Martial Arts and The Bible

April 7th, 2021 by dayat No comments »

As a Christian and a martial arts student, I have often wrestled with the idea of self-defense. Does God expect me to defend my family and myself when physically attacked or am I to “turn the other cheek” and endure it in the name of Jesus? As I considered the many comments I encountered on this topic, I became even more confused. Some advocates for “religion” have gone as far as to say that anyone who practices any form of martial arts is without a doubt bound for hell. It wasn’t until I committed myself to a more thorough study of the scriptures that I discovered the truth for myself. The Bible gives more than a few examples of the practice of self-defense and the idea of martial arts. I would like to share some of what I have learned in this study of the Bible – Old Testament and New. The Bible is, in fact, the very word of God (II Timothy 3:16-17).

God and Warfare

The first example of a physical struggle in the Bible is in Genesis chapter 4. It is here that Cain kills his brother Abel. This is an act of violence condemned by God for two reasons. First, the violence was out of anger and jealousy because his brother’s actions were better than his own (Genesis 4:4-7). Secondly, the violence was pre-meditated. God confronted Cain before this violence occurred. He told Cain that he would need to figure out how to master the sin of anger and jealousy that was trying to overtake him. What this scripture teaches is that God does not want us to initiate violence but he wants us to train ourselves to master our emotions when tempted with feelings of anger, jealousy and rage. He wants us to prepare our hearts to respond humbly. I believe the study of martial arts can provide this kind of training. I have seen it in my son’s martial arts class. His sensei (teacher) may spend up to half of the one-hour class teaching the children humility, manners, concern for others and peace-making. They are taught to avoid violence and stay calm in situations of conflict. This kind of character training is right in line with the example of God’s training of Cain.

The next biblical example of a conflict involving a physical struggle is found in Genesis chapter 14. In this chapter, kings are at war and Abram’s nephew, Lot, and Lot’s family are taken captive. In response to hearing the news about his relatives, Abram sends men to rescue them. In Genesis 14:14-16, Abram sent out “the 318 trained men born in his household”. It seems that even though Abram was not at war, he had a training program for his family and household. It was obviously a training program for warfare of some kind – and a good one, at that, since they were victorious in returning Lot, his family and all of their possessions from the hands of warring kings. After Abram’s successful rescue, he is honored by God and reminded that God had made him successful against his adversary. God later renames Abram, “Abraham” and he becomes the founding father of faith for the Jewish people (and later Christians as well).

To clarify the meaning of the term “martial arts”, Webster’s defines the word martial as “warfare” or “warrior”, and arts as “a skill acquired by study”. In the story of Abram rescuing Lot, the Bible gives us an example of warrior training. Not everyone in Abram’s household was a part of the 318 trained men, but the ones that were had excellent martial arts training. And God helped them to be victorious as they executed their warfare skills.

Here are a few other brief examples of warfare, from the Old Testament, that could be studied further:

Genesis 32 – Jacob avoids war with his brother, Esau. He prepares for battle but orchestrates a peaceful resolution.
Deuteronomy 20 – God goes with the warriors to fight against their enemies.
II Samuel 23:8-39 – the Bible describes David and his mighty men of battle.
Nehemiah 4 – the builders of Jerusalem’s city wall carry weapons to defend themselves during the rebuilding.
There are many more examples in the Old Testament, with a wide variety of scenarios and many unique resolutions. The subject of warfare is very complex and each situation needs to be considered carefully. Therefore, when faced with adversity, wisdom needs to be applied.

An Eye For An Eye

Even with the Old Testament of the Bible showing support for martial arts training, some might argue that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament – that God’s position on warfare changed when Jesus came on the scene. It might be said that the God of the Old Testament was about war and the God of the New Testament is about peace.

The Bible, however, does not support this. James 1:17 says that God does not change, and Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ [God] is the same yesterday, today and forever. Therefore, the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. As we continue to study this topic, we will see that the New Testament also discusses self-defense and the idea of martial arts.

Matthew 5:38-42, in which Jesus talks about “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, has been used to condemn martial arts. It reads, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” At first glance this passage seems to be advocating a reversal of the Old Testament laws. I was swayed by this argument myself, and was torn in my own convictions for some time. But when I finally decided to dig deeper into the Bible, I was amazed and encouraged to find some answers.

Many people who want to obey the Bible simply gloss over this scripture, like I did, because they are torn between what they think the Bible says and their consciences telling them to prepare for warfare and to protect.

The truth is that Jesus never intended to abolish the Old Testament laws. He only intended to clarify them, to reinforce them, fulfill them, and reveal God’s heart behind them. This is what Jesus says just moments earlier in Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the [Old Testament] Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” When Jesus speaks about “turning the other cheek”, in Matthew 5, he is referring to the Old Testament Mosaic laws found in Exodus 21, 22 and 23. These chapters in Exodus contain the laws God gave to his people, which reinforce and further detail the famous “ten commandments”. Jesus is specifically referring to Exodus 21:22 where God explains what punishment should be given if men are fighting and an innocent by-stander is harmed (in this instance, a pregnant woman). This is not a scripture about self-defense but about restitution and punishment for a crime. Jesus referred to this scripture because the people, in religious self-righteousness, were using this particular scripture to justify retaliation and vengeance.

“An eye for an eye” had become an excuse to be intolerant and merciless toward one another. A closer look at the “act of aggression” that Jesus refers to as a strike on the cheek, will reveal that he is talking about an insult rather than a fighting fist. The word “strike” is translated from the Greek word “rhapizo” which is used interchangeably with the word “slap”. In the Jewish culture (as in many other cultures), a slap in the face was a form of humiliation or rebuke. It was not necessarily a physical attack and was not meant to result in physical harm. Even Exodus 21:21 (regarding “an eye for an eye”) says that if, as a result of a conflict, a pregnant by-stander is forced to give birth pre-maturely but there is no serious injury to the woman or the baby, “an eye for an eye” should not be applied as a punishment. Jesus is confirming that this Old Testament law regarding punishment is not to be used as an excuse for retaliation when inconvenienced or insulted. Jesus is exposing the heart of man and is further clarifying the Old Testament Law. God’s desire is that we don’t retaliate but rather that we restrain our emotions in the heat of conflict and maintain righteousness and mercifulness. We are not to pounce on our adversary at the first sign that we have been offended. The ultimate goal of God is to win over the offender, help him to see God’s mercy and institute a change of heart in the offender (see 2 Peter 3:9-15 and Luke 9:51-56 for further study).

Guidelines For Martial Arts

The Bible provides some guidelines for practicing self-defense and martial arts as it aims to clarify what is and is not acceptable in the face of conflict. II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture [the Bible] is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” I Corinthians 13:7 says, “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”. Using the Bible as a guide, a person can become thoroughly equipped to be a protector.

Permanent injury or death can occur as a result of practicing martial arts. This does not make martial arts unacceptable to God but God clarifies what is and is not acceptable in regard to deadly force in various situations. For example, Exodus 21:12-14 says that if a person is killed unintentionally, the killer is not guilty of murder. If it is intentional, the killer is to be sentenced to death. Exodus 21:18-19 says that if men are quarreling and one strikes the other and injures him seriously but not permanently (even with a weapon), he is responsible only to compensate the injured man for loss of time and medical expenses. I point out these scriptures to show that God is concerned with the attacker’s and the defender’s intentions as well as the outcome of the conflict. We cannot simply say that anyone who harms or kills another man is guilty and has committed a sin. It depends on his intentions. Also, we see that using extreme force, or even a weapon may be acceptable if it is used in a way as to not intentionally inflict permanent damage.

The Bible refers to another situation in which self-defense may be used during a robbery, in Exodus 22:2-3. If a man is being robbed, he is entitled to protect his property, his family and himself. If the attempted robbery takes place at night and the actions of self-defense result in the death of the robber, the defender is not guilty. If the attempted robbery takes place in the daytime and the robber is killed, the defender is guilty of sin. The difference may be that in the daytime, the defender should have more control of his actions and should be able to subdue the robber without killing him. Self-defense is warranted but control must be applied. At night, in the dark, maximum force would be acceptable since it is more difficult to assess the threat that the robber poses. It would be more difficult to tell if the attacker had a weapon, or to assess his physical strength.

God expects us to constantly make decisions about the situations we are in. In regard to martial arts and self-defense, it seems that God is concerned with our intentions. Guilt and innocence, to him, are a matter of the heart. God expects us to be directed by the heart of the scriptures in the Bible. We must be directed in our actions by scriptures such as Deuteronomy 5:17, which says, “You shall not murder” as well as I Corinthians 13:7 which says, “[Love] always protects”. As the Bible states in II Timothy 3:16-17, all Bible scripture is relevant and useful. During one of my martial arts classes, one of my fellow students asked our sensei, “What attack should I make now?” He had just finished practicing a series of intense self-defense tactics on his partner, rendering him harmless. Sensei replied, “Run”. No final “kill-move”? No, it is time to make another decision about the threat the attacker poses. If the attacker has been successfully rendered harmless then you shouldn’t stick around to inflict more damage or further risk your own safety. The Bible gives us specific guidelines for martial arts but God also communicates his heart about how he wants us to treat one another. He wants us to treat one another with love – even in conflict.

Weapons

I have also wrestled with the question of whether or not it was right for weapons to be used as a means of defense. Should I own a fighting knife, a sword or a gun? Isaiah 2:4 says, “…They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” If this scripture were taken out of context with the rest of the Bible, to use a weapon would be a sin. But this scripture has to be balanced with others. In the context, this scripture is describing the contrast between the nations of that time and the type of nation Jesus would establish in the future. The nation that Jesus would establish would have no military and there would be no physical walls to defend. It would be a spiritual nation, not a physical one.

The New Testament clearly confirms the right to bear arms. Romans 13:4 says, “For [the governing authority] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Even Jesus directs his disciples to acquire weapons as the time of his crucifixion approached. Luke 22:36 says, “He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.’” And in Luke 22:38, “The disciples said, ‘See Lord, here are two swords.’ ‘That is enough,’ he replied.” Peter soon after uses the sword to protect Jesus and Jesus rebukes him for it. This was not to say that it is wrong to use a weapon to protect someone. Peter had earlier been rebuked by Jesus for trying to keep him from fulfilling his mission of dying for the sins of the world (see Matthew 16:21-28). Jesus was re-stating that Peter was not to protect Jesus from going to his death. This was not the correct time to use the sword. Jesus had his disciples arm themselves because Jesus was not going to be with them, physically, any longer. They would need to protect themselves and each other and Jesus gave them the right to bear arms in order to do so.

Martial Arts Is Not Religion

It is important to note that martial arts is not religion in that it is not an institute of service and worship of God. It is only a tool to accomplish a necessary training. There will be flaws in all martial arts training and even things taught that are contradictory to the Bible. This will happen even when the martial arts style or system is advocating biblical-based training. Romans 3:4 says, “…Let God be true and every man a liar.” My son was recently taught by an instructor during class to avoid talking about politics and religion in order to avoid conflict. Though I appreciate the effort made to train the kids to keep the peace, the concept is biblically flawed. I spent the next week teaching Bible scriptures to my son such as Acts 4, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey [man] rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It is each person’s responsibility as a Christian to know what the Bible teaches. Even in Acts 17:10-11, when the apostle Paul taught the people of Berea, the Bereans were honored by God for having a noble character because, “they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Each of us has the same responsibility to examine the scriptures to see if what we are being taught is true, whether it be a teaching from our martial arts instructor, school teacher, neighbor, or religious leader.

Conclusion

Martial arts training has its place. It can help people learn to deal with the inevitable conflicts in life. There is no escaping battle in life. God wants people to be prepared to handle these battles, whether it is to turn the other cheek to an insult, find a peaceful resolution, or physically defend themselves or others. Martial arts and self-defense are not sinful or inherently wrong, but without the guidance of God and the Bible, martial arts could be misapplied. Without proper biblical training we are left to our own sinful nature, which tends toward retaliation, haste, fear, hatred, pacifism, and intolerance. Martial arts is a biblical concept, but even more attention should be given to biblical training. The Bible should be used in conjunction with martial arts training. In conclusion, I Timo

Which Martial Art Is For Me?

February 7th, 2021 by dayat No comments »

Those of us old enough will remember trying to find a martial art club was almost impossible. Many clubs trained in backstreet gyms and halls, were often just a small group of friends. If you knew someone training already, it was easy to get in, if you didn’t, well, it was virtually impossible. Fast forward to the early 70′s. It was at this time that the ‘Bruce Lee Phenomenon’ hit the West. Enter The Dragon, a major Hollywood backed film, hit the silver screens. It was explosive, here was a guy who could do almost magical things, at blistering speeds, and so, as a direct result of that film, so was born the modern age of martial arts in the West.

Clubs began to spring up everywhere, people flocked to be trained so they could be like Bruce Lee! The reality of that was somewhat harsher! Soon, may realised that to reach even a fraction of Lee’s ability required years of painstaking practise!

The first martial art to really explode as a result of Lee’s film was Karate. With schools already well established in the UK, they capitalised on the phenomenon by coming out of the back streets and into the school and church halls etc. Adverts sprang up, and all of a sudden, you could find a club to train at! Karate is perhaps one of the most well known of all the martial arts, with a rich history and tradition spanning centuries. And so Karate clubs began to boom, along with other martial art styles, which began to gain interest from a Western culture suddenly smitten with the lure of Eastern mysticism and legends.

Inevitably, this boom faded, people left because it was too hard, that to get anywhere was a lifelong commitment, not something achieved in a matter of weeks or months, but years of hard graft. And so, clubs lost members, but not to the extreme levels that they disappeared back into the dingy training halls of earlier years. Many thrived with a steady increase in students, losing others along the way, but retaining sufficient to keep going.

Then, as with the Bruce Lee films, along came another Hollywood Blockbuster that was to push martial arts back into the public domain…Karate Kid. The film was simple, a young lad being picked on by a group of Karate school bullies, boy comes across a Japanese janitor, who just happens to be a master in Karate….Mr Myagi. It was a wonderfully simplistic film, where, I am sure we all remember, the young lad, ‘Daniel san’ was taught the rudimentaries of Karate through washing a car! ‘Wax on, wax off’…..marvelously clever analogy, from which he learnt everything he needed to do Karate! Of course, it is not that easy in reality, but here we had a film, which spawned 2 sequels, that suddenly showed that training was not only hard work, but could be fun as well!

And, what this film did that no other film before it had done, it attracted Children to the martial arts! It was truly a catalyst in the meteoric rise of martial arts clubs across the world, with parents rushing to sign up their kids to learn about this wonderful way of looking after yourself, of learning respect and discipline, and making their children better people for when they finally enter the world as Adults. Karate was the main benefactor of this boom, obviously I guess given the film’s title, but the knock on effects were felt right across the various martial art styles. Popularity rose through more films, with stars such as Jackie Chan, who, with his unique blend of undoubted skills and comedy, made Chinese martial arts seem fun to learn. And so there we have it, a very brief history of the rise in popularity…But! Here we are in 2008, and despite all the publicity, do you know which martial art is which? I hope the following will give you some guidance:

Karate – Probably one the most recognised. There are several styles, which I will not elaborate too much on here, suffice to say that each does have it’s differences, but each also has many of the same characteristics, namely a focus on traditional etiquette, discipline and hard work. Karate (meaning Empty Hand) is a very traditional martial art, where you will certainly learn respect for others. The main styles are Shotokan, Wado Ryu, Goju Ryu, and Shitu Ryu, though there are a great many more. Karate has also become one of the most ‘bastardised’ styles. There are a great many schools and organisations whose Chief Instructors have studied many of the styles, and have combined this knowledge to develop their own systems. These Organisations have developed their own curriculums and grading syllabus. Essentially they are still Karate, and, with the right club or organisation, you will learn a great deal about yourself.

Taekwondo (or Tae Kwon Do) – This is a Korean martial art, thousands of years old, but only really becoming popular in the past 20 or 30 years. The modern concept of Taekwondo was developed by General Choi in Korea during the 1950′s. Today, there are two styles, ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) and WTF (World Taekwondo Federation). Both teach the same basic ideals. Taekwondo (meaning the way of hand and foot) is, predominantly, a martial art based around kicking techniques. Very spectacular and effective techniques, but those learning Taekwondo will also learn valuable hand techniques, and self defense. ITF Taekwondo is much closer to the original concept of General Choi. The WTF style has developed more into a Sport, and is, in fact, a recognised Olympic Sport. ITF sparring is semi contact, whereas, if you fancy your chances, the WTF style concentrates on full contact.

Judo – Judo means ‘The Gentle Way’. It is a very modern art, and, in fact, is not really a martial art, but a sport. Judo is, however, a very effective self defense art, teaching you how to put locks and holds on an opponent, and how to throw. There are no kicks or punches in Judo. A well established Olympic sport, it offers an alternative to more traditional ‘combat’ style martial arts.

Kung Fu – A Chinese martial art. There are hundreds of styles available, the most popular today being Wing Chun. Bruce Lee was a famous exponent of Kung Fu, but he also studied many of it’s various styles and developed his own Jeet Kune DO (JKD), a method of fighting that used real life street situations to develop an effective method of attack and defense.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – This is the fastest growing martial art style in the world today. Japanese Judo and Ju Jitsu masters exported their martial arts to Brazil around the 1940′s and 50′s, where it quickly gained popularity. A Brazilian family, the Gracies, took this knowledge and developed it into one of the most effective ground fighting systems known today. Although similar to Judo and Ju Jitsu, the Brazilian art concentrates much more on getting your opponent into a submission by locks, holds and chokes. It is, to many, a much more realistic method for the street, where rules do not exist.

MMA – Not really a martial art as such. MMA means ‘Mixed Martial Arts’. It’s origins are again Brazil, where it is known as Vale Tudo. Today, MMA, or perhaps you would know it better as ‘cage fighting’ is a huge sport, dominated by the UFC, Pride and Cage Rage. It has, for many, become an alternative to boxing. MMA is a ‘no holds barred’ sport, whereby opponents can punch, kick, elbow, knee and wrestle each other into submission, or, get a knockout. Very explosive, and certainly not for the faint hearted! Those in MMA will have also trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as well as Karate, Taekwondo or other martial art style, hence the term Mixed Martial Arts.

Kickboxing – Probably the second largest participant club sport in the world. Developed by the Americans as an alternative to Boxing, Kickboxing is, as the name suggests, a Boxing sport, but you are also allowed to kick. Training is hard but rewarding. As well as traditional boxing techniques (jabs, hooks, crosses, ducking and weaving etc), you will also learn a variety of kicks, most of which derive from Taekwondo in style. In fact, many Taekwondo clubs will also run their own Kickboxing clubs, as the two styles compliment each other extremely well.

Choi Kwang Do – Another Korean art, this concentrates mostly on the practical side of ‘what works in reality’. Kicks, generally, are not above the waist, and you will learn a variety of hand techniques, all designed to work ‘on the street’.

Tai Chi – Another Chinese art. Often thought of as an ‘old people’s’ martial art. Whilst it certainly lends itself well to the older generation, in my personal opinion, it should not be overlooked. It teaches meditation and relaxation, but also it teaches you to focus your inner energy, or Chi, very effectively.

In some ways, it is sad that, as a result of the modern age, there are also some excellent, but increasingly forgotten martial arts worth investigating. Aikido and Hapkido (Japanese and Korean respectively) have become victims of the increase in popularity of the more explosive martial arts. These are predominantly self defense systems, but incredibly effective. If you aren’t sure, watch some of Steve Segal’s early films. Segal is a world recognised master of Aikido, it is one of the single most effective martial arts for self defense, but, sadly, it receives little publicity nowadays. It’s principles are the teaching of using your opponents own momentum for your own gain, it also teaches pressure points and restraints. Even if you study one of the more popular styles, Aikido or Hapkido are definitely worth considering as a second martial art.

Today, choosing which martial art you want to do is actually much easier than you think. A great many clubs will offer you a first lesson free, so take advantage of that fact, and go and try as many as you can. In this way, you can find out which one suits you best.

I will give a couple of words of caution!!

1. Do not be tempted to sign up to a membership or any payment plan on your first lesson, or even in the first 3 or 4 lessons. Make sure it is right for you first!

2. Avoid buying any uniform for the same period. Otherwise, if you decide it’s not for you, you will have wasted your money.

3. Go along and watch a few classes first, before actually trying. Most clubs will let you watch. You will get a different perspective on the class teachings this way.

4. Talk to other members, or even the Instructors. Nobody will mind you asking questions. Believe it or not, the vast majority of clubs are not interested in just taking your money only to see you leave. They want you longterm, because they genuinely want to teach you and see you develop.

There are, unfortunately, plenty of organisations out there who will happily take your money. The ‘McDojo’ as they are derogatorily referred to by our American friends are out there, waiting for the unsuspecting student or parent. These will try the hard sell, some even go cold canvassing onto the streets! Don’t be easily tempted by promises of a Black Belt in a few weeks or months, it simply doesn’t happen that way.

So, how long will it take to get a Black Belt? Well, on average, you should allow a minimum of 3 years, and that is based upon a lot of hard work, and regular weekly training, at least twice a week! And remember also, a Black Belt does not mean you are an expert! On the contrary, getting your Black Belt is merely akin to completing your apprenticeship of learning…Once you get your Black Belt, the real learning starts, it is your doorway to a wealth of knowledge and experience that awaits you on the other side.

Too many people look at trying to grade every 3 months, which is fine. But, it is not how quick you get your Black Belt that counts, it is EARNING your Black Belt that will make it most satisfying.

Learning to defend yourself, and others, is only one aspect of Martial Arts, but Martial Arts is not about learning violence. It is, and remains, one of the most effective methods of fitness in the World. It will teach you confidence, respect, both for yourself and others, you will learn discipline and above all, you will learn how to become a respected and well rounded individual.

And when you do decide which martial art to practise, don’t be afraid to check out jus