In response to several letters about Martial Arts we approached Police Lt. Paul Villanueva (Ret) for his insights, both physical and spiritual, in an attempt to answer the question, "Can Christians be involved in Martial Arts without compromising their faith, and avoid spiritual dangers?.
Part One: A former Karate and Kung-fu practioner writes about his experiences. Villanueva responds. Introduction.
Martial Arts Mayhem:
We asked Police Lieutenant Paul Villanueva (Ret.) to assist in addressing the topic of martial arts with its hidden dangers for the Christian participant. Paul has twenty-five years of law enforcement experience, is California State certified to instruct in police officer defensive tactics, is State certified to teach Tactical Communications (verbal judo), has instructed police officers in the use of force and defensive tactics, and holds a second degree black belt in Kung Fu San Soo. He is also a past practitioner in Tai Chi, Brazilian Jujitsu, and Filipino knife fighting techniques. His prior search for more "power" led him into practicing Chi Kung (internal energy work), and into occult pagan systems such as Freemasonry and divination. He is now a born again believer and freely shares his past experiences with others.
Our ministry receives many EMAILS, inquiries, and requests from all over the globe. Often, these inquiries lead to further research with an article written addressing the topic. The following article addressing the martial arts and its place within the Christian community was born from such an EMAIL about the subject. This article will address issues surrounding the martial arts, and offer clarity from a Biblical perspective on the topic.
In an EMAIL from Canada, Agnieszka Swierzbinska wrote,
"Before I became a born again Christian I used to practice karate and kung-fu. The moves or ‘katas' taken from karate or kung-fu are the same as those found in Indian traditional dances. The reason for the similarity is that kung-fu and karate both come from the same source. Kung-fu was introduced to China by Indian travelers. My teachers would always start the class with meditation and yoga. In my karate class, the practice of yoga was hidden. The teacher would say that we needed to take 5 minutes to clear our minds, and would suggest images to focus on while we were meditating. This teacher never mentioned outright the words yoga and meditation."
"My kung-fu teacher studied yoga in India for 10 years. He taught the ultimate goal of kung-fu is only achievable through yoga. He said that he could move objects and people without even touching them through his ‘chi', which is a force, cultivated though yoga. The first 45 minutes of each kung-fu class was outright yoga. There was even a pentagram painted on the wall of the classroom in red. I didn't stay in his class for long."
"I have not practiced any martial art since that day. Now I know that I was spiritually blind to the deception, but once the veil came off my eyes, I could see the reality of martial arts and the dangers associated with this practice. I now know that his ‘chi' was just a demon force that controlled him and not the other way around."
"The deception is that you are in control, and that you are learning to be disciplined. It is the exact opposite. In reality, demonic forces are the ones that control the practitioner of martial arts and they enter through the practice of meditation and yoga."
"After my conviction, I tried to talk to some people I knew who were sending their sons or daughters to karate classes or other martial arts about the hidden dangers. But they didn't listen to me. They still think that martial arts are harmless and that they provide good exercise and discipline to their children." - Agnieszka Swierzbinska
The martial arts, as we understand them today, all come from the same source in ancient China. Many Christians do not realize this, and have no idea that many (but not all) schools and instructors teach a philosophical blend of Taoism (also called The Way) and Buddhism in their schools. In one guide to the esoteric martial arts, the author describes the "Buddha breath" used in meditative breathing as being couched in religious, mystical, and esoteric symbolism. The purpose is to demonstrate some aspect of the kundalini experience in martial arts. Stimulating the kundalini or serpent power is a basic principle of Yoga. The thought process is a simple one for the modern Westerner taking martial arts; if the ancient Chinese monks achieved high levels of fighting skill, health, and enlightenment through breathing exercises, yogic movements, and spiritual philosophy, why not me? Indeed, it can be a subtle attraction for the undiscerning person.
There are two potential paths that may lead one into mysticism while training in the martial arts. The first path is taken when the student is influenced by the school, other students, or the instructors to conduct Internal Power Training. This usually happens within a "traditional" martial arts system (more on that later). The second path is when the student, even if not influenced by anyone, seeks on their own more power in the fighting arts. This can happen even in a "non-traditional" combat system. Whether or not a student is influenced to delve into the mystical, they still must be aware of their own lust for additional power. Both paths require discernment. A parent enrolling their child into a martial arts school must be hyper vigilant to monitor their influences and thirst for "more."
There are differences between traditional and non-traditional martial arts and potential dangers exist in both paths mentioned above regardless of the type of training.
Defining the Martial Arts:
What is a martial art? Any movement, technique, weapon, philosophy, or skill used successfully in a combat situation with another human being is considered "martial" in its application. The word "martial" is related to war, military, and combat. The art of American boxing could be considered "martial," or the art of high school wrestling could be considered "martial" in the broadest sense of the term. But, boxing and high school wrestling are not viewed as "The Martial Arts" as we conceive of them today.
For the purpose of this article "The Martial Arts" will be defined as a group of fighting systems, schools, or instructors originating from the ancient temples of China, which additionally incorporate the ancient philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism by using meditation, breath control, kundalini arousal, internal energy development, and spirituality as part of their martial application. These systems and schools can also be labeled "traditional" martial arts because they wish to stay close to the roots and "traditions" of their founding fathers.
In contrast, police arrest and control techniques, along with military self-defense tactics would not be labeled "The Martial Arts" although the techniques, principles, and weapons may be traced to ancient Chinese fighting systems. For example, the police side-handled baton, known as the PR-24, is modeled after an ancient Far East threshing tool, which was used as a weapon against attackers. The training techniques and principles used to operate the PR-24 are rooted in the martial arts without the philosophical teachings or internal energy work. Police and military personnel are taught a variety of unarmed combat techniques like joint locks, take downs, and ground control maneuvers that are compilations of numerous martial arts techniques with no regard for any spiritual or philosophical attachment whatsoever. There is no kundalini work involved (leaning on or uses spiritual powers, etc.) rather the law of physics is put to use.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) created its Civilian Martial Art Advisory Panel for the purpose of examining altercation scenarios and recommending techniques to control unarmed combative suspects, and then designing practice drills to enhance the learning and retention of these skills. Paul Villanueva participated in the LAPD 80-hour instructor's course to obtain State certification to teach defensive tactics to police officers without ever encountering any spiritual or philosophical teachings rooted in the ancient Chinese temples.
Can the fighting techniques rooted in ancient China be separated from the spiritual and philosophical aspects of the martial arts? In Villanueva's experience, education, and training - yes, techniques of combat can be learned without the spiritual and philosophical roots of the ancient Chinese temples. Villanueva makes a distinction between learning techniques of combat and what we commonly refer to as "The Martial Arts." Yet, the defining line is not always clear, and much of what is taught spiritually and philosophically depends on the instructor or school. And so the onus and responsibility are still with the discerning adult or parent who must scrutinize and engage critical thinking with Biblical understanding prior to committing themselves or their children to potential dangerous philosophies and practices. And as already warned, the student may be inclined to search out mystical practices from outside their school or instructors because of the need for more internal power. This search for additional power must be kept in check by the adult or by the supervising parent.