In my original blog entitled 'A Christian Perspective on Budo' I explored the idea that the martial arts and Christianity are not mutually exclusive or morally incompatible. I covered the concepts of spiritual warfare, self defence, pacifism and Jesus' teaching on "living by the sword and dying by the sword".
In this blog I intend to examine the nature and meaning of mercy and the power of God and how they relate to Budo.
The Power of Mercy:
Mercy, a word that connotes weakness in some and a concept that others recoil from out of pride. Compassion, kindness and forgiveness are all aspects of mercy that some find incompatible with the real world. Mercy is often used as a synonym for pacifism. But there is another aspect of mercy that is often overlooked: the power of mercy.
Rather than mercy being for the weak, antithetically mercy is for the strong. Only the powerful can be truly merciful, for no-one in a position of power requires mercy. Only the strong can bestow mercy upon the weak, who are in their power.That is the true nature of mercy. Is the pacifist able to be merciful at the hand of an attacker? When a person attacks with the intention of causing harm or even death, can a dogmatic pacifism that is lead by a misguided understanding of "turn the other cheek" really be able to administer mercy? Was the expression and teaching of Jesus "turn the other cheek" a lesson in mercy at all? Many Christians have interpreted it as such. However, many of Jesus' more difficult teachings can be better understood when they are put into their historical context. In the First Century, a Roman officer would strike a servant using the back of their hand as a sign of superiority over them. By teaching "turn the other cheek" Jesus was actually empowering His followers not to allow others to treat them as inferior, for turning the cheek would force someone to hit them with the palm of their hand, an act only conducted amongst equals.
Mercy is an intrinsic part of God's nature. Yet, God is the antithesis of weakness for God created the universe "ex nihilo" (out of nothing). Consider the Big Bang - the force of which was so immense that it formed gravity, solar systems, galaxies and created all the atoms known in the periodic table. Quantum Physics has discovered yet more the incredible power of God now that we have knowledge of the unverse at a sub-atomical level. The expansion of the universe is evidence of the Big Bang. The Big Bang then is testimony to the awesome power of God, who is known in philosophy and Natural Theology as the First Cause of the universe.
The same God who created the universe ex nihilo and who established the mathematical Laws of Physics is also the God who immaculately impregnated the virgin Mary and became incarnate in the person of Jesus. Jesus the Son demonstrated all the attributes of His Heavenly Father. Jesus was never weak - the same Jesus that taught "those who live by the sword, die by the sword" was the same Jesus who supernaturally calmed the storm, walked on water, healed the sick and lame and raised Lazarus from the grave. Jesus had power over nature and death. Let us look more specifically at an event recorded in the Gospel of Mark, the deliverance of the demon passed man oppressed by a Legion of demons.
"For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name? “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area." Mark 5:8-10 (bold mine)
A Legion in the Roman army could be any number between 3000-6000. In this encounter between Jesus and a demon possessed man Jesus demonstrated He had total authority over the demonic spirits of the spiritual realm. These demons, possibly by susceptability or sheer force of numbers had oppressed their host victim so that the man harmed himself and dwelt in the local graveyard, a place of ritual impurity in ancient Israel making him an outcast, cut off from Jewish society. Yet despite their intimidating numbers they literally begged Jesus for mercy. How could Jesus command such authority over and strike such fear into such a great number of demons without the power of God?
Let us look at a second example, this time a moral rather than supernatural example of Jesus' power: the story of the adulteress brought before Jesus for stoning.
"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When
they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let
any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At
this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones
first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:3-11 (bold mine)
Here we see that Jesus is the only person with the moral authority sanctioned in the Law of Moses to stone this woman to death. Jesus would have been completely justified in executing this woman for committing adultery. But Jesus refrained because Jesus understood that His act of mercy would produce new moral and spiritual life in that woman and the death of her old sinful one as He commanded her to "leave your life of sin". Mercy is the act of giving life.
The Synergy between the Martial Arts and Christianity:
An expression of this kind of mercy demonstrated by Jesus and found in the nature of God can be seen in the way of the Japanese Sword. The katana is actually the sharp, killing edge of the blade. The blade of the Samurai sword is single edged, one side is sharp the other blunt. The tip of the katana was the sharpest point and this determined the nature and style of Samurai armed combat. The katana was not a stabbing weapon, it was a cutting weapon using a slicing motion. This style of combat led to defensive sword deflections using the blunt edge of the blade known as ukenagashi in Kendo and Aikido.
The blunt edge of the sword is known as the kisana, translated as the "mercy edge". Thus the Samurai sword is both a weapon to take life and to give it (katana/kisana). This duality is at the very heart of Budo and Christianity. God is both Holy and Just, the Judge of sin and the executor of divine judgement upon evil, as well as merciful forgiving everyone who repents of their sin and believes in the name of Jesus for their salvation. This duality is known in Christianity as propitiation.
"and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It
was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be
just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:24-26
Jesus took humanity's punishment for our sin upon Himself on the cross as He suffered God's divine judgement. Through this act of crucifixion and sacrifice Jesus also made it possible for God to forgive us our sin and show mercy upon the repentant. God is merciful precisely because we cannot earn our salvation and eternal life. Eternal life is a gift of God, an act of His righteous mercy at our humility and repentance.
It is a principle of both Budo and Christianity that you cannot give life without first learning how to take it. Jesus chose to give life to the adulteress even though He could have legally and morally justifiably taken it. In the same way through the practise of martial arts you learn how to show mercy when confronted with violence. This is known legally as "reasonable force". Under the Law citizens are legally and morally allowed to use an escalating scale of force to defend themselves based upon the level of violence they are confronted with. This ability to judge situations and the discernment necessary to understand the consequences and implications of your actions is best learnt through the martial arts. Only when one knows the effect of a technique can one gain the self-control not to use it. Thus self-defence becomes like the act of using the kisana edge of the sword - merciful rather than lethal. You are able to protect yourself and ultimately your enemy by restraining yourself from using a technique that could cause permanent injury or even death.
To be able to overcome violence physically in self-defence and refrain from lethally injuring your enemy is true mercy. This philosophy is at the very heart of Aikido - the way of love and harmony. As the goal of all Christians is to become more like God in nature and character, the martial arts can become a useful vehicle through which to cultivate a deeper and more profound understanding of mercy.