Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Why not Christian martial arts?

I'm guest posting at TDA training again today, check it out. I posted this post here at Mokuren Dojo to take any comment fallout from that post at Nathan's.
Nice comments go there, rants and vents go here. really vile comments will go in the trash. Play nice...


  1. Oh, just you wait. I think you'll like what I'm working on, even if it'll be a continual work-in-progress.

  2. What exactly would be different in Christian martial arts? Would certain concepts like qi/ki disappear? Would yin/yang have to go to?

  3. Well, as I understand it, and my history could certainly be wrong, the martial arts started out as fighting systems, which eventually got married to various religious traditions because of the sheer horror of having to kill at close range with bare hands or cutting weapons.

    So, the packaging of a fighting system within a religious system is unnecessary. One might just as well separate the physical, biomechanical, and psychological aspects of the arts from the spiritual or, one might just as well replace all spiritual aspects of an art with some religious tradition that is more comfortable.

    From a worldly, spiritualistic, moralistic standpoiint, Christianity if certainly just as good as any other religion for the purpose of packaging with a martial art, and a lot of folks would consider it superior.

    Which aspects would have to go? I'd think a lot of Christians would be uncomfortable with idolatry like bowing to kamiza or veneration of the founder as an infallible example of what the art is supposed to be. Some might have problems with mokuso, or meditation, though there is a tradition of meditation/prayer within Christianity. Ki might or might not be acceptable, depending on how it was presented (i.e. magic forces or simply a metaphor).
    If I understand what I've read and listened to regarding Bagua correctly (and I probably dont), a Christian might reasonably be offended by the idea of going into a trance and embodying or being possessed by a spirit (see Scott's videos at Weakness with a Twist for an example).

    But when you get down to it, none of the martial arts I've ever been involved with would be negatively affected by removing this type of association with spiritualism.

  4. Which aspects would have to go? I'd think a lot of Christians would be uncomfortable with idolatry like bowing to kamiza or veneration of the founder as an infallible example of what the art is supposed to be.

    Definitely, one of my old dojos closed for that very reason.

  5. Have you ever read Thomas Makiyama on ki?

    I really appreciate the comments here--they are inspiring.

  6. I think many people would be relieved if bowing to the founder was to be removed from aikido. However, the reason you gave for the historical joining of a fighting system to some kind of religious tradition still seems valid to me. To have no moral code connected to martial arts would be a mistake.
    What would a Christian approach to martial arts add? Instead of bowing to a picture of the founder would students say a prayer?

  7. Dan: I have not read that about ki. I looked through your suggested reading article on your blog and, though they all seem very interesting, I have read almost none of them. Someday, maybe, but right now I don't have any spare money to send to Amazon.

    I think youre right. You wouldn't want an immoral fighting system (that's what Dojo Rat's most recent post is about) and you probably wouldn't want a purely secular, amoral fighting system either. You need some sort of constraint to the use of the power involved and you also need a higher justification for potential violence. The problem is which religion to hook your fighting system to.

    Are any of them just as good as the next one from a moral standpoint? Maybe so, but many Christians, Jews, and Muslims would probably consider their religion superior to any other from a _spiritual_ standpoint.

    So, is all the eastern cultural, philosophical, and religious packaging in martial arts necessarily a part of the thing, or might you just as easily replace eastern religious influences with western while leaving the technical aspects of the art alone (or even improving them)?

    What would be added to a Christian martial art? I'm not exactly sure because I am a Christian who happens to also do a martial art. I don't belong to a Christian martial arts organization and I don't identify as a Christian martial artist. But, I would guess that the eastern ideas about centering one's mind upon the self and the present would be replaced with concepts and practices intended to center the practitioner upon Jesus and the future. Meditation, instead of being used for centering, might be used for prayer. Eastern philosophical constructs like Conufcianism and Tao could probably be readily replaced with equally appropriate western or Judeo-Christian (biblical)philosophies...

    You ask great questions, CMC. Very direct and appropriate to the crux of the topic. You make me think a lot. Thanks.

  8. The problem I've seen with most Christian MA is that they're simply exchanging one set of mystical trappings for another. I prefer my martial arts pretty mysticism free - It's one thing to discuss meditation, being in the moment, etc. It's another to start the deep thoughts about the Ki moving you, or the Spirit, or however you want to put it. One uses focus, the other just builds up cultish ideas. My brief thoughts on the subject.

  9. I don't send a whole lot of money to Amazon, either. I have a list I keep on my desktop of titles I want, and keep checking the "used" prices at Amazon, and the prices at Alibris until I see what I want for the price I want, which is usually five bucks or less. Sometimes it takes a while. Right now, I'm waiting for "The Way of Kata" and "The Way of Sanchin Kata" to become available at a price I"m willing to pay.

    Thomas Makiyama is an interesting character. I first read about him in Black Belt magazine some years ago, and I bought a copy of his book, Keijutsukai Aikido. He is, if I remember right, nisei, second-generation American, but wound up in Japan with the Army's CID shortly after World War II. He took up martial arts, especially aikido, and, as far as I know, has been there ever since.

    What I find interesting about him is that he's an eighth dan teaching in Japan, speaks the language, and he'll tell you right up front that not only can he not tell you for sure what ki is, neither can anyone else, and he's convinced it is something largely talked about in vague and mystical terms because vague and mystical language brings in students looking for vague and mystical powers and practices.

    Of course, there are many other perspectives on the issue of ki, and I don't claim to be an expert, to say the least!

    I will offer this as food for thought: when you are learning to work with electricity, no one talks much about electron theory at first. They talk about how electricity acts like water--current is like water flowing, resistance is like narrowing the size of the pipe, etc. The analogy is good enough to enable you to wire a house, but doesn't really accurately describe what is going on, right?

    Now, picture yourself in a culture that does not habitually describe things in the terms of Newtonian physics or Western medicine: how will you describe the use of gravity in martial arts? How will you describe the effects of stimulating various points of the parasympathetic nervous system? What will people think when you take that terminology and use it in front of a modern Western audience?

    Just something I've been thinking of.


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