T. A. McMahon
The Berean Call
In his 2006 book, Yoga and the Body of Christ, Dave Hunt noted that there were more than 500,000 references on Google Search for “Christian churches and yoga.” Today, that search brings up more than 10 million! In part two of this series “New Age Mysticism Déjà vu” (March 2016), I explained that the heart of yoga is an Eastern mystical view of God as an impersonal force or energy. In light of that belief, so-called Christian yoga is an attempt to reconcile two contradictory beliefs and practices, which can never happen. Any endeavor that tries to Christianize the practice of yoga is akin to turning to Christ-rejecting pagan religions in order to draw closer to Him. That is both nonsensical and blasphemous.
In this series dealing with the intrusion of Eastern mysticism into the church, it would be a huge error to overlook another growing practice among Christians—a practice that may even exceed the numbers of those involved in yoga: Christianized martial arts.
The information contained in this article is drawn primarily from two former practitioners and teachers of the martial arts, Gaylene Goodroad and myself. Throughout my college days, I competed in the sport of intercollegiate Judo and participated in AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) tournaments. As head of my college Judo club I helped instruct new members and teammates. After graduate school, I moved to the West Coast and studied aikido at what then was considered the top aikido dojo [training center or school] in the country. For more than a decade I was engrossed in the history and cultures that produced the martial arts.
Gaylene Goodroad’s experiences were more concentrated and advanced than my own due to the fact that she had studied under the personal guidance of highly revered teachers (whom I could only access by reading their books). She has written of her involvement in karate (advanced black belt degrees in two of the arts, and as a sensei) and has presented her evaluation of the martial arts in general in her booklet My Life in “The Way. ”
The truth is that anyone who claims to be a Christian, i.e., to be a follower of Jesus Christ, needs to follow His teachings! As obvious as that should be, and as much as it is professed, fewer and fewer Christians (a group that includes many who call themselves Bible-believing Christians) truly adhere to the necessity of going by the teachings and instructions of the Word of God. Although the Bible is wonderfully profound, its fundamental truths can be readily understood by every believer who is born of the Spirit of God. God, who is no respecter of persons, does not play favorites regarding one’s intellect (Acts:10:34; 1 Corinthians:1:27). He makes very clear the revelation of Himself, His characteristics, His plan for His creation, His solution for the problem of sin, the reconciliation of the lost to Himself, and other essential issues.
A major characteristic of our eternal creator God is that He is personal. He is the Creator of everything. Furthermore, He created mankind in His image, i.e., with personal attributes. The gospel is the revelation of the personal God of creation who so loved His personal creatures that He became one of them in order to save them from their sins. What Christian would deny that? There are those who do—those who are in cults that carry the name of Christ in their title but who deny the biblical Jesus, and those in liberal denominations whose theology is as fickle as the wind. Yet there are also Christians who are unwittingly entertaining a view of God that denies the personal God of the Bible. Who might they be? Those who are involved in the Eastern spirituality of martial arts.
Goodroad quotes Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern-day karate: “By the time I had been practicing Karate for some years, and as I became more familiar with the art, I became more conscious of its spiritual nature…” ( Karate-Do p. 86).
The preponderance of martial arts is rooted in the foundational belief of Eastern mysticism, which is that God is an impersonal energy—a nonphysical force. This nonphysical energy is what makes up the mystical power in nearly all of the martial arts practices. Everyone who has long been part of the martial arts scene has, at some point, witnessed the actual power itself, whether it was related to the utilization of ki, chi, quigong, kundalini, prana, or other Eastern mystical power devices. From my experience, aikido demonstrated the most obvious use of such power, and that power is all the more desired the longer one continues in his or her own particular practice. Sooner or later, one discovers that physical techniques have a limit, and further advancement can be realized only through spiritual development. An exception to this would be a short-term self-defense class that is devoid of any spiritual aspects and utilizes only the physical techniques found in some of the spiritually oriented martial arts.
The spiritual seduction, on the other hand, is real and can attract any practitioner at any level. One well-known writer/devotee of karate, who had no interest in karate’s religious aspects, notes what is most common among martial artists: “Only after several years of training did I come to realize that the deepest purpose of the martial arts is to serve as a vehicle for personal spiritual development” (Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts, cited in Gaylene Goodroad, My Life in the Way, p. 9). Exactly what is involved in that spiritual development? I personally witnessed my own aikido instructors and others in public exhibitions performing feats that defied any natural explanation. The founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, who was a disciple of a grand shaman (one who is said to mediate between mankind and the world of the spirits), was able to demonstrate extraordinary abilities that are beyond the laws of physics. He claimed that his abilities were derived from his spiritual beliefs: “Each one of us is inherently a god or a goddess. Cooperate with all the myriad deities of this world, and fulfill your duty as a messenger of the divine” (John Stevens, Aikido, p.9, cited in Goodroad, My Life in the Way, p. 12). It is no coincidence that Ueshiba’s words reflect the lie of godhood that was offered to Eve by Satan speaking through a serpent in Genesis 3:5.
What then of Christian martial arts? As with Christian yoga, there is a denial of any Eastern mystical influence in the Christianized program, which it is claimed has been modified to conform to Christianity. Even if that were the case, which it is not, what part of any martial arts endeavor is reflected in the New Testament teachings related to the church, which is the bride and the body of Christ? None whatsoever! Yet various “Christianized” programs emulate many of the aspects that are clearly unique to the Eastern martial arts with its spiritual roots. For example, many work out in a dojo, dress in traditional gis, wear color belts to signify ranks, and bow to a sensei, or teacher. Aside from the original spiritual meanings related to those things, where is any of that found in the Scriptures? If it’s not found in the Bible, why label it “Christian”? Somehow the mystical aspects of the martial arts have blinded multitudes of Christians from seeing what should be obvious.
In regard to various forms of self-defense, which is what the martial arts are all about, would it make biblical sense to start a “Christian” wrestling club or a “Christian” boxing association? What do those endeavors have to do with Christianity? How about a “Christian” mixed martial arts organization? As absurd as that clearly is, one such organization crowned an American Christian Mixed Martial Arts champion last year [emphasis added]. The inclusion of such things is both unbiblical and irrational. Worse yet, some identify the demonic power of kior chi energy to be the power of the Holy Spirit. In a book titled Christianity & Martial Arts Power, by Michael Chen, a back-cover endorsement declares, “Throughout the book, [the author] uses numerous appropriate and instructional passages from the Holy Bible and connects them to essential martial art concepts such as chi, or life energy.”
In her testimony booklet, My Life in “The Way”: From the Broad Way of the East to the Narrow Way in Christ, Gaylene Goodroad documents the overwhelming influence of Chuck Norris and his mixing of the Eastern mystical worldview with his Christianity. No one has been more effective than Norris in promoting the martial arts in America, which he has done by means of his wins in karate championships, his martial arts programs for young people, and the many movies and TV series in which he has starred and exhibited his skills. Norris’s first autobiography tells of his having learned occult metaphysical concepts from Napoleon Hill and others (see The Seduction of Christianity re Hill). In a 2004 rewrite of his autobiography, Against All Odds: My Story, Norris tells of his relationship with Jesus Christ: “…a very real transaction between God and me took place at [a Billy Graham Crusade] that night. I committed myself to follow him…and he committed himself to me as my Savior and Lord…” (Norris, pp. 29-30, cited in Goodroad, My Life, p. 45).
Whether or not Norris is a true believer is between him and the Lord. However, he has nowhere repented of his belief in the Eastern occultism that he endorses in his books, such as The Secret Power Within: Zen Solutions to Real Problems: “The monk finally told me to open my eyes, and when he did so, it was like waking up…that was when I first became aware that there was more to the martial arts than just the physical, and it was a turning point in my life…” (pp. 3-5). Norris knows the spirituality of Eastern religions far better than he knows the Bible. That lack of biblical awareness, unfortunately, has led to a spiritually disastrous mistake: the unwitting attempt to syncretize the personal God revealed in Scripture with an impersonal energy. He declares, “The fact is that everyone has ki, which is really little more than a technique of visualization allowing one to utilize the internal energy that we all have and letting it flow through the body” (pp. 127-30). No, it is far more, according to martial arts literature: It is the energy that governs the universe and the individual, the cosmic truth, i.e., god as a “force.” One cannot hold to both ideas: God as a force and the God of the Bible, which are diametrically opposed to one another.
In this day when many appear to have lost the ability to really think, holding contradictory beliefs is commonplace. Sadly, not thinking biblically is also commonplace in the church with the same results for professing Christians. Gaylene Goodroad, however, writes that after confessing her sinfulness and putting her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way for her to be reconciled to God, the Lord saved her. He then opened her heart and mind, enabling her to recognize the false beliefs she not only had held but had taught for a number of years. She writes, “At the time of my conversion, I had also dedicated over thirteen years of my life to the martial arts. Through the literal sweat of my brow, I had achieved not one, but two, coveted black belts, promoting that year to second degree—Sensei Nidan. I had studied under some internationally recognized karate masters, and had accumulated a room full of trophies while [husband] Steve was stationed on the island of Oahu.
“I had unwittingly become a teacher of Far Eastern mysticism, which is the source of all karate—despite the American claim to the contrary. I studied well and had been a follower of karate-do: ‘the way of the empty hand.’ I had also taught others the way of karate, including a group of marines stationed at Pearl Harbor. I had led them and others along the same stray path of ‘spiritual enlightenment,’ a destiny devoid of Christ. In 1992, I renounced both of my black belts, after discovering the sobering truth about my chosen vocation in light of my Christian faith. For the years since, I have grieved over the fact that I was a teacher of ‘the Way’ to many dear souls—including children. Although I can never undo that grievous error, my prayer is that some may heed what I have written here.” (Her booklet My Life in “The Way” is available as a free download on TBC’s website.)
As noted, the popularity of martial arts among Christians is staggering. Certainly, the huge numbers show that it has reached far beyond a fringe element within Christendom. One would expect better discernment among conservative Christians and their organizations even though we are in a time when the Word of God is neither studied nor endured and is rarely referenced. Bob Jones University has the Judo-Gentlemen and the Champions for Christ Karate team. Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) has short-term mission trips that teach tae kwon do. Liberty University conferred an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree on Chuck Norris, who is also a contributing columnist for WorldNetDaily (WND). The list goes way beyond those few examples, and it would seem to be overwhelming when one considers the appeal to Christian youth through the influence of movies. No one has to explain to a youth today what the “Force” of Star Wars is all about. They also get the Yin Yang symbol that adorns their lunchboxes, along with the image of Master Splinter of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Many are all the more confused by being told that God is the Force. I wonder how many children of Christian parents understand the uncomplicated characteristics of the personal God who is revealed in Scripture and who created them. Just recognizing His personal attributes would be helpful. My encouragement to parents and grandparents is to start with that lesson for their children’s sakes.
There is no justification for incorporating Eastern concepts and practices into one’s walk with the Lord. They lead multitudes of Christians to participate in techniques that come from the world of the occult and will ultimately deceive them regarding the character of God and, therefore, the very Gospel itself. Our prayer for this three-part series is that believers who read the articles will better recognize the inherent dangers of the New Age Movement and Eastern mystical concepts. TBC