This paper was written by Justin Zeck as a part of his black-belt test preparation.. I have permission by Justin to post his paper to this website.
August 29th, 2010
“I have never advocated war except as a means of peace,”- Ulysses S. Grant. In this paper I will attempt to show the difference between malicious hostility, and self-defense. I will show how the disciplines of the martial artist and Christian walk do not oppose each other, but compliment and support one another.
The character of a Christian black belt ought to mirror Christ’s character. In Philippians 4, the Bible tells us that we ought to be humble in our own ability, yet confidant in God. Paul writes, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (v13). From this verse we can see that nothing is impossible for someone who is aided by God. Yet this is not an excuse for over-confidence. Proverbs 3 tells us, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (v34). No matter how skilled we are, we must still remain humble. Poet, philosopher, and theologian Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen.”
The Bible tells us peace is an important way to show we are different from the rest of the world. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 to make peace; “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. … Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (v9). It’s clear that Jesus wants us to make peace as much as possible. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t defend ourselves, but rather, that we should first try a non-violent solution. Twelfth Century monk, St. Francis of Assisi, said, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” In Matthew 26, Jesus says; “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (v52). What Jesus is saying here is that the peaceful way is better than the violent way, and the God is in control of everything that happens. Notice Jesus says ‘those who live by the sword.’ In Karate, we learn defense; ways to stun, disarm, and contain. We do not attack, and we do not flaunt our skill. We do not live by the sword, so to speak.
How then can Karate practitioners justify avoid fighting? Sensei Jim Smoak offers his thoughts on the matter. He teaches that if one encounters a potential opponent, one must first attempt to defuse the situation to avoid fighting. Sun Tzu, 5th century BC Chinese master of war, agrees with this. He said, “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” If this talking, Smoak reasons, escape is also a valid option. If you escape by running away, you have successfully defended yourself. There is one last way to avoid fighting; one should be aware of one’s surrounding and make efforts to avoid dangerous areas. Our nations’ third president, Thomas Jefferson, reminds us, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Avoiding dark alleys in the middle of the night an excellent first step towards this goal. If all of these steps are employed, much violence can be avoided.
A Christian martial artist has a responsibility to help wherever is needed, spiritually or physically. Paul writes in Titus 3, “so that, having been justified by [God]’s grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (v7-8). John writes in 1 John 3,“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (v17). From these verses, Christians learn to be ready to aid whoever needs it. President Ronald Regan said, “Where, then, is the road to peace? Well, it’s a simple answer after all. You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, ‘There is a price we will not pay.’ There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” Whether we are ministering in the spirit, or in fact helping defend another from a physical attack, God expects us to be ready to do either. Furthermore, God just doesn’t want us to do good one time, He wants us to persevere. Paul writes in Philippians 3, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [perfection]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (v13-14). From this verse we can see that God wants us to continuously strive to do good throughout our whole life. This can be applied to our martial arts as well. We can learn Karate and continuously practice it our whole lives. We will be ready to use it if we ever need it. However, if we do not continuously train, we will lose our knowledge and fall flat when those skills are needed. As a Christian black belt, we are to train our body and spirit to be ready.
Though physical and spiritual things are both important, spiritual matters are more important. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul tells us, “For physical training is of some value, but Godliness holds value for both this life, and the life to come” (v8). As a Christian black belt, I should train my body, but I should exercise my spirit more. King David admonishes us to constantly think on the things of God. In Psalms 119, David writes eight times, “I will meditate on Your Law.” To train my body as a means to defend myself is of some value. However, to use my time to learn skills applicable to my Christian walk is of greater value. Christians know there is an afterlife that will last forever. That said, how much better is it for us to spend time doing spiritual things than it is to spend time doing things that will fade after this life? This is not to say that martial arts and serving God are mutually exclusive, but rather, the physical training should not be done merely for its own merit. Karate can teach us many Godly principles.
Consider one of the greatest warriors Kings, David, of the tribe of Judah. David son of Jesse was able to defeat lions and bears with his empty hands. David wasn’t chosen to be King because he was a great warrior, but because of his love of God. God says in 1 Samuel 16, “…The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (v7). He thanks God for his victories. In 1 Samuel 17, David tells Saul, “The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” (v37). Clearly, David knows that his source of strength is God. Many years later, after David has been made king, he still praises God. For the entire of 2 Samuel 22, David praises God for granting him victory. David writes; “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me. I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (v2-4). This is significant because David, at this point, was the most powerful kings in the Middle East. Yet, rather than glorifying himself, David glorifies God. David writes in Psalm 144, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; He is my loving ally and my fortress, my tower of safety, my rescuer. He is my shield, and I take refuge in him. He makes the nationssubmit to me” (v1-2). Although no one is perfect, David is a great example in many regards, perhaps most obviously in physical skill. More importantly, though, David is a great example in being a man after God’s own heart.
There are many benefits to my walk with Christ from practicing martial arts. Some cornerstone martial arts virtues are self-discipline and self-control, respect, the ability to focus on a goal, and perseverance. All of these skills are applicable to my Christian walk. In regards to self-discipline, Hebrews 12 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (v11). Similarly for self-control, in Matthew 5, 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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v38). In karate, we learn to use varying degrees of force. We do not snap necks or shatter kneecaps when faced with an impudent or half-hearted aggressor, but rather, apply gentle redirections and scaled responses appropriate to the intent of the attacker. Also in karate, we learn to respect our sensei’s. Jesus, too, la nbuds respecting others in Matthew 5, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (v43-45). Furthermore, God expects us to consistently do what is right. Romans 5 tells us, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (v3). Although this verses starts with the cause of sufferings, it also tells us that the Holy Spirit will help us to persevere when we can’t do it by ourselves. It’s always important to remind ourselves what Jesus told us about the Holy Spirit. In John 14, Jesus tells us, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (v26). This verse is a comfort to Christians because it promises that God will not abandon us to our own ways, but will teach us and help to do right. Finally, the Bible encourages us to be goal-oriented. Remembering 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (v24-27). As a Christian black belt, I will still have much to learn in not only in the ways of karate, but also in the ways of following Christ.
Practitioners of karate learn virtues useful to followers of Christ. While karate is useful and teaches Godly virtues, following God is more important than practicing karate. I plan to continue practicing karate and serving God for the glory of His kingdom as long as I can.