“Why did Ueshiba state that his Budo of Aiki, whilst not a religion, can lead religion to completion? Was it arrogant or simply pointing to a vital universal principle that enables the addressing of violence by converting it into harmony instead of contending?” Aikidojournal.com
Do the martial arts have any place within modern Christianity?
“The addressing of violence by converting it into harmony” that is the way Aikido perceives its self and that is its purpose. Aikido, a Japanese martial art, influenced and moulded by Shinto pantheism, which seeks a peaceful resolution to violence through the blending of energy. Feudal Japan and Europe saw no dichotomy between faith and warrior-hood. Chivalry, a long forgotten and often neglected notion, was an expression of Christian ethics within the context of war. The ceremony of dubbing a knight was full of Christian ritualism. The ceremony was preceded by a Night Vigil; the squire would ceremonially bath as a symbol of purification for his service as a knight. He would then dress in a white vesture to symbolise purity. A sword and a shield were placed on the altar in the chapel, where the squire would pray silently for 10 hours. During the ceremony itself the squire swore an oath of Knighthood that included observing fasts and hearing Mass every day. The Knights duty was to defend the Church, his Lord and his country. Known as Budo (way of war) this concept also existed in Japan. However, unlike in Japan, where the way of the warrior retained its connection with faith and spirituality and still thrives today; Europe and the West severed its connection between the way of the warrior and the way of the Cross.
Christians still speak metaphorically of the ‘Christian soldier’, the ‘prayer warrior’ and of the Biblical analogy of the ‘Sword of the Spirit’. ‘Spiritual warfare’ has replaced actual warfare and while pacifism is regarded as one of the highest virtues amongst many Christians; Christians are nevertheless paradoxically encouraged to “fight the good fight” of faith. Modern Christianity has severed the mind-body connection so prevalent in Eastern martial arts but that also once was a fundamental part of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Does Christianity need to readdress the balance?
Where did this dichotomy between mind and body come from? Does authentic Christianity really create such a dichotomy? Ancient Judaism held to a wholistic view of Man, rather than the dualism that most Christians practice today. The Shema, the central Prayer of Judaism, taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states that the Lord God is one (whole, complete, perfect, lacking nothing and without deficiency). Man is to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and might (v5). This trichotomy does not refer to three separate areas of the human being, but rather encompasses all that Man is. In other words Man is to love God with everything in His being. Our emotional centre is found in the heart (and occasionally in the abdomen) and our intellectual and rational centre is found in the mind (brain); each element of the soul is interconnected with and inseparable from the body. Instinct, love, wisdom and reason are all psychosomatic. When we are nervous or stressed (emotional states of being) it often has adverse effects on us physically, such as stomach cramps, vomiting and other bodily ailments. After exercise our brain releases endorphins that help us to de-stress and relax creating a sense of happiness (again an emotional state). Man is whole: body, soul, mind and heart.
The continuity between the ancient Jewish worldview and that of the early Church of the First Century can be seen in Jesus’ positive affirmation of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 as being the “greatest” of commandments (Matthew 22:36-38). The Church Jesus established through his twelve disciples believed and taught in resurrection not soul-body dualism such as found in classical Greek philosophy or Gnosticism. Christians must be wary when interpreting the Apostle Paul’s texts on ‘the flesh’, which refer to the carnal appetites of our bodies, warped by sin and not the inherent sinfulness or evil or the body. God created the material universe perfect before it was marred by Original Sin. Those that have studied Church history, know of the heresy of Marcionism, which believed the God of Judaism and the God of Christianity were two separate and distinct deities; the former being evil and thus by virtue of its source the entire created order and the latter being holy and good, bringing salvation and grace for the spirit and soul. Christianity must not succumb to a Marcion worldview, influenced by dualist notions of the dichotomy between body and soul and the inherent evil in the material world.
Is eschewing violence enough?
Is it really enough for Christianity to eschew violence? Campaigning to stop violence and appealing to reason and morality may reach the majority of society, who abhor violence in their own right; but for the lovers of violence - the hateful, the extremists, those intoxicated on drugs or alcohol and thereby without their full rational faculties, the message will fall on deaf ears and darkened hearts. Sin and the Devil mean that violence can never be totally eradicated from the earth. Yes occasionally God allows Christians to suffer in order for them to draw closer to God and experience even more intimacy with Him; but God’s Kingdom is to extend peace and justice, love and healing to the world. The Church is more than just a platform for gifted speakers to give eloquent sermons; it is the vehicle by which God builds His Kingdom. Jesus said his disciples were to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), two catalytic properties. Christianity should be pro-active not reactive. Another example of this comes from Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:31-40)
Christianity is experiential as much as it is spiritual and moral. Our faith and morality should drive us to make positive changes in this world and to put into practice the principles of the Kingdom of God. Faith in action has always been at the very heart of God’s desire for His people (Deuteronomy 5:33, Joshua 22:5, 1 Samuel 15:22, James 1:26-27). Let us take the parable of the Good Samaritan:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)
Jesus often spoke in parables to the people as was the rabbinical custom of his day. The purpose of the parable was to teach the expert in the law the true spirit of the command to love thy neighbour. The command to love thy neighbour was much broader than the strict Pharisaical interpretation applied to it in Jesus’ day. Neighbour, in this context meant not just fellow Jew but foreigner also, even extending as far as to your enemies as Samaritans were enemies of Jews. Such was Jesus’ high view of morality and the Torah.
If we were to apply the principle of this parable to self-defence, what would the Good Samaritan have done had he come across the man sooner, while he was being mugged? Would he have ignored the men and carried on walking, passively condoning this act of violence and theft? Would he have turned around and walked back the way he came in fear of the muggers? Or would he have selflessly intervened in order to defend and protect this innocent man? Of course this is complete conjecture, because Jesus chose to emphasize the compassion and mercy of the Samaritan in the parable; but from what we know of the character of the Samaritan from the parable, and the principle of the parable Jesus was trying to convey, I believe the Samaritan would have come to the man’s defence. Christians have a duty to protect the poor and the vulnerable of society. We are commanded to love our neighbour selflessly. I believe that in principle this could also include self-defence.
Is Budo incompatible with Christianity?
“Come; let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:3-4 emphasis added)
The prophet Isaiah envisions a future where there will be an end of war. Rather than people forging weapons to kill one another, they develop tools for farming - a direct contrast between destruction and creation. Weapons kill life, agricultural tools are used to create and sustain life. This is God’s intention for humanity – that we should live in peace and harmony with one another as God as our Lord and Judge. The parallels here between Scripture and founder Morihei Ueshiba’s vision for Aikido are striking. Etymologically the two kanji characters for ‘bu’ mean “to stop” and “spear”. Thus budo can be interpreted as “the way to stop the spear”. So Ueshiba’s beliefs as to the true nature of budo are not just based on his spiritual beliefs but on a deep understanding of the nature of ancient warfare. So the true nature of budo is indeed close to the heart of God.
The martial arts are not just about learning how to fight or defend; they are about learning when to give life and demonstrate compassion. The goal of the martial artist is never to have to use their art at all but rather to cultivate the self in order to overcome aggression and to create peace wherever possible. The techniques developed are to be used responsibly for the self-protection of the person, when absolutely necessary; not to be abused with malevolent intentions. Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) When one is weak or vulnerable you cannot be a peacemaker, you do not have the ability, the means or the authority with which to maintain peace. You become a victim for the violent, wicked people with predatory mind-sets. To be a peacemaker is not synonymous with being pacifistic, it is being in a position to be able to make peace, reconciling differences, de-escalating hostility and where necessary being powerful enough not to be overcome by violence. Violence always seeks to take by force.
Let us look at one more objection to Christianity and the martial arts, Jesus teaching on living and dying by the sword:
“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:51-54)
A few observations are necessary to understand this passage. Firstly, the disciple (identified in other Gospels as Peter) drew his own sword. If Jesus was so against weapons, why would he permit and tolerate one of his own disciples to carry one with him? Secondly, Jesus then appeals to his relationship to God whereby he could command twelve legions of angels to come to his defence if it was God’s will. Jesus’ teaching about perishing by the sword must be put into the context of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus says ‘how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled’? Jesus’ priority, Jesus’ mission was to die for the sins of the world. Many Jews in Israel at this time were eagerly expecting a warrior-king who would emancipate them, by force, from the occupation of the Roman Empire. The Jewish people wanted sovereignty and independence from foreign, idolatrous oppressors.
However, Jesus’ earthly ministry was much larger in scope and purpose then Israel’s independence. Jesus had not come as a warrior-king, but as a humble teacher and saviour. Jesus had wrestled with God in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest, praying “not my will but yours by done”. Jesus knew God’s will was for him to give his life. Jesus’ admonishment of Peter was because Peter did not yet understand Jesus’ mission or his divine purpose. Jesus was no insurrectionist. Jesus knew that all who took political power by force would inevitably be toppled by force themselves. If violence is a way of life then that way of life will eventually consume and destroy the person. Jesus was not prohibiting lawful self-defence using reasonable force. Eventually the Roman Empire would be converted to Christianity under Emperor Constantine, proof that Jesus’ teaching was correct. Violence is no way to gain power.