How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone Not to Proselytize?

Francis Schaeffer on the Origins of Relativism in the Church

One of My Favorite Songs

An Inspiring Song


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

From Dr. Bruce Clayton's Shotokan's Secret

Just an excerpt. I thought some might find it interesting
As if karate history were not confusing enough, one eventually realizes that Japanese writers and karate masters enjoy a very special relationship with the truth. It confounds the naive Western reader to discover that respected Japanese sensei casually conceal, distort or fabricate stories about karate's historical origins for their own purposes. In Japanese culture this is the normal thing to do, and it would not occur to them to do otherwise. In Japan, the official story is more important than the actual truth. In fact, they consider the official story to be another kind of truth, even if the story is completely inaccurate and deliberately misleading. For a person to question the official story is shockingly rude. People who insist on digging for verifiable facts are derided as rikutsuppoi, or "reason freaks."

We can lay this philosophy at the feet of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the master of mind control. The Tokugawa edicts forced the Japanese people to adopt a double standard of truth. Every person had their private opinion, their secret honne, which was not safe to share even within the family. Instead, they all staunchly supported the official government story, the tatemae. It was the only safe thing to do in an era when a careless word could doom an entire family, or even a village.

This distinction between honne and tatemae appears again and again in karate history, right down to the present day. Honne refers to a person's true feelings, underlying motives, or the true facts of the case, and is written using the kanji for "true or real" plus the kanji that means "sound." Tatemae means the cover story, and is written with kanji that mean "to build" and "in front." In other words, tatemae is the screen we erect to hide the truth.

For example, in 19th century Okinawa, the tatemae (official story) was that the Sho kings were in charge of the kingdom, and they reported only to the Emperor of China. The hidden honne (the real situation) was that the Satsuma overlords were secretly in control. The Sho kings didn't make a move without Satsuma approval. That's the difference between honne and tatemae.

This curious relationship to the truth has an important corollary: Japanese citizens are quite comfortable with information that is inconsistent, contradictory, ambiguous and incomplete. They're used to it. Ambiguity is a major feature of the language itself. It's normal. Contradictions cannot be investigated, because that would question the tatemae. Incomplete explanations cannot be researched and explained. Japanese citizens simply assume that they are being kept in the dark for a good reason that will be revealed to them, or not, in due course.

For instance, Japanese authors seem quite comfortable with the jumble of disjointed, self-contradictory information they have assembled on the history of karate. They often repeat tatemae directly to their readers as if it were real history.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm pretty much convinced that--despite flaws elsewhere in the book--Dr. Clayton has touched on something here. The more I dig into the history of karate, the more I am convinced that there has been almost as much of an effort to obfuscate as to reveal. One of the most glaring examples that comes to mind comes from a simple perusal of two books: Shoshin Nagamine's The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do and Kiyoshi Arakaki's The Secrets of Okinawan Karate: Essence and Techniques. I say this simply because Arakaki says he learned karate punching from Nagamine, and yet the methods illustrated by Nagamine and Arakaki in their respective books are polar opposites. You cannot read both books and rationally conclude, in my opinion, that they are trying to teach the same material. One is left with very little option but to conclude that some people, to this day, are trying very hard to leave most karate practitioners with incomplete or erroneous knowledge and that therefore it is quite possible that much of what you might learn from some people is, in fact, erroneous, and quite possibly through no fault of their own.

Just something to be aware of.

Monday, June 29, 2009

First Quote from Liberty and Tyranny

There is simply no scientific or mathematical formula that defines conservatism. Moreover, there are competing voices today claiming the mantle of "true conservatism"--including neo-conservatism (emphasis on a robust national security), paleoconservatism (emphasis on preserving the culture), social conservatism (emphasis on faith and values), and libertarianism (emphasis on individualism), among others. Scores of scholars have written at length about what can be imperfectly characterized as conservative thought.


To put it succinctly: Conservatism is a way of understanding life, society, and governance. The Founders were heavily influenced by certain philosophers, among them Adam Smith (spontaneous order), Charles
Montesquieu (separation of powers), and especially John Locke (natural rights); they were also influenced by their faiths, personal experiences, and knowledge of history (including the rise and fall of the Roman Empire). Edmund Burke, who was both a British statesman and thinker, is often said to be the father of modern conservatism. He was an early defender of the American Revolution and advocate of representative government. He wrote of the interconnection of liberty, free markets, religion, tradition, and authority. The Conservative, like the Founders, is informed by all these great thinkers--and more.
It can be difficult to define conservatism. Mr. Levin has done about as good a job in a short space as can be done, I suppose, though his brevity almost necessarily leaves what he has to say about the various factions within conservatism something of an oversimplification. Quite a lot of conservatives will scarcely admit that a Neocon is a conservative at all (I have to grit my teeth when contemplating the idea), for example, and personally, while I think that libertarians have many ideas that overlap with conservatism, libertarianism is not really a division of conservatism. Also, I think a good case could be made for an "emphasis on faith and values" being the means of "preserving the culture," which would mean that "social conservatism" and Paleoconservatism would not necessarily be as easy to distinguish from one another as Mr. Levin might make them out to be.

I do think that Mr. Levin is right in his basic idea, though, that "There is simply no scientific or mathematical formula that defines conservatism." Conservatism, in my opinion, is more a method, more an approach to the maintenance of a society than it is a laundry-list of popular positions. It proceeds largely from certain bedrock ideas and presuppositions, but it is far more flexible in application than many of its detractors think.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Christianity and Martial Arts: Sorting Through the Myths, Legends, Misunderstandings, Half-Truths, and Flat-Out Lies

I started this post a long time ago. I have written it--and am still working on it--for the sake of Christians who are either practicing martial arts now, or considering it, or who have children, relatives, or friends who are considering it. Many of these people are very concerned training in the martial arts might serve to indoctrinate themselves or their children into some Far Eastern religion or philosophy or lead to involvement in the occult. I have read more than a few such claims over the years. It doesn't help that the whole field is rife with misinformation, disinformation, myths, false and exaggerated claims, language issues, and outright hucksterism. Sorting and thinking through all these issues is not the work of one afternoon's intense study. It takes a while to understand what is really going on.

I have heard some of the strangest things. More than twenty years ago, I was discussing the subject with a young man and his nother, and I mentioned wing chun kung fu.

"Isn't that one of the satanic arts?" they asked. The question may sound silly to some, but they were very serious, and I can understand why.

The post is divided into sections. The first answers the only question that I have been asked directly; the others address issues that I've run across in my reading. I believe, as I write these words, that when I click on "publish," I will be publishing the longest blogpost I have ever seen. It is the only blogpost I have ever written wherein I have been forced to resort to internal hyperlinks so that interested readers could go directly to the section that concerns them. The post is so long at this point that I am somewhat concerned that Blogger will not be able to digest it correctly, and I will be forced to split it up into a four-post series. I hope to avoid that; I should like for this post to be something of a one-stop answer for people with questions about Christian concerns with martial arts.

About those internal hyperlinks: Blogger seems to have a hard time digesting them. Everytime I have tried to use them, it has proven necessary to skip the both the "compose" and "preview" stages of publishing, as Blogger has insisted not only on altering the links and rendering them useless if I don't, it seems to me that it inserts random bits of html, "bolding," for example, things which I had no intention of putting in bold. If you see some irregularities in spacing and formatting throughout the post, it is due to this reason. It would have been extremely time-consuming to fix those and then fix--and re-fix--the hyperlinks.

I should also mention, for the non-Christians who will inevitably read this post, while no offense is intended, the reality is that I do think that Christianity is objectively true, and this post is written from that viewpoint.

Let me also note that nothing in this post should be construed to mean that I think that one can throw caution to the winds when contemplating the study of Far Eastern martial arts. There certainly are areas where caution and concern are justified. This post has not been written so that you can justify studying anything for any reason, but to provide enough information so that you can be discerning and understanding. Let me be very clear: if at any point you should ever be less than fully confident that you can keep Far Eastern religious convictions separated from your martial arts practice, it is time to cease or to change your martial arts practice. My contention is that it is in fact possible to keep those religious convictions separated from martial arts practice, and that, in fact, properly understood, those religious convictions have nothing to do with martial arts in and of themselves. Perhaps, after reading this material, you will agree. Perhaps not. But I'm going to try to leave you better informed than when you came here.

There are Western martial arts, or at least martial sports: fencing and savate spring to mind. British bare-knuckle boxing could certainly be included. Nobody in the Christian community seems to have a problem with them. Why is that? In my opinion, it could be because nobody thinks that the secret of a powerful savate or boxing punch has something to do with some sort of mysterious, occultic, internal energy that can only be felt and manipulated by initiates, and that nobody is trying to promote fencing or savate or boxing as a means of attaining spiritual enlightenment. With the Asian martial arts, though, we do face this problem: there are and have been people trying to promote them as a source of mysterious powers and spiritual attainment, and people who have been taught by them naturally pass that point of view on. One of my goals with this post is to show that the Asian martial arts, in and of themselves, do not rely on or produce mystic powers and have no intrinsic connection to any particular religion or philosophy in spite of what some martial artists will tell you, and that approached discerningly, the Asian martial arts can be useful as exercise and as part of your overall self-defense strategy.

As always, when reading my humble scribblings on the martial arts, the reader is well-advised to remember that what follows is simply my opinion. I have neither the expertise nor the credentials to impress anyone. I do not speak on behalf of any organization. If you're interested in the martial arts perspective I bring to the table, I practiced taekwon-do--this was like the old Oh Do Kwan stuff, which was not terribly dissimilar to Shotokan except for the usual Korean emphasis on kicks --for some few years under a fairly wide variety of instructors, and then, shortly before leaving the Marine Corps Reserve, began the study of what is now called RyuTe, the system of Okinawan karate taught by Taika Seiyu Oyata. Then, shortly after I got married, I stopped. Had too many other things on my mind. But I never lost interest, kept reading and reading and reading--and practicing, to some degree, and twenty years later, I resumed training with my old instructor. I do not claim to be particularly good at this stuff. If you're not impressed with those credentials, I don't blame you.

Lastly, the post is flawed by virtue of the fact that I am not a full-time writer or researcher. There well be additions and revisions from time to time.

Table of Contents

Part One: Is Teaching Philosophy Part and Parcel of the Martial Arts?
Part Two: Busting Up a Myth About Kata
Part Three: Let's Talk About Ki
Part Four: Do(h)! Further Thoughts on Martial Arts as a "Way of Life" or "Spiritual Training"
Part One: Is Teaching Philosophy Part and Parcel of the Martial Arts?
This was the only question I've ever been asked directly:
...I have talked with martial arts instructor who insisted that he teaches you more than fighting and that his art was a way of life and is a philosophy that would improve every area of my life. The martial art is eastern in origin and if he does teach a philosophy, my guess is that it is far from compatible with Christianity. My question is this: is teaching philosophy along with the fighting technique the rule or the exception among martial arts trainers?
The short answer is "yes and no." It would help to know which martial art we are talking about, and what the alleged philosophy is. However, speaking generally, there is no "the philosophy" when it comes to the martial arts. Martial artists come from a wide variety of religious and philosophical backgrounds. I would say that most--I am very tempted to say "all" martial arts share one philosophical precept: that is that the martial arts are defensive arts and that to use them to needlessly harm others is to misuse them. Martial arts and martial artists may come from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds--Taoist/Buddhist/Confucian in China, Buddhist/Hindu in India, Shinto/Buddhist in Japan, Muslim in Indonesia and the Philippines, Christian in Europe and the United States--but it is hard to think of a martial artist who doesn't say that his art is a defensive art, something to be practiced, at least in part, for the purpose of defending against violent attack.

Why should this be so? Why should people whose ideas of God, eternity, cosmology, nature, and man often differ radically all share the same idea as to the purpose of the martial arts? I don't think it is so hard to figure out. Think about how likely you would be to take up a years-long study of a martial art if your purpose was, at some indeterminate point in the future, to violently assault your neighbor, or to make your living by robbing others. You would not do it. It is completely unnecessary. You would be better off thrashing your neighbor by surprise, in the dark, perhaps with the aid of friends. Darkness, secrecy, and deception are your allies in such a thing, not years of sweaty training. Neither has the robber a need for such training; he has only the same needs already mentioned--darkness, secrecy, deception--to which he can add the great benefit (from his point of view) of being able to choose victims weaker than himself.

No, as a rule it is people whose interests include being able to defend against violent attack who are willing to spend the time and effort to acquire proficiency in the martial arts. The time and effort required to learn martial arts make them impractical for offensive purposes. They are defensive in nature in the same way that a shield is defensive in nature--by purpose and design. They were designed to defend against attack (though some do adopt "the best defense is a good offense" approach, which is, overall still a defensive approach) by people with some concerns about being attacked, not doing the attacking. To use the martial arts to assault others is to misuse them by their very nature, a simple fact recognized by martial artists the world over, regardless of their philosophical and/or religious background. This is not to say that no one misuses them--I have heard that the Japanese yakuza and the Chinese Triads make it financially worth the while for their members to study martial arts--but it should be clear that generally speaking, using martial arts in anything other than a defensive way is to misunderstand their nature.

As far as "a way of life" goes--well, every time I hear that line, I can't help but wonder just how much thought the speaker has given it. What does he mean? Does he mean "way of life" in the same way that a farmer might be said to follow a rural way of life? Or that some people might be said to follow a simple way of life? Once, martial arts were practiced with considerable intensity, with the practitioner always on the alert, ready to fight if, sadly, it became necessary. This was just the way it was; if you live with the threat of sudden violence, such alertness is forced upon you. If this sort of constant alertness--the Japanese might call it zanshin--is all someone is talking about when he says "way of life," I wouldn't worry about it. But what if he means more? What if, by "way of life," he means his personal religion or philosophy? And how common is that sort of thing?

A particular martial artist may subscribe to a philosophy or religion. He may incorporate that philosophy into his teaching, that is, he may explain his art in terms common to that philosophy, or that philosophy may even be incorporated into the official curriculum and grading standards of the art. The second, save in the very general way I am about to describe, is much less common.

Many, perhaps most, martial arts have something of a "student code of conduct." This is not surprising when you think about it. The students are ostensibly learning how to fight, and it is reasonable for them to know what the instructor expects out of them in terms of behavior as he teaches them a potentially dangerous skill. In some systems, this code of conduct is referred to as the dojo kun. In Taika Seiyu Oyata's system, the dojo kun are as follows:
1. Strive for a good moral character.
2. Keep an honest and sincere way.
3. Cultivate perseverance of a will for striving.
4. Develop a respectful attitude.
5. Restrain your physical ability by spiritual attainment.
Dojo kun are generally--well, general and reflect qualities that hardly anyone who takes up the martial arts for their natural, defensive purpose could quarrel with, and they may well represent the bulk of the philosophical instruction you get in the course of martial arts study. Some martial arts--like Shotokan karate--emphasize their "character-building" qualities, but if we look at what is meant by "character," you will almost always find that what is meant is reflected in the dojo kun, or that we are talking about things like discipline and self-confidence, things which might be developed on the baseball field or perseverance in the face of challenges which one might encounter in, say, Marine Corps boot camp.The principle idea is to produce students who won't misuse potentially dangerous skills and become common thugs, and to ensure the good reputation of a martial arts club. If you ever get tested on "philosophy," the dojo kun are likely to be it.

There are exceptions to this. There are systems, organizations, and clubs where specific religious and/or philosophical material is woven into the curriculum. You might be surprised to find that in my (admittedly not exhaustive) experience, this is far more likely to be the Christian religion and and Christian-influenced philosophy than anything else. I can, off the top of my head, think of only one exception to this, that being Shorinji Kempo, which is both a martial art and a religion. On the other hand, there is Shinsei Hapkido, described as the "house art" of Karate for Christ, which is something of an umbrella organization for Christian martial artists; there is the Grace Martial Arts Fellowship, another such umbrella organization; there is the KORE program in Kansas, which teaches RyuTe with a specifically Christian emphasis, and the Bushido Kai, which is very much local to Oklahoma and almost entirely tied to Southern Baptist churches.

And you know, my own instructor has told me that Taika Oyata is a Christian himself!

These are exceptions. In most systems and clubs, you are not likely to be tested on anything more philosophically specific than the dojo kun, which, as I said, are usually pretty generic.

On the other hand, even though specific philosophical precepts may not be a formal part of the curriculum, it cannot be denied that when we talk about "martial arts," we are almost always talking about Asian martial arts, or martial arts that are at least derived from them. Not unnaturally, this means that concepts and techniques may be explained in terms common to an Asian philosophical background, or that--especially if your instructor is from Asia--he might personally be Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto, Taoist, Confucianist, or whatever (it is actually not terribly uncommon for someone to be "a little of this and a little of that"). This seems to be especially true when it comes to telling a student how to generate power in techniques. A student might be told to concentrate on his hara, or tanden, or dan jun, the source of his ki (I go into the subject of ki in more detail in one of the subsequent sections). We might say "generate power from your hips" or "learn to manipulate your center of gravity" or he might be told to develop zanshin, literally "continuing mind," which sounds fairly mystical, but as Dave Lowry explains at some length in Autumn Lightning, is really more akin to the constant alertness to the possibility of attack that is so necessary to avoid being taken by surprise. A student might be told to develop "internal" power; Westerners might say to learn to relax certain muscle groups so that you aren't unnecessarily fighting against your own muscle tension.

It will be readily appreciated that in this situation we are up against a situation not unlike that a beginning student of electricity is up against when he is told to think of electricity as being like water--voltage is like water volume, conductivity is like the size of the water pipe, etc.--in that the language is precise enough to help the student perform the desired action, but not precise enough to make clear what is actually going on.

Compounding this problem is the fact that this sort of communications barrier may be more than a few "generations" old by the time you have to deal with it.

If you should run across this sort of thing, my advice is to listen respectfully and to seek for the real concept underlying the obfuscatory language. Most likely, it isn't anything mystical at all.

Let's talk about Zen for a moment. You will often hear people talk about zen in the martial arts. This can be something of a sticky subject. I will point out first that in my experience, you have about as much chance of being asked to participate in zazen, formal zen meditation, as you do of being struck by a meteor. In most classes, when the instructor says, "Close your eyes and meditate," he usually means, "Sit still and catch your breath before someone in here has a heart attack." In my current class, the only time I can recall hearing "mokuso" (meditate) was just before hearing "hajime," or "begin," at which point I was supposed to do the kata. In other words, my instructor wanted me to close my eyes for a moment and focus on what I was about to do.

Mystical, eh?

In my opinion, most instructors just say "meditate" because that's what their instructor said. Occasionally, you may find that someone says he wants you to empty your conscious mind, which, in my experience, is not actually possible to do (though some politicians and entertainers appear to come frighteningly close), and it usually turns out that he means he wants you to let go of your preconceptions about what you are doing, or what your opponent is about to do, and just perceive it directly, which again, does not strike me as a particularly mystical or religious experience.

It is also helpful to know that by "zen," a practitioner is often referring not specifically to zen buddhism, but using it as something of a catch-all term that encompasses things like learning to perform an action without conscious thought, or learning not to focus so much on an opponent's eyes that you cannot perceive what the rest of his body is doing (one writer quoted Taika Oyata as saying something like, "Why you watch face? I no do karate with my face! Watch body!")

I once knocked out a sparring partner with a jumping sidekick. Did I consciously think, "My opponent is off-balance and retreating; I need to cover a lot of distance quickly and take advantage of his off-balance condition. What would do that? Oh, yes, I know--a jumping side kick! Let's see, I need to step with this foot, bend my knee, etc.?" Of course not! I saw the opening, and the technique erupted out of my training background. Many people would say that was a "zen moment," yet by such a standard, you have "zen moments" every time you drive.

When it comes to "zen," again, look past the term and find the underlying concept. Usually, it's not mystical at all.

But what if you run across one of those people who were actually attracted to a martial art by its reputation (usually falsely earned, in my opinion) for mysticism? What if you run across an aikido instructor who was attracted to that system by its reputation for developing a mystical power, or to taijiquan by its historical association with Taoists? What if he explains everything in relation to his religion--and you object to his religion? I would say to think through these questions:

1. Just how badly do you want to learn this particular system? You might be better off just learning something else. Even if you live in the boondocks with a limited selection (if any) of martial arts clubs, you can learn a surprising amount from video these days.

2. Are you sufficiently grounded? Are you so firm in your faith that it is not going to be shaken by being taught by a non-Christian? This might be a situation where it might be wise not to send a child, but an adult might be just fine. Or not. Some adults could handle it, some couldn't.

3. Where does the rubber meet the road? Are those philosophical/religious precepts to which you object something you will be required to learn and be tested on? (This would be very rare.) Does acceptance of training and rank at the instructor's hands imply acceptance of his religion?

Personally, I would say that in the very rare cases where an instructor's philosophical and/or religious ideas are an issue during class time, that as long as I was not required to learn it for testing purposes and as long as participation in the class did not imply acceptance of another religion, I would have no more issue with an instructor's philosophical orientation than I would with a boss's, or relative's, or a co-worker's. And I would also hasten to point out that in practical terms, the odds of your deliberately being trained in non-Christian philosophy as a part of your martial arts training are very low--so low that I wouldn't worry about it much.Return to Contents

Part Two: Busting Up a Myth About Kata
I did some reading--or re-reading, rather, as I read most of the articles on the site some time ago--today, largely as a result of some concerns expressed by a brother whom, I have absolutely no doubt, means well and has a genuine concern. And I have no doubt that the authors of the articles, all of whom came down pretty hard on the martial arts, mean well, too.

On the other hand, I also couldn't help but note that there were some--well, mistaken notions--at the bottom of a lot of their concerns. For example, they were all much worked up about the the subject of ki, or chi, and its--according to them--centrality to the practice of the Asian martial arts. It never seemed to occur to any of them that the whole thing might be bogus, that there might not really be some mystical kind of energy central to the practice of the Asian martial arts. Never seemed to occur to any of them that such a concept might be a total load of hooey.

I'm not going to disabuse them of their notions about ki in this section of the post, either. That'll wait for another, more extensive addition. Today, we're going to take a very brief look at a myth about kata, although the article we're referencing calls it "poomse", for they are talking about Taekwon-do. Some TaeKwon-do people might say "hyung" instead of "poomse."

What is a kata? The simplest definition is that it is a prearranged set of movements used in the practice of martial arts. They range from the relatively simple (in concept, not that they are necessarily simple to perform correctly) kata of iaijutsu--basically, draw the sword, cut this way, cut that way, sling the "blood" off your sword, return to scabbard--to the very complex kata of karate, which may incorporate multiple twists, turns, and all sorts of movements with the hands, arms, legs, feet, elbows--you get the idea. The article I am referencing says
Another area of concern relates to the ritual forms or poomse used in Taekwondo. The karate equivalent to the poomse is the kata patterns. As the Taekwondo author and instructor Eddie Ferrie puts it, "Many of the patterns of taekwondo are rooted in semi-mystical Taoist philosophy and their deeper meaning is said to be far more important than the mere performance of a gymnastics series of exercises. This is not immediately obvious, either when performing or watching the poomse being performed…" The eight Taegeuk poomses performed in taekwondo are derived from the eight triagrams of the occult I’Ching. Richard Chun holds that ‘the forms of Taekwondo…are more than physical exercises: they are vehicles for active meditation.’
Now, is this accurate? I'm sure that the Taekwon-do people cited think that it is (although it wouldn't take much to dig up quotes saying something else--there are an awful lot of "authorities" on Taekwon-do now, you know, with several million people around the globe practicing it!). I'm equally sure that the people who've decided that kata are similar to some sort of occultic ritual movements or dance are sure that their understanding is accurate. However-and I'm sorry if I hurt anybody's feelings here, I honestly don't mean to be offensive--they are doing nothing so much as revealing how poorly they've been taught what kata really is.

The reality is that kata is not intended to have anything to do with revealing elements of Taoist philosophy, or of being some sort of meditative practice (Though doing them correctly and well certainly requires concentration. So what? So does hitting a baseball). Nor is kata some sort of dance intended to call up demonic forces or reveal occultic mysteries. What they are intended to do is to serve as a mnemonic device, to help the practitioner remember and have some hope of practicing the endless techniques and variations common to the martial arts; to help develop the practitioner's balance and use of gravity and body weight for power; to show you where the targets are; and to implant the correct angles and body mechanics for fighting movements into the practitioner's muscle memory. When you hear quotes like those above, what you are hearing is the sad result of instructor after instructor not knowing the real interpretations of the movements they are doing and, in order to relieve themselves of the haunting fear that they are just dancing around doing
something stupid, they add on meanings and symbolism that simply never existed. I'm not saying that they are necessarily lying (though someone, somewhere, surely is, or was); I'm saying that when they don't know that the opening movement in Naihanchi Shodan is a palm turn/wristlock (to give one common interpretation), and someone tells them it's a "salute", they believe it and pass on the misinformation. When they wonder why they should work so hard at a series of movements that have no obvious (to their eyes) combative purpose, and someone tells them its "moving meditation," they believe it and pass on the misinformation.

Now, some might object, "But MOTW! We've heard that kind of stuff from some of the biggest names in martial arts! Are you saying that those people and all the people they've taught, and so forth, maybe millions of people, don't understand kata?" Yes, I am. That is precisely what I am saying. The vast majority of martial arts practitioners around the world have never been shown the correct applications of the movements they practice every day. Nevertheless, with a little googling you can begin to verify what I am saying. Start googling "kata + bunkai" and see what you come up with.

Now, you might be asking, "Well, even if they're wrong, they're still teaching it as some sort of meditation, so isn't that still dangerous?" And the answer is, "Of course, it could be." It depends on the instructor and the student. But as I've said before, to a large degree it comes down to what an instructor means by "meditate," and my bet is that if, God forbid, you should actually run across a martial arts instructor who tells you that the kata is some kind of zen meditation--and this would be very rare, practically non-existent in my experience--in practical terms, you will not see it. You can't. He will just show you the movements and tell you to do the punch this way and do the kick that way, and that will be the end of it because he really doesn't have anything else to show you, and you will not be tested on your supposed "meditation" skills, so who cares? I suppose that someone, somewhere, will go beyond just using the word "meditate" to conceal his ignorance of the true nature of kata, but I hope you haven't gotten the impression that in this post I'm suggesting that you abandon all caution and concern about studying the martial arts. If you run across an instructor who really is determined to indoctrinate you or your child in Zen Buddhism, or if your child is young and impressionable, by all means, run the other direction and don't look back! But I don't think you will run across this often, if ever.

And I'll just mention, as a closing thought, that if you've heard that the physical movements themselves, that is, the punches, the kicks, or perhaps, the pattern of the moves, etc., will somehow open you up to demonic influences, consider the likelihood of you making, purely by accident, at least one of those moves during the course of your lifetime. Of course, the odds are excellent that you will do so, because everybody kicks a tire or something once or twice in their lives. Do you really think that the movement is going to open you up to demonic oppression? Or do you think that, just possibly, that is one more load of hooey that you've been fed?
Return to Contents

Part Three: Let's Talk About Ki
One of the most frequently-brought objections to Christians practicing the martial arts is that they martial arts rely on, or at least encourage, the use of a mysterious power called ki (in Japanese, which I will use throughout the rest of this post) or Qi or Chi (Chinese).

The first thing to understand--and this is vital--when discussing the subject is that the word ki has so many meanings that one could very easily argue that it can mean almost anything, and therefore effectively means nothing. Depending on context, ki can mean (among other things) spirit (especially as in "team spirit," or "fighting spirit," for example), breath, life force, and the energy--internal energy--that acupuncturists say circulates through all living human bodies in channels called meridians. It is this last meaning that we will talk about the most, for this is the one that's usually the bone of contention vis-a-vis martial arts.

So what does acupuncture say about ki? It is supposed to be a kind of energy that circulates through the body via pathways or channels called meridians. If the flow of ki through these meridians becomes unbalanced or obstructed, resulting in illness, an acupuncturist will try to restore the balance, usually by stimulating certain points on the meridians with thin needles (acupuncture), pressure (acupressure, or shiatsu), and/or heat (moxabustion).

If that were all there was to it, we could probably stop right there, for as far as I can tell, the Bible is totally silent on the question of whether some kind of energy circulates within the body like this. However, some martial artists do go further, claiming that they can develop and direct their ki through various exercises and techniques, sometimes achieving spectacular results and effects. Objections from some quarters of the Christian community usually revolve around the exercises and techniques used to develop ki, and to ki itself. Ki is said to be akin to or identical to kundalini, the energy supposedly developed through yogic breathing, which is held to be demonic in nature.

The exercises and techniques are said to inevitably develop ki--which apparently wasn't previously there, contrary to the acupuncturists' theory--and to open the martial artist up to demonic influence. Here are some representative quotes from various quarters:
It feels to the Martial Artist as if he is in command of certain special powers. However, this is a deception. The truth is almost the exact reverse. The special powers are actually at the disposal of a force alien to the Martial Artist himself. Through constant usage or or co-operation with the supposed "internal energy" the Martial Artist actually places himself at the disposal of the alien force. Ultimately, therefore, these powers are not controlled by the Martial Artist. Rather he is controlled by an alien force which is the author of these strange powers.
And later in the same article:
Over and above this, there are Martial Arts techniques which cannot possibly be performed by anyone without the use of demonic power. Such a technique is the directing of ki at an opponent, or to lead the opponent to do what you want him to do, as is done in Aikido].

So-called "internal punching" is another instance. Rolf Clausnitzer was once punched from a distance of 9 inches by wing chun master, Wong Shun Leong, in Hong Kong. "Despite the protection of two cushions, the memory remains of an excruciating pain not unlike that of an electric shock" .

Kung-fu expert Kah Wah Lee is reported to have rediscovered an ancient technique known as the "vibrating palm". Apparently Lee placed two pieces of half-inch-thick
roofing-tiles under two boards, having sandwiched between them a cushion of tofu (soft bean-curd made into custard) about 3 inches thick. He applied his right hand to the board on top. The tiles chattered. Lee claimed that he converted his ch'i or ki into resonating vibrations by means of intense concentration. These were then transmitted through the tofu to the lower board and from there to the tiles, which were shattered by the resonance. It is said that it is possible to deliver a "delayed death-touch" to one's opponent by this means].
And then there's this:
Within martial arts, it is not the devolopment of kinetic energy that is the ultimate goal, though kinetic energy is trained and
strengthened, but it is the release of the Ki (Japanese) Chi (Chinese), power located in the physic nerve center approx. 2 1/2 inches below the navel. The same as the unleashing of the kundalini. The martial arts have their roots going way back into India, thousands of years ago.
Those are serious charges, and if true, I agree that they would constitute ample reason for Christians to avoid martial arts. One can certainly understand being concerned about the issue. But it is only natural to ask, isn't it: is this correct? Is this true?

It might surprise some people--probably including the concerned brethren quoted above--but belief in ki, in this mysterious internal energy, is by no means universal among martial artists. For example, I distinctly recall reading an interview many years ago in which Jhoon Rhee, often regarded as the father of American Taekwon-do, said that he had never seen a valid example of ki. I wish I could recall the name of the magazine and provide a citation for you, but all I remember is the information. Then there'sThomas Makiyama, an eighth-dan aikido master teaching in Japan (and bear in mind that many people think aikido is one of the more mystically-oriented martial arts), who once gave an interview containing this exchange (the interviewer's words are in italics):
What is "ki"?

What do you think?

It has often been explained to me that it is vital life energy, but as to how it relates to executing effortless aikido techniques I'm still at a loss. I don't understand it.

Neither does anyone else.

How did the great debate about "ki" get started?

When you see people being thrown around without any apparent effort, and you try to duplicate it and you can't without using a lot of strength, and even then it's sometimes impossible, the easiest way to explain the inexplicable is to treat it as a mystery.

Where did this start?

At the Aikikai. O-Sensei was a deeply religious man. He belonged to the Omoto-kyo religion and, though I don't know for sure, he may have used aikido to convey his own
religious beliefs. So, if he does these seemingly impossible things, it must be ki!

What do you think about aikido as practiced elsewhere?

To each his own.

How is your aikido different from other schools?

Me, I guess. First of all, generally speaking, I don't emphasize strength to finish a movement or a technique. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing mysterious about it. It's just commonsense and elementary physics that you learn in high school.
Further, he said in his book, Keijutsukai Aikido, my emphasis in bold:
...there were those who attempted to convey aikido techniques through an alleged Zen-like philosophy, accompanied by stunts that incorporated elementary physics and common sense. These advocates insisted that a mysterious source of spiritual strength must be mastered (according to their teachings, of course) in order for one to learn the intricate principles of aikido.

This is erroneous.
And elsewhere in the same volume:
...students are erroneously led to believe that a mystical source of spiritual power lies at the root of aikido, and that this particular concept must be mastered through a prescribed form of concentration which borders on Zen Buddhism.
Taika Seiyu Oyata, in my opinion the foremost practitioner of the traditional Okinawan martial arts in the Western Hemisphere, says in his Ryu-Te No Michi
As I said in the previous paragraph, why study about something that you cannot see. Again, this means, if you can't see KI how can you study it? I believe if all people would understand this they probably would not study KI. But this is not the case because most people think of their spirit on a religious level. So if KI is explained differently, such as energy or life force, it would be easier for people to be drawn into studying KI as being something entirely different. In my 50 years of life protection study, I have never seen anyone who could extend their KI to stop someone in a life protection situation. My instructors never were able to extend their spirits to stop any attackers. They had to use their bodies for their protection.
In his excellent and highly recommended The Secrets of Okinawan Karate: Essence and Techniques, Kiyoshi Arakaki says such things as:
People explain this as making the opponent fly because there is ki (vital energy). This is absolutely incorrect! As you can see from diagram 1, this is a situation where your arms control his actual center of gravity (CG) because you adjust his CG higher than his true CG and your CG, and, "Voila!" he loses his balance.
You can now understand that the so-called Universal Ki is gravity, and gravity is the key for the martial artist.
Rob Redmond, a Shotokan karate expert who's studied in Japan, wrote a whole article called I Do Not Believe in Ki in which he says:
The difference between believing in ki as a
telekinetic force or a channeled energy that only the chosen few can see and the belief in various theist religions is that no one has come up with an observed effect for which ki is supposedly the cause. There is nothing happening out there in the world that needs ki to account for it.

...When asked for examples of effects for which ki would be the cause, the following are usually cited.

High Levels of Martial Skill is sometimes credited to an ability to harness and manipulate hidden flowing energies. However, physical training and other factors are better explanations for which we possess mountains of evidence. There is no way to remove these causes for the effect of good skills in the martial arts, therefore it is impossible to find another cause. In order to assert that ki were to be credited for martial arts abilities, someone would have to demonstrate an effect for which there could be no other cause in order for ki to be a reasonable explanation. For example, if a martial artist could levitate in a laboratory and on demand
anywhere anytime, then we might speculate as to the cause of this effect.

Acupuncture’s Effectiveness Against Pain is sometimes shown as evidence that there is ki. But, this has been shown to be a physical effect on the way the nervous system behaves. At some point in their history, the Chinese came up with “chi” (or borrowed the idea from someone else) as a life force that flows through the body which acupuncture is able to affect. They were trying to explain the effects of acupuncture and other things, and they were operating in the dark, so they came up with ki as a reasonable explanation. However, we now know the real cause. Thus, this is no longer a reason to believe in ki because of this effect.

I could go on naming other effects such as feeling tingly when someone is standing near to you, the parlor tricks such as “unbendable arm”, the one-inch-punch, breaking boards, and other nonsense. The point is that there is nothing we observe in our world which calls for ki to explain it.

This concept is difficult to explain, but it all comes down to this: If there is not something that needs ki to explain it, then coming up with ki first and the thing it causes second is usually evidence of invention, hallucination, or deception.

Therefore, it is irrational and unreasonable to believe in ki, since there is nothing that you see in the world as an effect which cannot be explained without using ki to explain it.

For those things we do not understand, ki does not explain them. For the effects that ki can supposedly have, there is no effect. Believers in ki do not live longer, are not healthier, are not happier, are not free from psychological and emotional trauma, and most importantly, they cannot demonstrate anything that would lead one to say, “Look! Some ki!”
And my occasional blogospheric correspondent, Dr. Patrick Parker, aikido godan (fifth-degree black belt) and judo sandan(third-degree black belt) said, in response to my flat statement that there is no such thing as ki, said:
Yep. Exactly right. I'd say, though that ki does exist, but not as a real thing. Rather as a metaphor for all the physics/anatomy, etc... that the prescientific folks didn't understand. You can do ki tricks and demonstrations but they end up just being parlor tricks based on non-obvious physics/physiology, etc. These ki tricks (like unbendable arm demo) don't even have much if anything to do with the execution of skillful martial arts.
Dr. Parker also weighs in on the subject via his post So, What is This Ki Thing, Anyway?

So what's the truth? What's really going on here?

As I said at the outset, the first thing to understand is that there are language issues involved. The word ki can mean so many things. I am convinced that no end of confusion has arisen by Americans, eager to acquire new skills, hearing "You must develop internal energy," when what the instructor was saying was, "You must develop your fighting spirit."

The second thing to understand is that the whole concept of ki arose in a pre-scientific culture, one wherein Eastern medical men and martial artists were seeking to create a conceptual framework within which to understand the observable results of their practices. The medical men observed that stimulating certain points with needles, or cautery, had effects on the heart (or lungs, etc). By charting these points and--to put it crudely--connecting the dots, they appeared to delineate pathways through which they imagined energy to circulate to the heart. And why would they re-evaluate their theory? They got results.

Likewise, the martial artists observed certain effects to follow from blunt trauma to certain points, which happened to correspond to the medical men's acupuncture points. Further, they could observe the effects of a mysterious force that seemed to center just under the navel, and which they could feel--well, coming up out of the ground--and which they could feel accumulating in their fists when they threw a punch just so.

Why would they not come to the conclusion that they were also doing things that affected and directed the mysterious ki? The conceptual framework worked.

However, there is a major problem in understanding ki in such a way, and this is it: there is no solid evidence that ki, in the internal-energy sense, exists. (I am tempted to say that there is no evidence, period, but I suspect I would be deluged with comments from martial arts practitioners disputing my definition of "evidence.") Insofar as I am aware, no controlled scientific study or experiment has clearly demonstrated the existence of that sort of "internal energy" in anyone, martial artist or otherwise. Most of the effects attributed to ki can be explained equally well, or better, by gravity and good body mechanics. We can afford, after Isaac Newton and Gray's Anatomy, to take a more modern view of the subject. The energy coming up out of the ground is the pull of gravity; it centers just below the navel because that is where the body's center of gravity is; and the mysterious force accumulating in the fist (or fingers) is just what one feels at the terminus of the whip-like action generated by good body mechanics.

One book I would recommend to anyone interested in the subject of ki is Dr. Felix Mann's Acupuncture: The Ancient Chinese Art of Healing and How it Works Scientifically. At least I'd recommend the first couple of chapters.

Dr. Mann was (or is, for all I know; he may still be alive) a doctor of medicine, modern Western medicine. He became interested in acupuncture and learned it himself, going so far as to learn to read and write Chinese so that he could read the voluminous Chinese literature on the subject. Anyone who has wrestled with learning another language as an adult will recognize what a colossal task that was. Dr. Mann worked with acupuncture for many years and was singularly well prepared to analyze and discuss acupuncture from a Western medical viewpoint. His conclusion, after using acupuncture for years and researching it thoroughly?

He rejected the classical theoretical basis for acupuncture and ascribed its effects to the human nervous system--not to ki. The first couple of chapters in Dr. Mann's book outline his experience and conclusions and survey the relevant scientific literature of the time. Here are some relevant quotes:
The reader will be made aware by various remarks throughout this book...that I believe neither in the major part of the traditional Chinese theoretical explanation of acupuncture nor even in its practical application where this is based solely on traditional theory.
And in a later chapter:
The Chinese theories related to Qi (the energy of life), Nourishing Qi, Protecting Qi, Blood, Life Essence, Spirit, Fluid and similar connections mentioned in Chapter IV, are most easily understood as a traditional Chinese concept, linked to a view of the world different to that of most Occidentals. Western doctors who practise acupuncture, or neurophysiologists who investigate its mode of action, can do without this traditional idea.
While Dr. Mann's book is not written for the layman, neither is it impenetrable, and as far as I am aware, no scientific research done since provides any reason to doubt Dr. Mann's conclusions. In fact, the last thing I read on the subject--the relevant chapter in Dr. Rosenfeld's Guide to Alternative Medicine--said much the same thing.

I don't mean to belabor a point that most of my readers have already figured out, but in rejecting acupuncture's traditional theoretical basis, Dr. Mann has said that ki, the mysterious internal energy circulating along meridians in the human body, does not exist.

Of couse, someone will say that, of course, there is no such thing as ki in most people (though that is contrary to the whole ki theory vis-a-vis acupuncture and martial arts, which posits that all living things possess ki); it is the special techniques and exercises that develop it. But this doesn't hold water; there is no more hard evidence for the existence of ki in trained martial artists than there is for it in anyone else. If martial arts techniques and exercises are supposed to open people up to development of otherwordly energies, they apparently fail miserably, at least as far as leaving hard evidence is concerned.

You might ask how some of the spectacular feats attributed to ki are performed, then, if there is actually no such thing as this mysterious internal power. How do aikidoka do the "unbendable arm?" How did Bruce Lee do the one-inch punch? How did so-and-so's "vibrating palm" work?

Well, in the case of the "unbendable arm," the one-inch punch, and probably most other spectacular feats, the explanation is physics and good body mechanics. For example, one of the greatest things you can learn in martial arts is how to make your body weight work for you, to learn how to hit with 150 or 200 pounds of body weight instead of just with your arm muscle. Marc Mac Young puts it like this "The hit occurs on the weight transfer." This is nothing mysterious; every good hitting coach in the major leagues teaches his hitters to hit on the weight transfer, too. And when you couple hitting on the weight transfer with the whip-like effect produced by good body mechanics, the resulting blow can be shockingly powerful. Dave Lowry, in his Persimmon Wind, gives this example of hitting on the weight transfer combined with good body mechanics and even provides a term for the phenomenon: settsuku:
Sato-san, a slightly-built fellow who looked to be in his sixties, came up out of a kneeling position and as he drew his katana horizontally, he reinforced the strike with a stamp of his foot that--boom!--shook, actually vibrated the floor of the dojo. It was not mere physical strength, or the applied force of muscle alone; a man twice Sato-san's size could not have duplicated that stamp. His power came from a unified body, all parts working in harmony, relaxed, totally relaxed until the moment of focus, when the edge of the blade would have struck the target had there been a real one. At that instant, Sato-san turned his body to stone and then just as quickly relaxed it again as he slid forward in a
shuffle to complete the action of the kata with another stroke, this time vertical, of his weapon. This was a demonstration at high level of settsuku, or "body connection," one of the mysterious qualities of the Japanese martial disciplines that make them so compelling and dynamic. The ninety-eight pounds of the proverbial weakling may seem trifling, yet imagine a weight of concrete equal to that catapulted into the middle of your chest. With settsuku of the calibre Sato-san was capable of generating, that would have been much the outcome.
Other things, probably including the "vibrating palm," in my opinion, are nothing more than stage magic, magic tricks intended to impress the rubes. Some people will believe anything. Let James Randi check it out (if they'll let him); if it passes his inspection, maybe I'll take it seriously. But in the meantime, I remember going to a tournament years ago in which a practitioner stood on a bunch of eggs without breaking them--eggs all arranged just like you would find them in an egg carton. Have you ever tried to break an egg by squeezing it from end to end? It is all but impossible. I have never succeeded. They are easily broken when squeezed from side to side, but from end to end--well, let's just say that you don't need the "ki" the practitioner who did the stunt claimed to have. You could stand on those eggs without breaking them, too.

I don't deny that there may be martial artists who really have dabbled in the occult and demonic. People have sold their souls to the devil for success in battle throughout history. But that's not really the question here. The question is, is there a mysterious, demonic, internal energy that is at the source of martial arts prowess, and that is inevitably developed by martial arts techniques or exercises? And the answer is no. There is no hard evidence for it. Everything ascribed to it can be explained equally well by something simpler. It is, as Rob Redmond says, an unneeded explanation.

And if, genties and ladlemen, if there is no such thing as ki in the sense of internal power, the energy that is supposedly developed and directed by martial arts techniques and exercises and supposed by some to be of demonic origin; if, despite what some martial artists will tell you, the reality is that martial power is generated by obeying the laws of physics and anatomy, the appropriate response is not necessarily to quit the martial arts, but to find an instructor who doesn't insist on explaining his art in centuries-old pre-scientific terms, or to discard the unneeded explanations and, as Thomas Makiyama says, practice, practice,

The exercises and techniques do not open you up to demonic energies. They increase your ability to use your mass.

So, if effects commonly put down to the use of ki are actually attributable to physics, body mechanics, anatomy, or simple stage magic, why do so many martial artists--including some of many years' experience and considerable reputation--believe in it? Or seem to believe in it? I believe the answer to this question is multifaceted.

Personally, I am convinced that many high-level martial artists do not believe in ki at all, but say they do because their system's founder did and they don't want to be seen as disrespecting him; or because many people are attracted to the martial arts precisely because they are looking for a mystical experience and they deliberately take advantage of that thirst for the mystical to increase their enrollment (which is reprehensible if they know the mystical experience doesn't exist); or because they are afraid they won't be seen as knowledgeable by others; or they might be afraidof offending other martial artists who do believe in ki.

I don't say that all martial artists who ascribe their feats to internal energy, to ki, are necessarily lying (though I'm sure some are). I'm sure that thousands of aikidoka have been taught and demonstrate the unbendable arm in perfect sincerity, never realizing that they are performing what is, at least for purposes of demonstrating ki, a cheap trick.

What about people that say they can "feel" their ki, like one author that says he can feel a "pulse" of ki when he hits a pressure point with his finger? Personally, I don't think they are lying, not necessarily. I just remember that there are also millions of Mormons who are utterly convinced that they've felt a "burning in the bosom" and millions of people who are certain that the nonsense syllables they utter are "tongues." Only God knows what these people are feeling, if anything. I only know that whatever it is, it seems to be darn hard to find in the lab, and that what they do with their "pulse of ki," others accomplish without it.

Of those who really do believe in ki, many have simply inherited, through a lineage of many practitioners, what Dr. Mann refers to as a "pre-scientific explanation" of various phenomena. Just as they did not have a modern understanding of the nervous system to undergird and inform their theoretical basis for acupuncture, they did not have the works of Galileo or Isaac Newton to assist them in explaining the nature of this force centered in their hara (the body's center of gravity). It is hard to blame people much for accepting these pre-scientific explanations even today. If you've seen Master so-and-so seemingly effortlessly drop person after person to the mat and he says he's using ki power, most people, unfortunately, are not going to probe any deeper for an explanation.

To my mind, the bottom line on ki in martial arts is two-fold: First, since it is clear that ki in the sense that so many Christian writers worry about simply does not exist--again, despite what many martial artists will tell you--it is, by itself, no reason to reject martial arts practice. Second, as with so many issues touching martial arts, it comes down to the instructor and the student. If an instructor's use of pre-scientific terms doesn't serve to encourage an interest in the occult, and the student is informed enough (and this post is intended to help inform people), mature enough and grounded enough to understand that ki is merely a pre-scientific explanation for natural phenomena and treat it accordingly, I see no problem. On the other hand, students coming to the martial arts in search of supernatural power and falling into the hands of the wrong instructor may be done great harm. Automatic rejection of martial arts practice is not called for, but caution and discernment are.

In our association, we don't believe in or use "internal energy" at all. There are many other organizations and individual instructors who do likewise. My advice would be to seek out one of them, or, failing that, to evaluate yourself and the instructor in light of what I've explained. If you're sure that you can hear the instructor's pre-scientific terms and remain unindoctrinated, you'll probably be fine. Just don't pass on those terms to those you will someday teach. Please?
Return to Contents

Part Four: Do(h)! Further Thoughts on Martial Arts as a "Way of Life" or "Spiritual Training"
Remember back in the first section of this post? The only question I've actually been asked? "What about the guy who says that his art is a way of life?" Well, I still think the answer I gave back then is okay (You've got to bear in mind that I wrote that section quite some time ago.), but let's expand on it a little. Given that you've gone to the trouble of Googling until you came up with this post, it's at least possible, maybe even probable, that you've heard that "do"--as in judo, karate-do, aikido, kendo, taekwon-do, etc., means "way," and it may further be possible that you've heard that it alludes to something of a "way of enlightenment," or perhaps a "way of life," something that you might find in Buddhism, perhaps especially Zen Buddhism. The idea you may have been given is that the consistent, sincere practice of these martial arts is intended to be a vehicle by which the practitioner might realize his oneness with the universe, or Brahman, or however you want to put it, and you're afraid that you, or your little one, or someone you know, is going to be subtly indoctrinated into concepts and a way of thinking that will undermine your--or his--Christian faith.

Or you might have heard that the martial arts are renowned for their spiritual training. This might concern you, since, as a Christian, you might not be all that interested in spiritual training that might make a Buddhist out of you.

The reality is that I don't blame you for being concerned. There are martial artists and martial arts teachers who do subscribe to those religions and do promote such thinking. You may also remember from preceding sections that I've suggested that some people are attracted to (or take advantage of) some martial arts' mystical reputation, and those people are all the more prone to be seeking "enlightenment" in their training. You should certainly be on the lookout for such people.

On the other hand, it's fair to ask, isn't it, whether such an understanding of "do" is accurate? Whether people who say that it means something somewhat mystical are, perhaps, seeing a little bit more than is really there? If "karate-do" means "empty-hand way," is the "empty" a reference to the "void" found in some Eastern religions? It's also fair to ask what martial artists are typically talking about when they talk about "spiritual training" and the like, isn't it? If

First, let's look back at the meaning and history of the term "do". This is from a fascinating article at a London aikido blog:
different definitions of "do"
the Way

the Way or Path

way, path

an artful path of discovery

The DO kanji (also DO, TO, and michi) is composed of the wavy radical to the lower left meaning movement and the element to the right meaning head or chief. These were used to suggest the idea of the main road and finally came to mean way or road. In the context of aikido it takes on the common abstract meaning of way or way of enlightenment. DO is used in many Japanese words regarding traditional Japanese martial arts including; budo, judo, kendo, kyudo, karate-do, and dojo.

"way" or "path." When this term is used as a suffix to a particular style of the Japanese martial arts, it is indicitive of more than just a means of combat. Do indicates a disciplineand philosophy with moral and spiritual connotations, with the ultimate aim being enlightenment.

'the way'. It signifies that the study of Aikido does not involve merely self-defense techniques, but includes positive character-building ideals which a person can incorporate into his or her life art (from Middle Chinese daw', thaw).

which means "the way", to signify that Aikido involves an outer and inner practice over the long term.

way, means of something

the way, path, road, philosophy of...

the meaning of Japanese do and Chinese tao are identical. Both of them mean 'way', 'road' or 'path', but not only the road we put our feet on but rather the road we walk on and we get somewhere; the way that leads to our objectives.

philosophy, path, way, direction, method, principle
Other writers offer other thoughts:
Budo is a compound of the root bu (?:?), meaning war or martial; and do (?:??), meaning path or way. Specifically, do is derived from the Buddhist Sanskrit marga (meaning the 'path' to enlightenment).[1] The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a 'path' to realize them.[2] Do signifies a 'way of life'. Do in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form.
The Canadian Aikido Federation has:
The third and last character is Do, which means 'the way'. It signifies that the study of Aikido does not involve merely self-defense techniques, but includes positive character-building ideals which a person can incorporate into his or her life.
Okay, you can tell very quickly that there are shades of meaning to "do," and that which shade of meaning you are intended to pick up on might vary from person to person, right? Or that perhaps you are, sometimes, intended to pick up on more than one shade of meaning?

Insofar as I am aware--and though I would never, ever claim "expert" status, I'd venture to say that I've read about as much on martial arts history as it is reasonably likely that a non-academic would ever care to read--the very first time the word "do" was applied to a particular martial art was when Jigoro Kano named his unique systematization of older unarmed martial arts techniques judo. Prior to this, those unarmed techniques had been collectively referred to, usually, as jujutsu (sometimes spelled "jiu jitsu," or "jujitsu," etc.), or perhaps "yawara." Perhaps, in a few cases, something like "aikijutsu." Jutsu, or jitsu, is usually translated, more-or-less, as "technique." You might ask, then, what prompted Kano to call what he taught judo instead of jujutsu? What is it about his art that--at least in his mind--justifies calling it a "path" or "way of life"? Well, this is from Jigoro Kano's Kodokan Judo. Emphasis, where present, is mine:
In my youth I studied jujutsu under many eminent masters. Their vast knowledge, the fruit of years of diligent research and rich experience, was of great value to me. At that time, each man presented his art as a collection of techniques. None perceived the guiding principle behind jujutsu. When I encountered differences in the teaching of techniques, I often found myself at a loss to know which was correct. This led me to look for an underlying principle in jujutsu, one that applied when one hit an opponent as well as when one threw him. After a thorough study of the subject, I discerned an all-pervasive principle: to make the most efficient use of mental and physical energy. With this principle in mind, I again reviewed all the methods of attack and defense I had learned, retaining only those that were in accordance with the principle. Those not in accord with it I rejected, and in their place I substituted techniques in which the principle was correctly applied. The resulting body of technique, which I named judo to distinguish it from its predecessor, is what is taught at the Kodokan.

The words jujutsu and judo are each written with two Chinese characters. The ju in both is the same and means "gentleness" or "giving way." The meaning of jutsu is "art, practice," and do means "principle" or "way," the Way being the the concept of life itself. Jujutsu may be translated as "the gentle art," judo as "the Way of gentleness," with the implication of first giving way to ultimately gain victory. The Kodokan is, literally, "the school for studying the Way." As we shall see in the next chapter, judo is more than an art of attack and defense. It is a way of life.


If we accept jujutsu as the art or practice of m aking the most efficient use of mental and physical energy, then we can think of judo as the way, the principle, of doing this, and we arrive at a true definition.


To sum up, judo is a mental and physical discipline whose lessons are readily applicable to the management of our daily affairs. The fundamental principle of judo, one that governs all the techniques of attack and defense, is that whatever the objective, it is best attained by the maximum-efficient use of mind and body for that purpose. The same principle applied to our everyday activities leads to the highest and most rational life.

Training in the techniques of judo is not the only way to grasp this universal principle, but it is how I arrived at an understanding of it, and it is the means by which I attempt to enlighten others.

The principle of maximum efficiency, whether applied to the art of attack and defense or to refining and perfecting daily life, demands above all that there be order and harmony among people. This can be realized only through mutual aid and concession. The result is mutual welfare and benefit. The final aim of judo practice is to inculcate respect for the principles of maximum efficiency and mutual welfare and benefit.

Through judo, persons individually and collectively attain their highest spiritual state while at the same time developing their bodies and learning the art of attack and defense.
And there you pretty much have it. It is, of course, possible that Kano said something else somewhere else. I do not read Japanese, and so there are some sources that I will never be able to read. But I do know that in his own textbook on judo, the founder of the art clarified that when he said "Judo is a way of life," what he meant was, more or less, that the practice of judo conditions you to constantly look for the path of greatest efficiency in any given circumstance. It's just not that mystical a thing. You might, perhaps, think it a tad pretentious, but it doesn't really sound that mystical to me.

Gichin Funakoshi offers only this, from Karate-Do Kyohan:
...true Karate-do places weight upon spiritual rather than physical matters, as we shall discuss. True Karate-do is this: that in daily life, one's mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility; and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice.

The correct understanding of karate and its proper use is Karate-do.
But you might have latched on to this:
Through judo, persons individually and collectively attain their highest spiritual state...
Or this:
...true Karate-do places weight upon spiritual rather than physical matters...
And you are now thinking to yourself, "But that's not how we achieve our highest spiritual state. We do that by walking with Jesus Christ." And indeed, you are right. But I don't think you and Jigoro Kano and Gichin Funakoshi are talking about the same thing. I do not think that they are talking about "spirituality" as the state of one's soul before God (which is probably not the best definition, but it's what came off the top of my head); when they are talking about "spirituality," I think they are talking about determination, fortitude, perseverance, and the like. For example--again from Funakoshi's Karate-Do Kyohan--we have this, under the heading "As Spiritual Training":
Karate is no different from the other martial arts in fostering the traits of courage, courtesy, integrity, humility, and self-control in those who have found its essence.


An insight into this art, a mastery of its techniques, a polishing of the virtues of courage, courtesy, integrity, humility, and self-control to make them the inner light to guide one's daily actions: these require at the least ten or twenty years, if possible a lifetime of devotion to the study of this art. In view of its adaptability to continued training, I consider karate to be the most suitable of the many martial arts in leading to fulfillment of the need for training of the spirit.
I do not mean to sound sarcastic, but bluntly, according to the description given here, Funakoshi's "spiritual training" appears to be geared toward producing the same effects as may allegedly be gained by participation in the Boy Scouts. This is not to deride scouting, it is merely to note that this is not so much a religious curriculum as may be implied by the use of the term "spiritual." Here is an example from Moving Zen: Karate as a Way to Gentleness by C.W. Nicol which may help illustrate what we are talking about when we are talking about martial arts "spirituality":
...Mr. Yaguchi, a very stern and tough teacher, was sparring with my friend Sasaki. Sasaki was receiving special training to bring him up to third dan rank and to prepare him for the role of teacher.

...the usually lithe and vigorous Sasaki, who could defeat first dan and most of the second dan black belts with ease, was staggering like a drunkard on the dojo floor. His techniques were slow and weak. He would try to kick, but lose his balance. Unthinkable! Yaguchi sensei was berating him, attacking him at the same time with seemingly casual techniques that smacked against his body, focused shallow enough not to damage, but stinging, and leaving read marks on the skin.

"Sasaki! What is this? What kind of technique is that? Fight! Find your spirit!"

Bang! He foot-swept my senior to the floor and thrust a kick at his chest.

"Get up, Sasaki! Come on!"

Sasaki got up, but was immediately swept to the ground again. He staggered back to his feet, and seemed to find the energy to attack the teacher with a roundhouse kick, ridge-hand attack combination, followed by a flurry of punches. With nonchalance, his attacks were parried and deflected. Bang! Down he went again.

"Sasaki! Your balance! It's horrible! Get up!"

Sasaki once more staggered to his feet, barely having enough strength to keep his hands higher than his waist. Yaguchi sensei gave a curt bow and walked away from him, and another teacher, Mr. Yajima, took over.

"Come on, Sasaki! A little longer."

From one end of the dojo, Mr. Nakayama watched, his face without expression. Despite himself, tears were coursing down my senior's cheeks, tears of exhaustion and frustration. His spirit rallied again and he lunged forward in a kicking and thrusting attack, only to be blocked again and again. I knew that it was not right that I should see my senior thus defeated. Although he could not discern me in the gloom of the changing room, I bowed toward him and went out into the office. Yaguchi sensei came out and looked sharply at me, as if to ask why the hell I was in the dojo now. Mr. Kanazawa interceded, then addressed me.

"We are breaking him down so that we can help him build his spirit. He has fought hard, with no rest, for more than one hour. Quite a time ago he thought that it was impossible for him to continue, but stll he continues, and he will continue for another ten minutes. In a few days he will feel great pride in himself, and know that it is his spirit, and not his body, that makes the rules."
This is not to say that some people don't try to make martial arts "spirituality" out to be something more than what I've described here. Funakoshi--this time, from his autobiography--says, in discussing why he chose to use the character that means "empty" for kara-te instead of using the character for "China" (both characters are pronounced "kara," and "te" means "hand"):
The kara that means "empty" is definitely the more appropriate. For one thing, it symbolizes the obvious fact that this art of self-defense makes use of no weapons, only bare feet and empty hands. Further, students of Karate-do aim not only toward perfecting their chosen art but also toward emptying heart and mind of all earthly desire and vanity. Reading Buddhist scriptures, we come across such statements as "Shiki-soku-ze-ku" and "Ku-soku-zeshiki," which literally mean, "matter is void" and "all is vanity."


Believing with the Buddhists that it is emptiness, the void, that lies at the heart of all matter and indeed of all creation, I have steadfastly persisted in the use of that particular character in my naming of the martial art to which I have given my life.
But in reading this, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that Funakoshi is describing, so to speak, "mainstream karate thinking." Note first that he says "my" naming," that is, in saying "my naming," he implicitly admits that not everyone shares his thinking on this. And then realize that I have played something of a trick on you: I have not let you in on the fact that this is the climax of Funakoshi's explanation of why he chose the "empty" character even though it met with intense opposition and was not, as far as can be verified, the correct historical usage. This is the part I omitted:
The Japanese language is not an easy one to master, nor is it always quite so explicit as it might be: different characters may have exactly the same pronunciation, and a single character may have different pronunciations, depending upon the use. The expression karate is an excellent example. Te is easy enough; it means "hand(s)." But there are two quite different characters that are both pronounced kara; one means "empty," and the other is the Chinese character referring to the Tang dynasty and may be translated "Chinese."

So should our martial art be written with the characters that mean "empty hand(s)" or with those that mean "Chinese hand(s)"? Here again we are in the shadowy realm of conjecture, but I believe I am safe in saying that before I came to Tokyo from Okinawa in the early 1920s, it was customary to use the character for "Chinese" rather than that for "empty" to write karate, but this certainly does not mean that the use of the "Chinese" kara was necessarily correct.

True, in Okinawa we used the word karate, but more often we called the art merely te or bushi no te, "warrior's hand(s)." Thus, we might speak of a man as having studied te or as having had experience in bushi no te. As to when te first became karate in Okinawan usage, I must refrain from offering even a conjecture, since there is no. written material in existence that would provide us with the vaguest hint, much less tell us whether the character used was that for "Chinese" or that for "empty." Most probably, because Okinawa had long been under Chinese influence and because whatever was imported from China was considered to be both excellent and fashionable, it was the "Chinese" kara rather than the "empty" kara, but this, as I say, can only be the merest guesswork.


...karate as practiced today is very different indeed from the ancient Chinese art of boxing.

Largely for that reason, I found it difficult to believe that "Chinese hand(s)" was the correct term to describe Okinawan karate as it has evolved over the centuries. Then, a few years after I came to Tokyo, I had an opportunity to express my disagreement with this traditional way of writing.


My suggestion initially elicited violent outbursts of criticism in both Tokyo and Okinawa...
That sheds quite a different light on the matter, doesn't it? There is no intrinsic connection between "kara"te and some Buddhist or Hindu "void" or "emptiness." Such a linkage was proposed relatively recently, by Funakoshi. Of course, many karate practitioners in Okinawa and Japan have been Buddhists. That should not be surprising, given the popularity of Buddhism in those places. But it does not mean that karate is necessarily a "Buddhist" martial art, any more than the fact that many Japanese golfers are Buddhists means that golf is a Buddhist sport.

Why did Funakoshi do this? Of course, the fact that he had points of agreement with the Buddhists is one reason. But there is another: Funakoshi was trying to get Okinawan karate accepted as a Japanese martial art in a time when the Japanese martial arts had been, shall we say, partly commandeered for the purpose of training the desired sort of Japanese citizen. You must remember that between the Meiji Restoration and World War II, Japan underwent an enormous upheaval. They modernized rapidly--very rapidly. They were intensely nationalistic. There was a strong desire on the part of some elements of the Japanese government to encourage something of a warrior spirit within the general population. It was felt that martial arts--with a little philosophical "tweaking"--could be a vehicle by means of which such encouragement could be accomplished. It has been hard for me to find extensive material on this, at least for free, but there are little snippets all over the web that hint at the state of affairs, like this one:
In the teens, 20's and 30's, Jp was in the clutches of fascists who oriented education to inculcating sentiments of suicidal allegiance to the emperor. The Jpn recognized their technological incapacities and intended to take up the slack with "SEISHIN", fighting spirit (remember the women in Okinawa fighting flame throwers with sharpened bamboo poles? One modernizer who tried to build up Jpn armaments was accused of treason).

To this end, the famous Hagakure ("The way of the samurai lies in death"), written by a romantic gasbag born during the peace of Tokugawa who never had to draw his sword in anger, was widely circulated to inspire fanaticism; martial arts were taken over by an organization called the Butokukai founded for this purpose to introduce youth to fighting and sacrifice; Momotaro, a children's story about a superhuman toddler who drives off the long-nosed barbarians, becomes canonical.

Samurai had become unwelcome in Meiji (1868-1911). They were conservative dinosaurs in a time of cataclysmic change. Nitobe Inazo, a Quaker (I think) wrote Bushido, in English, to reconcile Jpn values with Christianity. After the Jpn womped the Russians, however, an event inspiring peoples throughout the colonial world where whites had theretofore been regarded as undefeatable, values of the samurai were reconsidered.

"Bushido" (Nitobe had thought he invented the term which had alternately been referred to as "budo", "samuraido", etc.) was appropriated by the politicos and "DO" took on the meaning of emperor worship (Here, Bodiford explicitly corrects Draeger who denies this history). A police superintendent wrote that "bujutsu" ought to be written "budo" and this soon occured. In the 30's, the term "dojo" became widespread; borrowed from Buddhism, it lent a patina of spirituality to the rough
business of preparing an army of suicidal maniacs. Constabularies regularly policed dojo to enforce the requirement that they have KAMIDANA at the front of their practice area, and bowed to it before and after class.

Offers new perspective to the standard "harmony of the universe, self-perfection thing", doesn't it? Kano, founder of judo, must have rolled over in his grave and it's said that Ueshiba Morihei retired to the countryside to avoid being part of the prostitution of his art thus.

Evidently, after the war, many martial artists acquiesed to the association of their arts with Zen through what had become "The Ways", not because it was actually so, but in order to rehabilitate their practice with the appearance of social utility.
And this one:
It is unclear exactly when Ueshiba began using the name "aikido", but it became the official name of the art in 1942 when the Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society (Dai Nippon Butoku Kai) was engaged in a government sponsored reorganization and centralization of Japanese martial arts.
And this one:
The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was established in 1895 to solidify, promote, and standardise all martial disciplines and systems in Japan. The DNBK changed the name of Gekiken (Kyujitai: ??; Shinjitai: ??, "hitting sword") to kendo in 1920.
And this one:
Following the Meiji Restoration (1868), kenjutsu went into temporary decline, but in 1879 the Tokyo Police Force initiated kenjutsu practices as a means to nurture discipline and stamina. In 1895 the Dai Nihon Butokukai (All-Japan Martial Virtue Society) was established to encourage kenjutsu and other budo arts.
And this one:
The term iaijutsu (???) became prevalent later (ca. 17th century), and the current term iaido is due to the general trend (stemming from gendai budo) to replace the suffix -jutsu with -do in Japanese martial arts in order to emphasize a philosophical or spiritual component.
I think you get the gist of the situation. After the Meiji Restoration, martial arts--principally through the auspices of the Butokukai--were vested with an appearance of Zen spirituality. Why Zen? Because Zen is a very fatalistic sort of thing, emphasizing, when it comes to battle, total commitment. It is something easily adapted to the purpose of molding completely dedicated warriors, and there is no question that many samurai throughout Japan's history embraced Zen, but it is by no means true that to practice Japanese martial arts is necessarily to practice Zen. That is something of a modern myth. A myth embraced, perhaps, by many, and for a variety of reasons (not least of which is the desire by some to embrace mysticism), but a bit of a myth, nevertheless.

I have never heard my instructor mention Zen. Not once.

To emphasize this--and also to answer those of you who were thinking, "Hey, that book you cited earlier--"Moving Zen"--doesn't that title kind of ruin your thesis?" a little while ago--let me close with this quote from the preface to Autumn Lightning: The Education of an American Samurai by Dave Lowry:
When I began to plan this book I knew that a good deal of material would need to be translated because there has been almost no serious literature written in English on the classical martial arts of Japan. For help, I went to a young Japanese man who had immigrated to the United States a few years ago and was lecturing on Oriental philosophy and teaching Zen at a nearby college. Our conversation on Zen was rambling, punctuated by long, companionable silences. Finally, I got around to telling him of my problem. Many of the older treatises I was using for research were couched in archaic Japanese, so if I stumbled during my efforts at translating them, I wanted to count on his assistance. He readily agreed and we talked on, discussing some of the difficulties of rendering ideas from one language into another. After a prolonged pause, he asked me why I practiced kenjutsu, the techniques of wielding the Japanese sword. Because Zen and swordsmanship have had a lengthy and intimate relationship in Japan, I was surprised at the question. I started to explain how a study of the art led to improvement in physical and mental capabilities, but the Zen man interrupted. "No," he said firmly. "Kenjutsu is only killing with the sword."
Now, you might be determined to dwell on the part that says "...Zen and swordsmanship have had a lengthy and intimate relationship...," but it is just as clear that it is by no means axiomatic that the two are inextricably entangled. The "Zen man" in this quote clearly thought that the two had nothing--at least, nothing necessarily--to do with one another. Curiously, his motivation was probably to protect Zen, but in the process, he has illustrated my point: though many swordsmen--many martial artists--have practiced Zen, not only do they not have to go together, there is every indication that such association as they might have had with one another was artificially played up so as to indoctrinate a whole generation of Japanese into an ersatz "fighting spirit."

In my opinion, it is completely possible for a Christian to practice martial arts today without being caught up in Zen, and there is no reason to suspect that by "do," or "way of life," anything deeper than trying to utilize a martial art's core strategic concepts is necessarily at issue.
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