Christianity and the Martial Arts: Compatible?
by Pastor Francis J. Pultro, EdM
In July 2000, Kyoshi Fran Pultro visited Ireland. Kyoshi Pultro holds an 8th Dan in Kardo Jitsu Ryu, a 6th Dan in Tae Kwon Do, a 5th Dan in Keichu Do and a 2nd Dan in Jujutsu. He was an adjunct professor at Temple University in Philadelphia for several years, is the author of a textbook on self-defense and is a four-time national kata champion, having placed 13th in the USKA World Championships at the advanced age of 46.
Kyoshi Pultro is also a Christian. He is the chaplain of the Christian Black Belt Association, and a pastor who uses his martial arts to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
How can a pastor practice the martial arts? Aren't they rooted in Oriental religious philosophies?
I have often been asked if there is a conflict between my faith in Jesus Christ, and the practice of the martial arts. Let me say for the record that I am an advocate of turning the other cheek in almost every circumstance. Many of my brothers and sisters in the church are confused as to how I can practice the arts and still follow the precepts of Jesus Christ. Yet these same brothers and sisters in the faith see nothing inconsistent with Christians serving in the military and fighting patriotically for their countries.
The word "martial" simply means "of or relating to war or the military."1 Therefore, study of the martial arts is merely studying the military arts. This is typically unarmed combat. But weapons are also used in martial arts training.
The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is full of stories about faithful men of God who were also trained in fighting arts. In the Book of Genesis, Abraham, took his 318 "trained servants" and rescued his nephew, Lot, from captivity.
These 318 men chased five armies and defeated them! 2 What were they trained in? It would be redundant to say they were trained for their servanthood. The inference is clear that they were trained in some sort of fighting arts.
Many people are familiar with King David. David was a soldier - a warrior. Yet he is the only man the Bible says was a man after God's own heart.3 David was also a musician who praised God in song saying, "Blessed be the LORD my strength, Who teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to fight."4
David's best friend, Jonathan, the son of King Saul, was also a warrior. In one instance the entire army of Israel had neither sword nor spear except for Saul and Jonathan.5 Jonathan and his armor bearer defeated twenty men.6 What did the armor bearer use when fighting? Empty-hand techniques?
Even Jesus urged His disciples to buy a sword - apparently for self-defense against highway robbers.7
So we see that the practice of self-defense is not foreign to biblical Christianity.
What about the Oriental religious influence of the arts? Not all fighting arts come from the Orient. Most cultures have developed some kind of fighting system. Not all of these systems have religious roots, although they all have a philosophy of fighting.
There are some martial arts which have what appears to be a mystical influence. But there is nothing at all mystical about a punch in the nose or a kick to the shins.
My martial arts school and church are in a tough, urban neighborhood in the United States. We cannot play games with our self-defense. It must be practical, easy to learn and perform, quick and effective.
No self-defense technique is effective 100% of the time. It is better to learn ten simple techniques that are based upon sound principles of application. If the principle behind the technique is based upon the anatomy and psychology of the attacker it will have a high degree of effectiveness.8
Last year I came to Ireland to help share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Festival of Hope held in Greystones, County Wicklow. During my stay I had the pleasure to workout with the Garda judo club in Phoenix Park, the Killester Judo Club, and The Irish Sport Karate Union - a Wado Ryu dojo.
I was given a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate and explain the Christian philosophy and approach to the martial arts, and to use the idioms of the martial arts to illuminate Christian precepts.
Self-defense is usually broken down into steps for ease of learning. Some instructors use five steps, others six, but Kyoshi Pultro teaches a four-step method.
3. Physical Confrontation
Awareness is the first and most important step in all forms of personal safety. It is being cognizant of the potential for danger. You cannot successfully defend yourself if you are not aware that a potential for danger exists. It is the practice of examining each situation you are in with an eye towards safety. It is always best if you can see trouble before it develops.9
This is consistent with Christianity. The Bible tells us that our enemy, the devil, roams around like a lion looking for people to destroy.10 Christians are also exhorted to watch and be aware of many things: temptation, events of prophetic significance, etc.
Prevention is the step you take once you have determined that a potentially dangerous situation does exist. You then take action either to avoid or evade the trouble.11
This is in line with the Christian philosophy of fleeing trouble or temptation.12 We are exhorted in the Gospels and the epistles to run away from trouble in order to keep from entering into sin, thereby bringing trouble upon ourselves.
There is no room for pride or machismo in the practice of good self-defense.
Prevention necessitates an attitude that reflects the old adage, "he or she who runs away, lives to fight another day.13
Physical Confrontation is always our last resort14 but is it biblical? Where the Bible urges us to turn the other cheek15 it also commands fathers to make provision for the needs of their families. In fact, the Bible says that anyone who does not make such provision is worse than an unbeliever.16
Properly understood, the Bible does not contradict itself. If we must turn the other cheek yet provide for the well-being of our families, there must be a balance between these two precepts.
I firmly believe that a Christian must avoid physical confrontation as much as possible. Yet there are situations when an aggressor simply will not stop his attack no matter how humbly a Christian accepts verbal threats and taunts. When it becomes clear that simply absorbing a couple of punches will not break off an attack, what is a believer in Christ to do? Allow himself to be beaten to the point of severe injury?
If the continued attack will incapacitate the breadwinner of the family to the point that he can no longer provide for the needs of his family I feel that it is within the scope of biblical Christianity to defend oneself.
What if a man's wife or children are being attacked? Should he simply stand there and do nothing? I do not believe that is a Christian response.
If then a Christian is permitted to defend his family, the weak, and the innocent, would it not be better to learn the skills that will allow him to do so in a Christian manner? He need not take a person's life in most cases. He may not even have to inflict crippling injuries if he were trained with a biblical philosophy of self defense.
To that end I believe that a Christian should learn how to control an opponent using pain compliance. Pain compliance techniques are preferable to techniques which cause severe injury or death. This retains the biblical teaching of the sanctity of human life yet permits the defender to effectively protect himself and his loved ones.
Study of traditional martial arts systems is good only as far as the instructors teach the underlying principles of the techniques in their systems. Even the practice of kata is a great tool, but only if the practitioner learns the principles contained within the kata.
After any confrontation, whether it is physical, verbal or just implied, there is still one more step in self defense: Recovery. The psychological and emotional "fallout" due to the stress produced by a confrontation needs to be dealt with properly. When you are no longer in physical danger you must then take care of your emotional health.
Recovery might take the form of calling the police, or simply talking to a friend. Maybe you will need medical treatment for injuries or rattled nerves, or possibly psychological or pastoral counseling. Whichever form recovery takes it must certainly include re-evaluating the first three steps of self-defense to see if you made a mistake.17
Recovery is the practice of restoring the individual back to wholeness. If Jesus is to be our example - and His earthly ministry included binding up the brokenhearted18 - this is surely in agreement with Christian principles.
The martial arts are also a good tool for teaching object lessons in Christian behavior, especially the aspects of spiritual warfare. Most believers are familiar with the list of spiritual armor in the epistle to the Ephesians 6. In this chapter St. Paul uses military idioms of his day to teach Christians about this warfare.
Any good educator will recognize and take advantage of teachable moments - those moments when events or circumstances around us present unique opportunities to clearly illustrate principles which are abstract. The practice of martial arts presents many such opportunities to the Christian sensei.
The Christian Black Belt Association (CBBA) is an international organization of Christian martial artists of all styles. Many non-Christians also join because they enjoy the way they are treated, the fellowship and the lack of "martial arts politics."
One of the stated reasons for the existence of the CBBA is to illustrate the principles of Christian living through the tool of the martial arts.
You can contact Kyoshi Pultro at:
PO Box 17804, Philadelphia, PA 19135, USA
You can contact the CBBA through the CBBA website:
1. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition.
2. Genesis 14:14
3. 1Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22
4. Psalm 144:1
5. 1Samuel 13:22
6. 1Samuel 14:1-14
7. Luke 22:36
8. Pultro, F.J. 1997. Easy Steps of Self-Defense. McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 15-16
9. Pultro, F.J. 1997. Easy Steps of Self-Defense. McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 7
10. 1Peter 5:8
11. Pultro, F.J. 1997. Easy Steps of Self-Defense. McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 9
12. 1Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1Timothy 6:11; 2Timothy 2:22
13. Pultro, F.J. 1997. Easy Steps of Self-Defense. McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 10
14. Pultro, F.J. 1997. Easy Steps of Self-Defense. McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 14
15. Matthew 5:39
16. 1Timothy 5:8
17. Pultro, F.J. 1997. Easy Steps of Self-Defense. McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 16
18. Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18
Pastor Fran is a 6th Dan Black Belt in TaeKwon Do & Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel King's Highway
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