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MARTIAL ARTS AND RELIGION

BY JEFFREY MOORE

The AFJ receives many emails from concerned parents and students on the subject of martial art's involvement in the study of religion. This is understandable because most martial arts are of Asian origin. Kung Fu originated in monasteries, others were started by the warrior class or the peasant class for reasons of domination or survival. We will look at what marital arts and religions have in common and what also makes them different.

In the description below I will use "Spirit" for the word "Soul", and all religious ideas will be in general. The life-force, breath of life or spirit is unseen, yet it exists in every living person. A human is made of mind, body and spirit. In fact Dr. Jigoro Kano, a Jujitsu Master and the founder of Judo, stated that the martial arts were for the development of mind, body and spirit. The spirit can not be found medically, and for this reason it makes for a fascinating study.

It is a general belief that religion is the developing or maturing of the spirit which in turn will decide your spirit's destination after your physical body dies. Your spiritual development is dependent on which style of religion, or of which particular denomination of style, you base your beliefs. At birth, the spirit is either believed to have been in existence before the body and unites with the body at the time conception or it is believed to have been created at the time of conception or birth. When the body physical dies, the spirit is either believed to be born again into another body with no past recollection to continue it's maturing process or to be judged and then awarded a heaven or hell experience, or some believe it will be simply terminated. Regardless, your spirit  is united with the mind and the body while you are alive.

A newborn's spirit dominates everything. As a child grows, it's mind and body develop but the spirit is still in control of many emotions and actions. Through the early teens the mind begins to dominate the spirit and body. From late teens to middle aged adults, the body is at it's peek. At this time the spirit is suppressed, the mind and body dominate. Belief in unseen things at this stage become harder because your mind and body are suppressing the spirit. The elderly adult's spirit comes back into domination as the body and finally the mind start to fail. A common religious phrase states that if you become like a child, you will gain the reward of eternal life. This does not mean becoming naive or gullible, but that the spirit in the forefront over mind and body.

Since the spirit can not be seen, sometimes religious groups lose the concept of spirit development (internal development) and spend much of their activities developing the mind and body (external development) usually through some types of external rituals. Rituals can be praying a certain number of times a day, baptisms, attending services, saying a creed, giving to the poor, etc. Religions lose their effectiveness in spirit development if all things become external, for example: To believe or confess things "about" the founder of a type of religion or believe something the founder did will lead to external development but the spirit will not mature. Founders of all religions lived exemplary styles of life and asked followers to follow their actions and more importantly, not only belief what they said, but to "do" what the said. In their hopes , this would lead followers on a internal pilgrimage to develop or mature their currently suppressed "internal" spirit, which would in turn, demonstrate positive physical or "external" actions. In the past, ancient writings or scriptures from religious groups or leaders were not available to the general public, just like advanced martial arts techniques are not taught to beginners. Their fear was that passages would be understood literally from the "mind and body" (external) point of view and not understood figuratively from the "spirit" (internal) meanings. This was demonstrated with the terrorist attacks. Islamic believers became radical, or believed everything "externally" in only a mind and body way of thinking. They disregarded all the figurative or spiritual meanings from their scriptures taught by their religious teachers. This happens in all types of religions and creates extremist involved with many different causes and often times brings about violent acts. Regardless of your beliefs or style of religion, I challenge you to read your appropriate scriptures through "spiritual" eyes for the development or maturing of your spirit.

Martial Arts also involves the harmonization of mind, body and spirit. But unlike religion, the emphasis is in reversed order. First a student learns a physical martial arts technique, often practiced over a thousand times. In Jujitsu these techniques will be practiced on many different partners of different sizes. The mind is then cultured around the technique, understanding the physics, medical implications, resuscitations, etc. involved with that particular technique. Finally the spirit is trained. The spirit is often thought of as the conscious mind or the "small voice". The spirit adjusts the amount of power or leverage of the technique to the situation to avoid overkill or under kill. Also the spirit most be taught to visualize the finished technique. Even though a beginner is good with their techniques in class, when they enter his or her first match, an under trained spirit will usually be their cause of defeat. This could also be labeled as "their confidence". In martial arts when the mind, body and spirit unite for just a second or two, the technique will be effortless and perfect. A beginning student will have this feeling, perhaps once out of every fifty technique attempts. When this effortless technique happens on a regular basis, it is called "empty mind" or more accurately "united mind, body and spirit" Everything will just happen. While teaching Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu by video, we have incorporated two training manuals. The first manual is the physical description of the technique as required for a test and the second manual is for development of the spirit, or hidden thoughts behind each technique. Beginners usually will disregard the second manual until they begin to perfect the techniques physically, this is natural and is the correct way to learn.

Since the spirit development is important in martial arts class, some inexperienced people visualize it as a "religion". It is true that a Martial Artist Instructor may incorporate their personal religion into their class structure. If asked, most instructors will be honest about their teaching or incorporation of religion material into their martial arts classes. Instructors with styles or school names like "Christian (or whatever religion) Martial Arts" etc. will draw students that have that preference. Instructors should not use the arts as a hidden "outreach" to indoctrinate students with a religion if it is not promoted during the original "sign-up". Martial Arts are "War Arts" and they are a physical (external) activity. Some Instructors have misconstrued the concept of the Arts to present a spiritual or (internal) way of life. Martial Arts will lose their combative effective nature if Instructors spend a large portion of class time  promoting the internal growth, like: mediation, incense burning, chanting, formal ceremonies, physical technique to spiritual lesson visualization, culture or terminology study, etc. I challenge you to get physical and practice each of your techniques one or two  thousand times, even if you become bored, so you will be able to evade or dominate a physical threat or at the least, simply survive an attack. Once your techniques have matured and reached the level of  "empty mind", you will naturally display internal harmony with others and with nature.

In conclusion, religion differs from Martial Arts in the end desired goals. In religion, the development of the spirit will dominate the body and mind and will result in compassion, humility, service to others, etc. With martial arts, the development of spirit balanced equally with mind and body will result in, effective techniques, automatic reactions to situations, the ability to gauge the immediate threat level, (and hopefully, but not always, create humility), etc.

It is not my intention to create a "religious" debate, but to show the differences and similarities between religions and martial arts. If a person's belief is founded on non-resistance principles, evasive arts like Aikido, Hapkido, Judo or Jujitsu can be practiced in good conscience. These arts can be deadly, but they do have the option of non-violence and contain evasive maneuvering. Even religious founders evaded angry mobs.

-Master Moore

 

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