How does a karate sensei (teacher) become a Brother in the Order of St. Francis? Well, first, both disciplines are based on, well... discipline. Discipline of the mind, the body and the spirit. The two walks of life seem to be very different yet there is a lot of commonality.
Once you wipe the superficial expressions of karate such as the Hollywood vengeance thrillers away, you will begin to discover a way of life that is based on self-control, and a dedication to a path that has no end. Ask any practitioner of the martial arts who has been training for a while and they will confirm that they have developed into a more rounded, more balanced life. Being a Friar requires many of these same attributes: dedication to God, self control, and a commitment to an endless path that leads to a better life based in service to others through Christ.
To many it might seem inconsistent: on one hand learning to harm people while on the other hand, dedicating one's life to compassion for others. Knowing how to fight doesn't equate to going around with a chip on your shoulder looking for trouble. Besides, the tougher a person is, the less he or she should feel a need to prove it.
As my friend Sam Walker points out, the idea that a Friar should be a pacifist can be found in a translation of The Sermon on the Mount. The oft quoted slice of the sermon says that you should "not resist evil." Looking at another translation you will find it says, "...do not resist evil with evil." How to Win a Fight: A Guide to Surviving and Avoiding Violence (co-authored with Lawrence Kane) makes this clear: don't fight evil with evil. The actual act of fighting with somebody is the last resort, yet at the end of the day you have a right (and oftentimes the responsibility) to defend yourself from harm.
As a karate sensei, Franciscan Friar, and martial arts author, I feel that it is my duty to help people understand what is worth fighting for, what is not worth fighting for, and how to know the difference. This simple, yet overarching understanding makes significant changes in people's lives. Ultimately it can save them a lot heartache, pain, and money.
People's reactions vary when they find out that I am a both a karate sensei and a Friar. Some smile at the perceived inconsistency while others take a moment to build the mental bridge from a white karate gi to a brown habit. But when I say, "You have heard of the Shaolin Monks, right?" then everything clicks into place. I am just a western expression of similar values. It may be uncommon to practice martial arts, but not unusual. For example, a couple of the Benedictine Brothers at the Worth Abbey in West Sussex practice Tai Chi Chuan, which translates to "The Grand Ultimate Fist."
If as a martial artist and a Franciscan I can bring a person one step closer to seeing their actions and understanding how to resolve situations in ways that do not require violence, then the effort is well worth it. I think we all can agree that if there is better understanding of conflict resolution, less fighting, and less violence, that it builds a better life for us all.
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