“If anyone affirms that one can reach perfection without practicing exterior mortification, do not believe him; and even though he confirm this assertion by working miracles, know that his contentions are nothing but illusions.”
-St. John of the Cross
While browsing Hulu, I stumbled upon Karate Master, which derives from the pen of Ikki Kajiwara (famed for Ashita no Joe) and enjoys the same director as Space Adventure Cobra, Osamu Dezaki. I was greatly pleased by the art style and the setting in post-war Japan, and the martial arts angle was a bonus. Though I have never practiced karate, I have a great fondness for it due to my father’s time spent in practicing Shotokan Karate. The hero of Karate Master, Ken Asuka, happens to be based on Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin karate and the author of the bestselling book What is Karate? The harsh training regimen Oyama underwent endures in his style of full contact karate, where many black belt exams end with people needing medical treatment. (Click here to see Oyama taking on a bull, which was ordinary training for him.) Mas Oyama dedicated himself heart and soul to karate, and he could not have reached such perfection in the art without giving it his total dedication.
Christian perfection is also no easy thing. Indeed, Samuru’s recent article pointed out that anything worthwhile is not easy. How many sacrifices must be made? How many pains and how much suffering and frustration must be endured? In eschewing everything unpleasant, we shall fall short of the goal. In the case of Christian perfection, God is primarily responsible for our perfection, but that does not mean we can be lazy. If we ignore doing things which conduce to eternal life, we shall find ourselves turned away like the foolish virgins of Our Lord’s parable.
Much of the pain and sacrifice Christians undertake for the sake of eternal life consist in ascetic practices. People understood the need for asceticism much more in the past than they do now. Consider the Capuchin order, formed under the rule of St. Francis of Assisi. What do the monks want out of their life of prayer, fasting, and penance? As reward for giving up the hope of wealth, worldly pleasures, and family? Eternal life. That is to say, nothing more than we hope to receive by merit of our baptism! And lay persons of times past who desired holiness often did their best to imitate monks: Charlemagne died with a hair shirt upon his body, St. Thomas More prayed the Divine Office, and St. Edward the Confessor, though married, lived with his wife as though they were brother and sister. The ascetic life, not the life of comfort, was the ideal.
To compare the effects of karate training to Christian asceticism, think about how finely tuned a martial artist’s body is. A master’s body will have lightning reflexes, great power and strength, abs of steel, and incredible flexibility. My father often jokes that he’s still living off of the body he developed when he practiced karate! The devout student of karate builds a perfect body through his art, and the discipline often improves his character besides.
How much more effort should we spend to form the perfect soul? A soul just without cruelty, temperate without envy, courageous without pride, prudent without cowardice, faithful without ignorance, hopeful without doubting, and loving without selfishness? This perfection cannot be brought about without mortifications of all kinds. God always gives us one hundred percent, and we need to strive to be such as to receive the fullness of God’s gifts without refusing some or failing to understand the purpose of others. Vincit qui se vincit–he conquers who conquers himself.
Though asceticism does not allow us to do cool things like break boards and subdue bulls with our bare hands, our persistence will allow us to trample upon snakes and scorpions and overcome all the power of the enemy through attaining true freedom in Christ. This is more than we can hope to attain in many decades of practicing karate, unless the discipline and training of karate is ordered unto Christ.