SJD Articles


Martial Arts & Christiantiy  

By Sifu Bahram Khozairy

Copyright 2005 by Bahram Khozairy. All Rights Reserved.

This is the chapter 4 of Sifu Bahram Khozairy's 1st book,"Jeet Kune Do to San Jieh Dao, From Darkness To Light" released in 1995

One of the most frequent disagreements among Christians centers around the subject of martial arts. Ever since the inception of martial arts in the world, particularly in the Western society, there has been arguments, disagreements and controversies concerning the practices and usage of various systems of martial art among Christians. In order to arrive at a balanced and definitive inference, we must analyze certain objections, arguments and their basis. Our primary focal point will be the holy Scriptures, because that is where we will find the arguments and their basis drawn from. The followings are the typical justifications used by Christians to support their case against martials arts:

(a) Passiveness & Pacifism. Jesus said, "But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:39). Jesus also said, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

(b) Love. Jesus said, "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you," (Matthew 5:44). And the apostle Paul said, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone." (Romans 12:17a)

(c) Compassion. Jesus said, "And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also." (Matthew 5:40)

(d) Occultism in martial arts. There are occultic practices in martial arts, including meditation, practices of 'chi' and spiritism.

Respond to arguments a, b & c:

Some of the rules of hermeneutics or interpretation of the Bible is the observant of the grammar, context, style, geography, language and the culture of the locations, where the Scriptures have been inspired and penned. These rules must be observed and followed, if one is to interpret any contemporary, middle age, dark age or antiquity document properly. In order to understand the first argument (Matthew 5:44), a rhetorical question we can ask is, if Jesus was administering his approval of pacifism in a Christian's life, was he also sanctioning the offensive behavior of the other person as well? One must understand that by saying "...whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also," Jesus obviously never intended to condone the behavior of a brawler or a contentious person.

In the context of Jewish and middle eastern cultures, specifically during the time of Christ, the biggest customary insult was to pull someone's beard, spit on his face and body and slap him on the cheek. Thus, in Matthew 5:44, Jesus Christ alludes to taking insults, as much as possible, even going beyond the customary limits, and he reiterates that by expressing, "And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two." (Matthew 5:41). However, Jesus never suggested that if the slapping continues, or if the person starts striking you with fists and clubs you should stand there and be the object of his aggression.

In today's western society, the typical brawl usually starts off visually, when a person continues to stare at someone in order to get his attention, as a means of invitation to a verbal or physical entanglement. And then, it continues verbally, when one person starts to use foul language and waits for the other to reply in the same manner. If the other person uses the same language, then the next thing would be the physical grabbing of the shirt or pushing off the other with hands. Again, if the other replies in the same manner, then a physical fight is definitely at hand. This is precisely what our Lord commanded us to avoid. A Christian, who belongs to the family of God, must not act as the world acts, because a Christian is not of the world (John 17:14-16), although he lives in the world.

If someone stares at us, we must avoid it. If someone uses foul language against us, we must simply ignore it. If someone pushes us with his hands or grabs our shirts, we must by all means avoid entanglement and temptations and try to resolve the situation as peacefully as possible. But, if that person starts to get very physical and violent, then we need to defend ourselves. How can one stand by and see his wife, sister or mother be the object of someone's robbery, molestation, rape, or murder? Defending one's life in a form of self defense is not paying back evil for evil of Romans 12:17. When one is able to run to avoid a physical situation, he must do so without paying attention to any kind of verbal assaults. When a criminal is involved in a physical violence, robbery, rape, molestation or murder, his motives are obviously evil and destruction of life. But, defense against such criminal behaviors for the cause of safe guarding one's own life or loved one's life is protection and preservation of life and the body which is the temple of God.

do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19)

By carrying the pacifist argument to its logical conclusion, we must be willing to admit, that no Christian can ever touch an attacker for the purpose of self protection; and by the same standard, we must admit that no police, sheriff, or governmental forces can exercise authority to approach criminals either. No police force can capture the criminal means, the person cannot be brought to the court of law for justice; he cannot be condemned for the crimes he has perpetuated, and is therefore free to continue to practice his criminal behavior on other innocent citizens. Imagine, what kind of a chaotic world we would have, if we lived our lives by this methodology and reasoning approach. We can also see very clearly in the Scriptures that capital punishment is absolutely permissible by God,

"If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death." (Numbers 35:30,31)

God also granted the authority to His people to defend themselves against assailants, murderers or even thieves.

"If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. If the thief is caught while breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for this theft." (Exodus 22: 1-4)

Here is a very crystal clear indication, that our Lord authorizes self defense, even to the point of death.

Now, looking back at Matthew 5:40 in its wider context, where Jesus stated, "And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also," we can understand why Christ instructs us to go a step beyond the normal endurance or customary limit. Whether getting abused visually, verbally or physically (i.e. being tapped at, pushed at or tripped over, for the purpose of intimidation or invitation to a fight), we as Christians, must be willing to go to that second mile. Loving your enemies and praying for your enemies in Matthew 5:44, is not by any stretch of imaginations suggesting to agree with the deeds of your enemies; neither is Christ suggesting to love your enemies, because they (enemies) are against you. As Christians, we must love our enemies, but hate their deeds. Because, an enemy is a human being who is also made in the image of God. If his deeds are evil and ungodly, they must be resisted by all means. Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:9 to, "...Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good." According to Biblical testimonies, Christians, has been given the right to defend themselves against any criminal, but at the same time, needs to pray for the salvation of the soul of that criminal.

The Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:40 & 5:44 never recommended us to run around naked and homeless, because we loved our enemy and wished to surrender all our possession to him. In theology, this method of hermeneutics is classified as eisogesses, which means, you read what you wish into the passage. As good students of the Bible, we need to remember that "Scripture must interpret Scripture." Every passage must be interpreted in its entire context, and not in any isolated or segmented instance. Many times, throughout the Scriptures, old testament or the new testament, the idea of being a soldier (spiritual) have been clearly pronounced and defined for God's people. A Christian soldier is someone who has been enlisted physically to defend his nation, and spiritually to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see for example, in 2 Timothy chapter 2 verses 3 and 4, Paul states, "Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier."

And we notice the phrase, "No soldier in active service," is a general rendition for military services and activities, which not only condoned by God, but numerous times commissioned by God, to accomplish His purposes. A cursory reading of the book of Hebrews chapter 11, identifies the men in the past whom God used to conquer lands and over take their enemies. The idea of military activities, policing, and defending territories, cities and kingdoms is not foreign at all to the old or the new testament theology. Apostle Paul states again in 1 Timothy chapter 2, verses 1 through 4,

"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

The only way we can live peacefully on our planet (while we are living in our mortal flesh), would not only be the spiritual peace which we receive from our Lord (John 14:27), but also the peace and safety which our government is suppose to provide for all of its tax paying citizens. When the order and the laws of any city is violated and criminals and gangsters end up running loose on the streets of that city, it is then, that the peace and safety of that town diminishes.

The person who uses Matthew 26:52 to justify passiveness in Christians' lives, violates the context of that passage, hence interprets it the wrong way. Part of the context of that particular passage is,

"Jesus said to him, Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?" (Matthew 26:52-54) "...My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." (John 18:36)

Here, we can see why Jesus did not allow His disciples to fight for Him with swords. Christ was on a mission to come into the world in order to save the lost by the crucifixion death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. John 18:11 reads, "...Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" Notice Jesus never says, throw your sword away, but only to place it back into its sheath or case; and in fact, He encourages His disciple at the last supper to do the opposite. In Luke chapter 22 verses 35 through 38 we read,

"And He said to them, When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals; you did not lack anything, did you? And they said, No, nothing. And He said to them, But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one. For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, 'AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS'; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment. And they said, Lord, look here are two swords. And He said to them, it is enough."

Obviously, the swords were meant to be used for the self defense and self protection and not for offensive purposes. Why? Because the Shepherd (Jesus) was about to be smitten and sheeps (disciples) were about to be scattered (Matthew 26:31). Matthew 26:52 is a reference to Christ's heavenly and spiritual kingdom. Christ's kingdom, which comes from heaven to be established physically on earth in the future, cannot be formulated and authenticated by the acts of human will and force. Moreover, many times Jesus hid Himself from the hands of His enemies for the purpose of self defense. He disappeared many times from among the Jews, who were hostile and planning to seize Him (John 8:59, 10:39). In His discourse, concerning the end time events, Jesus specifically ordered that when the anti-Christ appears in the temple,

"then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak." (Matthew 24:16-18)

Although, this prophecy was fulfilled one time in the year 70 A.D. during the destruction of Jerusalem, it shall takes place again when the real anti-Christ appears in the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, where he will be proclaiming himself to be deity. Now, why did Jesus give such specific orders for the Jews to run away from the hands of the anti-Christ and not to surrender their lives to the anti-Christ's government? Why not revert back to his earlier discourse about, "turning the other cheek?" Simply, because of the common sense of self security and self preservation. A living and healthy Christian is far more valuable than a dead and injured one. Finally Christ declared specifically in John 15:8, that the will of the Father is for His children to be productive and fruitful.

Respond to the argument d:

It is agreed that in today's world of martial arts, there are numerous schools that are involved with the occultic practices such as: meditation, chanting, chi, death touch which is a form of spiritism, and black magic. The New Age movement has deeply penetrated many circles of martial arts, and myriad of instructors promote "cultism," including the glorification of self, and actualization of self thoughts, bowing to the instructors' pictures at the altars and worshiping the so-called master of those particular schools. Eastern philosophies that promulgate anti-Biblical theologies and concepts, are being promoted in the western and eastern societies, all under the banner of martial arts. In general, martial arts are being used as a vessel by satan to extend his satanic kingdom on earth.

Now, a Christian must be cautious not to stereotype all of the martial arts into one category, and must not link every school and instructor with such practices. The original meaning of the term "martial art" has been deluded to almost incredible heights by many teachers. Webster's Encyclopedia of Dictionaries describe the term "martial" on page 231 as: "warlike; military. law enforced by military authorities and superseding civil law" and, the term "art" on page 26 as: "skill; human skill as opposed to nature; a system of rules." Thus, the terms "martial arts" can be identified as the military skills or combative-fighting-skills.

As we examined in the previous section, the concept or theocracy (the rule of God) of military fighting is clearly taught in the Biblical theology. In no terms can the dictionary's definition of martial arts be related with spiritsm and occultic practices. In summary, martial arts are the physical skills and apprehension of combat, not dabbling with the world of the cults or the occults.

A Christian must surely exercise discernment in order to pick and choose the right,

a) art b) instructor c) school

in order to pursue his or her martial art training. A Christian must be very cautious about his selection of martial art school. He needs to learn about the art and the instructor of that particular academy, to see whether the instructor meet the Biblical standards of righteousness in his teachings or not. Because, martial arts in the hand of a wrong instructor is similar to a machine gun in a hand of a criminal. If the instructor of a particular school is involved with the world of the cults or the occults, and/or if his ethics and moralities are not in accord with the Biblical precepts, then his disciples whom are his fruits, will also bear the same characters in their lives. This truth must be embedded in our minds, that the people of a nation represent their president; the followers of a particular leader represent their leader, and the students of a particular instructor reflect the character and the teachings of their instructor.

One of the most important aspects of martial arts is the instructor of that particular art, who can set a righteous or an ungodly examples for his students to follow. The instructor chooses, whether or not to filter out the occultic and cultic messages in that particular art.

It is also very crucial to understand the nature of an art; to test its message according to the Biblical Scriptures. If a particular martial art offers functional, practical and scientific methods for self defense, self protection, physical fitness, discipline of the mind as well as the body, through productive, healthy, godly and Biblical philosophies, then, it is not only safe, but very constructive and indispensable to learn and practice that art. But, if an art or the instructor of that art, offers and teaches spiritual messages and ideologies which are cultic, occultic or New Age by nature, then the practice and pursuit of that art must be avoided at all costs.

In conclusion, the arguments against Christians practicing martial arts can be repudiated based on the following general reasons:

(1) They are not in harmony with the message of the Bible and Biblical theology.

(2) They are contrary to God's given common sense.

To recapitulate, martial arts can be promoted in many positive ways in order to enhance and improve useful attributes such as: discipline, self control, calmness, confidence, coordination, cardiovascular system, muscular toning, mobility, agility, strength, humbleness, obedience and submission to legitimate and godly authorities. It is strongly suggested for those individuals that are very serious about martial arts and especially a true combative martial art, to further their study in the art of San Jieh Dao. For it is through this and only this combative martial art we can learn to be prepared to serve our living God, on the tri fold level, Spiritually, Mentally and Physically.