The cautious believer might ask, “Why look at Christ through the lens of martial arts? Why make a connection between Christianity and philosophies of violence? Why study such things?” Brothers and sisters in the faith, showing concern for my soul, have asked me these questions before, thinking I was turning new-age on them or trying to blend Buddhism into my faith, possibly leading others astray.
Well, there are antichrists running about. Every generation has them. Caution is prudent. Let me begin by saying that I am not attempting to rewrite the gospels or distort them in any way. My goal is clarity of vision. Readers of the Bible need to understand: the scriptures were produced within an Eastern culture possessing a different mindset than we have today in the West, and readers bring a certain amount of baggage with them to whatever they read. Often, there is a cultural gap.
Sometimes, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can bring unexpected insight. Growing up, you probably memorized the twenty-third psalm in Sunday school: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” The way a shepherd views this passage is vastly different from the average person’s perspective. What I want to do is to open a window so my readers can experience what a martial arts teacher (sifu) perceives when examining Christ and his teachings.
One barrier is the common misconception of the martial arts as the study of violence--a pursuit that betrays the spirit of Christ, the peacemaker. But martial arts are concerned with the just use of force, not violence. The two things are not the same. God’s Word is not opposed to necessary action. Here’s some scripture (All verses are rendered in Revised Berkeley Version):
“The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. There He found seated in the temple dealers of cattle, sheep, and pigeons; also money-changers; so, making a whip out of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, as well as the sheep and the cattle, poured out the money-changers’ coins and overturned the tables,” John 2:13-15.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Maintain justice and practice the right, for My Salvation is close at hand and My victory is ready to be revealed,” Isaiah 56:1.
“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far off; for truth has fallen in the street, and honesty is unable to enter. Truth is so lacking, that if anyone turns from evil, he becomes a victim of plunder. The Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man; He was amazed that there was none to interpose…” Isaiah 59:14-16.
“For everything there is an appointed season, and there is a proper time for every project under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to root up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-3.
“To the pure everything is pure, but to the contaminated and the unbelieving, nothing is pure…” Titus 1:15.
Martial arts, Like most things, CAN be used violently (the Crusades of the Catholic church during the dark ages). That doesn't mean they have to be. Rock music can serve the devil or be source of Christian outreach. Even preaching from a pulpit can be distorted. Jesus spent much of his time correcting the theologians of his day. So did Martin Luther, the protestant reformer.
My position is: let’s align our hearts with God. If the spirit and essence of a pursuit are right, the form will take care of itself and be acceptable. If martial arts are studied from a Christian perspective, spirit-breathed, then there will be a righteous return.
The alternative is to let martial arts enthusiasts deal with Taoism on their own, without the balance of Christian insight and understanding--not a wise course of action. Life is a battlefield where concepts slug it out until that which is TRUE emerges the clear winner. There IS a single knowable truth. Let’s not neglect the battle for the minds and souls of those with an interest in the warrior’s path.
Besides, the Tao leads to simplicity and efficiency. These can revolutionize our approach to both life and ministry. Does this mean the Tao can be accepted as is, transplanted into our faith whole cloth? No. While the Tao gives us insight into creation, it falls apart when applied to the Creator. So-called natural law is just the whim of God, subject to his revisions at any time. Both science and Buddhism fail when they go beyond explaining nature to try to cover the larger spiritual dimension.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t absorb what is true and useful from the Tao and discard the rest. That, essentially is what life is all about. Enlightenment requires that we empty the cup of what we think we know, so greater knowledge can be poured into us by the Master. Truth always has a cost.
So, what is TAO?
Tao (pronounced dow), in the martial arts world means path or way, a philosophy of life. In Shao-lin Gung-fu, Tao is the most direct thing you can do at any time, with a minimum expenditure of energy. Expressed as a physics equation, Tao is T+E=A, time plus energy equals achievement.
A vital difference between Buddhism’s Tao and the Tao of Christ is this: The Buddhist seeks to receive enlightenment in the dissolution of self in creation. Their goal is to be one with the universe. The Christian has already achieved a higher goal: not enlightenment but salvation, oneness with the Creator of the universe by an act of faith in Christ.
Buddhism is a religion. A religion is a system of thought or belief by which a person can “save” himself or achieve enlightenment. Christianity is not a religion. It is the only system of thought that admits a person CANNOT save or enlighten himself, but can only receive oneness with God by faith in what God has done for mankind. Christ is the only way, the only Tao that deals with the human condition of sin, forgiving it.
Martial artists should understand that pursuing enlightenment in the warrior’s path won’t deal with their real spiritual need, which is to get into a relationship with God on God’s terms. Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the light. No man can come unto the father but by me.” Any Tao other than Christ’s is worthless. Enlightenment can’t be found outside of salvation. Christ is the only true light.
That being said, let’s focus on the Tao a believer should be living out after becoming Christian. We walk this Tao, this way, not to get saved, that’s religion, but because we are saved-—because we have a relationship to the living Tao, Christ.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This is the One who was in the beginning with God. Through Him everything came into being and without Him nothing that exists came into being. In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:15.
“And the Word became man and lived for a time among us, and we viewed His glory—-such as the only-begotten Son receives from His Father—-abounding in grace and truth…” John 1:14.
The Buddhist Tao codifies everything in dualist aspects, Yin and Yang. For example: energy is shown in balance, dark and light, heat and cold. Life is male and female. Character is good and evil. Force is weak and strong, hard and soft. All things cycle through extremes.
But the Buddhist Tao can’t account for Christ because He is an outside force who interjects Himself into His own creation. God has no opposite, as Light no darkness can equal. He is the only uncreated being, power unmatched, immutable. The devil, as the greatest evil in creation, has no part in God and doesn’t come close to balancing Him in any scales. Christ, the living Tao, cannot be defined or limited by the Buddhist Tao.
Any attempt to make Christ a great teacher (sifu) in a pantheon of the enlightened is fraudulent. Buddha is still in his grave. Christ is not. Buddha was just a man. Christ is fully man while also being fully God. No teacher or student can ascend to God’s level, becoming acceptable through human effort, achieving enlightenment or salvation. That’s why God had to reach down, come down, taking on flesh to make another way.
What is the goal of the Disciple?
A disciple’s job is to learn, to teach himself. When two followers of John the Baptist latched onto Christ (John 1:38), asking him where his crash pad was, Jesus didn’t tell them. His comment was “Come and see.” This was tacit permission to join him, but it also conveyed the idea “I’m not going to tell you things directly. Find out for yourself.”
This need for personalizing your faith was also shown in a region of outcasts where Jesus journeyed. He met a Samaritan woman and demonstrated an insight into her life that proved to her he was the Tao, the way of life. She embraced this, and ran off to share the news with her neighbors. Her testimony made others willing to test Christ and see if he was for real.
“Numerous Samaritans from that town believed in Him on account of the woman’s testimony, 'He told me everything I did.' So when the Samaritans met Him they invited Him to stay with them, and He remained there two days. A good many more believed on account of his message, and said to the woman, 'We no longer believe just because of your story; for we have heard Him ourselves and we know that he is the savior of the world.'” (John 4:39-42).
This reflects what every good sifu knows: understanding is a personal thing that must be derived through a process-—not just borrowed from others. A borrowed truth isn’t yours until you test it, embrace it, and make it your own. If you support yourself on other people’s faith and conviction, then in a crisis, they can break and abandon you. What you have proven, and tested, and know to be true will not fail.
A bad martial arts instructor will tell you, “Tradition is enough. Do it this way because I do it this way, because my master did it this way, because his master did it this way, because…” This approach ignores the fact that people are individuals with divergent strengths, weaknesses, attributes, and callings.
“There are distinctive gifts of grace, but the same spirit, and there are distinctive ministries, yet the same Lord. There also are varieties of things accomplished, but the same God does all the energizing in them all. To each is granted the evidence of the Spirit for the common welfare.” I Corinthians 12:4-7.
Tradition is a suit of one-size-fits-all armor. It may wear on some people just fine. Others will get killed trying to fight in it. A sifu doesn’t cram students into orthodoxy. He leads each student to express the Tao uniquely, crafting different suits of armor from the same steel.
Think of the classic scene in many old martial art films: Two Gung-Fu fighters meet on a road, exchanging challenging stares. They are going to test their skills against one another. Instead of simply leaping to the attack, they first strive for a psychological advantage. They take turns trying to impress each other with their personal style.
One man flows through a dozen posture; Tiger pushes mountain, monkey fall from tree, crane steps on carp…you get the idea. The other guy shadow boxes, swimming mantis becomes thunderbolt kick becomes dragon lashing its tail! The first student is not impressed. “Your Gung-Fu,” he says, “nooooooo good!”
The point isn’t that Gung-Fu is bad, but that there are levels of expression that can be sublime or mediocre. This is because growth is the responsibility of the disciple, not the teacher. The teacher expresses the Tao in his life, making it a part of all he does, becoming a living example. The student’s must do everything else.
Those with a warrior's gift or calling need to be encouraged to pursue it. It is my hope they will find tollerance within God's family.