I have been asked by more than one how can I be a martial artist and yet practice as a Franciscan? It’s a good question, and in today’s world it may seem like a contradiction. But let me assure you it is not. Most consider martial arts to be violent, but there are martial arts- respectively aikido, that support non-violence. And though I do not practice aikido I do take on that philosophy in my art. A practice of Peace.
Over the past few years I have been drawn to “Christian Anarchy—the Jesus Movement”. Again there are some who might find “Jesus and Anarchy” contradictions in peace, but again let me assure you they are not. Christian anarchism is a movement in political theology and political philosophy which synthesizes Christianity and anarchism. It is grounded in the belief that there is only one source of authority to which Christians are ultimately answerable, the authority of God as embodied in the teachings of Jesus the Christ. More than any other Bible source, the Sermon on the Mount is used as the basis for Christian anarchism. Most Christian anarchists are pacifists and reject the use of violence, such as war. Leo Tolstoy's, The Kingdom of God Is Within You is often regarded as a key text for modern Christian anarchism. When we live a life of peace we often encounter conflict- now that to me is ironic.
Let me define Christian anarchism another way. If I choose to live my life with an existence of love and compassion toward all… following the teachings by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount as my recipe for life, in short this naturally puts me on the path of anarchism in regards to how a life of caring for the poor, speaking out for the unwanted and unloved, and “doing the right thing” can go against modern day narcissism, materialism, egotism, and the thought that a Divine Force (the one I call God and Creator) of love (and not a wrathful God) guides me and loves me, can really be going against the current of our society. Heck, speaking of love, compassion, benevolence, mercy and God makes people uncomfortable. This “going against the current” often makes others feel awkward and uncomfortable; we all know what the right thing to do is, but often the current I speak of takes hold, and it is difficult to swim against the tide- we tire and float along- all the time knowing that to be truly happy is to be in the service of others. So, as a Christian Anarchist in the Jesus Movement I choose to non-violently “fight the good fight” for the less fortunate, those unheard, unable to voice, and those forgotten and thrown away. This does not mean I choose to be a pacifist and lie down, but instead I choose to practice a concept called true self-defense.
For me, a Franciscan, this philosophy can be found in the prayer commonly known as The Prayer of Saint Francis:
"Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."
To go along with this notion comes a concept that Dan Millman writes of in his book, which later became a great movie called “Peaceful Warrior” when one of the main characters, Socrates states that “There's no higher purpose… (than) Service to others.”
My martial arts practice uses this vast concept as its foundation. As I mentioned earlier I do not practice aikido which is well known for the approach I bring into my practice, but I follow something I call “The Way”. Within “The Way” is a martial arts system we have dubbed The Way Tai Chi System. This system uses the ancient Chinese fighting art of t'ai chi ch'uan (taijiquan) and true self-defense to create an approach and practice of harmonizing with the Spirit of the Universe (GOD). Through the slow graceful movement of tai chi (taiji) we balance the mind and body and in time the spirit. I won’t say this is a quick or easy task as it has a demand for skill, grace, and timing rivals those both of classical ballet and traditional hard style martial arts such as karate. “Hidden” within the system… expressed in every technique, every movement, every concept and practice is the resolve to create harmony rather than discord, peaceful resolution rather than egocentric victory. And though The Way Tai Chi System is not a strictly “Christian” martial art, it uses the teachings of the Christ as its foundational approach to self-defense; using power instead of forces, bending and not breaking, avoiding conflict first and if unable then manipulating the players to resolve conflict at the least damaging vantage point, and finally using physical head-to-head conflict when all else fails, and to only apply this philosophy when it is for the defense of life, limb, and the weak. Though the way has Christian philosophical roots, the teachings of the likes of Thomas Merton, the Tao (Dao), Tenzin Gyatso, and Thich Nhat Hanh (Yes, the latter are Buddhist. Another contradiction? Or not?) can help exemplify and support those wisdoms and traditions as well, in hopes of assuring that “The Way” not a technique to fight with or defeat the enemy but a way to reconcile the world toward harmony and make us all one family. The only opponent is within. In “The Way” we look for the similarities in all things first- for once we see what is similar, difference and in turn suffering melts away. When this melts away we dissolve the potential for further conflict.
It is not the mere physical aspects of martial arts in “The Way” that support the philosophical nonviolent approach we have discussed, but just the opposite. It is this Christian Anarchist viewpoint that supports the philosophy of The Way Tai Chi System which is impossible to master the martial aspects without internalizing said philosophy. Yes, this does create a rather expansive philosophy, “to love and protect the attacker; to cooperate with, rather than compete against your fellow man; to transcend conventional and conservative concepts of time, space and the sense the interconnectedness of all existence”.
Getting involved in the martial arts is as easy as looking it up on the internet for local schools and programs. Training in “The Way” is a lifelong process and is more than learning a form or a technique, or putting on a kung fu uniform. The more experienced students will help you as you train, as will your instructor. You will fight your FUDs (Fears, Uncertainties, and Doubts) along the journey. Be aware you will go through a period of feeling quite clumsy initially, as well as time to time thereafter. This is a natural and necessary part of the learning process. Getting a black sash will probably take several years of dedicated training and additional training, and even more time to become an instructor in “The Way”. My advice- keep your goals, but focus on your training; be mindful. Advancement will come in time, and the timetable for advancement is not set in stone. Eventually you will gain physical conditioning, flexibility, grace under pressure, confidence, and most importantly a sense of community.
When you least expect it your training will pay off—when a throw, a strike, an escape works perfectly with no effort on your part and true self-defense evolves from a practice into the reality. It is at that moment, you'll realize there no words that can adequately describe why you're practicing “The Way”, but deep inside you’ll know that you have become “The Way”.
The Way Tai Chi System was developed by Professor Chris Bashaw, RN, PhD/MA as a system to include healing, martial arts, fitness, and harmonization of the body/mind/spirit trinity and is taught in Dover, NH with international seminars abound of which you can book by contacting the system off our website, http://dovertaichinh.jimdo.com.
Professor Christopher Bashaw holds black belt/instructor ranking in multiple martial arts systems. He was awarded his Hachidan (8th degree black belt) from the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio in 2006. In January 2007 Christopher was inducted into Action Magazine Martial Arts Hall of Honors. And in June of 2008 Bashaw was inducted into the World Karate Union Hall of Fame. Christopher has been a Registered Nurse for over 3 decades, including pediatrics, military, psychiatric, pain care, recovery room, occupational health, drug and alcohol recovery, psychiatry, case management, and rehabilitation. And over the last 30 years he has become certified in a number of healing arts; as a Reiki Master/Teacher he has developed his own system, Kokoro Ryu Reiki System of Natural Healing; Christopher is also the founder of Shugendo Yoga©, a spiritual, gentle healing form of yoga. He has taken vows as a Buddhist Priest as well as being a professed Franciscan Friar enrolled in the Independent Catholic Church of the Americas (Old Catholic Tradition) seminary. He also holds a PhD/MA and the title of Professor presented to him by the World Martial Arts hall of Fame. He incorporates western herbalism, internal and external Chi Kung (Qigong) healing, and spiritual teachings into his practice and instruction. Additionally he developed Koshonic Body Stress Release© (a healing and restorative art) and is now teaching it privately to select students who are opening their own successful practices.
Reprinted from Qi Journal, Summer 2015