Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Ninja Turtles and Bruce Lee are some of the most common names and cartoon characters people connect to martial arts. The fascination of martial arts has appealed to millions of people all over the world, but with the fascination comes many misconceptions about this sport, especially on the topic of Christians and martial arts. Over the past couple of years, churches have opened their doors to allow so-called martial arts ministries to evolve leading many people to cast critical eyes. But through a right understanding of this sport, many misconceptions could be erased and the sport embraced.
A recent study in the New York Times and followed by numerous blog discussions (some found on Church Marketing Sucks) disagree with many churches opening their doors to “so-called” outreaches and having mixed martial arts schools.
Someone once told me, “Anywhere you go, there will always be someone to criticize something.” Understanding this art is important to deciding if it’s right for a Christian and inside a church.
The oldest known records concerning combat techniques are hieroglyphic scrolls from Egyptian tombs dating as far back as 2500 BC which describe military training fights similar to modern boxing. Theagenes, the most noted boxer of the fifth century BC, is said to have conquered 2,102 men by knockouts and have killed 1,800, and as time went on, these matches turned into Olympian games. Other ancient writings indicate that as early as 1000 BC, India’s warrior caste (Kshatriya) practiced a fighting system, in which the primary weapon was a closed fist (Vajramushti), that was translated into parts of Asia. As years went by, it reached the lands of Japan and Korea during what happened to be around the time the Ryuku Islands (Okinawa) were conquered and united into one kingdom. To insure his rule, the king confiscated and banned possessions of weapons, and 200 years later a second ban on weapons was issued.
Under these circumstances the Okinawans had no other choice but to learn how to defend themselves with what they already had and quickly learned protection with tools such as the sai, bo, kama, nunchaku and tonfa.
Many styles of martial arts are still practiced today all over the world: Aikido (founded by Morihei Ueshiba in the twentieth century and greatly influenced the development of daito ryu aiki jujitsu and Kendo, Japanese swordsmanship), Bando (comes from the Southeast Asia country of Myanmar), Capoeira (dates back to the 1500s when African slaves structured a defense program out of necessity), Hapkido (Korean art known more for a method of self-defense than art for sport), Jujitsu (one of the arts of the Japanese Samurai warrior), Kung Fu (Chinese art), and Karate (originated in Okinawa). These are just a taste of the many styles practiced across the globe.
The two biggest arguments floating around about Christians and martial arts are the associations with eastern religion and the so-called martial arts church ministries. Concerning eastern religion, when you actually take the time to study their beliefs, you see the center is themselves. Though some martial arts styles encourage the meditation and focus on self, not all are connected with this. From a Christian’s standpoint, the Bible should be the main example how to live, and if you are questioning if you should be meditating everyday, the answer is yes! The key to this is found all over the Book of Psalms where David repeatedly stresses the importance of meditating on God—who he is and what he has done for you. So the answer to this argument is simple: If you are interested in martial arts that promote a spiritual side of emptying oneself to focus on self and worships anything but the Creator, be extremely careful—and I would advise leave. There are many styles to choose from. The first argument’s answer leads right into the second question in which many people are either for or against a church-based martial arts school.
I have read many arguments and people who answer blindly to this subject. To this I say, unless you yourself are in martial arts and understand this art, you really have no right voicing your “so-called ‘holy’ criticism” against martial arts and Christians.
I have been on both sides of this argument for many years. As a second degree black belt involved with martial arts for over twelve years instructing and now about to start my own school, I can see both sides of this spectrum. As a believer in Jesus Christ and a lady living in the Bible Belt, I have had to deal with many issues throughout my martial arts years. Many Christians view martial arts as a violent sport. To this I say it all depends on how the instructor handles his school. My first two years at a Bible college I had professors seriously look down on and give me a hard time, because I was a Christian lady and martial arts was too aggressive a sport. I seriously spent months trying to understand if a Christian should or shouldn’t do it. It was then I realized it’s not the legalistic view of “a Christian shouldn’t be involved with martial arts.” Rather it should be, “Does this bring glory to God? Will this make my life better?” We don’t live in a perfect world, and the statistics for rape, murder, robbery, etc. are on the rise. Whether you’re a single, married mom, pastor, or kid, knowing how to protect yourself is a wise investment. As far as the argument that God is the God of love so you should not have a martial arts ministry in your church, a deeper look into the Bible shows “God is love” (1 John 4:8) but throughout the work of God, he shows himself as a mighty warrior, conqueror, Lion of Judah, always going out before his people and striking fear in the face of his enemies. Just and righteous does not mean a robe/sandal wearing God; the God of love, although he is the essence of love, is also a more passionate, holy God than we will ever know. The Bible also depicts the Christian’s life as one in a spiritual fight. Nowhere in the Bible does it state Christians are perfect living in a perfect world. Christians live defending the good and fighting evil.
So the question still persists, “Should a church have a martial arts school?” The church is God orchestrated and is a place of worshiping God. Nothing should take the place of that! At the same time, I am involved with a martial arts that is Christ-centered, and missions is a main focus. That’s the best type of school to allow in a church. A martial arts school that is a ministry to reach people and share about God is a great idea that God will bless. I will testify that if it was not for a Christ-centered martial arts school located in a church during high school where I heard and was encouraged to not give up but live for God all through my teens, my life would be totally different today. Sometimes God chooses to use the foolish things of this world for his glory. At the same time, if a martial arts school is in a church but has no godly influence and does not bring glory to God, this is a school that should quickly disappear from the church. Martial arts brings many benefits such as discipline, patience, endurance, self protection, and extra benefits if it’s Christ-centered in that your spiritual life is challenged and you have a way to impact the lives of people who may never step foot in a church through martial arts whether across the street for a local class or across the world on a mission trip.