9

I'm listening to a lecture series about child development and in the first lecture it advocates teaching children martial arts as an aid to enhancing their self-control. I would quite like my daughter to learn a martial art (if she wants to). However I feel a bit conflicted about it as surely the lessons themselves are learning how to assault people or at the very least engage in potentially violent behaviour.

Is it justifiable for a Buddhist to learn or advocate the learning of a martial art? I appreciate that there is a cultural connection between martial arts and Buddhism in some cultures? How are the ethics of it dealt with? Generally how can I take my daughter off to a Buddhist family retreat one week then whisk her off to learn how to attack people the next? That seems inherently conflicted? Is it?

  • I'm seeing lots of personal opinions but not much response actually based on the teachings of the Buddha. It is well within our duty, even, to defend ourselves; far better that we stop someone else from hurting ourselves, that is, far better for their state of mind. But to progress from being willing to defend ourselves, to actively seeking out training for something that may or may not happen, I think, may not lie within the bounds of the Buddha's teaching. – Ryan Jun 14 '15 at 19:46
  • One could argue that one could practice martial arts meditatively; but it seems hard to deny that the desire to do so, over simply doing walking and sitting meditation, necessitates a degree of desire. – Ryan Jun 14 '15 at 19:51
  • @Ryan IMO that is what the question and the answers are concerned with. Is learn a martial art compatible with, or in conflict with, Buddhist values? Why learn it? Is it self-defence? Is it offensive? Does it condition violence, or non-violence? Answers are based on people's personal opinions, which are based on their personal experiences (which is on-topic). And is there perhaps any difference between ordained and lay Buddhist values? Lessons for a child versus for an adult? This site allowed two questions, one for physical exercise as a monk, another about physical exercise for a lay person. – ChrisW Jun 14 '15 at 20:19
  • @ChrisW There is no distinction between monks and lay people. There are lazy monks who accomplish little, and persistent lay people who accomplish much in the practice. Neither case has any bearing on the teaching of the Buddha, or the values derived from it. If someone says, "I am a lay person, therefore I am afforded to keep these values, despite what the Buddha taught", this does not change the truth of the Dhamma, only their relation to it. – Ryan Jun 14 '15 at 20:39
  • The following page dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Self-defense has some references to texts, if you need them to hit someone on the head. – Michel Billaud Jun 14 '15 at 21:15

10 Answers 10

5
  1. Wholesome intent is important
    1. The Buddha learned archery as a kshatriya, but he didn't lose his compassion - see this story of when his cousin shot down a bird.
    2. Martial arts can connect one deeply with the body, but so can Yoga and Tai Chi.
  2. Buddhism and violence have a long history, not always nice
    1. Meditation was used to numb kamikaze pilots to commit suicide in WW2 Japan (source)
    2. Buddhist kingdoms Burma and Thailand were often at war, with monks on either side sometimes disrobing to fight and even lead armies. (source)
    3. Shaolin monks trained in martial arts to fight off bandits, but continued to train in those skills long after the threat of bandits was gone. This has destroyed their religion and holiness. (source)
  3. Wholesome and wise company is important.
    1. Not everyone is going to be perfectly enlightened about martial arts, and violent people or those on a power trip are generally attracted to violence. Choosing the right teacher and school is important.
    2. Much less risk of this with Yoga, or with nature sports like mountaineering where solitude prompts the same body awakening.
  4. Right recognition of your level of awakening is important
    1. Jesus walked on water, and the Buddha breathed fire and water from his nostrils, but most of us can't do that.
    2. Just because the Buddha remained untainted by training in martial arts is no guarantee that we will also remain so.
    3. And, just because as a Bodhisattva he was ready to give up his life than raise a finger doesn't mean we can all be so.
    4. We must rightly recognize our failings and abilities. Buddhism is not foolishness. Guilt tripping about our inability to be very non-violent is foolishness.
  5. Creating fortunate circumstances for practicing the holy life is important
    1. There's violence all around us, not just on the mat. Competitive sports where opponents yell at each other, or careers where colleagues fear each other are also violence.
    2. Just as the Buddha didn't want his monks to eat more than was enough to hold the body together, or wear more clothes than was needed to cover the body, violence in all spheres of life must be restricted to the bare minimum.
    3. For example, pursuing a selfishly competitive and stressful career in pursuit of vanity is violence and greed.
    4. If there is no vegetarian food, then animals maybe killed, but only to the bare minimum. Gluttony of even the vegetarian sort is violence and greed.
    5. Learning violent skills when one doesn't live in violent times is needless.
  6. Buddhism and life are not different - when there is violence in human life, how can there not be some violence in the life of a Buddhist?
  7. Not recommended, but Dharma can be realized even through extreme violence
    1. King Ashoka had to feel and see the blood and gore of the Kalinga war first hand to change his views on violence - he was already a Buddhist or exposed to Buddhist views on violence, but the non-violent message didn't penetrate his being until he got a maximum dose of violence. (source)
  • 1
    "Martial arts can connect one deeply with the body, but so can Yoga and Tai Chi." While the form of Tai Chi you often see - featuring slow movements - is an exercise for health, Tai Chi is a martial art. – GreenMatt Sep 10 '15 at 13:50
  • @GreenMatt yes, I've practiced the latter but I was referring to the former. – Buddho Sep 10 '15 at 13:57
5

My own (limited) experience was learning Chen style Tai Chi (and a sword form) from a sifu, who also taught a "kung fu" to small children (a couple of years older than yours perhaps), and other forms (including diverse "weapon" forms) to teenagers.

I found it thoroughly harmless; and beneficial, good physical training. People told me it helped my posture, a lot. My class-mates were wholesome friends.

It might even have helped to keep me out of an actual fight with a drunk one night (because it gave me experience of staying calm without panic when someone threatened me inside my "space").

IMO it's not meant to be "violent" behaviour: it's meant to be "controlled" behaviour (maybe, even, relaxed behaviour).

Our sifu gave us a few "self-defence" tips (though it wasn't touted as a self-defence class), and the primary lessons were: don't fight; avoid a situation (e.g. accepting an unscheduled competition or lesson with a random person on the street or another school) that could ever escalate. I remember his demonstrating his number one self-defence move: run away (i.e. "turn around and run away", don't try to run backwards). A last resort, only if you couldn't run away, stop your attacker and then run away.

No, it's not about that.

It's a sport; it's self-control; and it's cooperative i.e. performed with willing partners or not at all.

I suppose another possibility might be ... dance? But that idea does worry me a bit: because how careful are dance teachers to avoid injuries? And I'd guess that a martial art could be more useful.

I can't advise on choosing a class, a form, or a teacher, but you might find advice on martialarts.SE or on parenting.SE

And anyway surely kids always engage in "potentially violent" behaviour? A martial arts class must always distinguish between "potential" and "violent".

Something I saw someone 'like' on Facebook recently was If She’s Not Having Fun You Have To Stop:

An important lesson for all children: "A boy and a girl run around on the grass at the park. The boy tackles the girl. The girl laughs. She gets up and runs away. She loves to run. He chases, she turns and they grab each other, tumble and land in a pile, giggling. After a few minutes, he tackles her again and she lands a bit hard. She is bigger and physical, but he more than holds his own in roughhousing. She pauses for a second. Then she laughs again; she’s still having fun.

Dad gets his attention, and says, “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop.”

I suppose we were in that class for the health, fun and socializing, fresh air, self-improvement, learning about self (skandhas): and not violence.

I guess she won't be taught how to attack people (neither now at her age, nor later when she's older).

When we learned to swim we were warned it's dangerous to approach a drowning person: in their panic they might try to climb on top of you to get out of the water, drowning you. It's ignorance and out-of-control panic, not knowing how to swim, that makes them and their situation dangerous.

I'm not saying that a Buddhist should advocate it but I sure don't see it as contrary, any more than athletics or calligraphy or swimming lessons are "inherently conflicted". I suppose beware that it's possible there are some 'cults' (unskilled or unqualified or even immoral teachers, or fellow-students), but I guess that's more a reason to be wise about it than a reason to be deterred from searching at all.


Perhaps I should add a disclaimer, than the beginner's forms of Chen style Tai Chi are maybe such that people might not consider it a "martial art" at all.

Still, the "kung fu" forms that he taught instead of Tai Chi to the small children were scarcely more: the one lesson of theirs I saw was only non-contact forms.

I've no idea how they teach karate to five-year-olds. Here is one introduction to different forms.

I imagine (and I hope I'm not wrong in saying) that it's always training rather than fighting: never intention to fight.

  • Very interesting answer Chris. My old teacher in Ju-jitsu said the same to us. He said that if we ever encountered a situation where we would get into a fight the first thing we should do was to RUN away. If that was not an option then use self defence and always the smallest amount of force possible. Btw i have been looking into your advice about Tai chi. There is a school 100 meters from me where they teach Tai chi so i might try that out. I have been doing a bit of it in my living room - just tried to learn an basic 8-step. Tai chi is really calming. – Lanka Jun 14 '15 at 20:12
  • Interestingly the lecture did also name dance (and yoga and horse riding) as activities which would have similar benefits. But the emphasis was more martial arts. Also I like the idea of the daughter engaging with something that is not stereotypically girl orientated (i know dance isn't - but for a 4 year old it is) – Crab Bucket Jun 14 '15 at 20:49
  • @Lanka Most Tai Chi classes that are taught are not taught as a martial art nor by a martial arts instructor. – ChrisW Jun 15 '15 at 13:00
  • @Chris. The school here teaches "Wudang Tai Chi Chuan". There are both tai chi self defence and tai chi weapons training and other styles too. Also it looks like all of the instructors have been participating in international competititions. – Lanka Jun 15 '15 at 13:36
  • Oh, you meant a martial arts school then. When you said "a school near here" I thought you meant a school-for-children -- because (in my country) adult "Tai Chi" classes are often hosted after-hours, in school gymnasiums etc. – ChrisW Jun 15 '15 at 13:46
2

(I am no Buddhist, so take my words with a grain of salt.)

For many who practice Kung-fu, Shaolin Kung-fu considered the focal point of their art. The name Shaolin is so synonymous with Kung-fu that some of my American friends have trouble even explaining what art they practice. Americans often cannot even tell the terms apart.

Shaolin Kung-fu finds its center in the Shaolin temple in Henan, China. This is a Buddhist temple where monks hold to a strict schedule intermixing Buddhist lessons with martial arts practice. That temple has done so for one and a half millennia!

Now I cannot claim this is the direct word from Buddha, but it does seem reasonable to assume that, if there were an inherent and unavoidable conflict between martial arts and Buddhism, this would be quite the precarious balancing act. This suggests that those monks may have found a way to incorporate martial arts into themselves in a way which is acceptable to Buddhism. As a non-Buddhist, I have not needed to delve too deeply into why that balance is aligned with the Buddha's teachings, but it seems reasonable that that the Shaolin monks would have provided quite a substantial sum of evidence as such. If you have a Shaolin Kung-fu group in your hometown, they may be able to provide you with substantial assistance in the form of a dialogue, answering any questions you may have.

As a martial arts practitioner myself, I agree with Lanka in that the intent matters far more than the training. I can use my training handling a sword to assist me in diffusing a complicated situation at work involving two individuals engaging in conflict lashing out with logical arguments as though they wielded double-edged blades at each-other. Contrariwise, I can use my entirely peaceful training of how to drive a car to run someone down and kill them, perhaps for as little as a perceived insult. It is my intent that truly separates the two, not the action itself nor the content of the training.

2

IAMAB (I am not a buddhist), but I am a martial artist. In particular, I practice Gracie Jiujitsu.

Before practicing jiujitsu, I did karate at a school focused on "self-defense". We did not practice techniques at anything like full force, and the focus was on maiming ones attacker so that you could get away. Things like eye gouges and the like. This practice was not mentally or spiritually healthy for me.

BJJ, on the other hand, uses a more limited set of techniques which can be actually practiced against a fully resisting opponent without injuring them. This allows the art to be practiced as a sport, and the atmosphere is one of play. It is really as joyful and natural as toddlers wrestling, but with an added layer of structure, nuance, and skill.

This has the effect of training you to react to a physical confrontation in an intelligent and aware way rather than an emotional one.

Imagine being attacked by a larger opponent.

If you have no training, no experience approximating such an encounter, then your response (no matter how good natured you are) will likely be one of fear and violence. Injure and escape from the opponent in any way possible.

If you do have training, however, you are more well prepared. You can think about the situation rationally, and choose a response appropriate to the threat. By physically taking control of the situation, you minimize the risk to both the opponent and yourself. Instead of practicing fear and aggression, you can practice compassion.

From what I know of buddhism, training oneself to be capable of a more compassionate response to personal violence fits well with the philosophy. BJJ will (depending on the school!) certainly help one develop such a capacity in a supportive, friendly, and fun environment.

2

Having been a martial artist for twenty years now (shotokan and tai chi), and a practitioner of Zen for about half as long, here are my two cents on the matter. Or fifty cents. This could get long. ;-)

There is nothing martial about the martial arts until it's used martially. A knife can cut vegetables or it can cut a person. Bodhidharma (according to legend), taught tai chi to the Shaolin monks to help strengthen their meditation. It was only when they had to defend their temple that it became a system of combat. What's ultimately important is managing intent and action. Most children don't have any sort of training like this. Emotional reactions flow into physical action with very little discernment. They react viscerally to how they feel. They have no context for how their actions might play out, who they might harm, or what the consequences may be for "acting out" physically. Any decent childrens martial arts instructor is going to emphasize all of these points in their teaching. (And if he/she doesn't, run the hell away!) For children, I think this is the main benefit of training. Ballet, sports, etc. don't teach you how to manage anger, diffuse conflict, and negotiate difficult situations quite as well.

For adults, frankly, I think focusing on the combative elements of any martial system misses the point entirely. By the time you've graduated high school, one would hope that you've picked up some decent anger management skills and aren't going to use what you learn to beat up on your coworkers! (I say this in jest, but sadly people do get into martial arts for the wrong reasons. But again, it's a problem of intent, not the martial arts themselves.) At this stage in an adult's life, where the Buddhist and martial paths cross is how they handle the obstacles that come up in one's practice. Simply put - there's nothing like sitting on the cushion to show you where your hang ups are. The only thing that comes close is learning some sort of skill. The martial arts provides innumerable opportunities where your ego is going to get squashed, you are going to have trouble with a form, or some new white belt is going to ring you up during free sparring. How you react to any of these situations is going to teach you volumes about yourself and how your small mind reacts to pettiness. It's also an opportunity for tremendous honesty about your abilities (read: martial arts teaches you humility better than just about anything else). Martial arts will also teach you that only perseverance leads to improvement. You will come to really understand the meaning of the Buddha's last words - "Strive with earnestness"! Improved concentration, mindfulness, etc. are really just an infinitesimal part of how the martial arts can benefit a Buddhist practice. The other stuff is far more important.

One final word if you do decided to go ahead with martial arts for your daughter - Vet the hell out of the instructor. I cannot stress this point enough. In many cases, the school or the art do not matter. What is important is the attitude of the person teaching. The martial arts world is extremely ego driven (hint #1 why martial arts and Buddhism don't often go hand-in-hand). In many cases, teaching for them is a power trip. Many get off on their role as the disseminator of esoteric knowledge. This manifests as withholding information from some students, the formation of cliques, favoritism, and TONS of politics. You don't want that. In the cases of other teachers, their ego manifests as "trophy hunting". Under instructors like these, your daughter is going to find herself at tons of tournaments and you are going to pay an arm and a leg entering her in the blasted things. She might wind up catching trophy fever too - basing her happiness on what bling she takes home. That's also not very Buddhist. The last kind you need to watch out for are the woo woo types. These are the kinds of people who put on airs of having special powers - qi, ninja-like awareness, whatever. Yes, these things do happen, but just as the Buddha warned against becoming attached to siddhis, students sometimes become obsessed with this stuff to the detriment of the rest of their martial studies. In summation, make sure you are handing your kid off to a nice person. She's going to be spending a lot of time with them and will likely be tremendously influenced by what they teach her.

1

I'm quoting from my other answer to support this.

Basically, self-defense is OK. You're teaching your daughter how to defend herself, not how to attack others. Please see quotes below.

Should a Buddhist advocate the teaching of martial arts? I would say yes, due to reasons below. I can see nothing wrong with the ethics of self-defense and defense of all that is good.

For cultural connection between Buddhism and martial arts, please see this answer on Shaolin.

Protection of arahats (DN 16):

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis duly protect and guard the arahats, so that those who have not come to the realm yet might do so, and those who have already come might live there in peace?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they do."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline." - DN 16

I'm not sure whether Buddha, The Gospel (Paul Carus, 1894) is based on canonical texts:

The Blessed One continued: "The Tathagata teaches that all warfare in which man tries to slay his brother is lamentable, but he does not teach that those who go to war in a righteous cause after having exhausted all means to preserve the peace are blameworthy. He must be blamed who is the cause of war. The Tathagata teaches a complete surrender of self, but he does not teach a surrender of anything to those powers that are evil, be they men or gods or the elements of nature. Struggle must be, for all life is a struggle of some kind. But he that struggles should look to it lest he struggle in the interest of self against truth and righteousness. - Buddha, The Gospel 52

1

There're "hard" martial arts (like Karate, Taekwondo, MuayThai, etc.) and there're "soft" martial arts (like Judo, Aikido, Jiujitsu, etc.). The hard ones use punch and kick and could cause some serious harm to an opponent. The soft ones don't use punch and kick and mostly used for self-defense. The hard arts typically involves both defense and then using one's own force to counter attack. The soft arts basically just use the opponent's force and turn it against him. And since they don't use punch and kick, there's no potentially life-threatening injury to the body and its internal organs like those caused by a strike or a kick. Matter of fact, Aikido has no offensive move, it's a 100% defensive art. Your daughter might not appreciate the benefit of martial arts right now, but she definitely will when there're times she has to walk alone on the streets or a parking garage at night..

  • I think the daughter is 4 years old. The lecture series referenced in the OP seems to mention tae kwon do (which is a form I don't know, neither do I know how they're meant to adapt it to suit a young child). – ChrisW Jun 14 '15 at 19:15
  • 2
    @ChrisW you're right the daughter is 4 (nearly 5). The lecture series mentioned grade 3 which i think is nearer 8 but there is a karate class local to me that takes 5 year olds – Crab Bucket Jun 14 '15 at 19:32
  • People can be seriously harmed in the "soft" martial arts as well: A couple weeks ago my family attended part of a judo tournament as a few friends of my child were participating. When we arrived the competition was stopped for several minutes because a child had been injured in a throw/fall. He had to be carted out on a backboard and taken to the hospital. – GreenMatt Jun 15 '15 at 14:23
1

If i may share my own practice. I am training kickboxing and before that MMA and ju-jitsu. Doing this type of sport is a unique way of learning to know the body and mind and also to meditate while doing the training, e.g. when doing stretches to increase flexibility or when training kicks, punches and other techniques.

We must again look at the intention behind engaging in this type of training or any training at all. Are the intentions wholesome or unwholesome? To be able to defend oneself is not unwholesome. For you to wish for your daughter to be able to protect herself and be safe is not unwholesome. That is wholesome. That way she will have a safer life.

If one were to train martial arts with the intention of using it to harm other people that would be unwholesome and not beneficial in any way.

Training martial arts as a way to connect with the present, control the body as far as that goes, increase health and build a strong mind with lots of resolution that is what one can do with the martial arts training.

Its the same with weapons. Its not the weapon that is unwholesome or bad. Its the person handling it. If a person with ill-will and hatred in the mind would handle a rifle he might use it to hurt another being.

If a person with loving-kindness and compassion handles a rifle he might take the iron from the rifle and melt it into something else. He might take the wooden shaft and use it as timber to burn. He might take the bullets out and use the gun powder to light a camp fire.

So in that sense its the same with martial arts. What are ones intentions. Martial arts is like the weapon it can be used for both good and bad things.

When one gets really good at martial arts one can then very accurately "measure" how much force one should use in e.g. defending oneself whereas someone who is untrained in martial arts do not have that knowledge. He might hurt a being even more because he cannot control his anger or how much force he uses. A skilled martial artists is peaceful, serene, in control. He knows exactly how much force to use. Just the fact that he knows his body and his techniques so well makes him not want to hurt people. Reaching a high level in martial arts creates humility and calm in a being.

Lastly i want to emphazize that i do not mean to say that martial arts should or could be a substitute for training in meditation. The training of martial arts can benefit one in a number of ways as described above. This answer only deals with the martial arts aspect and not the meditational aspect.

  • 1
    When I was trained to handle a rifle, the first thing drilled into me was how to always make sure for myself that it's thoroughly empty (unloaded). There are a lot of safety procedures associated with handling and using and storing rifles. I guess that when a person has a weapon, what might be dangerous is an absence of training. – ChrisW Jun 14 '15 at 19:39
  • I would disagree. I would argue that the desire to be able to defend oneself, or that your loved one be able to, is clinging to this impermanent state and/or aversion to some imagined circumstance that may or may not occur. – Ryan Jun 14 '15 at 19:41
  • @Chris. Yes i agree with you about the "no experience" aspect. Its an important part. I have no experience in that at all so i cannot really say i know about it. What i emphazize is the intentions behind an action. The same with weapons. The weapon might be dangerous but so is a kitchen knife is in the hands of a being with unwholesome intentions. – Lanka Jun 14 '15 at 19:52
  • @Ryan. Fair enough, i know that we all have different opinions on such matters. I just gave some information based on my own experience and view. What i mean is that even though one has a great deal of training in martial arts one might choose not to use it at all even in a situation where someone is trying to hurt one or even kill one. I do not think that it necessarily means that one is clinging when training martial arts. There are many different reasons for training it. – Lanka Jun 14 '15 at 19:54
  • @Lanka I understand. I'm just commenting, and coming from a strictly Buddhist standpoint, on the motivation to practice martial arts at all, over simply doing walking and sitting meditation. It seems there has to be a degree of clinging there. I would think it would be a fair comparison to liken martial arts to yoga? And with that said, the Buddha did not condone yoga as a practice for liberation, let alone martial arts as far as I know. – Ryan Jun 14 '15 at 19:57
1

You answered it yourself:

I'm listening to a lecture series about child development and in the first lecture it advocates teaching children martial arts as an aid to enhancing their self-control.

Enhancing your self-control is good karma. Enhancing your self control with the aid of martial arts, is good karma too. Just make sure it stays as "an aid to enhancing self-control".

Martial arts, under a proper master's supervision, can be very good for the attainment of cleanliness and calmness of the mind.

  • I think he's worried that she will "learn how to attack people" instead of "enhancing self-control". – ChrisW Jun 17 '15 at 23:38
0

I am not a Buddhist, so I can't answer from that perspective, but I am a guy with a lot of experience training martial arts. And I can tell you that the more experience and skill I gained, the less I got into fights in real life. I also think that my training and calm makes people less inclined to attack me, people can sense these things. Take from that what you will.

  • The OP is worried that his 4- or 5-year old daughter will "learn how to attack people"? – ChrisW Jul 27 '15 at 0:51
  • Hi Anonymous and welcome to Buddhism SE. We have a Guide and a Resource Section for new users that you might find useful. – Lanka Jul 27 '15 at 11:26

protected by Lanka Jul 28 '15 at 14:52

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.