I just started Thai kickboxing and I am a Christian. Do you think their are any conflicts with being Christian and being a martial artist? I am having a big problem with bowing to the dojo itself since some of them are dedicated, and even have shrines dedicated, to the Buddhism. As a Christian, I cannot bow to anyone but God in worship to Him. I know that bowing to your instructor is respect, but my problem is with bowing to the dojo. I just do not bow to any "thing" other than showing respect to the instructor. Should I look for another class, since I'm pretty much not willing to bow to the dojo?
Religion is a spiritual belief. For a few martial arts, a martial art is also a spiritual belief. I believe that the martial arts are simply physical ways to manifest a warrior spirit, which has nothing to do with spirituality. It is merely the way a warrior lives and behaves in the combative society that humans have created. A religion may practice a martial art or a martial art may be connected to and/or worship a religion but that does not mean all martial arts have connection with a religion. Some, if not most, martial arts have no religious connection.
Physical things may be explained through the scientific method, but spiritual things cannot, and have not, been proved scientifically. Religious proof comes from anecdotal evidence, which does not really prove anything; it just people recounting what they believe they have experienced. People will believe what they want to believe not matter the logic, reason, or evidence to the contrary. The purpose for, and use of, bowing falls under the category of something that people will believe what they want to believe.
What is bowing? As a physical act, it is simply bending forward at the waist. Is the act of bending forward at the waist a sin if it is done for any other reason than to worship God? Which does the Bible condemn: the physical act of bowing or bowing in worship of another god?
In your Christian religious services, do you bow to God? Probably not! In Western Christian religious services, we do not use bowing; we usually prefer to kneel before God. In Western Christianity, bowing is considered archaic.
Eastern societies bow a lot; it is a sign of greeting, courtesy, and respect; it does not mean that you are acknowledging that the person or thing being bowed to is a god. Some societies use the French style le bisou double cheek kiss to greet and show respect. In the military, we salute. In Western societies, we mostly use the handshake. Therefore, the bow, salute, and handshake are equivalent. If you shake hands with the Dalai Lama, are you worshiping him or merely greeting him and showing respect to him as a human being. Instead of shaking hands, if you greet him with a bow as used in his county, are you worshiping him. Is a police officer that calls a child rapist “sir” showing respect for the rapist’s behavior or merely showing respect toward another human being?
If you donate money to a charitable group that then gives the money to Buddhist temple to use in feeding the poor, are you worshiping Buddha? If you are touring a Buddhist temple in Japan and you bow as you enter the temple as is the tradition of the country you are in, are you worshiping Buddha. The Bible in Matthew 22:21 (King James Version), “They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” When bowing, you are merely rendering unto the person or entity the respect due that person or entity. If in you heart you know you are only bowing as a sign of respect, are you judged by God as bowing in worship of another god? Christians believe that God knows what is in your heart, so He must know your true intentions.
In Exodus 23:24 (New International Version) the bible says “Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.” Does this mean that, when the martial art class requires you to bow, you are required by God to rip all their religious symbols off the wall and destroy them?
In the military, if the enemy forces you to renounce the United States, it is not treason. Treason requires intent to commit treason. If a terrorist tortures you to get you to bow to their god, and you do, without the worshiping, are you sinning? Does not God know what is in your heart? What if the terrorist physically forces you into a bowing position, is that bowing to another god?
Some martial arts use all kinds of gestures and movements in combination with, or instead of, bowing. Does performing their ritual movements constitute bowing in worship of another God? Is a military person who salutes, the flag of country that rejects our Christian God, sinning before God? If a citizen salutes the United States flag, is he or she worshiping America? Some say we have become a godless country. Does this mean that when you say the Pledge of Allegiance you are pledging your allegiance to a country that rejects God! Remember what happened to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, just living in godless cities got them killed.
When you go to a school, college, or professional football game and cheer, recite the team motto, hold up the school sign, or dress in the school colors, are you bowing to, or worshiping, the school or team? The difference between what is respect and what is worship is in the eye of the beholder.
Most everything is subject to interpretation, the Bible included. That is why there are so many opposing religions that each bases its beliefs on the same Bible and thinks that its interpretation of the Bible is the correct one. I once had an investigator who working for me who was fundamentalist Christian. In a conversation, he mentioned that, since the Bible does not mention using a piano or organ in the worship of God, his church does not use them. I asked hum, “Why does your church use air conditioning to cool the church, church telephones to call sinners, or a church bus if they are not mentioned in the Bible?” I received no answer; he just walked away.
I have taught Taekwondo in Christian church buildings and used bowing with no complaints. There are Christian based martial art schools that practice Christian beliefs in their classes. You may find a religion or a martial art that teaches and believes just about anything.
Each person has to do what he or she thinks is right. If society does not agree with the person’s choice and his or her accompanying behavior, it may punish the person. For example, you may believe it is right to steal food from your neighbor if you are hungry, but society may punish you for your theft. If you think it is wrong to bow, then do not bow. The decision does not necessarily have to be related to a religious belief, it may be just because the whole concept is a burr under your saddle and it bothers you. The martial art school may punish you for your decision, but that is the way it is in life. You will either have to bow as a sign of common courtesy, not bow and accept the punishment, or go to another school that believes as your do or will accept your unwillingness to bow.