The Parallels of the Walk of a Christian and a Martial Artist: Self-Discipline and Intensity

When you think of a dedicated and serious martial artist, do you think about a person who is undisciplined, unfocused, lazy, and halfhearted individual?  No.  Nor do I.  I think of a devoted person that approaches his or her art with fervor, focus, perseverance and dedication.  I see traditional martial arts as a vehicle where these traits are not only born, fostered and embodied in the dojo (or dojang), but they become a natural part of the being of the martial artist, and are therefore demonstrated outside of the training hall as well.

I can’t think of any historical examples where any of the famous karate masters either personally demonstrated halfheartedness or complacency in their walk as a martial artist, nor advocated it. Here are some quotes from the masters that demonstrate this assertion:

  • “During training, concentrate to the limit of your mental endurance.  Give your all, mentally and physically, as training without concentration prevents advancement.”  – Grand Master Hohan Soken
  • “The physical and mental training of karate should be combined as one.  The heart, mind and body should be in unison at all times.”   – Grand Master Hohan Soken
  • “Karate aims mentally to foster such heart as acts right in the sight of God and men, and to have such power as to bring any savage beast to one’s knees.”    – Grand Master Fusei Kise
  • “The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the characters of its participants.”    - Gichin Funakoshi, Founder of Shotokan Karate
  • “Budo no Bugei are never practiced without conviction.”  - Matsumura Soken, the father of Matsumura Shorin-ryu Karate-do

When a person is a truly dedicated karate-ka it means fully dedicated.  Not somewhat or halfway.  Not on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Not during non-summer months.  Not just inside the dojo.  It means during every waking hour.  Always.  The “do” at the end of karate-do, means the way, or the way of karate.  And the way is not a part-time endeavor.

What does a truly dedicated karate-ka look like?  Look a few of the key assertions from the masters that walked before us noted above:

  • “… concentrate to the limit of your mental endurance.”  That doesn’t mean until it gets uncomfortable or tiring.  I didn’t see a statement in there about when we feel like it.  It is black and white.
  • “Give your all, mentally and physically.”  I looked, but I didn’t see a free pass for us when we’re tired, physically or mentally.  I didn’t see anything in there that said, “unless you just want to go through the physical motions while you zone out”.  “GIVE YOUR ALL…”.  Seems pretty black and white to me.

When asked what a practitioner of karate-do should demonstrate as a gained attribute, self-discipline is a common answer.  However, is that a skill that is directly transferred by the sensei, or is it something that is developed by the karate-ka that has committed himself or herself to the study of the art completely?  The answer is both.  The sensei can (and should) provide a structured training environment that is conducive for the student to learn and focus.  However, it is up to the student to commit, and commit continuously.  Commit not only physically, but mentally and spiritually.  Inside and outside of the dojo.  The walk of a truly committed karate-ka is not an easy one.  The path to black-belt is a traveled path that narrows.  The life long journey of the karate-ka is one of constant improvement, constant learning, and a constant passion for perfection, while knowing that perfection isn’t possible for a man or woman.

“Bushi” Matsumura Sokon.  Nabe Matsumura.  Anko Itosu.  Chosin Chibana.  Hohan Sokon.  Fusei Kise.  All of these men were major contributors to the traditional Okinawan arts we practice (our dojo at least).  We are instructed to do what they did, practice as they practiced.  Approach life in the same disciplined and dedicated manner that they did.

So what about the “do” of the Christian?  Is it any different than the “do” of the karate-ka?  As we looked to the fore fathers of our art in their example and their maxims, let’s look to the founder of our faith for the answer.  Jesus Christ is the founder of our faith.  He is the living example who walked before us, and continues to walk with us.  He is the Person who said do as I do, and live as I lived.  Fully, completely, and and righteously.

Addressing walking a halfhearted way, Jesus said to the Laodicean church, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (NIV)  I like how it is put in The Message; “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.”  What Jesus is saying here is, either you’re in or not.  No halfway.  No part-timers.  No maybe a few days out of the week.  No half throttle.  In computer geek speak, it’s a binary decision.  Yes or no.  Although Jesus is specifically referring to the church of Laodicea in this verse, His opinion of our walk in the faith would be no different that His opinion of theirs if it were the same.  How did Jesus describe the Laodicean’s walk?  Let me repeat His descriptors:

  • Luke-warm
  • Stale
  • Stagnant
  • Pitiful
  • Little there to be liked
Do any of these adjectives describe how you approach the “do” of your faith in Christ?  These words are a bit harsh, I know.  But all of us, me included, need to periodically access the veracity of our walk of our “do”.  Our walk as martial artists, and our walk as followers of Christ.
 
Hot or cold?  In or out?  What do you choose?
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