Monday, 30 April 2012

Martial arts and Christianity….

I recently read a short book that I found very disturbing. Please bear in mind that I read this book as a non-religious person and therefore have a ‘world view’ that may differ quite significantly from a person who has a world view based on religion- whether that religion be Christianity or any other.

Though I am not a Christian I thought I at least understood the basic tenants of this religion and didn’t consider myself too different from the Christians that I know, at least not culturally. After reading this book I’m not sure I understand Christianity at all and feel quite disturbed by some of the beliefs expressed.

The book I am talking about is called, Martial Arts: a Biblical Perspective, by Paul Villaneuva, M.A. It is a short, self-published e-book on the website. The reason I downloaded it was because I have recently had an e-mail from someone who wanted advice on finding a suitable martial arts club for their children and as Christians it was important to them that the martial art didn’t contain any “spiritual aspects – meditation, Yin/Yang etc.”

I then stumbled across the book by accident and e-mailed the link to the guy who had contacted me –without reading it first. The blurb on the book simply said:

A 6000 word well researched mini book on the compatibility between the Martial Arts and Christianity. This work explores the history of ancient fighting arts, the philosophies rooted in the fighting systems, the differences between traditional and non-traditional fighting schools, fitness and heath, Mixed Martial Arts or MMA, the dangers of yogic meditation, and the Biblical viewpoint concerning such practices. 

It will enlighten your understanding and give you confidence in a decision to practice or not to practice these ancient fighting arts. 

This is a must read for any Christian parent having a child enrolled in any type of fighting art school. It presents a fair and balanced viewpoint supported by documentation and Scriptural references. Many Martial arts experts were consulted and their views are outlined in a factual manner.

It sounded exactly like the advice being sought!

Anyway, I then decided that I should probably have read the book myself before recommending it....

The Christian view held by the author seemed in my mind to be at the extreme end of the scale. It involved a lot of superstitious beliefs and as  ‘extreme’ people often do, the arguments were much polarised, always ascribing the most negative of motives to people who wish to learn internal martial arts such as tai chi; to the point of saying that such martial artists are ‘possessed by demons’ and ‘lust after additional power’. He also decries the ‘mystical mumbo-jumbo’ of traditional martial arts. He seems to think that traditional martial artists are dabbling in quasi-occult practices in an attempt to imbibe themselves with supernatural powers like ‘chi’ which enable them to move objects or levitate!

I was quite taken aback by the superstitious nonsense that this author was peddling in the name of Christianity. Do Christians really believe that they may get possessed by demons if they partake in a bit of deep breathing? If so, how do pregnant Christian women cope during labour if they have to avoid controlled breathing techniques less a demon possess them, or worse – their unborn baby? I’m just continuing the logic of this argument….

In fact it was breathing techniques that seemed to upset this guy the most, particularly during meditation or mokuso. He cautions that the act of trying to ‘empty the mind – mushin’ will allow the mind to be filled by demons – that we are purposely emptying our minds to demonic influence. He also cautions that, “A Christian should never practice exercises that focus on the breath for the purpose of emptying the mind and developing internal chi power.” Okay, so some people get a little carried away with the chi thing – but however hard they try they aren’t gaining supernatural powers and they aren’t being possessed by demons! It really is quite safe to breathe…

In his final paragraph he gives this advice:

“I do not advocate rushing out and pulling your child from the high school wrestling team because they could become demonized through this martial sport, etc. However, I would advocate pulling them off the team if their coach or other students were supplying your child with anabolic steroids or methamphetamine. What is the difference? None. Both practices wish to instil more “power” and better performance on the athlete. One uses the spiritual and demonization to accomplish this, and the other uses drugs and demonization to accomplish this. It is the lust for power that is going to lead one down the path of darkness.”


Why would anyone, Christian or not, believe that martial arts instructors are (knowingly or not) trying to demonise children by teaching them simple breathing exercises to help them improve their technique and maximise their natural potential? This is nature not an occult practice!

I found this book shocking and uncomfortable reading. Shocked mainly by the fact that Christians may actually still believe in the existence of actual demons (rather than just metaphorical ones, i.e. drink/drugs etc that alter mental processes and change behaviour – this is a pharmacological effect of course not a supernatural one). I tend to associate this brand of Christianity with medieval Europe not the 21st Century.

However, if one thinks about it, these conclusions are the logical out-workings of Christian teachings. This is the problem with logic. Good logic requires sound assumptions and provable predicates. It also requires wisdom in its interpretation. If you start with an un-provable predicate (that demons exist) and an unsound assumption (demons will fill an empty mind) then it is logical to state that if you meditate to a point of achieving ‘mushin’ then “demonic forces are waiting to return to that empty, swept clean house.” From Luke 11:24-26. However, that doesn’t make it true – logic and truth don’t always make good bed fellows, not if the logic is based on un-provable predicates and unsound assumptions, as in this case.

The other unsound assumption made in this book is that martial artists, particularly those practising ‘internal arts’ (who must be power crazed individuals if the book is to be believed), have the worst of all motives for practising their art. That it is all about power acquisition, superiority, ego and occult practice. This is how politicians argue isn’t it – make yourself look better by painting the opposition in the worst possible light. Yet, anyone following a martial art, including the spiritual aspects of training, know that their core purpose is one of losing ego, gaining self-control and showing compassion and humility. This is not the picture of martial arts painted in this book.

The book claims to be a balanced account, a useful tool for the Christian family looking for a martial art for their child that won’t demonise them. However, to me as a non-Christian, this book has taught me some unpalatable truths about Christian doctrine and was anything but balanced!

Are the arguments expressed in this book a true reflection of what the average Christian would believe or is this author very extreme in his teachings? You may want to read the book yourself first (it’s only 6000 words and costs 99 US cents or 64p). Here’s the link:

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Rick Matz said...

I am a practicing Catholic. I have also been deeply interested in Zen and Daoism since I was a teenager and indeed, have been practicing Daoist based martial arts for quite some time.

I have discovered no conflicts between Zen, Daoism and my faith.

The author of the book is entitled to his opinions. I for one, certainly don't share them.

The Strongest Karate said...

Sue, Sue,'re so naieve. Martial arts, especially internal arts, ARE about demonically increasing our power. I am shocked and amazed that you don't already know this.

This man is one of the few outsiders who has managed to see through the looking glass and his book is a serious threat to our Dark Plans.

He must be stopped.

Charles James said...

I must be "Satan" himself for my ramblings on the ken-po goku-i and philosophical writings..... uh-oh

Cath said...

It certainly sounds very extreme and quite bizarre! Then again some people think my beliefs and practices are weird. I do feel sorry for their kids though.

Man of the West said...

Had to get on here and comment as quick as I could. This one actually happens to be something I know something about.

If you don't mind, we'll get to the literal existence of demons some other time. Argument on the subject revolves around Scripture and whether to take some passages at face value or whether to interpret them metaphorically. One thing is for sure: if you don't accept Scripture as authoritative, discussing that particular subject is something of a dead end.

Christians, in at least one respect, are like anyone else in the universe: some are more well-informed on given topics than others. In my personal opinion, it might be a mistake to think that this gentleman's views are representative.

I believe you're acquainted, blogospherically speaking, with some Christian martial artists--me, for one; you probably have run into Dr. Patrick Parker, cardiac rehab guy and aikido and judo teacher; I am fairly sure that Black Belt Mama is a Christian.

Might I suggest that the very existence of these individuals and many, many others suggests strongly that, as you pointed out, the author mentioned is somewhat "out there"?

I once wrote a massive post on this subject, and though it was written as an apologia for martial arts to Christians, you might still find it interesting.

If questions come up, by all means ask; it might take me a day or two to get back to you, though.

John Coles said...

It is disturbing. As disturbing as those who find Islamic extremists disturbing. It is disturbing that anyone continues to find any religious perspective credible. Respect someone's beliefs, but you don't have to respect the beliefs themselves. If you did not ascribe a religious element to that perspective, the individual espousing their views would be institutionalised. And what is ironic is that the religiously inclined would subscribe to that outcome.

Fliff said...



No, not all Christians feel that way.


John Vesia said...

Interesting find, Sue. I checked out that link. The author claims he once had an extra-marital affair with a witch -- the real kind, not a metaphor.

James. said...

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

--YODA, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

. said...

I was raised Catholic. Both my children attend the local Catholic school (and our karate club). I can't say that I've ever found a conflict between Christian ideals and the traditions and spiritualism I find at karate. On the contray - notions of respect for others, respect for oneself, observation of quite spiritual time are evident across both.

Clearly this author has issues. Best leave him to them I would think. I would not say his views are representative of any Christian I've ever known.


Michele said...

I am a practicing Catholic. My daughter attends Catholic school. Personally, I have not experienced a conflict between karate and my faith.

Sue C said...

This is clearly a subject that resonates with a lot of martial artists, I haven't had so many comments so quickly after posting so thank you to everybody for giving your responses. I'm glad this guy is NOT representative of most Christians...

Rick, Marie and Michele, I'm so glad you guys have a more balanced view on the subject - your faith must be strong.

Brett, perhaps we should blame your dark side on your obsession with Warhammer rather than martial arts? Just kidding!

Charles, I always knew you had the devil in you....LOL

Cath, It was definitely extreme and bizzare...

Man of the West, I read your article, took a while but I read it! I found your common-sense approach very reassuring, definitely more balanced than this guy - you should have written the book!

John, another thing about this guy was that he was very intolerant of people with mental illness, ascribing their illness to being possessed by demons. He cites a couple of examples of people who have developed psychosis following prolonged meditation and blamed it squarely on them allowing demons into themselves - he didn't seem to blame it on the marijuana they were taking!

John V,...apparently he blamed the 'witch' for casting a love spell on him...and his wife believed him!

James, great quote!

Sue C said...

Samurai Girl, didn't mean to miss you out in my last comment, sorry. I take it that you are also a Christian who does not find any incompatibility between martial arts and your faith...

Fliff said...

No worries!

Yep. I was raised and baptized Lutheran, (which is more or less Catholic light), and I have always been very interested in Eastern philosophy. Never really had a problem with those conflicting at all. I guess maybe if the school were teaching Buddhism, that would be one thing, but...


It just really irks me that people like that give Christians in general such a bad rap. A few bad apples ruin it for everyone. Grr.

The Strongest Karate said...

Your post here has sent me down the rabbit-hole, Sue. And I have come to something quite disturbing.

The second sentence on their own homepage says that their whole purpose of being is to target children.

Having once been a child-target by people like this, and won my fight with them, I feel like this is a pretty......not "evil" but...sneaky(?) way to get their theological hooks in.

It just strikes me as a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing kind of way to rope in young, innocent, and easily manipulated recruits. And the sad thing is that they are doing EXACTLY the same thing as what that crazy e-book author is demonizing: using the martial arts as a segue to religious indoctrination.

I know I might sound to be coming down hard on Christians, but that is only because they are the example in my link. I would feel the same revulsion if the organization in question were Jewish, Muslim, Taoist, or otherwise.

Baby Boomer Sensei said...

Thoughts, interpretations and opinions. This person will never achieve martial zen by limiting his potential. His tao, path, enlightened or not, is his choice. The truth in abundance there for the taking is not what he wants and will be his reason for an unfulfilled existence.

Sue C said...

Brett, I agree with you. It's funny but when religious people are trying to spread their own beliefs its called Evangelism but when they see someone spreading a different belief system suddenly its called Indoctrination!

Baby Boomer, I expect this person doesn't want to acheive martial zen or think that anyone else should do so either. His loss! Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting...

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