“I am interested in various martial arts but have noticed that sometimes there are elements of ‘spirituality’ that involve non-Christian religious philosophy. Do I need to avoid all of these martial arts?
Many young people have been helped by martial arts classes to exercise well, to learn self-control, gain confidence and take part in sporting competitions in a good spirit. Such activities can be good and wholesome (though they shouldn’t take over the whole of our lives). Many of the martial arts popular in the West have origins in parts of the world where Buddhist and other forms of religious philosophy are (or were) prevalent. Such philosophy is not essential to discipline and exercise, and indeed we can bring a Christian approach to bear, especially since we strive to focus not only on our own well-being but on selfless charity to others.
As we know well, Christian ideals of chivalry were sometimes corrupted in the past and there are examples of atrocities; however recent history shows us that even the best of Eastern philosophical ideals were sacrificed in appalling ways in many conflicts of the 20th century and earlier. As Christians, we do not run blindly after what is esoteric and fashionable since we have Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.
If a particular school for martial arts insist on using a form of ‘meditation’ or some spiritual exercise that is tied to a philosophy of a universal spirit, a world soul or some Gnostic analysis of the human person in terms of contradictory principles, we should not take part in it. It would be necessary to find another group that did not require such belief. If it is simply a question of breathing exercises or seeking peace and harmony of soul, without the imposition of Pagan beliefs, then we can take part, though in our own practice we can bring to bear our Christian faith in which Christ is our peace, and the values of self-discipline and care of our physical health are seen in the context of a spiritual life in accord with the teaching of the Gospel.”
– This article by Fr Tim Finigan was published in the feature “Catholic dilemmas” in “The Catholic Herald” issue December 6 2013. For subscriptions please visit http://www.catholicherald.co.uk (external link).