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The Spiritual Realm and Martial Arts
By: Rev. Dr. William Wong


Is higher spirituality needed for proficiency in the martial arts?  What will one gain in the effort?  Isn't it all just some high sounding mumbo jumbo with no application to real life?  Will it conflict with my religion?

All of these questions are heard in martial arts circles when the subject of spirituality arises.  To answer the first question:  No higher spirituality is not needed for physical proficiency in the arts (although spirituality acquired power, chi, will enhance any physical movement).  But a fighting art without a spiritual foundation is like driving a car without drivers ed.  or shooting a gun without safety instructions.  It can be done but you won't have the data and ethics to know when to use your art and when not to.  Remember to the monks, the martial arts were not do all end alls.  The arts were part of the step ladder to spiritual attunement (read AT ONE MENT) with the universe.  Their concepts of the universe and the Taoist concept of the Tao are expanded versions of the near eastern (i.e. Judeo-Christian-Moslem) conception of an anthropomorphic God.

The monks sought to be at one with the Creator through being one with creation.  They held that creation reflects the Creator although the Creator cannot be limited to this creation.  (This is the principle of panentheism.)

So the martial arts brought the discipline, the physical strength and health needed to properly receive large amounts of universal energy - Chi.  The arts served as the vehicle to raise that chi and circulate it so that the mind could use it and realize that greater realms existed than the conscious senses could perceive.  The realms perceived and joined with were just as real, oft-times more real feeling than three dimensional life.  This knowledge expanded their knowledge of themselves and how they fit into the One (the Tao, Nirvana, the Universe, the Creator, God).  Some Gifted monks after much practice could achieve temporary absorption into the essence of the Creator (known in Western mysticism as mystical union).  Students returned from their meditative sessions elated, expanded mentally and spiritually from having been surrounded by great peace love and wisdom.  People who have had near death experiences report much the same events and feelings.

Which school of spirituality to choose?  Try many then pick the one that rings true to your heart!

There are many schools of spirituality both eastern and western.  Practices range from Japanese Za Zen to the Jesuits Spiritual Exercises to Indian Tantric energy channeling.  Frankly speaking though the most well thought out, easiest applied and most result producing methods are oriental.  (Having mentioned the Jesuits, many of them are now using Zen to augment their own tradition).  This is because in the West not much attention was placed into listening for God; most of the emphasis was placed in talking at Him.  Eastern reasoning goes like this: How long would a friend remain a friend if in your conversations you did all the talking and never let the friend get a word in edgewise?  In the East, balance in life, especially spiritual life is very important.  Therefore prayer is balanced with listening (meditation).  If anything the methods lean more towards listening; thinking that what the universe (God) has to say is a lot more important then what we have to say to the universe.

Why does all this spiritual stuff sound like mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus?

In the West we've gotten used to uninitiated teachers throwing out high sounding platitudes while teaching martial arts.  The stuff is meant to sound like Oriental wisdom but it isn't truly connected by the teacher to the physical acts being taught and it lacks the depth and continuity true philosophy has when applied to the problems of daily life.  So to the listener, it rings false or unsteady.  The student then gets the idea that all Eastern philosophy must be merely saying without real application to his life and therefore avoids further inquiry.  Students expect their teachers to know whereof  they speak and the teachers are letting them down.  The philosophy they spout is a good example of chop suey: having something resembling the form but lacking the substance.

Many students listening to that pap don't ever want to hear it again, concluding after a while that all they're going to get from the martial arts is the 'hitting'.  Since the 1950's each succeeding generation of black belts and sifu's have known and understood spirituality less and less.

So what are we looking for?

Inner peace; spiritual light; a sense of connectedness with the Creator (the Universe, the Tao, the Buddha - you pick your cosmology).  Sounds corny?   To some it might until their lives are in such turmoil that they search frantically for some rest and peace but don't know where to find it or how.  There is an old story of a samurai with so much inner peace that  before a battle he was sitting writing poetry.

Is this connectedness difficult to achieve?  No. No!  Well then why do people spend years trying to learn to draw in and circulate chi or to connect with the Tao?  Answer:  Because they are taking the long way around the barn!  Just as not all martial arts are equal in technique or in the fighters they produce, (something not admitted by everyone but alluded to quite often by Wing Chun practitioners), not all spiritual methods are equal in their powers of enlightenment.  Some spiritual schools feed you truth with an eyedropper.  These methods were developed in very ancient times when people were coarser, less mentally developed and more closed up to chi raising (kundalini) and circulation.  Those methods were appropriate for their time but not now!  For example Buddhism has three schools:  Hinayana, or the Former Day of the Law, Provisional Mahayana or the Provisional Day of the Law and Mahayana or the Latter Day of the Law.

Each school was suited to a period lasting some 1000 years.  In the first period attainment of enlightenment was well nigh close to impossible and demanded sever privations of it's followers.  With the second period attainment became easier with a different definition of altruism that modified the doctrine of self deprivation to one of sharing instead of completely giving everything away, doing without being miserable.

In the third thousand years after the Buddha's' death and for 10,000 years afterward we get to the third or present period.  Mankind has now evolved enough that enlightenment is available to all.  Fulfillment of ones' higher desires and dreams lead one to attainment now, not privations.

As in Wing Chun Gung Fu, where short leverage and straight lines to a target replaced long lines and circles, there are shorter easier ways of getting from point A to point B while attaining the same or better results.

It must also be remembered that there are many paths to enlightenment and unity with the Tao (Universe, God or whatever you want to name the great It).  According to the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism's most sacred scriptures there are four paths to attaining unity with God:  The path of Wisdom and Knowledge, that is concentrated on the mystery of the Creator seeking union with Him; the path of Practice and Discipline, studying sacred law and carrying them out; the path of Service and Right action, this one speaks for itself; and lastly the path of Renunciation, of giving up worldly goods and desires to live a life of meditation and austerity.

Everyone, regardless of their present level of spirituality can find a mode of searching among the four paths that will fit their life, thought and abilities.

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