Andrea Molle on Spirituality and the Martial Arts
Date: September 15th, 2013

While Christians have often been told to turn the other cheek when conflict erupts, there is another tradition that seeks to prepare for conflict while simultaneously promoting inner peace and spiritual enlightment.  That alternative tradition exists within the world of the Eastern martial arts, such as aikido, judo, karate and a number of other styles.  Prof. Andrea Molle, an assistant professor of political science at Chapman University, discusses his insights into the world of martial arts.  His perspective is unique as he not only maintains a scholarly interest in this topic, having published several articles on the topic of religion and the martial arts, but he also holds a second degree black belt in aikido and teaches this discipline to youth at a Southern Californian Christian church.

We begin our journey by looking into the background of Prof. Molle, discovering where he developed his interest in the martial arts.  His personal story reveals a great deal about how a variety of non-spiritual reasons often lead people into the practice of martial arts, but then how it has a transformative impact on their lives.  In addition to his personal experience, Andrea gives us some historical background about the connection between combat techniques that were used to train militaries and several Eastern religions, including Buddhism and Shintoism.  This leads to an interesting discussion about how fear and anxiety are often motivators for people to learn to fight, but how people who continue in the martial arts rarely cite the need for self-defense as a reason for continuing their training.  We also reflect upon the role of ritualistic combat and why that is important.

In connecting the martial arts to religion directly, we cover three potential pathways linking these two seemingly antithetical experiences.  First, we look at whether the martial arts serve as a “gateway” to pre-established religion and address the concern that many Christian parents have that this physical activity will lead their kids away from their traditional faith.  Andrea doesn’t think this is a common phenomenon, although the data to support this is rather sketchy.  We then bring up the second link between the martial arts and religion, and that is through spiritual exercise.  Andrea notes that what happens here is many people use martial arts to add to their “portfolio” of religious understandings, which then brings up the issue of “muscular Christianity.”  The third path relates to the martial arts as becoming a “secular religion” or, as Andrea calls it now, a “quasi-religious” organization.  He details what this mean by looking at the characteristics that many international martial organizations share.  Here we note how people use the larger martial arts community to serve their communal needs.

Our conversation finishes with Andrea’s experience in teaching martial arts to youth.  We examine why he became involved in this, how church members and Christian families view this, and what he teaches the kids.  Andrea also reflects upon what he has learned about teaching and his own martial arts journey.  Recorded: September 2, 2013.

RELATED LINKS

 Andrea Molle’s biography at Chapman University.

RELATED PODCASTS

Christian Novetzke on Kung Fu Fighting and Eastern Religion.

Ron Mock on Pacificism, War, and Terrorism.


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