Section 12B... Alternative Medicine

003white Index To Section 12B ... Alternative Medicine


Enter The Dragon?
Wrestling With The Martial Arts Phenomenon

by Erwin de Castro, B. J. Oropeza and Ron Rhodes

Please Note: Each coloured link within the article will lead you to a related topic on a different page on this site. However while the text is part of the original article, the links are not. The author of this article may or may not agree with the views expressed on those pages.

 [Also See The Message of the Bible   and  The Warning of The Bible
Far from being outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant to modern society, the Kingdom of God Jesus was sent to earth to proclaim (No, His main message wasn’t about ‘love’) is exactly the utopian world most men and women can only dream of. However, there is also a warning. The Bible very clearly tells us that we all have a choice to make in this life - the most important decision we will ever make. And, if the Bible is indeed the word of God, as it claims to be, and Jesus is the Son of God as He said He was, the consequences for the individual who chooses to ignore, or counter the evidence with clever arguments, will be fatal.



Part One: The Historical-Philosophical Backdrop

Part Two: A Christian Assessment

Part One: The Historical-Philosophical Backdrop
High-flying kicks combined with deadly punches and lethal throws. A lone warrior single-handedly overpowering a band of burly attackers; An old sage imparting wisdom to a young, attentive disciple These images depict how many people perceive the martial arts (literally, the arts of warfare) - and for good reason. Such popular images of Asian-based fighting techniques stem largely from stylized portrayals on the silver screen.

Some of today's leading action stars have made it big because of the martial arts. Bruce Lee, who tragically died in 1973 of a cerebral aneurysm, popularized the martial arts movie genre in the United States with films like Enter the Dragon, which to date has grossed $150 million. Karate champion Chuck Norris, who began his film career with a string of moderately budgeted martial arts movies, now commands "nearly $2 million per film and pals around with U.S. presidents."[1] Tough guy Steven Seagal, an aikido exponent who made his screen debut in 1988, has starred in five hits - each accumulating dollar earnings in the tens of millions. Belgian-born Jean-Claude Van Damme, one of today's most popular movie heroes, also came on the scene in 1988 with a martial arts film that harvested a net sum of $19 million.

Martial arts movies have also scored big with teens and children. The first two Karate Kid films - dealing with a teenage boy coming of age under the guidance of his mentor, an elderly karate expert from Okinawa - each grossed over $100 million. Then, of course, there are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - four pizza-eating, surf-talking, life-sized turtles - whose movies, cartoons, toys, and snacks have translated into incredible profits. Turtle merchandise alone has yielded some $500 million per year.

Over the past few decades the martial arts have emerged from relative obscurity - a practice reserved for a select few - to become a booming industry. One would be hard-pressed today to find a sizable city without at least one martial arts school. In fact, just between 1987 and 1991, the number of such schools in the United States jumped 50 percent - from a little over 4,600 to almost 7,000[2] - with each facility taking in an estimated $60,000 to $70,000 per year.[3]

Of the two to three million practitioners in the United States alone, about 40 percent are children between the ages of seven and fourteen.[4] With lessons running anywhere from $55 per month to well over $100 per hour - and the added expense of uniforms, protective gear, and equipment - it's easy to see how the industry as a whole has managed to generate an annual revenue topping the billion-dollar mark.[5]

Of course, the practice of the martial arts is not strictly confined to the dojos (training facilities). Military and law enforcement agencies actively incorporate martial arts techniques and armament into their regimen. Some police departments have even traded in their conventional nightsticks for nunchakus, a classical weapon from Okinawa consisting of two foot-long sticks attached by a short cord or chain,[6] or L-shaped batons modeled after yet another Okinawan martial arts weapon.

It is also common for universities, colleges, and adult education classes to offer a variety of martial arts courses - ranging from practical self-defense methods to more spiritually oriented styles such as t'ai-chi ch'uan and aikido. Even local YMCAs typically have one or more instructors teaching karate or judo, as do many health clubs.

In view of this pervasive cultural penetration, it is not surprising that many Christians are being influenced in varying degrees by the martial arts. What is surprising, however, is the reported percentage of martial artists claiming to be Christians. Scot Conway, founder of the Christian Martial Arts Foundation, estimates that in the United States between 50 and 70 percent of all martial artists - and roughly 20 percent of all instructors - consider themselves Christians.[7] (Note that these percentages reflect those who call themselves Christians, regardless of whether or not they are evangelicals.)

The martial arts are a topic of much confusion and misunderstanding today, especially within the evangelical community. Views range from those who claim the Asian martial arts are wholly incompatible with Christianity to those who say the two naturally blend.

Is the "Dragon" (Satan) finding a new entrance into our society and even the church through the popularity of the martial arts? Before arriving at a balanced conclusion on the matter, the vast differences separating the various arts must be considered. At the very least, a fundamental understanding of their historical roots, traditions, philosophies, and goals is necessary. In this first of two installments, we will lay a foundation by examining these issues as related to the martial arts in China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia.

With its rich heritage, China is considered by many to be the predominant source of ideas and practices that have shaped the martial arts.[8] Unfortunately, the history of Chinese martial arts is inundated with legend and lore.

Some ascribe the confusion to the negative attitude toward the martial arts held by those formerly in control in China. According to an article in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, "the literate Chinese elite traditionally took a jaundiced view of physical combat and were inclined to ignore the arts." Indeed, "martial artists were, almost by definition, members of the illiterate lower classes and unable to leave written records of their own history. And, in the eyes of the elite record keepers, martial artists were not merely social inferiors - because of their frequent association with the underworld and seditious activities, they were often regarded as criminals."[9]

This does not appear to have always been the case, however. The earliest traces of the Chinese martial arts date back to the time of the Chou Dynasty (the royal lineage that ruled China from about 1122 to 255 B.C.) with descriptions of noblemen engaging in boxing, wrestling, fencing, archery, and horsemanship.[10] Archery, for one, became an integral part of the social conventions that helped insure harmony in the existing culture.

During the Warring States period (403-221 B.C.), however, the socially accepted "games" of war (scheduled battles that functioned as rituals) among the nobility of different states turned hostile, brutal, and bloody. With the decline of Chou rule, lords of separate states vied for supremacy - contracting farmers, merchants, artisans, and peasants as foot soldiers. Many of these were skilled in various arts of combat.

During this same general period, various philosophical and religious schools came into prominence that began to exert a significant influence over the developing arts of fighting. Inasmuch as a balanced Christian perspective on the martial arts depends on an awareness of these philosophical and religious schools, it is necessary that we briefly turn our attention to them before resuming our discussion of the martial arts.

Philosophical and Religious Influences on the Chinese Martial Arts
. The word "Taoism" refers to a Chinese philosophy based on the teachings of Lao Tzu (c. 6th-4th century B.C.) and Chuang Tzu (c. 399-295 B.C.). The central theme of Taoism has to do with harmony with the "natural flow" of the universe. Letting nature take its course is believed to be the key to happiness and fulfillment. Taoists therefore say that life should be approached with the goal of "taking no action that is contrary to Nature."[11]

To Taoists, nature is synonymous with the Tao - which makes up the entire universe; it is elusive, hidden, mysterious.[12] The Tao, in turn, is divided into two forces called yin and yang. Yin and yang represent the negative and positive aspects of the universe, each flowing into one another in a continuous cycle of change. "Yin is characterized as the negative force of darkness, coldness, and emptiness. Yang stands for the positive energy that produces light, warmth, and fullness. These alternating forces are indestructible and inexhaustible. They contradict as well as complement each other."[13]

Taoist philosophy sees the universe as a balance between these two inseparable, opposing forces. All manifestations of the Tao, and all changes in nature, are believed to be generated by the dynamic interplay of these two polar forces.

Now, blending with the course of nature, or becoming one with the Tao, is a common goal for a number of martial artists. Attaining this is said to require something far different than mere intellectual apprehension: "The adept becomes one with the Tao by realizing within himself its unity, simplicity, and emptiness."[14] Both the Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, the oldest primary works of Taoism, set forth the notion that meditation, along with breathing exercises, greatly aids those attempting to become one with the Tao.[15]

With its emphasis on the natural, Taoism places a high premium on intuition and spontaneity, claiming that "the highest skills operate on an almost unconscious level."[16] Such intuition and spontaneity are of obvious value to the martial artist.

Religious Taoism
Various Chinese shamans and magicians incorporated into their own existing belief systems the ideas of Taoism, producing what came to be known as religious Taoism. The primary objective of religious Taoists was the attainment of physical immortality. Meditation, along with various magical practices, physical exercises, breathing exercises, and sexual practices, was considered the means of retaining vigor and achieving everlasting life.[17]

The practice of breath control (called chi kung), in particular, figured prominently not only in the quest for immortality but for control of the universe. As a backdrop, chi (sometimes written as qi or ki) was believed to be a mystical energy, a "substance surrounding and including all things, which brought even distant points into direct physical contact." Indeed, "since one single substance joined all corners of the cosmos into a single organic unity, it followed that mastery of qi was equivalent to mastery of the universe."[18]

Religious Taoists believed that breath control is the means of tapping into and controlling the chi force:

The Taoist believed that, through his own supremely concentrated breath control, he could inhale the Chi of the universe into his body and fuse it with his own self-energized Chi. This combination could only result in a healthful extension of life. This practice demands extraordinary patience and consistently deep meditation. The practitioner, after clearing his mind of extraneous thoughts in a kind of "fast of the mind," must focus only on the constant feeling and sound of the inhalation and exhalation of his respiration. This experience will enable one, in time, to circulate and direct the power of Chi into any part of the body.[19]

Since chi is (allegedly) a force or power that can be tapped into by the martial artist, and since breath control is the means of tapping into chi, the connection between breath control and (for example) breaking boards with a single blow of the hand becomes obvious. It is believed that tapping into chi via breath control enables the martial artist to perform acts requiring great strength and power.

Bodhidharma and Zen Buddhism
Attaining strength and power was also of interest to Bodhidharma (c. A.D. 5th-6th century), an Indian monk who is said to be the originator of the Shaolin boxing tradition and the father of the martial arts.[20] Believed to have been a member of the warriors/rulers caste of India, Bodhidharma brought with him a brand of Buddhism known as Zen, which advocated mental control and meditation as means to enlightenment.

As the story goes, Bodhidharma - disturbed by the Shaolin monks' inability to remain awake during meditation - devised a set of calisthenic exercises that later formed the basis for their unique style of boxing. "Bodhidharma explained to the monks that body and soul are inseparable. This unity must be invigorated for enlightenment." Hence, "physical fitness became a part of Shaolin life with his introduction of systematized exercises to strengthen the body and mind. Not only was health perfected, but self-defense movements were devised later from Bodhidharma's knowledge of Indian fighting systems. These early calisthenics (in-place exercises only) marked the beginning of Shaolin Temple boxing."[21]

To sum up, then, Taoism (with its emphasis on blending with the course of nature), religious Taoism (with its emphasis on using breath control and meditation to tap into and control chi), and Bodhidharma's Zen Buddhism (with its emphasis on mental control, meditation, and physical discipline) serve as the philosophical/ religious foundation for the various martial arts. This will be illustrated in what follows.

The Chinese Fighting Arts: Kung Fu
Collectively, the Chinese fighting systems are commonly called kung fu, meaning "ability" - a generic term used for exercise that is well performed. Kung fu is typically divided into two main categories - external/hard and internal/soft systems.

The "external" or "hard" martial arts stress powerful foot and hand strikes, along with a regimen of intense hand and body conditioning.[22] While the external system advocates some use of breath control, the emphasis lies more on generating quick movements, utilizing force in straight, linear motions, and responding to force with force.[23]

By contrast, the "internal" or "soft" martial arts focus on inner spiritual development, balance, form, and mental awareness. Besides emphasizing the importance of Taoist and Buddhist philosophical principles, stress is also placed on utilizing the chi force. Through breath control techniques, internal school practitioners seek to "collect, cultivate, and store" the chi force in the region located below the navel.[24]

Of the Chinese martial arts belonging to the internal category, the three most prominent are t'ai-chi ch'uan, hsing-i, and pa-kua. External martial arts, which comprise the majority of the Chinese fighting arts, include those from the Shaolin Temples (which later split into northern and southern styles of boxing), derivatives of the Shaolin tradition (including wing chun and hung gar), and countless other forms arising from China's military heritage. As we will see below, the Chinese martial arts had great influence far beyond China's borders.

The ninth century A.D. marked a turning point in Japanese history with the emergence of the professional warrior (called bushi) and the subsequent rise of the military class to power. This period witnessed the decline of the (once-powerful) reigning Fujiwara family (or clan), which subsequently had to enlist the aid of certain other families/clans to enforce established laws and regulations. The Taira and Minamoto families, in particular, became so successful that they ended up ruling the land as military powerhouses. By the next century, "the military profession was fully established as a hereditary privilege,"[25] a mark of distinction.

A man by the name of Minamoto Yoritomo (A.D. 1147-1199) became the first permanent shogun (supreme military ruler) of feudal Japan when he overturned the dominant Taira clan. The military government he established was known as the Kamakura (1185-1333), named after the region where he stationed his seat of power. During the Kamakura period the professional warriors of Japan refined their "arts of warfare," most of which were derived from China and the Asian continent.[26]

Japan's "Arts of Warfare"
The classical Japanese "arts of warfare" (called bugei) came to include swordsmanship, archery, and various forms of combat that utilize the halberd (a spear-like weapon), the staff, the stick, and no weapon at all.[27] There are many martial arts we could examine in this category. We will limit our attention, however, to the two most popular today - jujutsu and ninjutsu.

Jujutsu. Jujutsu ("the art of flexibility") was a term coined to refer to various systems of fighting that use minimal or no weapons. It can be defined as "various armed or unarmed fighting systems that can be applied against armed or unarmed enemies."[28]

Jujutsu has always been a "no-holds-barred" type of fighting. It properly includes methods of "kicking, striking, kneeing, throwing, choking, joint-locking, use of certain weapons, as well as holding and tying an enemy."[29] It is indeed a "flexible" art.

Ninjutsu. Ninjutsu ("the art of stealth") is said to have originated between A.D. 593 and 628 and attained wide notoriety during the Kamakura era.[30] Ninjas - practitioners of this art - were typically "warrior-mystics" in the mountainous regions of south central Japan.[31] They were contracted by Japan's professional warriors (none of whom generally practiced ninjutsu) to engage in espionage, sabotage, and disinformation.

Physical training in ninjutsu involved developing special skills in both armed and unarmed combat. Weapon training included "the use of the sword, spear or lance fighting, throwing blades, as well as fire and explosives. Unarmed self-defense methods consisted of (a) techniques for attacking the bones(b) grappling techniques(c) assorted complementary techniques including tumbling and breaking falls, leaping and climbing, as well as special ways of running and walking."[32] These techniques, incidentally, have fascinated millions of Americans as portrayed in a variety of Ninja movies and television shows.

Philosophical and Religious Influences
Along with their martial arts, Japan's professional warriors mastered cultural subjects such as flower arranging, tea ceremony, calligraphy, poetry, and painting[33] - strongly indicating the influence of Confucian ideals. (Confucianism - the philosophy introduced by Confucius [551-479 B.C.] emphasizing ethics and social order - is characterized by cultural refinements and an appreciation for scholarship and aesthetics.)

The ethical code to which these aristocratic warriors adhered is known as the "way of the warrior" (called bushido): "Bushido was never a written code, being communicated directly from leader to follower. Its early development incorporated Shinto [an indigenous Japanese religion] and Confucian ideas such as ancestor respect and filial piety. [Zen] Buddhism, with its concepts of implicit trust in fate, submissiveness to the inevitable, and stoic composure when faced with adversity, was another cultural root."[34]

Japan's "Martial Ways"
Many of today's familiar Japanese-based fighting systems fall under the classification of "martial ways" (called budo), forms that developed from the above-mentioned "arts of warfare" (bugei). The "martial ways" are largely products of the twentieth century and, according to one scholar, "are concerned with spiritual discipline through which the individual elevates himself mentally and physically in search of self-perfection."[35] The "martial ways" are less combatively oriented than the "arts of warfare." Three widely popular "martial ways" are aikido, judo, and karate-do (commonly known simply as karate). Let us briefly examine the unique features of these arts.

Aikido. Aikido ("the way of harmony with ki [the chi force]") was developed in 1942 by martial arts innovator Morihei Ueshiba. His goal with this martial art was deeply religious: "The unification of the fundamental creative principle, ki, permeating the universe, and the individual ki, inseparable from breath-power, of each person."[36]

Morihei's aikido employs a series of flowing circular movements - in conjunction with locking, holding, moving, and tumbling techniques - to turn an opponent's force against himself. Various aikido techniques are showcased in the action movies of Hollywood star Steven Seagal.

Judo. Judo ("the way of flexibility") was introduced in 1882 by educator Jigoro Kano as a sport exercise based on numerous grappling and throwing techniques. Developed from jujutsu, judo focuses on timing, speed, balance, and falling.

Kano desired that judo training be undertaken not only in the training facility but also outside it. He believed that endeavoring to master the physical aspects of Judo could contribute to the progress and development of man.[37]

Judo is the first Asian martial art to become an Olympic sport (1964). This is one reason for its popularity.

Karate-Do. Karate-do ("the way of the empty hand") is a form of fighting that was secretly developed on the island of Okinawa from Chinese sources as early as the seventeenth century A.D. in response to a ban of weapons imposed by the ruling Okinawan and succeeding Japanese governments. Recognized for its devastating array of hand and foot strikes, karate is characterized by its demanding regimen of rigorous physical conditioning, concentrated breathing exercises, and repetitive rehearsals of blocking, striking, and breaking techniques (for breaking boards, bricks, and the like). Gichin Funakoshi, who introduced his brand of karate to the Japanese public in 1922, declared karate to be "a medium for character building, and the final goal of training to be the perfection of the self."[38]

The Japanese martial arts mentioned above - jujutsu, ninjutsu, aikido, judo, and karate - have thoroughly penetrated American soil. One can find schools for these arts in most major U.S. cities. One of the most explosively popular martial arts in this country, however, comes to us directly from Korea.


A number of martial arts have emerged from Korea - including tae kyon, tae kwon do, hwarang do, tang soo do, hapkido, and kuk sool. Below we will focus attention primarily on tae kwon do, incontestably the most popular of the Korean martial arts.

The Historical Backdrop of the Korean Martial Arts
History reveals that the oldest surviving Korean style, tae kyon ("push shoulder"), originated in northern China before extending to Korea. According to a 1993 article in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, "Probably within the past two thousand years, subak [the older version of tae kyon] spread into Korea and found rapid acceptance first in the military and then in the populace."[39] Chinese influence was also evident in that young Korean soldiers were educated in Confucian philosophy, Zen Buddhist ethics, archery, and weaponry.

In 1910 Japan occupied Korea, and the Korean arts were promptly banned in an effort to suppress Korean nationalism. Three tae kyon schools persevered, however, until Korea's liberation in 1945.[40] Tae kyon was then publicly reintroduced at a South Korean police martial arts competition in 1958.

Tae Kwon Do: The National Sport of Korea
During the years of Korea's suppression, General Choi Hong Hi claims to have learned tae kyon from a famous Korean calligrapher. He later studied karate in Kyoto, Japan. After the 1945 liberation of Korea, General Choi introduced tae kwon do - which he himself created - to the newly established South Korean army. He considers his style to be a hybrid of tae kyon and karate.[41] Sometimes, it is even called Korean karate.

Tae kwon do now has an international membership of over 20 million in 140 countries. In 1955 it became the national martial art of South Korea. In fact, "just as baseball can be said to be the national pastime of the U.S.A., so Tae kwon do is the national pastime of South Korea."[42]

Though tae kwon do and tae kyon both emphasize high kicks and leg sweeps, there are notable differences between the two arts. Tae kwon do, for example, is more competitive and strenuous than tae kyon. Moreover, unlike tae kyon, tae kwon do does not emphasize the use of ki (or chi), adopts traditional Japanese garb, emphasizes linear movements, and responds to force with force.

As much as 80 percent of tae kwon do involves kicking.[43] Tae kwon do also uses breaking techniques that are applied to wood, tiles, and bricks as tests for proficiency. This art is known in the West primarily as a physical sport. In Korea, however, it is a way of life generating an attitude of self-discipline and "an ideal of noble moral re-armament."[44]

There is a religious side to tae kwon do, even in the West. Jhoon Rhee, who is often considered to be the father of American tae kwon do (and who claims to be Christian but believes in religious pluralism and denies the deity of Christ), says that instructors have a constitutional right to teach their respective religious beliefs in their studios.[45] Moreover, Tae Yun Kim - the first Korean woman Grandmaster of tae kwon do - teaches her followers in northern California to foster a deep relationship with the Silent Master, who is "the power of true self," contacted through meditation and visualization.[46]

Dr. Daeshik Kim, a physical education professor at the University of Austin (Texas), believes that tae kwon do, which has strong historical ties with Zen Buddhism, will help harmonize the philosophies of Zen and Christianity in the West:

Zen is coming to the Christian West and many are seeing conflict and contradiction. But how much is really there? Surely truth cannot be in conflict with truth. This meeting may serve to shake some of the acquired dross and ritual from both paths, prompting a reassessment and return to the basic importance of spiritual harmony in life. The spread of martial arts into the West has already prompted self-questioning in many Westerners who have been introduced to it and sensed the deeper undercurrents.[47]

In recent years, the popularity of the Korean arts has skyrocketed, comprising approximately 30 percent of all martial arts practiced in the United States.[48] These arts have increased as a result of good business sense, their special appeal to women and children, and the recognition of tae kwon do as an Olympic sport in 1988.

Besides China, Japan, and Korea, Southeast Asia and the Pacific have also witnessed the emergence of a number of martial arts - including muay thai kickboxing from Thailand and kali from the Philippines. Let us briefly consider some of the unique features of these representative arts.

Muay Thai Kickboxing. One of the fastest-growing martial arts today comes from Thailand. Called muay thai kickboxing, this distinctive fighting form is purported to have originated in 1560 when King Naresuen of Siam (Thailand's former name) was "captured by the Burmese and given a chance for liberty if he could defeat the Burmese champions."[49] As the story goes, King Naresuen was victorious, and from then on kickboxing was a national sport for Thailand.

Researchers believe the art is much older than the commonly accepted date of 1560, however. They say the art was probably influenced by Chinese boxing and the fighting arts of India (armed and unarmed techniques, some of which date as far back as 1500 B.C.).

The height of muay thai kickboxing occurred about two hundred years ago during the reign of Pra Chao Sua (King Tiger). Buddhist monks were the primary instructors.[50] The rules then were very few, with no weight divisions or timed rounds of competition. With the exception of "grappling, pulling hair, biting, the use of fingers, and kicking a downed opponent,"[51] all else was permitted. At times, contenders would fight with broken glass stuck on their hands (their hands had been wrapped in cotton, horsehide, or hemp and then dipped in resin or some other sticky substance).

Following World War II, regulations were added to make the sport less brutal. Components of Western boxing have also been incorporated into the existing system. With its intense training regimen, muay thai kickboxing is one of the most physically demanding sports today.

Kali. The Philippine martial art of Kali (meaning "sword") features the use of knives and sticks along with empty-hand techniques. Historically (from the ninth century A.D.), kali was taught on three different levels: physical, mental, and spiritual. The physical level involved training both with and without weapons. Mental training was directed to an understanding of "the body, man's psychological makeup, and the role of cosmic forces." On the spiritual level, "the kali practitioner sought to become one with Bathala," believed to be God, creator, and chief deity.[52]

There is a dimension to kali devoted to the development of internal power, which employs - among other means - meditation, deep breathing exercises, chanting, mantras, prayer, and mystical visualization. Yet, as one scholar notes, "while the metaphysical and spiritual bases of the arts exist, few practitioners are either aware of or stress this dimension in their teachings."[53]

Kali's continued existence as a martial art presents us with an intriguing story. Under the edict of Spanish rule kali was banned from practice in the Philippines in 1637. In this same year, however, Spanish friars introduced a socioreligious play in the Philippines - featuring Filipino actors - which "dramatized the religious victory of the Spaniards over the natives. The mock combat portrayed in these plays served to secretly preserve the martial movements and techniques."[54] The Spaniards had no idea that kali was being preserved right under their noses by the Filipinos on stage.

The staged mock combat also led to modifications of kali which later became known as arnis ("harness") and escrima ("fencing"). Arnis pertains to fighting systems based on the use of either one or two hardwood sticks. Eskrima refers to systems based on using sword and dagger.

In arnis, the practitioner is "trained to concentrate his gaze on his opponent's forehead. A stare is developed which seems to penetrate through the opponent and creates an attitude of dominance over him. The expert is trained to stare for extended periods without winking." After all, "a wink in combat might prove fatal."[55]

It is interesting to note that, at least initially, there was much secrecy involved in learning arnis. "Training sessions were announced only to the initiated and carried out secretly in remote places. Students were sworn, under threat of death, never to reveal their knowledge."[56]

In 1900, under American rule, the Filipino martial arts returned to public prominence and were used against the invading Japanese forces during World War II.[57] The growing popularity of arnis can be seen in its establishment as a formal course by the physical education department of the Far Eastern University in Manila.[58]

Though each of the martial arts from China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia has distinctive qualities, it is important to realize - as an overarching principle - that the martial arts are dynamic; changes and development never seem to cease. There are traditionalists who try to maintain the heart and soul of their systems, but nevertheless they are willing to make modifications to meet the needs and demands of a changing society. It is highly unlikely that any but the most recent of today's fighting styles have retained every original facet devised by its originator. Chances are the "originator" himself took an already existing system and altered it for improvement.

The United States provides many examples of this dynamic element. We can point, for example, to the Americanized version of kickboxing, whose champion - Benny "the Jet" Urquidiz - is a born-again Christian. There is also the kajukenbo system devised by Adriano "Sonny" Emperado in Hawaii in 1947, which is essentially a collation of karate, judo, jujutsu, kenpo, and Chinese boxing.[59]

Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do
Perhaps of all contemporary innovators, none have received more attention than the late Bruce Lee, who formulated jeet kune do ("way of the intercepting fist"). Jeet kune do is more properly an approach to the martial arts than a distinct style all its own.

The strong Taoist undercurrent running through Lee's philosophy is clearly evident in his iconoclastic views of the traditional systems, which he felt imprisoned practitioners. "I hope to free my comrades from bondage to styles, patterns, and doctrines," he said in a 1971 interview with Black Belt magazine.[60]

In Lee's opinion, every person is different. Hence, rather than forcing an individual to conform to a style that does not "fit him," a style should be developed that suits the uniqueness of the individual. "As a result, Jeet Kune Do utilizes all ways and is bound by none," wrote Lee, "and, likewise, uses any techniques or means which serve its end."[61]

Though on the one hand very practical-oriented, Lee's jeet kune do contains a side that is deeply philosophical and mystical: "The art of Jeet Kune Do is simply to simplify. It is being oneself; it is reality in its 'isness.' Thus, isness is the meaning - having freedom in its primary sense, not limited by attachments, confinements, partialization, complexities, Jeet Kune Do is enlightenment. It is a way of life, a movement toward will power and control, though it ought to be enlightened by intuition."[62]


What can we conclude from the brief survey above? For one thing, the martial arts are here to stay. They have become, in many ways, a part of the American mainstream.

Beyond this, we must recognize that the martial arts are as rich and diverse as the Asian culture from which they emerged. Their roots and traditions derive from a variety of sources, from fierce warriors and aristocrats of the past - to exceptionally skilled commoners in the arts of fighting - to Taoist and Buddhist monks in search of harmony and enlightenment.

As well, we have seen that the goals and focus of the assorted arts range from the purely pragmatic (e.g., physical fitness and self-defense) to the deeply religious and philosophical (which can lead to the esoteric and the occult). Moreover, the arts themselves continue even now to shift and adapt, as they always have, with a changing society.

For the Christian there are questions that remain to be answered: Is it right for Christians to defend themselves via the martial arts when the Bible says to "turn the other cheek?" Is it right for Christians to participate in what many consider to be a violent activity? Even if one answers yes to these questions, is it possible for a Christian to completely divorce the Eastern religious philosophy and mysticism that often accompanies the martial arts from the distinctive physical discipline?

Now that we have taken a quick survey of the arts themselves, we are in a better position to consider these and other questions that confront the Christian about the martial arts. That is precisely what we will do in the second and final installment of this two-part series.  (PART II)


1 John Corcoran, The Martial Arts Companion: Culture, History, and Enlightenment (New York: Mallard Press, 1992), 80.

2 Glenn Rifkin, "The Black Belts of the Screen Are Filling the Dojos," The New York Times, 16 February 1992, 10.

3 Personal interview with Marian Castinado, executive editor of M.A. Training magazine (circ. 40,000), and associate editor of Black Belt magazine (circ. 100,000), 12 July 1993.

4 Ibid.; and Rifkin, F10.

5 Personal interview with Nicholas Cokinos, chairman of the Educational Funding Company (which handles the finances of over 700 martial arts schools), 14 July 1993.

6 See "Nunchaku? No, Thank You - That's What Angry
Demonstrators Are Saying to a Painful New Twist in Police Hardware," People Weekly, 28 May 1990, 105-6.

7 Personal interview with Scot Conway, Christian Martial Arts Foundation, 14 July 1993.

8 Michael Maliszewski, "Meditative-Religious Traditions of Fighting Arts and Ways," Journal of Asian Martial Arts, July 1992, 11. Scholars point to India as the other leading source.

9 Charles Holcombe, "Theater of Combat: A Critical Look at the Chinese Martial Arts," Journal of Asian Martial Arts, October 1992, 65-66.

10 Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith, Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1980), 15; cf. David Chow and Richard Spangler, Kung Fu: History, Philosophy and Technique (Hollywood: Unique Publications Company, 1980), 2.

11 Wing-Tsit Chan, translator and compiler, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963), 136.

12 Tao-te Ching, 1, 4, 14, 21; cf. Herlee G. Creel, Chinese

Thought from Confucius to Mao Tse-Tung (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1953), 101-2.

13 Chow and Spangler, 16-17; cf. Tao-te Ching, 42; Chan, 262-63; Creel, 172-73.

14 Stephen Schumacher and Gert Woerner, eds., The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion (Boston: Shambhala
Publications, 1989), 356.

15 See, for example, Draeger and Smith, 16, 31-33.

16 Creel, 106.

17 Schumacher and Woerner, 358.

18 Charles Holcombe, "The Daoist Origins of the Chinese Martial Arts," Journal of Asian Martial Arts, January 1993, 13. Chi is understood to be the energy and matter produced by the interaction between yin and yang (see John P. Painter, "Will the Real Yin and Yang Please Stand Up?" Inside Kung-Fu, December 1991, 39-42; cf. Chan, 784).

19 Chow and Spangler, 24-25.

20 Ibid., 7-13. A number of scholars question the veracity of this claim, asserting that "combative arts of a shaolin nature existed long before Ta Mo [Bodhidharma] came to China" (P'ng Chye Khim and Donn F Draeger, Shaolin: An Introduction to Lohan Fighting Techniques [Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1979,] 15); cf. Holcombe, "Theater of Combat," 68; and Michael F. Speisbach, "Bodhidharma: Meditating Monk, Martial Arts Master or Make-Believe?" Journal of Asian Martial Arts, October 1992, 10-26.

21 Chow and Spangler, 11.

22 Maliszewski, 15.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid. The distinctions drawn between the "external/hard" and "internal/soft" can be misleading, for elements of one sometimes find their way into the other; cf. Draeger and Smith, 17-18.

25 Donn F. Draeger, Classical Bujutsu (New York: Weatherhill, 1990), 25.

26 Draeger and Smith, 83.

27 See Draeger, Classical Bujutsu, idem. Modern Bujutsu and
Budo (New York: Weatherhill, 1974); and Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, Secrets of the Samurai: A Survey of the Martial Arts of Feudal Japan (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1979).

28 Draeger and Smith, 133.

29 Ibid.

30 Maliszewski, 25.

31 Ibid. For an example of ninjutsu mysticism, see Stephen K. Hayes, Ninja, Volume Two: Warrior Ways of Enlightenment (Burbank, CA: Ohara Publications, 1981), 143-59.

32 Maliszewski.

33 Draeger and Smith, 84.

34 Ibid., 85. On Folk Shinto, see Hori Ichiro, Japanese Religion: A Survey by the Agency for Cultural Affairs [Tokyo: Kodansha International Limited, 1981], 29-45, 121-43).

35 Draeger and Smith, 91.

36 Kisshomaru Ueshiba, The Spirit of Aikido, trans. Taitetsu Unno (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1987), 15. See also Draeger, Modern Bujutsu and Budo, 137-62.

37 Draeger, Modern Bujutsu and Budo, 118-19.

38 Ibid., 131; cf. Carrie Wingate, "Exploring Our Roots:
Historical and Cultural Foundations of the Ideology of
Karate-do," Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 2, 3 (1993): 10-35.

39 Robert Young, "The History and Development of Tae Kyon," Journal of Asian Martial Arts 2, 2 (1993): 46.

40 Young, 54.

41 Choi Hong Hi, Taekwon-Do: The Art of Self-Defense (Seoul,
Korea: Daeha Publication Company, 1968), front jacket sleeve.

42 David Mitchell, The Overlook Martial Arts Handbook (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1988), 160.

43 Scott Shuger, "The Fine Art of Kicking," Women's Sports and Fitness, January 1986, 17.

44 Choi Hong Hi, 14.

45 James William Holzer, "Martial Arts in the Name of God?" Inside Kung Fu, March 1987, 72.

46 Cassia Herman, "Tae Yun Kim: Grandmaster Martial Artist," Body Mind and Spirit, Summer 1991, 54-58.

47 Daeshik Kim, Tae Kwon Do: Volume 2 (Seoul, Korea: NANAM Publications, 1991), 138.

48 Castinado, personal interview.

49 Draeger and Smith, 162.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Maszilewski, 31.

53 Ibid., 32.

54 Ibid., 30.

55 Draeger and Smith, 189.

56 Ibid.

57 Maliszewski, 30; cf. Dan Inosanto, The Filipino Martial Arts (Los Angeles: Know Now Publishing Company, 1980), 12-13.

58 Draeger and Smith, 190.

59 See William K. Beaver, "Kajukenbo: The Perfected Art of Dirty Streetfighting," Karate/Kung-fu Illustrated, February 1992, 16-21.

60 Quoted in Dan Inosanto, Jeet Kune Do: The Art and Philosophy of Bruce Lee (Los Angeles: Know Now Publishing Company, 1980), 10.

61 Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do (Burbank, CA: Ohara Publications, 1975), 12.

62 Ibid.

(An article from the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1993, page 24)



Part Two: A Christian Assessment

In Part One of this series we looked at the philosophical and religious elements that have helped shape the martial arts, and briefly discussed some of the most widely known styles practiced today. In this second and final installment we will consider the key issues faced by Christians contemplating participation in the martial arts.[1]

One of the most serious concerns regarding the Christian's possible involvement with the martial arts stems from the fact that a good majority of them originated in Asian cultures permeated by a variety of Eastern religions. As we saw in Part One, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinto, and various folk myths and traditions have, in varying degrees, contributed to the development of many Asian-based systems of fighting.

As researchers involved in a discernment ministry (the Christian Research Institute), one of our greatest concerns is that Christians who participate in the martial arts - especially Christian children - might be contaminated to some extent by harmful aspects of Eastern thought. This, of course, must be avoided. There can be no compromise when it comes to one's relationship with Christ.

he question is, must one necessarily compromise his or her relationship with Christ and endanger his or her spiritual life in order to participate in the martial arts? In what follows we shall consider a number of key issues that will help us answer this important question.

The Religious Root of the Problem
The charge is sometimes made that the martial arts are little more than an expression of Eastern religious thought and are therefore wholly incompatible with orthodox Christianity. While concerns about Eastern influences are legitimate and should be seriously considered, we believe this type of reasoning is simplistic. It ignores the complexity of the situation by dismissing altogether every facet of the martial arts simply due to the nature of their Eastern origin.

This type of reasoning is an example of the genetic fallacy. Such thinking demands that "something (or someone) should be rejected because it (or he) comes from a bad source."[2] It attempts "to reduce the significance of an idea, person, practice, or institution merely to an account of its origin (genesis) or its earlier forms, thereby overlooking the development, regression, or difference to be found in it in the present situation."[3]

There are many ways we could illustrate the genetic fallacy. For example, when Philip (in the Bible) told Nathanael about Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael committed the genetic fallacy by asking, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46). Another example relates to wedding rings. A person might argue, "You're not going to wear a wedding ring, are you? Don't you know that the wedding ring originally symbolized the ankle chains worn by women to prevent them from running away from their husbands? I would not have thought you would be a party to such a sexist practice."[4]

Still another example is found in the science of astronomy. One might attempt to condemn astronomy simply because it originated from astrology, an occultic art condemned by God (Isa. 47:13-15). But such reasoning is clearly faulty.

Now, we must emphasize that the martial arts have undergone vast changes since their early beginnings and continue to do so even today. To dismiss all martial arts as anti-Christian simply because of the initial religious context from which they arose is to ignore the dynamic character of the arts themselves. It has been our finding that the degree to which any form of Eastern religion finds its way into regular training regimens has more to do with the approach of the individual instructors themselves, whose opinions are as varied as the arts they teach.

To be sure, there are teachers today who see the martial arts as part of a larger, comprehensive package that involves religious elements. Yozan Dirk Mosig, 8th-degree black belt and chairman of the regional directors for the United States Karate Association (USKA), makes no qualms that Eastern philosophy should be the focal point of all martial arts curricula: "Karatedo, aikido, kyudo and many others are ways of extending the meditative experience of zazen [Zen meditation] to daily life." Indeed, Mosig says, "he who practices martial arts without the mental discipline of zazen is like a fool who comes to eat without a chopstick."[5]

Yet, many disagree with Mosig. Louis Casamassa, head of the Red Dragon Karate System, is representative in saying that today "the martial arts and religion are as far apart in ideology as Albert Schweitzer is from Adolph Hitler."[6] Likewise, keichu-do karate founder Karl Marx, a 50-year veteran of the martial arts and an avowed Christian, says that "the average American [martial arts] instructor doesn't even bother with the mental/spiritual aspect of his art."[7]

Christian pastors and kung fu veterans, Raul and Xavier Ries, affirm that a number of martial arts practitioners do become entrenched in religious and mystical practices. However, the brothers are quick to point out, "We do not condone that. We do not believe that is necessary."[8] The martial arts, they contend, are just like other forms of art that can either be used to bring glory to God or abused to bring glory to oneself. Such Christian practitioners of the martial arts completely divorce the physical aspect of the arts from the Eastern religions from which they emerged. (More on this shortly.)

The Broad Spectrum of Martial Arts
Given the great diversity of the Asian martial arts, it is hardly surprising that some styles tend to emphasize Eastern philosophical and religious beliefs more so than others. In fact, a broad spectrum of the various arts can be projected today, ranging from those that are purely physical and sportive in character to those steeped in mysticism. For this reason, Christians considering participation in the martial arts must be extremely discerning and select an art located only on the purely physical/sportive side of the spectrum.

Here is a good rule of thumb: generally speaking, the "internal" or "soft" martial arts - such as t'ai-chi ch'uan and aikido - tend to emphasize Eastern philosophical and religious concepts more so than the "external" or "hard" martial arts, such as kung fu and judo. Put another way, most "internal/soft" martial arts fall on the mystical side of the spectrum while most "external/hard" arts fall on the physical/sportive side of the spectrum.

The "internal/soft" arts generally focus on inner spiritual development, balance, form, and mental awareness. Besides emphasizing Taoist and Buddhist philosophical principles, stress is also placed on utilizing the chi (ki) force. By contrast, the "external/hard" martial arts typically involve an intense regimen of body conditioning, stress powerful foot and hand strikes, respond to force with force, and tend to avoid Eastern mystical elements. Hence, on the whole, the Christian should avoid participating in "internal/soft" martial arts and select an art from the "external/hard" category.

Having said this, however, we must make a few important qualifications. On the one hand, while "internal/soft" martial arts generally involve Eastern philosophical/religious elements, in some cases the physical aspect of the art may be isolated from the philosophical/religious context. This is the case with the so-called Koga method employed by several law enforcement agencies. "Drawing heavily on the ['internal/soft'] martial art aikido, the method stresses minimal force during confrontations to reduce the likelihood of injury to police officers and suspects."[9] However, common aikido concerns - such as learning to utilize the chi force, and attuning one's spirit and body with the universe - are not part of Koga, which focuses strictly on physical techniques and their proper application.

On the other hand, while most "external/hard" martial arts avoid or minimize Eastern religious elements, in some cases an "external/hard" art retains some religious trappings. The Indonesian-based style pentjak-silat, for example, is oftentimes colored by an eclectic blend of animism, shamanism, occultism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism.[10]

What, then, can we conclude? The "internal/soft" and "external/hard" designations can be helpful in choosing an art as a general rule, but in select cases the designations may prove problematic since elements of one occasionally overlap into the other. More often than not, the instructor of a given school - whether "external/hard" or "internal/soft" - becomes the deciding factor. The instructor might present a martial art to students as a strictly physical activity for fitness and protection, or as an all-encompassing world view that involves religious elements. Choosing the right instructor, then, becomes a critical issue in relation to the Christian's possible involvement in the martial arts.

Issues of Discernment
Two areas of concern for the Christian considering participation in the martial arts - both related to the Eastern origins of the arts - are meditation and the use of the so-called chi force. Because these elements surface in some martial arts today, it is critical to have a proper perspective on them.

Meditation. Within the context of the martial arts, meditation has generally referred to those practices that involve "the focusing of attention non-analytically in either a concentrated or expansive fashion, the outcome of which can lead to an alteration in consciousness, an increase in awareness and insight, or a combination of such psychological factors."[11] It is said that diligent practice of meditation "leads to a non-dualistic state of mind in which, the distinction between subject and object having disappeared and the practitioner having become one with 'god' or 'the absolute,' conventions like time and space are transcended[until] finally that stage is reached which religions refer to as salvation, liberation, or complete enlightenment."[12]

The Christian, of course, must not participate in such forms of meditation - for at least three reasons. First, its goal is to provide the practitioner a way (if not the way) to ultimate truth and freedom through sheer human effort, thus advocating a form of self-salvation over and against what the Bible explicitly teaches (Eph. 2:8-9). In so doing, it ignores man's fallen nature (Rom. 3:10-12) and denies Christ's exclusive claim as the way to salvation (John 14:6).

Second, Eastern meditation's stated goal of transforming one's state of mind into a monistic ("all is one"), if not an outright pantheistic ("all is God"), outlook lies in direct contradiction to biblical theism. The latter recognizes an eternal distinction between a personal Creator-God and His creation (Isa. 44:6-8; Heb. 2:6-8).

Third, such altered states of consciousness can open one up to spiritual affliction and deception by the powers of darkness. This alone should serve to dissuade any Christian from participating in Eastern forms of meditation.

See Altered States of Consciousness in Contemplative Prayer

Fortunately, not all martial arts schools utilize such meditation. One scholar has noted that "within various schools of fighting arts, particularly in America, a very small number of practitioners value the role of formal meditation as an adjunctive method of realizing one's essential nature or attaining optimal psychological development (enlightenment)."[13] This underscores our point that choosing the right instructor is absolutely critical.

Additionally, we must note that not all martial arts instructors interpret meditation in the same way. For some, meditation involves nothing more than putting aside passing thoughts and other distractions that would otherwise cause personal disruption during practice sessions. "Meditation" of this variety is generally devoid of mysticism and differs little from the focused concentration of an athlete getting ready to shoot a basketball from the free-throw line or a golfer preparing to putt on the green.

While this latter form of "meditation" is not necessarily harmful or antibiblical, it nevertheless should be distinguished from biblical meditation. Scripture defines meditation in terms of the believer objectively contemplating and reflecting on God and His Word (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2).

Also See Transcendental Meditation (TM)

The Chi (Ki) Force. Various martial artists assert that learning to develop and use chi - an alleged mystical force that pervades the universe - is the ultimate means of attaining high proficiency in the fighting arts. Some believe that "in the Asian system of Martial Arts, ch'i is directed by will power to specific points of the body, resulting in apparently paranormal feats of strength and control."[14]

Practically everyone acknowledges that the traditional concept of chi is deeply rooted in Eastern religion and philosophy. "In the Orient we apply the word ki ('chi') to the state which is also the real nature of the universe," wrote leading aikido authority Koichi Tohei. "Ki has no beginning and no end; its absolute value neither increases nor decreases. We are one with the universal, and our lives are part of the life of the universal."[15] Tohei's understanding of chi, in line with traditional views of other martial artists, strongly suggests a monistic and pantheistic world view. As stated above, this is incompatible with historic Christianity.

Still, there remains the issue of explaining superhuman acts typically attributed to chi, such as the smashing of multiple slabs of ice with a single blow. Some insist that the only explanation possible is the power of chi. Those on the opposite side of the spectrum, however, believe such exhibitions are accomplished by rigorous conditioning, simple physics, and good technique which, at times, is aided with a dash of trickery (as in the case of thawing the slabs of ice with hot wire). Some have suggested that perhaps certain biochemical reactions - such as an adrenaline surge - may also be involved.[16]

Christian martial artist Keith Yates has suggested that because such phenomenal skills developed over the centuries within Oriental cultures, "the explanation of the phenomenon is often couched in mystical, theologically pantheistic terms." In reality, Yates argues, these skills are "merely the God-given capabilities of the human mind and body harnessed."[17]

Despite such alternative explanations, we believe Christians should avoid all chi-related activities that supposedly enhance one's ability to harness, circulate, and unleash this mystical power. Ancient esoteric practices, especially those designed to improve alleged mystical powers, have no place in the Christian life. Moreover, there remains a possibility that in at least some cases, supernatural capabilities can be attributed to demonic power.

Now, we recognize that there have been attempts by some Christian martial artists to redefine chi to make it compatible with the Christian world view. (Some, for example, have claimed that chi is the Holy Spirit.) At best, however, such attempts only serve to cloud the issue. Utilizing an Eastern religious term while changing its historically understood meaning is not unlike the practice of non-Christian religions when they employ Christian terminology and pour different meanings into the words. (New Agers, for instance, redefine the Christian term "born again" to mean reincarnation.) Such semantical manipulation only serves to mask the real and present danger of involvement with chi.


Besides concerns related to Eastern religion and philosophy, another issue the Christian must grapple with is, Should Christians use physical force to defend themselves? Christians have different opinions on this issue.

The Path of Nonresistance
Christian pacifists believe it is always wrong to injure other humans, no matter what the circumstances. And the same principles supporting pacifism carry over to nonresistance - the belief that any form of self-defense is wrong. This view is usually based on the exemplary life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

According to Christian pacifist John Yoder, Jesus rejected the existing political state of affairs and taught a form of radical nonviolence. Central to Christ's teaching, Yoder says, is His biblical mandate to "turn the other cheek" when encountering violence (Matt. 5:38-48).

In Yoder's view, the way to victorious living is to refrain from the game of sociopolitical control. Jesus exposed the futility of the violence engrafted in the present world system by resisting its inclinations even to the point of death. Hence, Christians are to refuse the world's violent methods and follow their Savior to the cross (Matt. 26:47-52).[18]

"Turn the Other Cheek" Always?
We do not believe pacifism (or nonresistance) is the essential point of Christ's teaching in Matthew 5:38-42. Nor do we believe Christ was teaching to "turn the other cheek" in virtually all circumstances. Even Christ did not literally turn the other cheek when smitten by a member of the Sanhedrin (John 18:22-23).

The backdrop to this teaching is that the Jews considered it an insult to be hit in the face, much in the same way that we would interpret someone spitting in our face. The principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount would seem to be that Christians should not retaliate when insulted or slandered (cf. Rom. 12:17-21). Such insults do not threaten a Christian's personal safety. The question of rendering insult for insult, however, is a far cry from defending oneself against a mugger, or a woman using the martial arts against a rapist.

In terms of following Christ's example, one must remember that His personal nonresistance at the cross was intertwined with His unique calling. He did not evade His arrest because it was God's will for Him to fulfill His prophetic role as the redemptive Lamb of God (Matt. 26:52-56). During His ministry, however, He refused to be arrested because God's timing for His death had not yet come (John 8:59). Thus, Christ's unique nonresistance during the Passion does not mandate against self-protection.

The Biblical Case for Self-Defense
Though the Bible is silent regarding the Asian martial arts, it nonetheless records many accounts of fighting and warfare. The providence of God in war is exemplified by His name YHWH Sabaoth ("The LORD of hosts" - Exod. 12:41). God is portrayed as the omnipotent Warrior-Leader of the Israelites. God, the LORD of hosts, raised up warriors among the Israelites called the shophetim (savior-deliverers). Samson, Deborah, Gideon, and others were anointed by the Spirit of God to conduct war. The New Testament commends Old Testament warriors for their military acts of faith (Heb. 11:30-40). Moreover, it is significant that although given the opportunity to do so, none of the New Testament saints - nor even Jesus - are ever seen informing a military convert that he needed to resign from his line of work (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 3:14).

Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus revealed to His disciples the future hostility they would face and encouraged them to sell their outer garments in order to purchase a sword (Luke 22:36-38; cf. 2 Cor. 11:26-27). Here the "sword" (maxairan) is a "dagger or short sword [that] belonged to the Jewish traveler's equipment as protection against robbers and wild animals."[19] It is perfectly clear from this passage that Jesus approved of self-defense.

Self-defense may actually result in one of the greatest examples of human love. Christ said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:14). When protecting one's family or neighbor, a Christian is unselfishly risking his or her life for the sake of others.

The late Francis Schaeffer put it this way:

    The Bible is clear here: I am to love my neighbor as myself, in the manner needed, in a practical way, in the midst of the fallen world, at my particular point of history. This is why I am not a pacifist. Pacifism in this poor world in which we live - this lost world - means that we desert the people who need our greatest help. What if you come upon a big, burly man beating a tiny tot to death and plead with him to stop. Suppose he refuses? What does love mean now? Love means that I stop him in any way I can, including hitting him. To me this is not only necessary for humanitarian reasons: it is loyalty to Christ's commands concerning Christian love in a fallen world. What about the little girl? If I desert her to the bully, I have deserted the true meaning of Christian love - responsibility to my neighbor.[20]

J. P. Moreland and Norman Geisler likewise say that "to permit murder when one could have prevented it is morally wrong. To allow a rape when one could have hindered it is an evil. To watch an act of cruelty to children without trying to intervene is morally inexcusable. In brief, not resisting evil is an evil of omission, and an evil of omission can be just as evil as an evil of commission. Any man who refuses to protect his wife and children against a violent intruder fails them morally" (emphases added).[21]

We affirm, then, that Scripture allows Christians to use force for self-defense against crime and injustice. If self-defense is scripturally justifiable so long as it is conducted without unnecessary violence, then so are the martial arts (the physical aspect only).[22]


Because the question of whether a Christian should participate in the martial arts involves gray areas, we believe it is worthwhile to consider some guidelines for discernment. These guidelines, while not exhaustive, can help one decide whether to get involved with a martial art in the first place. If that decision turns out in the affirmative, the guidelines will then steer one away from those instructors who teach an Eastern world view and/or incorporate excessive violence.

Examine Your Motives
Christians must be honest with themselves, evaluating why they desire to participate in the martial arts. Negatively, some reasons might be to become "a tough guy," to get revenge against someone, or perhaps to pridefully "show off." Positively, some reasons might relate to staying in shape physically, practicing self-discipline, or perhaps training for self-defense against muggers or rapists. The Christian should not get involved in the martial arts with unworthy motives.

Examine Your Conscience
Christians must realize that practicing the martial arts will teach them maneuvers, blows, and kicks that could severely injure a person when actually used in a hostile confrontation. For this reason, they must examine their consciences regarding the potential use of force against another human being.

Consider the Commitment
Not only is a commitment of time required to practice the martial arts, but Christians must also decide whether they will be able to endure the discipline needed to be an effective student. Such arts are generally very strenuous and demanding.

Like other sports, the martial arts can produce surprise setbacks through injuries. Breaking boards and bricks, punching, kicking, grappling, and so forth can cause arthritis, injured limbs, and other health problems in the long run. Is it worth it?

Certainly Christians should not allow a martial art to overshadow or detract from their religious commitments (Heb. 10:25). They should weigh whether they can afford to spend the time and money needed each week in practicing the martial arts. Could these resources be better spent in another endeavor?

Consider the Instructor
The Christian should ascertain whether the instructor under consideration is himself (or herself) a Christian, a professing Christian with an Eastern world view, a nonreligious non-Christian, or a religious non-Christian. If the trainer subscribes to an Eastern world view, this will likely carry over into his teaching of the martial arts. One should seek to discover whether the instructor encourages an Eastern concept of meditation, chi, or Eastern philosophies. Also, one should seek to ascertain whether the instructor teaches and exemplifies good sportsmanship, respect for others, humility, and avoids altercations whenever possible. We believe that the choice of the right instructor is probably the single most important consideration.

Consider the Classroom of a Prospective School
The Christian should keep an eye out for Eastern religious books, symbols, and the like, that might be in the training hall. This may help one discern what practices and beliefs are being espoused during training.

Many schools start new students on a trial basis. Such a trial could help the Christian solidify his or her decision.

It may also be prudent to observe an advanced class. This will help the prospective student determine whether Eastern philosophy is taught only as the practitioner progresses.

Consider Your Testimony Before Others
Because this is a controversial area, the Christian must be careful not to cause a weaker Christian to stumble by practicing a martial art (Rom. 14:21). A younger Christian might become disillusioned seeing a respected brother or sister practicing the martial arts, thinking that such involvement is a compromise of the faith. Or perhaps a weaker Christian might conclude (for example) that it's okay to practice Zen meditation since his more mature brother practices the martial arts, thereby (apparently) giving approval for all that is involved in the martial arts.

In view of such possibilities, if one becomes involved in the martial arts one should be discrete as to how one exhibits his or her involvement before one's circle of friends. One must be especially careful to guard against inadvertently communicating an endorsement of more than just the physical sport aspect of the martial arts.

In the event a brother or sister becomes stumbled, one must determine specifically what issue has become the point of offense (e.g., the use of physical force, the "chi" force, or meditation). One must then address the issue, clarifying any misconceptions the person may have (e.g., physical force is to be used for self-defense only; there should be no use of "chi;" Eastern meditation is off limits). Such clarifications may sufficiently relieve the brother or sister's concern.

Pray for Wisdom
Scripture tells us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). Christians considering participation in the martial arts should pray for wisdom regarding the specific concerns raised in this article.

We have noted some of the dangers of involvement in the martial arts - particularly as related to Eastern mysticism. But we have also drawn attention to the genetic fallacy, the dynamic nature of the martial arts, and the possibility of completely divorcing the physical aspect of individual martial art styles from Eastern influences (such as Eastern meditation and use of the chi force). Further, we have set forth a biblical case for self-defense and provided guidelines for discernment.

What can we conclude? Our studied opinion is that if precautions are taken - if one studies under an instructor (preferably a Christian) who completely divorces the physical art from faith-destroying Eastern influences - if one maintains a proper Christian perspective regarding violence and the use of force - if the purpose of the instruction is primarily to learn self-defense and/or engage in physical conditioning - if one is careful not to cause a weaker brother to stumble - then it is possible for the discerning Christian to participate in the martial arts. Such Christians would be wise to make the apostle Paul's words to the Thessalonians a permanent part of their life philosophy: "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thess. 5:21-22).


1 The authors wish to thank Richard Bustillo, Scot Conway, and Wesley Tetsuji Kan for their insights.

2 Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let Us Reason (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 107.

3 T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning, 2d ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1987), 101.

4 Ibid.

5 Yonzan Dirk Mosig, "Zen Meditation and the Art of Kobudo," United States Karate Association, Forum, 1 December 1990, n.p.

6 James William Holzer, "Martial Arts in the Name of GOD?" Inside Kung-Fu, March 1987, 71.

7 Personal interview with Karl Marx, 11 January 1994.

8 Personal interview with Raul and Xavier Ries (pastors - respectively, of Calvary Chapel of Diamond Bar, California and Calvary Chapel of Pasadena, California - who hold 8th-degree black belts in kung fu, which they have been teaching for over 20 years), 29 December 1993.

9 Eric Young, "Irvine Police Learning Zen of Suspect Control," Los Angeles Times, B4, B10.

10 See James Wilson, "Chasing the Magic: Mysticism and Martial Arts on the Islands of Java," Journal of Asian Martial Arts 2 (1993): 10-43.

11 Michael Maliszewski, "Meditative-Religious Traditions of Fighting Arts and Martial Ways," Journal of Asian Martial Arts, July 1992, 8.

12 Stephan Schuhmacher and Gert Woerner, eds. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1989), 224.

13 Maliszewski, 35.

14 Leslie A. Shepard, Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 3 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984), 1:224.

15 Koichi Tohei, Aikido in Daily Life (Tokyo: Rikugei Publishing House, 1966), 87.

16 See, for example, Keith D. Yates, "The Demystification of Ki," Inside Karate, March 1985, 6-7.

17 Keith D. Yates, The Demystification of Ki, master's thesis submitted to Dallas Theological Seminary, May 1983, 3.

18 John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), ch. 2, 5, 8.

19 Myrtle Langley, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 3:978.

20 Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, reprinted in The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 4 (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982), 391.

21 J. P. Moreland and Norman Geisler, The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Time (New York: Praeger, 1990), 135.

22 Some have claimed that the martial arts inevitably lead to violence. This viewpoint is enflamed by the violent martial arts caricatures portrayed on the silver screen. In real life, however, the martial arts are not nearly so violent. If some students become violent, it is usually not the martial arts qua martial arts that are to blame. Most trainers teach students self-control, respect for others and oneself, and the necessity of avoiding altercations whenever possible. Moreover, some studies have suggested that individuals who practice the martial arts for a prolonged period are actually less aggressive than the general population (see Michael E. Trulson, Chong W. Kim, and Vernon R. Padget, "That Mild-Mannered Bruce Lee," Psychology Today, January 1985, 79).

(An article from the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1994, page 24)


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