Thursday, June 08, 2006

Christian Faith and the Martial Arts - Part I

Elliot the Claw and I have a number of things in common, one of which is our involvement with martial arts. I've been mulling over my own involvement in this practice for some time, or at least for the past four years. Prior to that time, I was still an agnostic.

I've practiced martail arts in some form of and on since I was about 10. Back then, it was judo, which is pretty much pure sport Japanese style. In high school, I practiced for a short time at the Mountain Home AFB Youth Center with an Isshin Ryu karate group. That was interesting enough—a derivative form of Okinawan karate, very linear, very focused on technique and sport. When I got to Gonzaga University, a bunch of us formed a group of MA enthusiasts from various styles. Gonzaga U. had a Gojo Ryu program.

When I left Gonzaga, I left MA practice for nine years. When I came back to practice, it was with an SKA (Ohshima) shotokan group at Boise State University. My girlfriend (now ex-wife) sparked my interest in the organization. Shotokan and shotokai karate are formulations of Okinawan karate taught on mainland Japan by Guichin Funakoshi. In Karate-Do Kyohan, Funakoshi traces the lineage back through the Okinawan Goro Ryu and Shorin Ryu to the Chinese martial arts taught to the Okinawans by Shaolin monks from China. (Shorin is actually the Okinawan and Japanese pronunciation of Shaolin.)

The style of shotokan I learned (Ohshima) is more closely aligned with shotokai karate than the sport shotokan styles that flourish around the world. The focus is on discipline, technique, spirit, and personal perfection. It's absolutely not focused on competition, and participation in open tournaments is discouraged. We learned no more than 18 forms, a handful of basics, and practiced very structured kumite. We also focused on intensity. What I found most lacking in other styles I've observed is the intensity that SKA shotokan provided.

After earning my shodan in that style (after 5 years), I drifted in and out of practice. I dropped in to spar now and then and continued to practice my forms. Otherwise, I wasn't involved. I found that my personal life became less disciplined, and I lost some of the intensity I loved about that style. I dabbled in aikido and kendo during that time, but those styles didn't engage me as much.

I went back to MA practice in 2000 at a shoalin-do school. Two things attracted me to this school. First, we learned a lot of weapons: sai, broad sword, straight sword, double-ended staff (bo and jo), single-ended staff, kwan-tao, nunchaku, tiger hook sword, and spear. (I love spear.) Second, I like the people. I've encountered many jerks in the MA world, and usually the jerkiest is the instructor. Not so with Master J*. Master J is one of the most humble, decent martial artists I know. He does well in his business because he treats each of his students with respect. He also knows his subject very well. I also like the people at the shaolin centers. I still practice there as a nidan (second-degree black belt).

Lately (that is, since my reversion) my concern has turned toward the mysticism involved in martial arts. I'll address that in part II.

*UPDATED: Clearly not my instructor's name. I don't think it's necessary or relevant to my discussion here, so I've removed it.

*UPDATED II: Silly spelling errors and a little more generalizing.

[Technorati tags: Karate, kung fu, martial arts, Christianity, Catholicism]
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