heard a man make a big ruckus that being called teacher was not in keeping with Christianity, (I have searched the Bible and found nothing that forbids it). This man has his students call him coach. Webster's dictionary states, a: a private tutor b: one who instructs...3 A coach is one who teaches. There is no violation of the scriptures calling someone Teacher. I refer to my physician, Doctor, because that's what he is and that's what he does!
I once visited a dojo and was invited to train. When I train at an unfamiliar school I assume nothing, I fall into place and follow the class as much as possible. At one particular dojo Kyoshi shouted, Mokuso. To my embarrassment I had no idea what he was talking about. Thankfully, Kyoshi, took the time to explain Mokuso., (I'm sure this was for my benefit, I was the only visitor).
A lot of people fear that Mokuso is Buddhist prayer time or meditation of some kind. Mokuso is time allotted the class for the clearing the mind. No one comes to the dojo without bringing the day's baggage with him; whether positive or negative. Mokuso helps the student prepare for training. If we are thinking or worrying about a situation or problem our training will suffer. For safety purposes students most focus on their training, this is very difficult when our concentration is on several subjects.
Mokuso allows one to remove these worries and thoughts so he can fully engage in training. At the end of class Mokuso has the student prepare himself to go back into his life with all its cares.
Many people practice a form of Mokuso, they just don't call it Mokuso. An athlete takes time by himself to focus on an impending event, he visualizes himself competing, completing and winning. He focuses all his thoughts and energy on this one event, for the time being.
A prayer before partaking of the Lord's Supper is to help the congregation focus on what is being done; a reminder to remove the thoughts of the world so one can contemplate the significance of the supper. Before a sermon I take time, by myself, to pray and make final preparation for the delivery of my lesson. No matter what happened before the sermon, tragedy, funny or joyous, I must put it out of my mind and focus at the task as hand. Concentration is needed to succeed at any endeavor, No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. (2 Timothy 2:4).
What bout all that fighting? Sadly many people, the world over, fail to see the beauty of the arts. All they see is fighting, we can all thank Hollywood for this incredibly inaccurate portrayal.
I was once asked how I justify participating in the arts and being loyal to God. I asked him where did he see any conflict? Well, the arts teach fighting and such. Are we not called of Christ to fight, Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3,4). This warfare is not physical, but it does show an attitude one should for combating Satan and his forces, (Ephesians 6:10-16; 2 Corinthians 10:4).
The martial arts do teach self defense. Any one who owns a weapon, can use it for self preservation. Those who participate in shooting sports do they stand in opposition to God's will? Can a baseball player use a bat as a deadly weapon? What about a boxer or wrestler? Because I know and train in a martial skill does not mean that I am bent on using it.
The apostles carried swords, "When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? " (Luke 22:49). They carried them for personal protection. Notice what the Apostle did when threatened, "And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear." (Luke 22:50). Peter had received training with the sword. What Peter did was condemned, Jesus did not want nor need anyone to fight physically for his spiritual kingdom, (John 18:36).
My Christian convictions have helped me tremendously in the dojo. I have been appointed a renshi. With the title comes responsibility to set forth an example for the rest of the dojo to follow. Sensei, ask yourself this question, do you want your students to become just like you are? Hey mom and dad do you want your children to grow up to be like their sensei? If not , why not?
As a Christian I don't smoke, drink, cheat, steal or use profanity, I try to live the life that Jesus demands. If your child's sensei participated in these activities, would you trust your child's care to him? I put forth my best effort to be of what Christ wants me to be, this makes me a better person a better father, a better husband and a better martial artist. . .
When I train I cannot divorce myself from the church, nor when I preach can I separate myself from the dojo. I can serve God and be a martial artist and keep my priorities in proper order. I do nothing at the dojo or elsewhere that would violate God's will, or that looks improper, (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Any person who is Christian can engage in any activity which does not transgress God's will. At all times, with any activity, a Christian's conduct is to be without reproach, living as God demands and walking in harmony with God (1 John 1:7).
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Bibliography1. The Bible, King James Version
2. Parulski, George. Kyoshi. Budo Jiten s.v. sensei, Kobushi Multimedia, P.O.Box 321, Webster, New York 14580
BiographyEdited by Dr. & Mrs. James C. Warren, Psy. D.
Written by Dean M. Roach. Mr. Roach is the current minister at the Princeton church of Christ in Princeton, Kentucky. Mr. Roach has earned his Nidan in both Shorin Ryu Karate and Nihon Ryu Jujutsu. He trains at the Myers Juko Kai Martial Arts center in Princeton, with dojo headmaster Shihan Eric S. Myers, 6th Dan. Mr. Roach serves as an assistant instructor in the dojo.
Mr Roach can be reached at:Dean M. Roach
600 Dowell Drive
Princeton, Kentucky 42445
Tel: (502) 365-5092
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