Someday, a fellow Christian might try to convince me Christians have no business taking Karate. That person might be convinced I’m on the road to Hell. I have a strange feeling that “someday” will be soon, so I’m beginning to seek out some answers and form an opinion. Let me clarify things by presenting what I mean by a Christian: someone who believes John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” I know there are lots of other definitions out there! Now back to our regular scheduled program…
A number of years ago, someone taught me about a pyramid chart – a handy visualization for categorizing beliefs or practices. At the base of the pyramid are personal preferences – things the Bible is silent about. At the bottom of the pyramid is stuff that really doesn’t matter much at all in the grand scheme of things. For example, I chose to eat wholegrain cereal for breakfast, someone else chose to eat a donut. In the middle of the pyramid is all the things the Bible does mention and principles from the Bible do apply, but exact practices are not outlined and/or nitpicky details aren’t given. With this middle section, each individual and/or church is just doing the best they can with what they know. Communion traditions such as intinction or presenting the elements separately should go in the middle of the pyramid. This section isn’t nearly as big as the base of the pyramid. At the top in its own teeny tiny triangle are the things that the Bible doesn’ t leave much wiggle room for debate. Jesus’ resurrection definitely goes at the top. Of course we as human beings will debate the Bible anyway, but you get the idea.
A small minority of Christians skew the pyramid so badly that they have the top section take up almost the entire pyramid. “GAWD delivered me from that donut and SAID unto me, (1 Cor 6:19) ‘The body is a temple of my Holy Spirit,’ so I say to YOU people GAWD wants us to eat oatmeal with NO SUGAR for breakfast!” By the way, if you look at the context of the Bible verse referenced, it’s about something a lot more fun than donuts. These people might say that Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with Karate because it’s not in the Bible (neither is brushing one’s teeth) and because it’s from a part of the world that developed different belief systems (genetic fallacy). Don’t tell me there aren’t Christians who act like this – trust me, I’ve met some and I’m very glad they live thousands of miles away from me.
I submit that Karate and self defense in general can have a place in a Christian’s life, and it belongs firmly in the bottom section (personal preferences). Therefore Karate is not as earth-shattering an issue as, say, the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of God’s own Son.
TURN THE OTHER CHEEK
No, this doesn’t mean moon your attacker – that’s a bad tactical move because your back is turned to your opponent and your trousers tie up your legs!
There are many Christians who are far more balanced than my fictional “Donuts are from Satan” person. Some among this group don’t like the idea of self defense. They sometimes cite Scriptures that at first read seem to prohibit self defense. Matthew 5:38-42 is the most common Scripture cited. Jesus said,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”
I could try to pick apart every word in Matthew 5:38-42. I could ask those who have studied the original languages for help and insight, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The first thing I notice is these are not life-threatening situations. They have the potential to escalate, but Jesus doesn’t want us Christians to escalate things. He wants us to respond with love that goes the extra mile.
I hear you saying, “Hey, someone hauls off and hits you and you’re not supposed to fight back?!?” Here’s where I will ask the help of a Bible scholar, a man I once knew in a church I attended for several years – a scholar whose credentials are solid. According to Dr. Tom Constable’s Expository Bible notes the type of strike mentioned in the Scripture referenced above is regarded as an insult – sort of like flipping someone the bird. Try attacking the next person who gives you the finger and see where that gets you with the judge later on.
I could cite Scripture after Scripture of warriors who defended God’s people. However, using history to justify something as Biblical puts one on tricky footing. Just because something happened doesn’t mean it’s an action plan for us to follow. For example, King Solomon dabbled in idol worship. That doesn’t mean it’s OK for us Christians to do the same!
I think the pacifism thing is doubled for Christian women because of a misguided notion that women must take a back seat to men in all aspects of life. Most of the Christian women I know don’t take responsibility for their health or safety. I’d like to see them at least take a daily walk and take a self-defense seminar every year! Some women think God doesn’t want women to be strong and/or powerful because those are supposedly strictly masculine traits. A few believe that God will protect them from everything. We all know bad things sometimes happen to good people. I don’t know about you, but I like increasing my odds of survival.
POTENTIAL FOR TROUBLE?
Meditation in Karate can be a sticking point for us Christians. There are as many teachings about mokuso as there are senseis. It has never once been a problem for me. I’ve heard of other dojos where the senseis are a bit more enthusiastic about meditation practices that make us Christians uncomfortable. One can either agree to disagree, or find another dojo. There probably are a few dojos out there where the Senseis are downright pushy about mokuso, and that could very well be a good, solid reason to find another dojo. My attitude is no one can control what goes on between my ears during mokuso, so other beliefs and practices are not a threat to me. My soul isn’t in jeopardy just because I happen to be kneeling next to someone who practices something different. In fact, it does me more harm than good to sit there grousing about what that person believes!
It’s worth mentioning this can work both ways. There may be some dojo out there somewhere that is run by a Christian sensei who is so pushy about praying during mokuso that people of other faiths don’t feel welcome. We as Christians don’t have to agree with our neighbor, but we do have to love him or her. That doesn’t mean we need to hide who and what we are, but it does mean we need to let people freely choose or decline what Christianity brings to the table. Sorry for the bunny trail, but I know someone would bring it up if I didn’t!
Skipping church is another sore point. Karate tournaments are often held on Sundays. I don’t think this blog is the place to get into the interplay of Mosaic Law (Exodus 20:8 – keeping the Sabbath holy) and the fulfillment of the Law through Christ, but if you want to explore that further, it’s well worth pursuing. There’s enough grace in that concept to where many Christian families participate in athletic events on Sunday every once in awhile. Christians like to cite Hebrews 10:25 as another justification to go to church every single Sunday. This Scripture is an encouragement to persevere in the faith, not a mandate to attend every single Sunday school, worship service, and Bible study. I don’t think going to a tournament every now and then is going to cause my faith to waver.
NOT FOR EVERYONE
Some Christians genuinely do feel they need to refrain from studying a martial art. They understand every instructor and style is different. They don’t judge others but they personally feel their walk with God is better if they stay away from martial arts. They understand they are simply expressing a personal preference. Some have been in abusive dojos, some haven’t. I totally respect that. This is, after all, what the bottom of the pyramid is all about. I would encourage those people to at least be aware of their surroundings, use common sense, and to take a self defense seminar every year or so. I also appreciate their willingness to let me manage my own study of Karate and my own relationship with God.
Keep Your Religion Out of the Dojo
There seems to be some dispute over the originator of the quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” It’s my silent mantra in response to anyone who growls that religion has no place in the dojo. My faith is a part of my heart and soul, so if I’m in the dojo, my “religion” is in the dojo too. I’m sure there are people of many other faiths (and yes, agnosics and athiests too!) who also feel their beliefs are a vital part of their identity. I’m pretty sure that “Keep your religion out of the dojo,” really means, “Say ‘ossu,’ and train!”
Some of my Christian brothers and sisters would take me to task for not taking every opportunity to get in every karateka’s face about what Jesus has done for them. News flash – I’m not very good at evangelizing. I am a deacon – a “dust raising” servant. I set up tables, cut a mountain of strawberries, leave the memorial service ten minutes early to bring perishable food out of the fridge, and I stay late to put the tables away. Us deacons are every bit as vital and valued as those who are especially gifted at preaching. A deacon is a good person for a setting where sermons aren’t welcome, don’t you think?
For further reading: “Martial Art Confidence” by Andrea Harkins