Monday, April 20, 2009

Christian Karate



Some parents don’t let their kids watch Power Rangers because it’s violent. They don’t want their child to get a crazy idea in their head and kick a classmate in the spleen or something that’ll get a parent sued. But even though the Power Rangers use Karate chops to destroy monsters, legitimate Karate classes are a good way to mediate a child’s natural desire to destroy. Karate classes harness that energy into a disciplined practice without promoting violence. It’s because real Karate is about self-defense, and should only be used to defend oneself from a personal attack. So in the case of professional Karate, kids can learn that kicking is okay.

Most parents will see the value in enrolling their child in a martial arts course, but some see other problems in Karate. Violence is not the issue for these parents, but misguided spirituality.

It’s of popular Christian belief that most Chinese people to do not worship the one true God. In movies and TV shows, the stereotypical Chinaman is seen meditating, trimming bonsai trees, speaking quietly and slowly—such things are not comforting reminders of the Evangelical Right. And indeed, the martial arts can be traced back to Eastern religious thought and practices. So for my Christian mother, Karate classes were to be strictly avoided.

Now, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember some moments in the show and films when the turtles would meditate, and it never really seemed like they were doing so in defiance of Yah-Weh. Most of the time, they were just closing their eyes and thinking about pizza. So one day I decided to give it a shot. I crossed my legs Indian-style with my Ninja Turtle action figures strewn across the living room, touched my middle finger to my thumb and extended my other fingers out while my forearms rested on my knees.

Pizza. Chuck E Cheese’s. Nintendo. All of the good stuff. With the Ninja Turtles music playing in my head, I sat there and meditated like a red-headed little ninja.

“What are you doing?!”

Startled, my eyes flew open and I saw my mom rushing into the room.

“What? I’m meditating.”

She was no longer rushed, but started to move incredibly slow. She looked at me with her serious face. Looking me directly in the eye, she offered a look of discouragement and fearfulness. Her lips were tightly closed until she sat down next to me and said, “What you were doing is very dangerous.” My eyes got wide and all of a sudden I felt scared of something. What I was actually scared of, I couldn’t say, but my mom couldn’t be so terrified for me if something wasn’t seriously wrong. Right?

“When you do that, you’re calling out to demons.”

Okay. Now all of a sudden I wasn’t so sure. “No, no mom. I was meditating like the Turtles do. They don’t call out to demons.” I was sure of this. The Turtles were the good guys.

My mom sighed a great sigh. She was suddenly worried that this cartoon had anti-christian tendencies, and she had to steer me in a new direction.


Karate was always something I was interested in, but my mom would never take me because she didn’t want me to become a little Buddhist. But after some research she found a program not far from us that actually taught Karate within the walls of a church.

In attendance at this program, there must have been 50 people in white, ranging from five years old to 50. Almost everyone was a gold belt (their alternative to the white belt), and everyone was certainly a Christian.

The instructor was a strangely flamboyant man. He had a high voice and was vocal about his revulsion towards long toenails. But he made sure that we always prayed before the Karate lessons started. And we never bowed to him. The only time a Christian bows is when we bow in prayer to the God of heaven and earth. That was easy to follow, because our Karate instructor was certainly no deity. In fact, I wondered at times if he even knew much about Karate at all. He never did any sweet moves or anything. He just made us take turns doing kicks and chops.

Although I was interested in Karate, this class was strange and boring. Most of our time was spent sitting on the floor listening to him talk about what a Christian can learn from Karate. It really wasn’t very much like Ninja Turtles at all. It was …lame.

I wasn’t the only one who hesitated against the Christian Karate class. Our pastor at the time told us that we shouldn’t practice Karate because it calls out to demons. My mom assured her, “Oh I know but don’t worry, this is a Christian Karate class.” Our pastor was skeptical, but eventually nodded in approval. She wasn’t really in a place to talk anyway; she was a woman pastor for goodness sake.

So we continued going to the martial arts course that glorified the name of Jesus, and I never really enjoyed myself. I was even embarrassed to tell kids at school that I went to a Christian Karate class. But my mom told them anyway. “Do you guys know that Dylan goes to a Karate class? Oh it’s so cool. It’s a Christian Karate class.” Oh I could just die. Why was she doing this? “Do you guys want to come to the next one?” … She just had to be an evangelist didn’t she?

Luckily, I went to a Christian school (big surprise, I know), so this wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as it should have been. These kids all had parents who acted the same way, they knew my pain.

One weird detail about this school though: it was incredibly small. There were about two kids in each grade, literally. So they actually put every kid from 3rd to 8th grade into the same classroom. One eighth-grader was very cool. His name was Dan, and he had spiky hair and did real Karate. He was a red belt, just a few notches away from acquiring his black belt. To me, there couldn’t be anyone cooler. He was a teenager! He even called me “tiger,” because it was my favorite animal. I didn’t know how he was able to do real Karate instead of this dreaded Christian Karate that I was subjected to, but maybe he just didn’t know that it was available to him.

Picking me up at the end of the day, she saw me talking to Dan outside of the school. “Hey Dan!” my mom called out when she saw us standing together. “You do Karate don’t you?” Ugh. She just had to do it...

“That’s right Mrs. Peterson.”

“Well Dylan has been doing Karate too, has he told you?”

“No way! Why didn’t you tell me tiger?” I just said "I don’t know" and kind of shrugged.

“How would you like to come with us to the next lesson?”

I looked up at her. I couldn’t believe what I just heard.

“Yeah, sure, that’ll be great!” Dan replied. He was such a positive guy. I wish I could tell him to save himself the trouble.

But he came. He was there with his red belt, and everyone there was just staring at him. The people in this Karate class really were like a dumb herd of sheep that incessantly gawked at anything that seemed new or different. They were the same way to me on my first day. Even if you stared back, they didn’t unlock their eyes. It was enraging.

The instructor decided to call Dan up front, not only because he was a guest but because he was an actual red belt. A real martial artist. As soon as Dan stood up, he bowed slightly. All of a sudden, all of the sheep turned their heads at the instructor. They knew that bowing wasn’t something we did in our dojo church. “Ah! Good! Ha ha, well, Dan just bowed, uh, which is something he does out of respect for his teacher,” he bumbled. It was somehow embarrassing to have to see Dan put himself through this. He wasn’t there as a Christian martial artist, he was just there because his little friend’s mother asked him to go in support of Dylan’s Karate education.

It’s possible that this one moment might have done more for the sheep than they realized though. They witnessed a bizarre clashing of worlds. All that they were taught by our flamboyant, boring instructor seemed all of a sudden diminished. All of a sudden, the sheep had to think for themselves. They don’t have to go to Christian Karate to learn how to be Karate masters. And, if we study real Karate like this spiky-haired teenager, it doesn’t mean that we’re being bad Christians.

Maybe that meditation in the living room wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It just might have been the sin that eventually led to a few minds opening up to the possibility of non-christian Karate.

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