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Topic: Martial Arts Practices And Religion

In martial arts schools when they speak of spiritual principals do these principals involve rituals that conflict with someone who is a Christian?

Question: I am interested in studying Kendo and Iai Jutsu and I found a school very nearby that teaches this, but I am a bit concerned. When they speak of spiritual principals do these principals involve rituals that conflict with someone who is a Christian (mediation/chanting for example), or are these principals on a philosophical level? For many years I have wanted to study a martial art, and these involve a strong interest of mine which is sword fighting, but the religious aspect is a concern of mine. Thanks for taking time to answer my question.

Yvonne

Answer:

The answer depends partly on the group you study with, and partly on the nature of your faith.

Most America martial arts groups are pretty secular, following the tradition here as well as the idea that they want to attract the widest range of students possible. Mostly, meditation consists of "moku so" which simply means to sit quietly for a moment without any religious implication at all (In other words, you can pray, or simply clear your mind in preparation for practice). On the other hand, some very conservative religious groups object to the idea of bowing to a kamiza or shinzen, or to the weapons and teacher before a practice that involves them.

In one well known New York iaido (the art of drawing the sword) dojo, for example, members bow to the shinzen (a piece of calligraphy by the founder that means, "Great universe, great God spirit"), the teacher (as a sign of respect) and the sword (ditto). To date no one has had a problem with this, and most traditional martial art groups do as much, but probably not more than this. It is very similar in many karate schools.

The shinzen in some traditional dojos is sometimes, however, a small Shinto type shrine (altar) -- often a miniature wooden house-like structure. Most students, however, just consider this as the spiritual center, if they are even aware of its significance at all. In this framework, the Shinzen represents the spirit of dedication, hard work and discipline that embodies their practice. To some Japanese practitioners, however, this same Shinzen does have definite Shinto religion connotations. Your response thus depends on your religious belief.

The best course would be to observe a class you are interested in, including the opening and closing rituals. They are unlikely to change their practices, so you should pick the group whose rituals you feel comfortable with. I'm sure you will find a group who fits in.

One last comment: If the teacher does not let you observe the class before joining, then the class probably isn't worth bothering about (believe it or not, this does come up from time to time).


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