Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Christianity and the Martial Arts

I practice Tae Kwon Do, and being a Christian, I believe everything should be taken captive to Christ. So there's no area in my life that doesn't need to be submitted to the will of Christ. How does Tae Kwon Do fit into that? I believe it fits very well.

Every Tae Kwon Do class we say a creed. Creeds are important, because they tell you something about a group. My school's creed is as follows:

We shall discipline our minds and our bodies to develop our skills to their fullest potential. We shall use our skills only in self-defense and to protect our families and communities. Skills, wisdom, and goodness are our ultimate commitment.

The first sentence I can interpret as loving God with my mind and my body. At least, I can interpret it that way if the skills I'm learning are ones that the Bible approves. More on that later. The second sentence also seems as though it is compatible with Scriptural standards. Self-defense was clearly allowed in the Old Testament. See the section on cities of refuge. Actually, the concept of cities of refuge seems a bit extreme until you realize that people of that day took vengeance very seriously. Later on, God said that, "Vengeance is mine. I will repay." It's interesting to note that God seems to have allowed personal vengeance in certain cases, but certainly not in the case of self-defense. The third sentence, while it may have a pre-occupation with skills (already mentioned in the first sentence), also seems quite unobjectionable. So much for the creed.

Now let me wax lyrical on what you learn in Tae Kwon Do. You learn how to defend yourself, you learn technique, sparring, etc. What many people tend to think, not without reason, is that martial arts are all about Eastern mysticism. I would agree if you're talking about internal martial arts. You see, there are internal and external martial arts. Internal arts tend to have slower movements in the forms, they tend to be circular moves as well, and focus a great deal on meditation and relaxation. External arts focus on power in striking, they tend to have linear movements, and focus on the physical reasons for doing what they do. Examples of internal arts are Kung Fu, Shing-I, Aikido, Tai Chi, and many of the Chinese arts. Examples of external arts are Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and most of the Japanese and Korean arts. In my experience in Tae Kwon Do, it's all about physics. There is a bio-mechanical reason, usually quite ordinary once you hear it, for everything that we do. So unless you plan on throwing physics away as unbiblical, you can't throw out external martial arts. At least, this is the way most external arts are practiced. You should check with a school you're interested in and see how they teach.

Internal arts I would stay away from. They are dangerous to the Christian. The search for "chi", or energy, inside of you does not tend to have the Holy Spirit in mind. And what I know of the Holy Spirit does not track with the particular kind of meditation that the internal arts typically have you do. And so I say, beware the internal arts!

The external arts have many benefits, and so I would highly recommend them. Some of those benefits include physical fitness, humble confidence, self-defense, beauty (especially in the forms), meeting new people, and an appreciation of true excellence. Try it out!

Love in Christ,

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At 9/05/2005 10:20:00 PM , Anonymous Anna said...

Nice post... mostly. I have found that in, uh, stretching the intent of creeds they can be okay, and if you pray as "meditation", who's to complain? So I agree with you.

EXCEPT in your flat generalization that "internal" arts are circular and "external" are linear. It is my opinion that to be a decent martial artist you need both. Exclusively linear forms are far too one-dimensional. (Or, uh, two dimensional, I suppose....) I find a small-circle strategy to be extremely effective in non-attacking motion, and even so-called linear attacks involve a lot of small circles in rotation, and things. Really, even the most linear of styles is very circular. The only straight lines are the shortest distance between two points, and thus the most effective route for force to take so the blow doesn't glance off. But even that is rotating in a nice circle. And there are attacking blocks that are pretty straight, but I tend to use the circular ones more. They're more about control than damage, but they also tend to be safer for me to not get hurt.

Incidentally, proper breathing, and relaxation make a much better martial artist, all weird-chi stuff aside. Sometimes I think I'll explode if I watch some people too long. They hold their breath, and tense up, and lose all their momentum and speed in the process. The entire body working together is a GOOD thing. No chi, just good clean practical physics.

So anyway, don't blame the weird mysticism on circles. Circles good. Weird chi people bad. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.


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