This is a wonderful article, in that it (apparently without intention) highlights the ancient connection that has existed between the martial arts and religion. In fact, most of what we call the martial arts today grew out of specific eastern spiritual practice, some Taoist, some Buddhist, some Hindu.
The author uses the phrase “religious practice” in the same way he uses the phrase “martial arts practice”. Great phrase. I love the way the author refers to the fact that early in a practice, the student assumes that there’s some universal truth behind the exercise, only to learn later that some other form of practice uses a different exercise to teach similar concepts. Isn’t this the core of religion after all - each form or discipline has developed its own mythology, dogma, and ritual to get students “practiced” in the disciplines - accustomed to using the “muscles” required to consider and reflect on Divine Presence? Each different religious practice is only preparing the student for a journey - getting them accustomed to using the “muscles” that will help them maintain the grace and poise required to stay focused on the journey.
I wonder if most martial arts have a tradition of assuming that students should strive to advance beyond the basic “dogma” and “ritual”. I know many religions have this assumption - that as we mature and advance in our ability to ask good questions and progress further on our journey, we should be able to emerge from the other side of our lessons with the ability to continue seeking without the need for the myth or ritual that got us to that point. (Christianity and Judaism for example have this tradition.)
This doesn’t mean the student throws away the myth and ritual that brought them to where they are - they should embrace it as a good and strong path. When they outgrow that path, they’re expected to continue to seek, only they now need a path “further along”. Do martial arts assume that this happens as well - that the student will come to the point to which the author has arrived, realizing that there are many paths that lead to a place similar to where he is today, and that from this point the practitioner must “journey on”?
Of course, I’ll agree with critics who’ll choose the few fundamentalist extremists from different faiths, who focus on one small piece of the religion overall and try to turn that into the religion itself. Unfortunately the media is great at finding these people and presenting them as truly representative. I’m not talking about that minority, but rather the “root” of most religions - where they come from and what their core teachings have been.
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