Monday, June 20, 2011

On the Mixture of Kung Fu and Church service

"Better to sweep the floors of the Temple than to seek one's fame and gain outside of it."

This was a common saying in the martial arts system I trained under. It's possible we romanticized the life the old Shaolin monk in the 2nd Fukien Temple, and perhaps even took at face value more than we should stories of the lifestyle of Shaolin Priests sent out into the countryside; but I figure that the old legends must have an antecedent of truth to them. These stories and legends helped us to maintain the right attitude on the Temple, and to think about our training and our responsibilities with the right frame of mind. The legends and legacies, many of which have been since supported in both popular magazines and reputable journals about martial arts, helped us think about service to our students and community, about humility in the face of authority, the passion with which we should pursue our students' growth and the reverence one should show to the history and contribution of those who have come before you.

In the Temple we started with a little "bow in" procedure that acknowledged both the past masters that had developed the Art and kept is alive throughout the ages, and also acknowledged Grand Master Simon for bringing it to us today. It was not necessarily declaring our Grand Master as superior to all other teachers in the world, but a martial artist is nothing without respect for his teacher. That respect remains with them throughout their training in the temple, and became part of their strength when they left the temple to go out and take justice and their teaching out into the world. As a result, the training lifestyle of the Shaolin priest maintains his ability to serve those around him, and keeps his skills honed for instruction as well. The priest has entered a life of service, continually training so that service does not dwindle from him.

The parallels to service in the Church are astounding. So much so that I have found that most of my old principles and ideals for serving and training in the Temple fit seamlessly with serving in the Church. When I don the vestments for a Sunday morning, it might as well be the flowing uniforms we trained in. When in the sanctuary, I have every instinct to bow when I enter or exit just like in the Temple. The Cross I carry seems well weighted like a kwan dao. Orthodoxy feels like loyalty to the "past masters." Apostolic succession of the Bishop seems reminiscent of the importance we gave to tracing the line of one's master, though a succession of masters, back to the early Temple, as a manner of claiming fidelity to the Art and the master's that have come before. I was once told that if I looked at the Church through the same lens that I looked at the Art, I'd be in a liturgical context - most likely Anglican. Well, indeed that is exactly where I am.

I considered all of this as I trained my old forms today in the backyard. In light of the clear comparisons that can be drawn, I could not help but think of my kung fu as a exercise of in service of the Church now. Each movement, every leap and strike seemed like practice for skills that Church puts to use for servicing the Lord and the community. Blurring the line between Art and Church even further, "kung fu" is often a euphemism for "excellent work." There's a "kung fu" of poetry, of architecture, of writing, of reviewing accounting statements or working on cars. Yes, there can be also a "kung fu" of liturgy and service in the Church. Thus, kung fu in my back yard now feels like a living analogy of my "kung fu" of church service. If I ever have the opportunity to teach kung fu in the church again, the combination will feel so very complete. The mixture of kung fu and church service is a joy, especially when I feel like one flows into the other without any effort at all.

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