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My attention was drawn to this subject several years ago when I read in a newspaper that nuns were learning a martial arts discipline as a means of self-defense. Later, a priest who favours liberation theology shared with me that he was an exponent of karate and was a ‘black belt’. Recently an ex-seminarian revealed to me that he had taken a ‘green belt’ in taekwondo. Christian schools and colleges now encourage all forms of martial arts on their campuses, either in their physical training classes, or as extracurricular programmes. While not too long ago our pre-teen boys would be serving at weekday Mass or training at the cricket nets, it is now not an uncommon sight to find groups of them, come dawn, assembled on our school grounds robed in their white ghis, bowing to their sensei or ‘honourable teacher’ who will, for the next hour or so, take complete authority over their bodies. And their minds.

The YMCAs too seem to have become dojos or ‘training centres’ for martial disciplines. The melody of Christian hymns has been replaced by the shrill piercing yell or kiyai as lithe young hands and feet hit or kick out at imaginary opponents. Or smash down at piles of stacked bricks or wooden blocks. Channels like BBC’s Discovery telecast regular programmes on New Age Living and Alternative Therapies that explore the different ancient martial art forms and their adoption in 21st century lifestyle.

Sincere Christians have insisted to me that martial arts is simply an exercise or a sport. They are, after all, the national games of some countries [taekwondo in Korea] and Asian Games and Olympics events [judo was the first to be included]. I only wish that it were as simple as that.

Martial Arts deal with moves, countermoves, kicks, punches and self-defence, but contrary to popular belief, these skills are not about fighting or conflict. The word which derives from the Chinese ‘mu’ (martial) and ‘ye’ (the way for search of truth) is considered to be a process of enlightenment that can be achieved by creating a synchronization of body, mind and spirit, says Kanishka Sharma in ‘Spiritual Warriors’, India Today, November 3, 2003. “A martial art coordinates the conscious and the subconscious mind”. Due to limitations of space we will take just one of the martial arts as a case study.


According to the flyers distributed by a Catholic instructor at a church event, his brand of t’ai ch’i was founded by Chan San Feng, a skilled acupuncturist who incorporated this knowledge into the tai chi system he created. “Legend has it that he … did not die but transformed into pure spirit and flew away… Sickness is usually associated with a sluggish flow of chi caused by blockages in meridians. Tai chi is one of the tools like acupuncture which traditional Chinese medicine employs to stimulate the body.”

The Expressweek of March 27, 1999 carried a news item by Shana Maria Verghis introducing readers to George T. Kuriyan who “teaches tai chi, an ancient Chinese discipline which has its roots in the philosophy of Taoism… and can best be described as a ‘moving form’ of yoga and meditation.”

“The leading Indian exponent of tai chi chuan or ‘supreme ultimate fist’ is undoubtedly sifu George Thomas who is founder of the Chennai-based Tai Chi Academy”. Advertisements for the Academy sport the occult Yin/Yang symbol [Mylapore Times, March 25-31, 2000]. The New Indian Express of May 12, 1999 quotes George as saying “Tai chi is a 5000 year old martial art, perhaps the mother of all martial arts. The ‘supreme ultimate fist’ means ‘great life force’ and is based on constant interplay of two vital energies – Yin, the passive and Yang, the active.” Purasai News of April 4-10, 1999 reports that “he has also undergone training in pranic healing, transcendental meditation, siddha, zen, Silva Mind Control etc.”

The Hindu of June 19, 2000 elaborates that he is a grandmaster of reiki, and a practitioner of hypnosis… “He practices a variety of healing arts including shiatsu, energy healing, the use of mudras and mantras. When necessary, he does distance healing.” It continues, “Tai chi is the doing of non-doing. The movements, when internalized, work on the meridians which in turn work on the energy bodies.”

To those who believe that tai chi [and other martial arts] is all about physical exercise, The Hindu correspondent Elizabeth Roy writes, “The essence of tai chi practice is not to learn a set of movements or to become skilled in a system of self-defence although this may happen in the process of practice.”

The Easter 1990 issue of Areopagus, a Far-East Christian quarterly carried a 5-page feature, replete with photographs of tai chi sessions, titled The Contemplative Way of Tai Chi Chuan by Migi Autore. “Though I had already been practicing tai chi for many years, I had never really realized that it was not an exercise only, but a kind of contemplation in the unity of body- mind, matter- spirit, in the fullness of being… in the way of unification with God… There are many ways to get and to experiment with this unity. One of the most subtle and aesthetically pleasing is tai chi chuan…”, she says.

“If tai chi has roots in martial arts like kung fu, we must not forget that both Chinese and Japanese martial arts are always involved in the total self-realization of the human being… Tai chi requires time to learn, as all spiritual disciplines. It is a holistic discipline, which involves the body, the mind, and the spirit. It is also called ‘meditation in action’. And, at the end, its perfection is in unification with the… cosmos: the Tao… Only in complete relaxation can a person become a live channel for the spontaneous flow of the mysterious vital energy coming from the Tao,” admits this Christian proponent of tai chi.


Body Scapes, a health and fitness centre in Bangalore, in conjunction with dance and weight gain and loss management programs offers aerobics, yoga & meditation, and karate. In ‘The Chic Option’ [Oct-Dec 2003, Simply South] Arun Ram reports that “across South India fitness centres are offering the latest craze: Tai chi” which is “fast becoming the option for the businessman, executive and working woman who seek relief from stress and want to be physically fit.” He quotes George as saying, “Chi could also be called ‘prana’ in the Indian sense.”

In Chennai, Studio For Dance, a dance school run by Nisha Thomas also offers yoga and tai chi and an eatery called Earth Bazaar advertises evening tai chi classes thrice a week. And the management of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation “took a decision to train their bus conductors and drivers in the martial arts… a blend of physical and breathing exercises, yoga & meditation and karate” [The Hindu, 20 Sep. 2001].

The paranormal displays of power associated with these arts have a Chinese name: noi cun. The source of this power is said to be the cosmic or vital or etheric or universal energy chi [also written as ki, qi or ch’i]. One who has knowledge of the prana in yoga and the ki of reiki will understand that chi [the basis of the working of acupuncture, pranic healing etc.] is the same phenomenon. While some senseis may conduct amazing demonstrations of chi power, the interest of most people in the martial arts is less exotic and is limited more to learning a system of self-defense through unarmed combat, attaining physical development, enhancing a macho image to others, or simply a pastime rather than attaining any sort of spiritual experience. But the inherent presuppositions of pagan doctrine underlying the martial arts assures them that they may get something more than bargained for.

Bob Larson, in a 1977 4-page article titled ‘Martial Arts’ from his Bob Larson Ministries said, “Chi is widely known in the occult arts as the ‘life-energy-creative force of the universe’. The perceptive Christian knows it to be of demonic power.”


The 3rd February 2003 Document “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’” records as New Age almost every single one of the techniques that sifu Thomas has majored in and adopted into the package that he offers, speaking of the ‘exercises that lead to an experience of self-fulfillment or enlightenment’, and the ‘holistic paradigm’ which it says is ‘the greatest danger’. [n 4]. “The response from the New Age is unity through fusion.…Yin and Yang is a New Age symbol, to do with complementarity of contraries” [n 4.2, 7.1] says the Document which also deals in several places with the concept of universal life force energy [chi, ki or prana] which is fundamental to the martial arts.

This Document as well as “The Letter to the Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation” of 15th October 1989, treats of the spiritual dangers involved in the practice of Eastern meditations which include yoga, Zen and T.M. Sr. Epifania Brasil, OP in ‘The New Age Movement: A Challenge of our Time’[page 83:] writes “In the Philippines there is something intriguing about the meditation practices like zen, yoga, tai chi…” Tai Chi is in fact a form of Chi Kung or Qi Gong which is known as Taoist Yoga.


It is popularly believed that the martial arts are ‘made in Japan’, but their real history goes back to the dawn of civilization in India, and nearly five millennia in China where it developed more extensively. Over the centuries, various forms were evolved. Distinctive schools developed, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’. ‘Kung fu’ was the original, all-inclusive term describing the martial arts. Later, specific names were applied to its variations. In Korea it became known as tae kwan do. Though they have many roots and cultural variations, their religious foundation has common, pagan origins.

The original religious philosophy of kung fu dates back as far as 3000 BC where it was rooted in the occultic forms of divination known as the I Ching. The Chinese sage Lao Tzu [7 CBC], author of the Tao Te Ching [or ‘the way’] added further embellishments. He taught that salvation could not be attained by prayer to God, but by the natural way, the observance and emulation of nature. As the trees bend with the wind, and the rivers follow the path of least resistance, so too must man adopt this rhythm of coexistence with evil. With the adoption of Taoism, kung fu developed into a complex system of occult practices that included meditation and breathing exercises. The commonly shared doctrine of chi made acupuncture an aid in the quest for health. Eventually this led into a search for immortality through the mysteries of alchemy. The next development in the history of kung fu took place when a monk named Bodhidharma brought Buddhism to China in the 6th century AD. When he discovered monks sleeping during his lectures, he introduced exercises to assist them in meditation. Known as I-chin Sutura, it combined kung fu with the philosophical principles of Zen Buddhism to develop a highly sophisticated form of weaponless defense.

The monks at his Shaolin temple [in Yunan Province of China, which was the citadel of martial arts theology] became famous for their savage abilities of defence employed whenever they were attacked in the course of their pilgrimages.

Eventually, two schools of practice evolved:

  1. Ch’uan Fe or Kung Fu based on the ‘hard’ or ‘external’ school of Buddhism
  2. Martial arts based on the ‘soft’ or ‘internal’ school of Taoism.

After centuries of metamorphosis, the martial arts have evolved into six distinct forms as they are known in the Western world: Tai Chi Chuan, Kung Fu, Karate, Aikido, Jujitsu and Judo.

Kung fu emphasizes kicking and striking with strength and speed. Or, force to break force. It includes delayed action ‘death touches’. Earl Medeiros quoted in the History of Kung Fu says, “It is not the breaking of bricks or the crushing of bones; but rather, the purpose of kung fu is as a spiritual discipline through which one may establish a pattern for life.”

Karate is the most widely practiced of the martial arts and the one best known to the general public. It is basically a form of self-defence and sport-fighting using bare hands, arms and wrists. The term ‘kara te’ means ‘empty hand’. Gichin Funakoshi who developed it as Shotokan Ryu emphasized that the student must empty [kara] his mind [te] in order to react properly.

It was in Okinawa that karate became infused with Zen philosophy. This undercurrent of Buddhism is found in the bowing, breathing exercises, seated meditation, intense concentration and heightened awareness that is said to be necessary to master the art. Above all, one is not to think. Karate’s stated purpose is to unite body, mind and spirit to reach the unity envisioned by Zen. Admittedly, most sport karate falls short of its physical goal [disabling of an opponent] and spiritual purpose [union with an internalized god], but it is a question whether any devotee may be totally free of its pagan frame of reference.

Aikido is the most overtly religious. Literally, it means ‘the road’ [do] ‘to a union’ [ai] with the ‘universal spirit’ [ki]. It was founded by Morihei Uyeshiba, who became concerned that he couldn’t control his strength without controlling his mind. After entering many temples, he arrived at ‘enlightenment’ and viewed himself, in the Buddhist theological concept as ‘at one with the universe’. He then declared, “The true martial arts regulate the chi of the universe.” All the body movements of aikido are said to agree with the universal laws of nature and bring to the follower the power of chi, which is inhaled into the lower abdomen and exhaled through the hands. When the innate psychic powers of all men are united with the body and spirit, aikidoists predict the world will be as one family.

Jujitsu is a blending of kung fu and Japanese martial arts. A basic factor is knowing the vulnerable parts of an opponent’s anatomy and knowing how to attack those areas.

Judo is basically jujitsu minus the killing aspects. It was founded in 1882 by Jogoro Kano, a student of jujitsu. Devotees are warned in judo manuals that the art should not be learned without the inclusion of meditation exercises. Its founder had called it a “method of attaining self-realization”, a common goal of pagan philosophy.

Taekwondo. In What lies behind the Martial Arts, Brian Pickering quotes Ed Hird, a former taekwondo exponent and Anglican minister from Anglicans for Renewal, “Taekwondo and martial arts aren’t just physical exercise, they’re Zen Buddhist meditation techniques designed to bring a person into the experience of satori or Buddhist enlightenment.” Practitioners can try to ignore the spiritual dimension of the martial arts, but spirituality is their ultimate purpose historically, Hird said. He noted that the Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs considers the martial arts as ‘forms of spiritual education that function as means toward self-realization or self-enlightenment.’


Those Christians who practice the martial arts defend their position by insisting that they avoid any religious overtones. But two critical questions must be asked of them:

  1. What is the ultimate intent of the art?
  2. What de facto acquiescence to pagan doctrine is assumed by their involvement?

If the tai chi branch is representative of the martial arts family, all the above information could be summarised as follows:

While the martial arts may have differing practices, they all have similar religious presuppositions based on the same ancient Chinese and Taoist philosophies, subscribing to a fundamental belief in a ‘universal life force energy’, the existence of meridians and a psychic energy body in human beings, the Yin/Yang principle of life etc. Within the diversity of applications, the source of their spiritual basis for physical expression is the same.

Because of their founding in Taoism and Buddhism, they view the entire universe as an interplay of harmonizing opposites, the yin and yang. These principles are realized by the relaxed state of equilibrium produced by meditation and body movements. Each movement is uninterrupted and flowing. The end of one move is the beginning of the next. Thus the yin and yang are balanced. When the Zen goal of stilled senses is achieved, this balanced harmony leads to one’s unity with the Universal Consciousness.

Such theological footing is pantheism, and the doctrine of ‘oneness’ or monism, which is incompatible with Christian belief.

They are all fully compatible with and complementary to yoga and meditation, and New Age Alternative Therapies like pranic healing, reiki, distance healing, shiatsu, acu-yoga, polarity therapy, hypnosis etc.

They are all holistic techniques. While they all go through the motions of physical exercises, they are all mainly functional on a mental level, and finally operate in the spiritual realm.

Theoretically at least, their goal is illumination and self-realization [ultimately, self-deification] through an ancient Chinese practice that sought immortality for its adherents [Taoism]; and a monistic unity with a cosmic consciousness, the Tao, the Great Ultimate which is the deity of these arts. They unconsciously subscribe to New Age goals like the ‘unity of all being’.

If tai chi is truly representative of the martial arts, then we can conclude that ‘The essence of all martial arts practice is not to learn a set of movements or to become skilled in a system of self-defence although this may happen in the process of practice.’


“Even the cautious student runs the risk of being conditioned by the techniques [of martial arts] that pursue a goal of impersonal oneness with the universe,” says Bob Larson in his New Book of Cults [1982]. In Pigs in the Parlour, Frank and Ida Mae Hammond [1973] write, “Involvement to ANY DEGREE [emphasis theirs] in religious error can open the door for demons… This includes such popular interests as yoga exercises and karate which cannot be divorced from heathen worship”.

The author of Demons Defeated, Bill Subritzky [1985] explains, “Some people cannot understand the problem that lies behind martial arts and practices such as acupuncture and yoga. Always look at the philosophy which is behind a particular practice, not the practice only,… you will soon determine whether it is based on God’s Word or… from the pit of hell. In practices such as karate, kung fu and judo, we have found that those involved receive spirits of violence and anger which manifest in an extreme fashion when we pray for deliverance [2 Corinthians 11: 14]”.


The Wordsworth Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions, 1992, edited by Rosemary Goring defines tai chi as “the Chinese [Taoist][ notion of the Great Ultimate which is the underlying cause of everything… everything in the world, including human characteristics is generated from the Great Ultimate. It is the transcendent first cause which all else follows. Tai Chi is the nearest thing to an equivalent to God in Chinese thought.”

The Bible teaches a fallen creation with which there is NO harmony until it has been restored to its pre-Adamic condition [2 Peter 3: 13]. Furthermore, while the religions of the martial arts believe in a god who is synonymous with creation, Scripture teaches a personal, transcendent Deity who is apart from [not a part of] the material universe that He has brought into being by the power of His Word. This created universe is imperfect in its present state. It is controlled by a sin principle that must be destroyed rather than accommodated.

To Christian adherents of the martial arts who try to reduce chi to naturalistic origin, the pagan practitioners of this art will not join in agreement with them. The History of Kung Fu states, “All true strength is a product of chi rather than muscle. It is only when the yin and yang interplay harmoniously in their proper relationship that there is strength.” One cannot obscure the fact that in the case of the ‘hard’ arts, the purpose is to inflict bodily injury. Such violence is not compatible with the Christian way of life. And even the self-defence motive is questionable in view of the Christian’s supposed subjection to the God’s will & his dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit For the believer, there are no neutral powers in the spiritual world. Nowhere does the Bible teach of some sort of impersonal, amoral supernatural power. However, since the reality and the results of the employment of this ‘energy’ is

well attested to by martial arts devotees, the Christian can only conclude that such power is real, but that it’s origin is not God. Whether the form of martial art that one practices is based on the doctrine of naturalism found in Taoism or that of illusion found in Buddhism, it should be understood that both explicitly deny the blood atonement of Jesus Christ. To the Christian, salvation comes by the finished work of the cross. And by His resurrection we have eternal life, not the nirvanic nihilism of Zen Buddhism.

As Wang Tsung Yueh states in his treatise on Tai Chi Chuan, “A small divergence in the beginning will lead you a thousand miles away from your path in the end.” [Purasai News April 4-10, 1999, interview with sifu George Thomas]. Christians who are training in the martial arts would do well to reflect on and pay heed to those words of warning. [This article was serialised in “Shalom Tidings”, a Kerala charismatic magazine, issues of May-June and Sep-Oct 2005].