Physically centering can save our lives in a confrontation. It can help us diffuse, deescalate, walk away from, or if necessary, physically deal with a confrontation.
I have often been asked why do I, as a Christian minister, continue my studies of the martial arts. To date, I have put close to fifty years of study into training in something that I hope never to have to use. One of the answers I give most often is, “to stay balanced”.
I’m not huge but at five nine and carrying 225 pounds of pretty hard muscle mass, I’m not a small person either. My size and the confident manner in which I carry myself tends to divert most would be assailants. Considering that I have lived a large part of my life in some really tough neighborhoods and have worked in some high risk professions, that’s saying a lot. Not all to my own credit but some of this I attribute to my martial arts training.
So why do I persist in my training? I can give you several reasons. For one, studying the martial arts and doing the additional training that allows me to continue these pursuits, have kept me in pretty decent physical condition, even into my sixties. Another benefit is that it has helped to minimize the debilitating effects of aging. I’m not twenty years old and I can’t do what I was one able to do, but considering my age, I manage to do more than most. To a large extent, we don’t just get old. What we do is relinquish our youth and give in to old age. We don’t have to do this. If we stay active, and train properly we’re capable of doing much more than we might think. Another reason for continuing to train is it to stay centered.
I don’t study the martial arts simply as a means of trying to find some form of enlightenment. This is what the “do” in the martial arts, such as in judo or aikido, implies. I lean more towards a “jitsu” approach. “Jitsu” alludes to a more combative application. I don’t continue my studies anticipating a fight or an attack that may never happen, but I do believe in being combat able. Actually, whether we study the martial arts as a “do” or a “jitsu”, there are a number of benefits that the martial arts offer beyond trying to turn ourselves into the proverbial lethal weapon. Centering is one of these benefits.
Most martial arts address this concept to a greater or lesser degree. In some arts, especially the internal arts, such as Tai Chi, Pau Kua, Hsing I, Aikido and etc., centering is emphasized. In some of the other martial arts, it isn’t taught as an individual concept, but in training, it is gradually instilled into a student.
Centering means more than what the occidental interpretation of this word might imply. Centering takes several things into consideration. Centering implies balance. It means that a person must always be aware of his center of gravity and, for the most part keep it directly under him to remain balanced. It also requires a lowering of the center of gravity to accomplish rooting, making it difficult to unbalance, upset, or move the person. Balance also requires proper positioning in relationship to an opponent. It can mean being at the right angle to address an attack, or avoiding the direction of the attack. This implies, being at the right place at the right time. This allows a martial artist to redirect and contain a threat without exposing himself to undo physical danger. Balance also requires proper breathing. To remain balanced, a martial artist has to breathe from the diaphragm, expanding the entire area of the lungs. Aside form the fact that this oxidizes and energizes the body, it keeps the person from floating his balance, or raising his center of gravity. This is often caused by breathing in just the upper portion of the lungs or by expanding the chest, raising the center of gravity. We have to keep in mind that since the center of balance is a few inches below the navel, it is more important to concentrate on and possibly extend the belly to lower the center of gravity. Floating interferes with stability and makes the balance weak. With weak balance it is impossible to be efficient in facing the opposition that life’s threats bring with them.
Incidentally, balance figures in other areas of our lives. Man is a triune being, and to be balanced, in a holistic manner means that each aspect of the person is in balance with the other. Training in the martial arts aids in attaining this.
Man is first a spirit. It is in this aspect of a man’s being that he is able to have a relationship with God. We are told in the word that, God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Man’s being should be centered first in his spirit. The word says, They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the spirit, the things of the spirit (Romans 8:5). Being centered in the spirit implies denying the lust of the flesh. Of course, this is accomplished by seeking and growing closer to God through Christ, but it also requires sacrifice and discipline. Studying the martial arts will not necessarily make a person more spiritual, but it will offer some of the discipline necessary to be successful in this aspect of his life. As advised by Solomon, we acknowledge God in all that we do and we allow him to direct out path.
Secondly man is a soulish being. The soul is the intellect or the seat of consciousness. In a sense, the soul is who we are. It is how we see ourselves and how we perceive the world. In this area of our existence, we have our sense of self awareness. The soul determines the priorities in our lives and the choices we make. It is through the soul that we will decide to live with emphasis in either the carnal or the spiritual realm. It is in the soul that we exercise free will. We will either decide to seek the way of the spirit and draw close to God, to seek the way of the world which is the devil’s path, or we will try to be completely self motivated, leaving God out of our lives, which is as self destructive as openly yielding our lives to the devil. Without God there can be no life and without Christ, there can be no salvation. To be centered in our soul is to make God the center of our lives. Again, by giving us better control of our physical selves, it gives us the discipline to deny the desires of the flesh and the influences of a sinful world that’s rooted in the flesh. Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee. (Isaiah 26:3)
Lastly is the natural man or the physical aspect of our being. Man’s greatest aspiration should be his salvation. We should understand that salvation is a process. The Spirit is saved immediately, as soon as we give our hearts to God through Christ. Jesus is the only source of salvation and the only path through which we can establish a relationship with God. The soul is saved gradually as we learn to yield our lives to God, walking according to his precepts. This is what it means to work out our salvation in fear and trembling as mentioned in Philippians 2:12. The spirit and soul can be saved in this realm but the flesh can only be brought and kept under subjection. That is why we are told in the word that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.
As we become centered through our martial art training, that sense of balance should begin to permeate other areas of our lives. The martial way is a way of sacrifice, self denial, hard work and discipline. Through this effect, we should seek to bring the rest of our life in balance by being completely centered.
Being centered doesn’t mean sitting and contemplating your navel. It doesn’t require transcendental meditation and chanting. Many of the practices of traditional Eastern martial arts will mislead us in our Christian lives. That is why, even in the practice of these physical disciplines, we must remain spiritually centered. This will focus us, enable us to attain our martial art goals and keep us in spiritual balance.
Physically centering can save our lives in a confrontation. It can help us diffuse, deescalate, walk away from, or if necessary, physically deal with a confrontation. Being spiritually centered, on the other hand, can save our souls. We have to be centered enough to deal with every confrontation that life sends our way, whether it is in the natural or spiritual realm. As you pursue your studies, let me remind you; that you may or may not ever face a threat from a physical opponent in your life time, but spiritual warfare is a constant and universal reality. This applies whether you are a Christian or a sinner. In that area, the devil doesn’t discriminate. He has a special dislike for Christians but it is his desire to destroy every person he can, man, woman and child; saint and sinner. Being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from this fight. The truth is, he has every saint in his crosshairs, but it gives us the tools to deal with his attacks. If there’s one thing we learn in our training it’s to use the right tool for the job. It isn’t a good idea to bring a knife to a gun fight. As martial artists and as Christians, we must know our enemy, be ready for any possible attack and be centered enough to deal with the challenges that life in this world (enemy territory) might send our way.
In closing, let me remind you that centering means not anticipating anything, but being ready for everything. The enemy doesn’t always telegraph his intentions. Be ready for whatever challenges you may have to meet, and as the Boy Scout motto says, Be Prepared.
Train hard, my brethren, stay centered and go with God.