Spirituality in the martial arts

I made the mistake of discussing religion with my parents the other night.

Among other things, I told my dad that I believe I’m a spiritual person because I’m involved in the martial arts.  He told me he doesn’t believe that.  I tried to tell him how the cultures who developed the martial arts I study (the Japanese and Chinese) are thousands of years older than when Jesus was born, but he shrugged it off.

I’m not going to tackle the issue of other cultures and religion.  That’s a whole other topic.  The issue is finding spirituality in the martial arts.

Spirituality, to me, means finding meaning in something in order for me to live a better lifestyle.  Whether I choose to believe in a god to become spiritual or whether I choose to treat my body as a temple to become spiritual is my decision.

I work out to make my body stronger and protective, and to keep myself satisfied.  Alternative kata interpretations or extensions keep my mind flexible and develop new tools, or enhance old ones.  I concentrate on where my body is, how it relates to somebody else’s and what I need to do to attain maximum efficiency in a technique.

I spent seven years training in karate, but my instructors never focused much on the spiritual aspects.  Having trained with an individual now who trains both holistically minded people and martial-arts minded people, I’ve come to appreciate the spiritual side more.  Dealing with energy, yin and yang – it’s new ways to look at concepts that I’ve been familiar with for some time.

If my dad wants to believe he’s spiritual in his own way, that’s fine.  But it’s completely wrong to believe that way is the only way.

So tell me, how do you believe the martial arts have helped you become more spiritual?

By Adam Bockler

Adam Bockler is a B2B marketing professional, a black belt martial arts instructor, DDP Yoga instructor, and a personal trainer.


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  2. Adam,

    For just me personally, the arts have made me less spiritual. And I really dont know how. Why? My instructor from 24 yrs ago said to the class one day..”look at all the bragging guys do about all the sparring they do in their school. How hard they train. How they push themselves to do this and that. Why? Why woulds you want to get beat up every day in class……to avoid getting beat up on the street!!!? WOW…what a right-on comment that was. He then continued to say that, martial arts are only useful if they enhance your life. I must say that every art I have done since then has been street combat focused. KarateJudo and traditional styles do not interest me. But I always find that I wear myself out because the teacher never sees (im now age 53) THAT iM NOT JUST TIRED AT THE END OF THE CLASS…i’M TOASTED. Completely exhausted. And in fact, I have never been able to come to 5 classes in a row as my body needs more time than avg to recuperate. Yet I beat myself up when I dont go, because I feel that martial artists today are very selfish. They do the art to protect themself or make themselves more confident. I believe if you take a martial art it should be to protect OTHER people and keep an eye on your community. As the leading ninjutsu practitioner said “One Ninja can protect 10,000 villagers.” Sadly other than the Guardian Angels, started by Curtis Sliwa, I dont see Martial arts remotely headed in that direction. As an aside, if you want traditional training with the most spirituality, Aikido is a good bet. Maybe the best. But to be honest, 95% of those who do aikido couldnt win a fight. Make sure your teacher is teaching you conbat….street effective stuff. Even O’ sensei said……99% of Aikidoists will fail until they allow their attacker to go 99% of the way on his attack. Me? Im not that calm. Thats why I would choose, Either JKD, Systema, Silat,Krav Maga, or any aiki-jutsu combat art.

    Oh yes, as another master teacher of the rare deadly art of Baji once told the class…you know you are in the right school when you feel better when you leave then when you walk in. I have never found that yet!

  3. Adam,

    I can totally relate to the conversation you had with your father. I think we might actually have the same one!!! Check this out. Just 2 weeks ago…..Im relating a story by phone to my 87 yr old father that my Silat teacher really took such a liking to me that he said he is “really dying to train me” and that he would possibly work around my schedule if he could. I told my dad I felt so very honored by that comment. What does my dad say? “How much is he paying you for this?” To my dad, appreciation is only shown by greenbacks. So I told him that my teacher is probably the best Silat Teacher in the whole Florida area and that guys would line up to get an offer like that. And he sarcastically goes “Oh sure. Im sure they would have a line around the corner.” Let me know when your stomach stops hurting.” LOL This was a comment by the same guy who 40 yrs ago when I was paying a dollar for collectors comics winced, and when I told him that people would pay $10,000 for Superman #1 he actually looked at me as if I was a schmuck and said, You actually believe someone would pay 10 grand for a comic book?” And he just shook his head and walked away. Never mind the going price has to be over …what?….100k by now!!! I suspect your dads response wouldnt be too far off, am I right? BTW…..Are you still training?

    1. Thanks for the comments, Marc.

      Yes, I am still training. This will be my 10th year in karate, and my 3rd year in tai chi chuan/Hsing-i chuan.

      As far as my dad goes, I’ll respond to how he felt when I made this post since I don’t know if his views have changed. He grew up in a strict Catholic household, so I doubt the idea that attaining some sort of spirituality (anything other than God) in a way other than attending a classic church resonates with him. That view may have changed by now, but we have not discussed it much since.

      I’m glad to hear about your experiences. Different perspectives are great, and that’s what makes us better. I don’t practice martial arts to achieve spirituality. I practice martial arts for self-defense and to protect others, if need be (neither has had to happen, luckily. Whether it’s because I’m aware of certain situations, I don’t know). Spirituality is a side benefit for me.

      You mention that typical martial arts (karate and judo, in particular) don’t interest you. This comment suggests you don’t believe they are effective for street defense. That may have been the case with your instructors and your style. I fully believe that my arts teach me to be effective on the street, which is why we deeply study the interpretations and try to figure out more of them. Okay, we say to ourselves, this application works, but how do we make it better? And then we explore the different options and come up with something that will work quickly and do what we need it to do.

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