Monday, 30 April 2012

Martial arts and Christianity….

I recently read a short book that I found very disturbing. Please bear in mind that I read this book as a non-religious person and therefore have a ‘world view’ that may differ quite significantly from a person who has a world view based on religion- whether that religion be Christianity or any other.

Though I am not a Christian I thought I at least understood the basic tenants of this religion and didn’t consider myself too different from the Christians that I know, at least not culturally. After reading this book I’m not sure I understand Christianity at all and feel quite disturbed by some of the beliefs expressed.

The book I am talking about is called, Martial Arts: a Biblical Perspective, by Paul Villaneuva, M.A. It is a short, self-published e-book on the website. The reason I downloaded it was because I have recently had an e-mail from someone who wanted advice on finding a suitable martial arts club for their children and as Christians it was important to them that the martial art didn’t contain any “spiritual aspects – meditation, Yin/Yang etc.”

I then stumbled across the book by accident and e-mailed the link to the guy who had contacted me –without reading it first. The blurb on the book simply said:

A 6000 word well researched mini book on the compatibility between the Martial Arts and Christianity. This work explores the history of ancient fighting arts, the philosophies rooted in the fighting systems, the differences between traditional and non-traditional fighting schools, fitness and heath, Mixed Martial Arts or MMA, the dangers of yogic meditation, and the Biblical viewpoint concerning such practices. 

It will enlighten your understanding and give you confidence in a decision to practice or not to practice these ancient fighting arts. 

This is a must read for any Christian parent having a child enrolled in any type of fighting art school. It presents a fair and balanced viewpoint supported by documentation and Scriptural references. Many Martial arts experts were consulted and their views are outlined in a factual manner.

It sounded exactly like the advice being sought!

Anyway, I then decided that I should probably have read the book myself before recommending it....

The Christian view held by the author seemed in my mind to be at the extreme end of the scale. It involved a lot of superstitious beliefs and as  ‘extreme’ people often do, the arguments were much polarised, always ascribing the most negative of motives to people who wish to learn internal martial arts such as tai chi; to the point of saying that such martial artists are ‘possessed by demons’ and ‘lust after additional power’. He also decries the ‘mystical mumbo-jumbo’ of traditional martial arts. He seems to think that traditional martial artists are dabbling in quasi-occult practices in an attempt to imbibe themselves with supernatural powers like ‘chi’ which enable them to move objects or levitate!

I was quite taken aback by the superstitious nonsense that this author was peddling in the name of Christianity. Do Christians really believe that they may get possessed by demons if they partake in a bit of deep breathing? If so, how do pregnant Christian women cope during labour if they have to avoid controlled breathing techniques less a demon possess them, or worse – their unborn baby? I’m just continuing the logic of this argument….

In fact it was breathing techniques that seemed to upset this guy the most, particularly during meditation or mokuso. He cautions that the act of trying to ‘empty the mind – mushin’ will allow the mind to be filled by demons – that we are purposely emptying our minds to demonic influence. He also cautions that, “A Christian should never practice exercises that focus on the breath for the purpose of emptying the mind and developing internal chi power.” Okay, so some people get a little carried away with the chi thing – but however hard they try they aren’t gaining supernatural powers and they aren’t being possessed by demons! It really is quite safe to breathe…

In his final paragraph he gives this advice:

“I do not advocate rushing out and pulling your child from the high school wrestling team because they could become demonized through this martial sport, etc. However, I would advocate pulling them off the team if their coach or other students were supplying your child with anabolic steroids or methamphetamine. What is the difference? None. Both practices wish to instil more “power” and better performance on the athlete. One uses the spiritual and demonization to accomplish this, and the other uses drugs and demonization to accomplish this. It is the lust for power that is going to lead one down the path of darkness.”


Why would anyone, Christian or not, believe that martial arts instructors are (knowingly or not) trying to demonise children by teaching them simple breathing exercises to help them improve their technique and maximise their natural potential? This is nature not an occult practice!

I found this book shocking and uncomfortable reading. Shocked mainly by the fact that Christians may actually still believe in the existence of actual demons (rather than just metaphorical ones, i.e. drink/drugs etc that alter mental processes and change behaviour – this is a pharmacological effect of course not a supernatural one). I tend to associate this brand of Christianity with medieval Europe not the 21st Century.

However, if one thinks about it, these conclusions are the logical out-workings of Christian teachings. This is the problem with logic. Good logic requires sound assumptions and provable predicates. It also requires wisdom in its interpretation. If you start with an un-provable predicate (that demons exist) and an unsound assumption (demons will fill an empty mind) then it is logical to state that if you meditate to a point of achieving ‘mushin’ then “demonic forces are waiting to return to that empty, swept clean house.” From Luke 11:24-26. However, that doesn’t make it true – logic and truth don’t always make good bed fellows, not if the logic is based on un-provable predicates and unsound assumptions, as in this case.

The other unsound assumption made in this book is that martial artists, particularly those practising ‘internal arts’ (who must be power crazed individuals if the book is to be believed), have the worst of all motives for practising their art. That it is all about power acquisition, superiority, ego and occult practice. This is how politicians argue isn’t it – make yourself look better by painting the opposition in the worst possible light. Yet, anyone following a martial art, including the spiritual aspects of training, know that their core purpose is one of losing ego, gaining self-control and showing compassion and humility. This is not the picture of martial arts painted in this book.

The book claims to be a balanced account, a useful tool for the Christian family looking for a martial art for their child that won’t demonise them. However, to me as a non-Christian, this book has taught me some unpalatable truths about Christian doctrine and was anything but balanced!

Are the arguments expressed in this book a true reflection of what the average Christian would believe or is this author very extreme in his teachings? You may want to read the book yourself first (it’s only 6000 words and costs 99 US cents or 64p). Here’s the link:

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

How much did your Black Belt cost?

Have you ever considered how much it has cost you to get from white belt to black belt in your martial art? Are you getting value for money or do you think your club overcharges – forcing you to jump through expensive but unnecessary hoops along the way, e.g. lots of intermediate belt gradings, compulsory attendance at expensive additional courses, lots of compulsory badges to buy, expensive grading fees, compulsory uniform only available through the club at extortionate rates etc?

I think that my club gives good value for money so I decided to sit down and calculate how much it has cost me to get from white belt to black belt.

The things I took into consideration were:

1.   Cost of lessons: It took me exactly four years to get my black belt which is 48 months. I paid for two lessons per week as part of a family membership scheme.  As there are four of us training on this membership, I divided our total fees bill over the four years by four to get the figure for just my fees.

2.   Licence fees: It is compulsory for us to pay an annual licence/insurance fee to our organisation. Again, we have a family licence scheme and so I divided the total by four.

3.   Grading fees: There were 9 kyu gradings and 1 dan grading. All grading fees include the new belt.

4.   Black/Brown belt courses: These are run by our organisation and are not compulsory except for the pre-dan course. These are run four times a year and I have attended approximately nine of them.

5.   Gis/ badges/sparring mitts/sports bag: I have bought 4 gis in total and 3 badges. We only have to wear one badge on our gi which is our organisation badge. We can order gis through our instructor who gets them at heavily discounted prices. He passes these discounts onto us so our gis cost approximately half to two-thirds the website price. I have only bought one set of sparring mitts, one gum shield and one sports bag.

Cost of lessons
Licence fees
Grading fees
Black/Brown belt courses
Gis/ badges/etc

So my black belt has cost £1577 (US $2525.25). This equates to £7.58 (US $12) per week!

However, I have been able to take advantage of generous family discounts for both my lesson fees and licence fees. So, since most people probably pay as a single member I have recalculated the figures below as if I were a single member of the club paying for 2 lessons per week:

Cost of lessons
Licence fees
Grading fees
Black/Brown belt courses
Gis/ badges/etc

As a single member in my club, training twice a week, attending the majority of Black/Brown belt courses, buying four gis and other necessary equipment and achieving black belt after 4 years (the minimum possible) it costs around £2360 (US $3783) or, put another way, about £11.35 (US $18) per week!

I think this represents good value for money, thank you Sensei! 

Have you tried calculating how much your black belt has cost?

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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Kids Karate Library...

I've recently started up a small martial arts library for the kids in our club. It's in its infancy at present having only 12 books in it! 

The idea was prompted by a request from one of the parents for some reading material for his son who is an avid reader. We were a little stumped to start with because we hadn't really thought too much about getting the kids to read about karate as well as practice it. So I had a look on Amazon and was amazed to find so many books aimed at children about the martial arts. I selected and ordered a few and set about reading them! 

When I first discussed the idea of a library with the kids they didn't seem terribly enthusiastic - not a single child brought the letter with tear off slip back that I had prepared for their parents.The next week I took the books in to show them and Hey Presto! they swarmed round me like bees to a honey pot! 

Six of the books were loaned out so the library has begun. Here are the books we currently have, some are fiction and some non-fiction:

Story books for our youngest children (Ages 6 – 9):

 The Karate Class Mystery, by Elizabeth Levy.
"The Karate Class Mystery is a book about friends who work together even when their friendship is threatened. The karate stuff is fun and the vocabulary is explained really well. If you like mysteries and karate you should read this one”.

 The Karate Mouse, by Geronimo Stilton.

 “Mouldy mozzarella! When my friend Bruce Hyena and his super-sporty cousin, Shorty Tao, entered me in the Karate World Championship, I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t in shape, and I didn’t know a single karate move. Plus, I only had one week to train! How on earth was I going to become a champion karate mouse in just seven days?”

“The story of Belinda, the youngest and plainest of 16 beautiful princesses, who is ignored by her father and left in the hands of a Japanese tutor. Her education at the hands of this karate expert makes her into a real princess. She must then save her father's kingdom from the wicked princess.”

There are several books in the Karate Princess series by Jeremy Strong – see Amazon

 Angels Don’t Know Karate, by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones.

“Angela Michaels is new in town and she always seems to turn up when people need help. Whether she’s working as a crossing guard or teaching karate, she has a special way of appearing at just the right moment and making wishes come true. Could Miss Michaels really be a guardian angel?”

Story books (10-teens):

 Karate Kick, by Matt Christopher

“Cole Richards has been training in karate for four years. He's on the brink of advancing to his next belt level. But as he prepares for his test, new challenges come his way. First, his dojo announces a "create-your-own kata" contest to take place the same day as his belt test. Now he's torn between practicing for the test and making up a series of moves that will knock his senseis socks off. But before he even begins with either challenge, he lands in trouble with a group of local teens - and then with his best friends, too! How will Cole handle the mounting pressure?

 Sanchin, by KA van Wyk
“Tristan Steyn has two dreams. To represent his country in international competition, and to grade as the youngest nidan in the history of his karate club. 

When be becomes involved in a violent encounter with the brother of a fellow karateka, he fully expects to be dropped from the National Team selections. But Tristan is stunned when his mentor, Shihan Dean Stander, exacts a much harsher punishment. 

Hurt and angry, Tristan goes from being bright and hard working to sullen and difficult almost overnight. But, as friends and family begin to give up on him, tragedy strikes and Tristan is forced to re-evaluate his life and show a strength of character he didn't know he possessed. 

But is it too late to redeem himself in the eyes of his mentor?

Technical karate books:

 Karate for Kids, by Robin L. Rielly

“This is a fun introduction to studying karate designed specifically with the interests and capabilities of young martial artists in mind. Karate for Kids will help prepare them to start learning about karate and help them practise at home. This book includes thorough introductions to the history and philosophy of the techniques, what to expect in the first few classes, how to warm up and practise, and advice on setting goals. The colourful illustrations will help you practice your techniques until you’re ready to advance to higher rankings.”

 The Kids’ Karate Workbook – A Take-home training guide for young martial artists, by Didi Goodman.

“The Kids’ Karate Workbook is an engaging workbook meant to be used at home by young people who want to supplement their regular Karate or Taekwondo training. Drawing on the author’s more than 20 years of experience teaching martial arts to children, the book offers a step-by-step curriculum that traces a typical journey from first-day beginner to intermediate-level student.

Along the way, kids learn about uniforms and etiquette; practice the most frequently used strikes, kicks, blocks, and forms; and unlock the basics of martial arts physics. The curriculum is highly interactive, inviting readers to answer questions and solve puzzles. It also highlights common mistakes to avoid, answers frequently asked questions, and points the way to a deeper understanding of martial arts. The easy-to-follow text is accompanied by 150 illustrations depicting the author’s own students—real kids who are also serious martial artists. While written for youngsters, the book is equally useful for parents who want to assist in practicing at home, as well as instructors who teach children.”

Karate history:

 The Little Bubishi – a history of Karate for Children, by Andrew O’Brien.

The Little Bubishi tells the story of karate and the amazing tales of its legendary masters in an enjoyable way that is intended for children. But the story is enjoyable for readers of all ages. The legends of Karate-Do are brought to life in its beautifully descriptive stories that tell of the heroics and steely determination that embody karate history. The peaceful philosophies behind this multi-layered martial art are too often overlooked, while its graphic fighting forms more often take centre stage. Karate is explained simply, so children may gain a greater understanding of the true meaning and nature of Karate-Do. The Little Bubishi: A History of Karate for Children is essential reading for all young karate enthusiasts.

Books that teach karate values:

 Facing the Double-Edged Sword – The Art of Karate for young people, by Terrence Webster-Doyle.
From the author:
Martial Arts can be a way to peace!
I wrote this book to help young people understand the psychological or mental side of the martial arts to complement the physical training in self-defense. I feel that it is vitally important to create a mental framework for resolving conflict peacefully without the unnecessary use of physical force. I think that giving young people nonviolent alternatives to conflict gives them creative and healthy options to avoid potential harm. Giving children only physical self-defense skills gives them the false impression that they can resolve conflict peacefully. What I call "Mental Self-Defense" needs to be taught so that children can cope with conflict before they have to revert to the use of physical skills. This is very important in today's world where there is so much violence, especially considering the recent school violence. I have been in the martial arts for 36 years and know that what I have written really works! 

This book will help teach young people such important values as courtesy, kindness, honesty, order, respect, and responsibility. It can also help parents, teachers, counsellors, and school administrators who are looking for effective ways to help young people resolve conflict peacefully.

A reader’s review:
“Written in a personable, engaging style that will appeal to kids and adults alike, this collection of short vignettes touch upon a variety of experiences one might have as a student of the martial arts. It illustrates the many opportunities for learning and growth, not only on the dojo floor but in school and at home. Many of the stories offer simple actions for kids to try out so they can put what they read to the test in real life.”

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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Don’t let the need to be non-sexist get in the way of facts!

I read a couple of interesting comments over on John Cole’s blog Kojutsukan. The post was called Women’s self defence – fighting with facts. The two comments were from a woman and a man respectively. Both commenter’s were clearly of the opinion that there is no place for sexism in martial arts and that instructors should not make comments to women about their ability to execute certain techniques that they would not also make to a man (see John’s blog to read the comments).

On the surface of it this sounds like a fair-minded approach to take.  A non-sexist approach. Alas though, it does not take facts into account.

Fact 1: women are not all the same, either physically or mentally

Fact 2: men are not all the same either

Fact 3: men and women are definitely not the same!

There is no point burying these facts under an agenda of sex equality. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different body forms, different psychologies and therefore different training needs.

I am not going to be offended if my instructor said that a technique won’t work well for me or needs to be adapted in such-a-such a way because I am small and relatively weaker than a training partner. It is a fact; no offence is meant or taken. I would take it to mean that my instructor is treating me as an individual and tailoring my training accordingly; not regarding me as a weak female.  Likewise it would be ridiculous to make the same comment to a larger male because it wouldn’t be factual or applicable.

One of my regular female training partners is about six feet tall (I’m 5ft 3) and therefore heavier than me too. This makes her naturally stronger than me but it also makes her slower than me. Psychologically she is more afraid of getting hurt than I am. Due to these differences between us techniques that suit her size/ build/psychology don’t necessarily suit mine and vice-versa. We are both women but we are not the same so I would not expect to have the same comments levied at me that are levied at her (unless it applied to both of us).

Men and women of equivalent height and build will still not be the same. The man will be stronger because the androgens in his body will naturally build greater muscle bulk. This is a fact and needs to be taken into account by instructors when analysing training needs. It may not be necessary for that man to adapt a technique because of his height/weight unless the differential between him and his partner is very large.

My point is that we shouldn’t take comments/feedback made to us by our instructors to be a reflection on our gender when they are in fact intended to be a reflection on our individuality. If we are told something won’t work well because we are small or weak it’s not personal, it’s not sexist - it’s factual. I’d rather find out in training that something won’t work for me than in the street!

There must be many comments that may be levied at big strong men during training that don’t apply to smaller people so it would be ridiculous to say them to smaller people just for the sake of treating people equally.

Treating people as if they are inferior in some way when they are not is wrong. Treating people as individuals, taking their factual differences into account so that they can maximise their strengths and minimise their weakness is not wrong, its good practice.

Anti-sexism laws and attitudes have done a lot to correct the wrongs of past society but we have to be careful not to take it too far. Take the car insurance industry for example. Young male drivers are at greater risk of having an accident than young female drivers – that is fact borne out of statistical evidence. Insurance premiums have reflected this. However the European parliament thinks that this is sexist and has ordered a directive that outlaws insurance companies from charging young men higher premiums than young women. The result will be that premiums will go up significantly for young women even though they are at much lower risk of having an accident. This is what happens when you try to treat men and women the same without taking facts into consideration.

People are not all the same, whether they are men or women. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. I, for one, would like to be treated as an individual first and a woman second. So if you have any tips to give a small, slight female like myself that you wouldn’t need to give to a large muscular buddy then feel free to tell me……I won’t get offended and I won't think you are being sexist.

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