40. To Our Christians in the Martial Arts

Dear Karate-ka,

This essay is not like any other I have written. This essay is about Christianity and martial arts. Many of you are not Christians and may not be interested in any of the following. This paragraph is just a preliminary warning that this essay was sparked from a set of questions asked by a Christian about Christianity and martial arts and may not interest you whatsoever. Please, just delete this essay if you are not interested in Christianity and don’t even read it.

James Williams has submitted the following question to me. It is poignant and full of possible controversy from a host of different Christian backgrounds. I have no real insight to Christianity and its many ramifications, although I have a real Love of God and acceptance of God’s Power and Will. I am going to attempt to answer this question but I really think that every Christian needs to answer it for herself/himself.

Thank you for the essays on the circle of responsibility, influence, concern and them. Also, thanks for the health update – it sounds like a lot.

I really like the idea that the circle of responsibility is always populated by oneself and rarely populated by anybody else. However, is this counter to Christian thinking? Christian thinking is a belief system that probably many students including myself have been exposed to – and I’m not sure that this belief system would say that the only person that one is responsible for is oneself. I have always thought that Christian thinking encourages one to be responsible for others maybe even at the expense of oneself. I’ve never liked this idea because it seems like such a weak strategy and puts one at the mercy of others.

So the idea that the circle of responsibility is mainly populated by oneself, but it might be argued that this verges on narcissistic. Most adults have certain standards – there are things that one will or will not do to others. Maybe this is being responsible to oneself as a code of conduct?

My remarks and opinions:

First, –is the idea that the circle of responsibility counter to Christian thinking in that it is always populated by oneself and rarely populated by anybody else.

In my way of thinking, God gave us all free-will and the right to decide between good and evil, between loving and accepting God’s will or denying it. Free-will seem important aspect of Christianity to me. Albeit the history of the Middle Ages and the age of colonization does not support tolerance and a person’s right to choose, that is history and will be judged by God using God’s infinite wisdom. I believe that the modern age has more potential for making free-will choices and that we as members of this so-called modern age carry more responsibility because we carry choices. Where there is no choice there can be no responsibility.

Placing a person in a position of determination (child, jail, sedation) removes so much free-will, so many choices that this person’s choices may decline drastically. Someone has to fill the gap so that the person survives. Air, water, shelter, clothing, food (or IV nutrition and fluids), protection from enemies, means of communication (even if only one way), waste disposal and care are but a few of the martial arts ideas of what is needed in life during a person’s sojourn through a position of determination.

As a person becomes more self-determined, i.e., the child grows up, the person is released from jail, the patient awakes from sedation, the ability to make choices is returned to him/her. This ability to make choices is not anti-Christian, it is, in my opinion, pro-Christian. With the right to make choice comes the only possible way to choose God, the only possible way to be responsible by that choice, the only way to escape someone else’s determination of what we believe or should believe about God.

If God wanted to make us automatons believing exactly what God wanted us to believe, it would be done. We would have no choice, but also no responsibility, for when there is no choice there can be no responsibility. I believe God wants us to have responsibility for our own destiny. And, that responsibility entails choice. The question is what choice. Well, first is the choice to choose God or deny God. The second (in the Christian Realm) is to accept the personal sacrifice of God on Calvary or to deny that the Death on Calvary has PERSONAL relevance to one’s life. Beyond that lies a tremendous amount of dogma which confuse choice and, in my opinion, often bemuddle Christianity as a philosophy but do not affect it as a religion. Christians know many confusing issues which seem to require choices. Consider only these few vehement arguments some of which have been argued for over 1700 years;

• The nature of the Godhead: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Is it one or three or even two? (Arian Controversy, Nestorian Christianity, St Augustine’s argument in The Confessions.

• The position of the Old Testament. Jesus Christ removed the laws, some of the laws, none of the laws by his grace and sacrifice. So now some sects observe Sabbath on Saturday, some on Sunday, some on any convenient day. Some say the Ten-Commandments are erased or modified by the blood of Jesus Christ. Others say they are not. Then comes the Levitican Laws. Most believe that these laws have been reduced or obliterated. But there are those who still do not eat pork or shellfish, even though they will sit on a bench within seven days after a woman with menses has sat on that bench. These laws, and which ones are accepted and which ones are rejected involves very difficult choices for some Christians.

• The Papacy. Wow! Now this is a subject of extreme vehemence. During the early Roman days being the leader of the Christians was a life-threatening position. Peter was hung upside down in crucifixion. After 330AD Constantine made Christianity much more in favor, but soon the Christian Church split into two areas one in Rome and one in Constantinople (Byzantium of old). As time went on the split became much more clouded with dogma. The Roman Empire collapsed around 472AD leaving a world in darkness. Pepin supposedly donated an area of Rome to the Pope and the papacy started its long battle as a worldly leader through the long and trying centuries of Crusades, Bubonic Plague, Famine, Religious Intolerance, Hatred of Heathens (Jews, Muslims, Northern Barbarians). Then in 1309 the papacy moved to Avignon, France. It was political, not religious. It remained there until around 1380 when St. Catherine was able to convince the Pope Leo (I think) to return to Rome. He did but soon a split occurred in the church. A new pope (Clement) claimed to be the real pope in Avignon. Leo claimed to be the real pope in Rome. Power entered in a big way. Then, as if that was not enough, another pope emerged claiming if Avignon and Rome couldn’t solve the issue, he would. The Council of Constance tried to get the papacy back to unity in 1417 but the battle raged onward for decades. Then, the social climate had changed. The Medici family emerged as the strongest, richest bankers in Florence, Italy. Lorenzo the Great supported the arts and aided the likes of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Bonatell. There was a change in the air. But the popes became heinous. The popes of the later 1400s and early 1500s were worldly leaders more than spiritual leaders. The Borgia popes, even in Catholic literature, were abominations to everything that the Christianity of Christ was based on. By 1519 Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, revolted. By 1533 King Henry VIII made the Church of England. Christianity split into multiple groups almost as fast as strong-willed men (and women) could be born. And today Christians are more for arguing about dogma and the papacy than they are for seeking their own (responsible) destiny by free-choice.

There are many issues where the Christian faces choice. The above are only three. There are many. But let’s get back to James’ questions and away from the quagmire of dogma and blame.

We must first be responsible for this decision; to choose God or to deny God. In my opinion this is much the same as to choose Good or to choose Evil. This is a choice that only we can make for ourselves. We have no responsibility to choose this for others. We cannot choose for them although we can force them through various manipulative tools. We can excommunicate them, disband them from the church, dis-own them from our families, starve them out, corporal punish them, go to war with them, and kill them. All of these have been tried at one time or another to produce a homogenous Christianity. But none of them work, in my opinion, because each fails at the basic level; free choice.

I believe there is a fundamental difference between taking responsibility for the life and choice of another person and giving that person an opportunity to make a choice based on adequate information. The Moors and Jews of Granada were not given the opportunity to make choices in the later 1400s. Torquemada, the chief inquisitor, tortured them into submission and then spied on them to see if they reformed. If they didn’t reform and follow Christian principles and actions he killed them. This was by far not the worst set of murders in the Christian world. Reports vary but most believe that Torquemada killed about 2000 individuals. Compared with the Third Crusade the killing of 2000 people is a small number. Force is not the way for a Christian. Jesus did not use force with the possible exception of when he threw out the moneylenders from the temple, and that force appears to have been directed at objects not at people. Do Christians want to use force? Is the force of martial arts worse than the force of Torquemada or the force used in the Scarlet Letter or Salem witch hunts?

When we consider the circle of responsibility we want to consider the difference between the responsibility of offering the opportunity to know God, and the applying of force to demand submission. One is Good; the other leads nowhere except to hatred, resentment and hostility. Our responsibility is to show God’s way in our lives. I do not believe that our responsibility is to try to force people to act or believe our way.

That, then, in my opinion, allows us to keep our dear ones in the realm of our circle of influence. By direct communication, such as in this essay, we have the opportunity to reveal what we believe. If the person listens and assesses then we have a pathway for influence. If they accept our opinions we have had a positive influence (if our opinions are true and positive in themselves). If they reject our opinions we have had no negative influence on them. But our responsibility is not to decide for them; it is to offer our relationship, our opinion, the direction of God’s word, our love and allow them to decide for themselves. Therein lies the power of the spirit of God. It does its work if we have done ours.


James continues, * So the idea that the circle of responsibility is mainly populated by oneself, but it might be argued that this verges on narcissistic.*

Certainly this is possible. It takes experience to be able to make a choice between narcissism and responsibility for one’s own life-choices. We train children, whether we want to admit it or not, to think and act like we want them to. As they develop the skills we desire we give them responsibility. If they don’t develop the skills we desire friction emerges. But, some children become so deeply involved in giving to another what the other wants of them, that the child becomes a personal dish-rag, used to clean up sloppy messes, but having no original creativity, efficacy, esteem or love for self.

I can hardly believe that a child of God should be one without these attributes. On the other hand I can hardly believe that a child of God should be narcissistic. It is a question of balance. Christians, in my opinion, should not be dish-rags, nor should they be self-maniacs.

No person, in my opinion, is any value to God if that person has no belief in himself/herself, or if that person has no ability to choose to love God, or not. If a person has no belief in herself/himself then this person is a null-Christian pushed about by the winds of others opinions. God gave us the ability to choose because God wants us to use the ability. The stronger our convictions in God and the more we trust our ability to choose for God rather than against God the more valuable we are to God, ourselves and humanity. This is our responsibility; to be responsible for our own destiny; to choose God freely, willingly, and wholeheartedly, or if we lose all sense of the proper order of the universe to choose against God; we must have the choice or Calvin and Zwingli were right; predestination.

The direction of our choices is ours. If we focus on the positive we focus on God. That is our responsibility. If you focus on quality of life and on goodness then you focus on God. This is what I mean by being in your own circle of responsibility. Fail to focus on the quality of life, on goodness and you will fail to focus on God. The abyss is seductive and addictive. It is so easy to fall into the frame where we believe we are incapable of making decisions, that THEY are doing everything to us and that we are powerless in face of THEM.

It is so easy to surrender personal responsibility and say it is all somebody else’s responsibility to decide the way of your life. But that is the abyss. You are responsible to attain, maintain and protect the quality of your life by never varying from the grace of God. That means, at least to me, that you want to construct a valuable life based on the very nature of God’s goodness; love, happiness, altruism, relationships, sharing. In such a state you have so much for others to see. In such a state you have so much more to give to others. In such a state God is in you.

To all the Christians who have read this, I admit that this is only one person’s opinion, mine. I am a martial artist. I am a Christian, too. I have a lot of information about martial arts but I have no privileged information about Christianity. This writing has been my opinion. Take what is good, throw out what is not good. I do not want responsibility for your way of life, but if I can influence you to have a higher quality-experience in life I will be most happy. If what I have said leads to a better condition in your life, please accept it. If it does not lead to a better condition, please reject it.

And now for a little input from you to me (and others):

Martial arts are sometimes violent.

• but the stories in the Old Testament of the Bible are sometimes violent, too.

Martial arts were developed with no inclusion of Christ –but neither was Japanese cooking, which we can accept and eat with relish.

Martial arts have a person who appears like a spiritual leader, a sensei

• and considering the Jamestown, the Waco, the recent San Diego fatalities this is frightening Martial arts appear like cults

• they can become so close and appear so exclusive that they are weird.

Many, many, many Christians have disclosed to me their heart-felt concerns about the evil of martial arts. I have heard thousands of complaints like the above. Some Christians have quit martial arts because they fear their heart-felt concerns. I watch them go and lament.

As we get ready to launch the new website I would like to include a section on the Christian and martial arts. I really don’t want to write it all although I will contribute. What I would like is to get some essays about what YOUR experience is with the relationship between martial arts and Christianity. I want to help Christians to see that martial arts can help them to develop stronger and better relationships with God and with their fellow human. Can you help? Will you help?

What is your opinion? What is your experience?

And for any of you who have different religious preferences I would love to hear from you also. This is not exclusive; all people are included. What can you say? What will you say?

I am now listening…