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What Are Christian Martial Arts? (A Short Answer)

A while back I received a comment on an old video I had posted on my YouTube channel asking “What are Christian martial arts? Really? Lol” in an almost mocking manner.  This is common in the martial arts community where martial arts classes held in churches or community centers professing to be Christian aren’t taken seriously and are even laughed at.

Some of this they bring on themselves because of the quality of the teaching or the outlandish demonstrations they perform, but are Christian martial arts the real thing or is the term used to try and stand out and take advantage of the public?  Let’s dig deeper.

There Are No Christian Martial Arts!

That’s right! I said it, there are no Christian martial arts, just like there are no Buddhist martial arts, Muslim martial arts or even Atheist martial arts.  Martial arts did not come from ANY religion but from the battlefield and man’s need to defend himself from attack, PERIOD!

Everyone refers to the Indian Buddhist monk Bodidharma who came to the shaolin temple, taught the monks some fighting techniques and all of the martial arts spread from there.  Really? There were no wars anywhere in the world prior to that? No human attacked another, requiring them to engage in hand to hand combat?  Of course! Man fighting man has been around since the beginning!

The martial arts not only came from combat and the need to protect oneself, but no one country can claim that they started there.  The martial arts can primarily be from a specific country because they are practiced or were created there, but they are all a sum of techniques that trace themselves back to other countries.  People travelled around the world to trade, explore and fight wars and they came across other warriors, either learning from them or facing them on the battlefield.  Techniques were exchanged and adopted, adding to each art.

For example, Okinawa is considered the birthplace of karate, but it’s origins also trace back to Fujian Province in China and the White Crane kung fu system.  Korean arts of Tang Soo Do, Tae Kwon Do, etc. were also influenced by Japanese and Chinese martial arts. No one culture is the creator of the martial arts and no world religion created any of them either.

The fact is that martial arts were birthed out of combat, not religion.  Webster’s definition of martial art is “any of several arts of combat and self defense”.  They define the word martial as “of, relating to, or suited for war or a warrior”. They are methods and arts of warfare.

Anko Itosu

Anko Itosu

Anko Itosu

In October 1908, the great Okinawan Karate master Anko Itosu, who is considered by many as the father of modern Karate, wrote a letter entitled “Ten Precepts (Tode Jukun) of Karate” .  This letter was addressed to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of War in Japan in an attempt to make Karate more widespread and accepted into the Japanese school systems.

In the very first line of that letter Itosu writes “Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism.” He made it very clear in the very first line that Karate, as it was originally developed and intended, has nothing to do with religion. It is a martial art meant for the purpose of defending oneself and loved ones.

So Where Did The Religion Come From?

Warriors and those who train in the traditional martial arts for self defense, their intended purpose, realized that they needed moral and spiritual training not only to guide their use of their skill but to make themselves better, more well-rounded people.  Someone who is trusted with a weapon such as Karate or a gun should be of good moral character. Spiritual practices were introduced into the arts to develop that character and guide the warrior in their use of their martial skills.

Different arts and warrior groups lived by codes of conduct no matter where they were in the world.  The medieval knights had their code of Chivalry, the Japanese Samurai had their code of Bushido, and the Hwarang Warriors of Korea followed their Five Commandments.  All of these codes were based on the religious beliefs of those countries and applied only to the moral guidance of the warrior, not his martial skill.

Early Christian Martial Artists

Christian Samurai

Samurai Saint

Takayama

Many people are not aware that some of Japan’s feudal samurai were Christians.  They have their lives to Christ after hearing of Jesus from the Portuguese missionaries. This was kept hidden however, because Christians were severely persecuted during the Tokugawa shogunate.  One such samurai, who was recently canonized as a saint by Pope Francis, was Dom Justo Takayama, born Iustus Takayama Ukon 1552 – 1615.  He was a prominent samurai and daimyo of the Takatsuki, Osaka region. In 1614 Ukon fled to Manila, Philippines to escape persecution and lived out the rest of his days.

 

It would be interesting to know how the Christian samurai reconciled his duties with Biblical teaching, but intense persecution kept them silent and in the shadows.  There is no question that the samurai were martial artists of the highest caliber. Among them were Christians, some of the earliest Christian Martial artists. Another were the knights of Europe.

Medieval Knights

The medieval knights of Europe fought according to their Code of Chivalry, which was originally defined as a fusing together of three essential aspects of the warrior; military, the nobility and religion.  Late in the Middle Ages, after the Crusades in the Holy Land, Chivalry was changed to romanticize the knights of that time.  In 1883 the Ten Commandments of Chivalry were written by Leon Gaultier.  They were written after the end of the knights and may loosely show the code the knights may have followed.  Notice they are heavily based on Christian beliefs;

  1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and thou shalt observe all its directions.
    Medievel Knight

    Medieval Knight

  2. Thou shalt defend the Church.
  3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
  4. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
  5. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
  6. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
  7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
  8. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
  9. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
  10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

This is the Chivalry we are all accustomed to through legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable. The Medieval knights may have followed a similar code. Whatever the exact code, it would have been based on God, Christianity and the Bible.

What Makes It Christian

If a professed Christian is teaching a martial art, does that make their art a Christian martial art? No, not exactly.  Soke John Enger, President of Shinja Martial Arts University (www.shinja.us) defines it best.  He states that “for a martial art to be termed a Christian Martial Art it must not reproduce any of the methods of worship hidden within the original martial system and it should not reproduce anti-Christian worldviews, traditions or ceremonies.  It is an art in which ALL theory, practice, tradition and application points to the Messiah Jesus alone.” (http://www.shinja.us/What_is_a_CMA_.php)

This is no different than the way Buddhist and Daoist practitioners train in their arts, only the Christian uses their Biblical beliefs.  It is common place and accepted if it is an Eastern religion, yet it is mocked and not taken seriously if it is Christianity.  Christians have been warriors and training in the warrior arts for centuries and it is not a new practice.

 

Asian Arts and Eastern Religious Influences

Many of the martial arts of the East use Eastern religion as their moral compass and combine those beliefs with the martial arts they study.  Again, the arts themselves did NOT originate from ANY religion but man applied their religious beliefs to their arts.  In Japan many of the customs in the dojo of bowing to the shrines at the front, having statues or images of Buddha, the Indian monk Bodhidharma, or performing Shinto or Daoist practices.

In Korea, Tae Kwon Do and other Korean arts follow the teachings of the I-ching, a divination method used mostly by Daoist.  Some of the forms practiced are based on the hexagrams used in the book and that are displayed on the Korean flag.  There are also Buddhist teachings in the Korean arts as well.

In China, many martial arts are linked to Buddhist and Confucian practices as well as others. Many of the arts are practiced by Buddhist and Daoist monks and some of the training practices are based on these teachings and beliefs, especially in places like Wudang mountain and the Shaolin temple.

A Christian Martial artist will not practice any of these beliefs or any aspect of the arts that those beliefs are based on. The moral beliefs they abide by are from God, Jesus Christ and the Bible only.

Christian Martial Arts Are Real!

Sparring

Sparring

Are Christian martial arts real? Are they effective? The answer is the same for every school….. it is based on the quality of the instructor and his/her ability to teach.  The arts are the same as those practiced elsewhere.  They differ in the teachings on how and when to employ them, how you respond to and treat your attacker, and how you handle a violent situation because they are based on Christian responses in accordance with the Bible.

I have trained in and taught the Korean art of Tang Soo Do for over 31 years and I teach and train for effectiveness. I practice the early, traditional style of Tang Soo Do Karate, and in no way practice the Daoist traditions or forms that came along later as the art evolved into Soo Bahk Do.  I teach nothing but Biblical, moral principles and my focus is on my art being as effective on the street as possible.

So you can joke, laugh, smirk and mock the next Christian Martial Arts school you see or hear of, but realize that there are some VERY talented instructors in these schools and they are not only teaching highly effective martial arts, they are changing lives. Theirs and others…and that is no joke!

kwputala

Kevin Putala is a blogger, martial arts student/instructor for 30+ years and a security officer. He created the Self Defense Home Academy for YOU.So that you and your loved ones can be safe at home and on the street.

About the Author kwputala

Hello, I have been a student of the martial arts since 1985 and have studied various styles, always focusing on the self defense aspects of the arts. I have taught in the military, privately and publicly and have been a certified personal trainer. I believe that everyone should know how to defend themselves and that this can be learned from home through videos and written material. I am dedicated to you, the reader, in helping you learn self defense so that you are able to handle an attack on the street.

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