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Religion And Karate

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Religion And Karate

Jane was the life and soul of the Dojo, She had only trained for about a year but as an attractive, happy and friendly girl she had endeared herself to everyone very quickly and took part in and helped out in all the Dojo activities.  It was strange to see her preoccupied and a little troubled…..

Normally she trained so enthusiastically and positively that she glowed while putting her heart and soul into everything she did – enchanting all around her and making it a pleasure to do any work with her.  Since her first days she had immersed herself, not only in the technical side, but also into the history and philosophy of the art, avidly reading everything she could lay her hands on and always listening to advice from her seniors.

Sensei quickly realised she was troubled and waited for the break to sit next her and share his drink and sandwiches….

“This is not like you Jane, you seem preoccupied, is there anything you would like to share?”

Jane looked thoughtfully at Sensei as if deciding whether he could help, or if she wanted to burden him with whatever was troubling her, took a half hearted nibble at her sandwich and looked away into space.

“C’mon Jane, a trouble shared is a trouble spared…”

Jane looked back at Sensei’s grizzled features quite intently and deciding that maybe he had the experience to help, began to share..

“Promise you won’t laugh?” – A typical young person’s introduction to a problem.

“I promise…”

“Before I started training in Karate I used to go to church on a regular basis, I taught a Sunday school class, helped out in my local Girls Brigade and took part in all the usual church activities.  I was very happy with my lifestyle and religious beliefs.  Since I started training in Karate, I don’t go to church anymore or even have contact with my old friends.”

“Do you feel that you’ve replaced God with karate?”

“To be honest I’m not sure what I think at the moment.  I reasoned that I didn’t have the time available to do those things anymore, but I could do more with the church and when I did go – I felt ‘out of place’ and uncomfortable.”

“Why do you think you felt uncomfortable?”

“I think it’s because I feel selfish, I feel that karate is all about me.  When I was at church it was all about service to others and service to a higher authority.  Self development through karate seems to be working towards a selfish ambition, the church and it’s work was more noble.  But then I feel deep down inside that the karate is important, I just can’t reason it out.”

“Religion is a broad canvas Jane.  Some fundamentalist Christian groups regard karate as the work of the devil.  They believe that as it is based on eastern mysticism and meditation and the practice is a pagan ritual with the worship of non Christian icons.  They believe that meditation allows the devil to enter the mind.  I have also experienced fundamentalist people from other religions who wouldn’t enter my dojo because of the Buddhist Shinto shrine and statues of Boddidharma and Fudo Miyoo.  Some would come in to train but not bow to the shrine or any person.

However, I do know priests, vicars and monks from all Christian persuasions who train in and teach karate and I know of specific Christian karate groups.  You only have to look around the Dojo here to see people of all ethnicities, cultures and religions to see a good example of how people can work together in harmony for the good of all.”

“I believe in God – but I’m not sure that I’m carrying out his will by doing Karate because I’m worried that I’m putting my own goals and needs before him.

“I can’t instruct you in religion Jane; it’s not my place to.  You have to look deep into your own heart to resolve the issue.  Karate does give you self development, but it’s through that self development that you are really able to help others and contribute more to society.  Karate is a noble pursuit, it now belongs to the world and people of all cultures and religions, it is not a religious pursuit and therefore I see no reason why it should clash with any of your religious ideals unless you belong to one the fundamentalist groups.  Buddhist links to the martial arts are historical in the same way that Christianity is linked to the English as the founders of football and cricket.  The iconographies in my Dojo were all heartfelt gifts from my Japanese Instructors and Asian friends – and represent my relationship to them and not my religion.  For the record, I am an atheist.

Karate does not teach you to be selfish.  It teaches you to be determined, humble, patient, caring, tolerant and compassionate.  You learn to develop these qualities and share them with your fellow students reinforcing each others resolve.  Eventually you can teach and help pass the same ideals on.

There are many expansionist karate schools around that are ‘business’ structured.  Their ideals are often selfish, often their rapid expansion is at the cost of the students development, that would conflict with my ideals and I couldn’t train there.  There are ‘cult’ schools that require the ‘blind faith’ from students and don’t allow questions and where the sensei’s have a godlike status, and there are schools that focus purely on violence and self defence aspects without the higher ideals – I wouldn’t train in those schools either.”

“You feel that I’m viewing karate in the wrong way then?”

“Life is a quest.  We each have our own path to follow.  It seems to me that you are confused, you need to collect all the facts and then look deep into your own heart to find what is right and wrong for you.  Choosing the right mentors in all walks of life is the first task.  In religion and the martial arts, you would be lucky to get it right first time.  I travelled the world to find my mentors and the ideals of humility, patience, tolerance, kindness and compassion were always the qualities that I looked for alongside the resolve,  determination, will power and skill within the art.  By questing hard and having to overcome extreme difficulties in that search, I have been rewarded by mentoring and friendship that I would not formerly have believed existed in this world.  I only hope that I am able to pass on the richness the qualities that I found.”

Jane wiped a tear from her eye, “Sensei, you haven’t answered the question for me, but I do believe that you’ve given me the keys to answering it for myself….. thank you!”

Jane gave sensei a respectful kiss on the cheek and got up to train with her previous enthusiasm…

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