Is There a Link Between Karate and Religion?
Religion has long had an impact on society and people’s lives, but by connecting us to martial arts… is there a link between karate and religion?
In this article, we discuss it in detail; enjoy your reading!
A few days ago, while I was doing the Sunday Q&A in Instagram stories, a follower asked me a question that was very different from the ones I usually get.
The question was:
Is there a controversial link between karate and religion?
For the first time since I started the Karate Martial Art community, I didn’t know how to respond to a user’s question.
What was I supposed to do in that situation?
Well.. I did what I thought was right.
I gave a dry response to the question:
“To be honest, I never considered it”
and in the lower part of the story, written in small letters, I asked anyone with information about it to send it to me in DM.
There were 0 people who knew anything about it.
54 people asked me to delve deeper into the topic because the question had stimulated their interest.
So.. couldn’t I write an article about it?
Karate and religion?
The first thing that came in my mind was:
How can I learn more about the relationship between karate and religion?
Well, the answer didn’t take long to arrive.
What better source of information than Google? None, or so I thought.
2 days of research produced:
a collection of random words with no real meaning.
So, on the advice of a friend, I asked the question on social media.
From then on, I received a notification on my mobile every 3-4 minutes
In just 12 hours, I had received over 150 responses.
With patience I read, analyzed and briefly summarized what I was told.
Is there a link?
The answer is yes and no.
Yes, because there are indirect links.
No, because Karate is spiritual and philosophical rather than religious.
If you think of religion in terms of the worship of deities, there is nothing inherently “religious” about Karate training… but there are certainly aspects of Karate that are influenced by the religions of the cultures from which they originate.
There is the obvious stuff… rituals in and around the dojo, such as bowing to Shomen before and after class has roots in Shintoism and represents paying respect to those who came before you.
The training itself varies depending on the style, but there are kata that are influenced in part by things like five elements theory, or the cultivation of chi, which are drawn from Chinese Taoism.
Whether you believe in these things in terms of actual energies, or simply as mnemonic devices to learn to coordinate movements, the result is the same.
If you practice kata, you are performing movements that are based on these belief structures, whether you recognize them or not.
The best answer I received
Among all the comments I received, there is one in particular that stood out:
“Yes if you want there to be one. No, if you don’t want there to be one.
Karate is said to mean empty hand. The cool thing about an empty hand is you have a choice regarding what you put into it and how you use it.”
I think I’ve never heard nothing more philosophical than this.
My own opinion
Karate is a religion.
What are all the characteristics that we usually associate with religion? Do we see a significant number of those in karate?
– a dedicated community of practicers
– times reserved for practice
– specialized clothing
– levels of “sacred space” designed in practice
– a place where non-practitioners are allowed (a lobby)
– a place only for practitioners (the tatami)
– a place where only specialists are admitted (the Shomen).
Depending on the school, there may also be singing, meditation or specialized breathing, discussions or lectures on shared values, etc.
So .. when they ask you what religion you practice you should answer:
My religion is Karate!
To summarize, you don’t have to believe in any of the religious traditions that influence Karate in order to be a successful practitioner;
however, it makes sense to acknowledge them and comprehend what that influence was.
Most of the time, they aren’t there because someone consciously decided “Hey we need to inject religion into this form…”; rather, the underlying belief is simply part of the culture.