Why Are Martial Arts Developed Around Religion And Spirituality ?

The paradox of the martial arts

Why is it that so many martial arts are based around spirituality or religion ? There seems to be a link between these two opposites but why ? They don’t appear to have anything in common, on one hand martial arts as the word suggests is about war in fact the definition given in the Oxford dictionary is

Relating to fighting or war: martial bravery

So according to the Oxford dictionary Martial means an act of war or an act of fighting so why would anyone of spirituality or religion be interested in fighting ?

Numerous systems are reputed to have been founded, disseminated, or practiced by monks or nuns.

Buddhist monk

buddhist monk alone

Throughout Asia, meditation may be incorporated as part of training. In those countries influenced by Hindu-Buddhist philosophy, the art itself may be used as an aid to attaining enlightenment.

buddist nun


Japanese styles, when concerning non-physical qualities of the combat, are often strongly influenced by Buddhist philosophy. Concepts like “empty mind” and “beginner’s mind” are recurrent. Aikido for instance, can have a strong philosophical belief of the flow of energy and peace fostering, as idealized by its founder Morihei Ueshiba doing a demonstration

Traditional Korean martial arts place emphasis on the development of the practitioner’s spiritual and philosophical development. A common theme in most Korean styles, such as Taekwondo

Taekwondo demonstartion


is the value of “inner peace” in a practitioner, which is stressed to be only achieved through individual meditation and training. The Koreans believe that the use of physical force is only justified through defense.

Systema  demo

draws upon breathing and relaxation techniques, as well as elements of Russian Orthodox thought, to foster self-conscience and calmness, and to benefit the practitioner in different levels: the physical, the psychological and the spiritual.

Some martial arts in various cultures can be performed in dance-like settings for various reasons, such as for evoking ferocity in preparation for battle or showing off skill in a more stylized manner. Many such martial arts incorporate music, especially strong percussive rhythms.

As you can see from the videos above martial arts are about fighting so where did the religious or spiritual connection come from ?

It would seem that when martial arts started to be put into categories and formulated into structured arts that a religious or spiritual it would seem that between 2500- 1500 years ago when the martial arts were being put together so were many religions Christianity, Buddhism, Greek philosophy Taoism Confucianism it is quite odd that all these martial arts were developed around religion and not politics or technology for example. The only one of these religions that would sit comfortably with a martial is Taoism because this is based around nature and not a God, so you could maybe see that doing your martial art in a way that mimics nature could be a good thing.

My only conclusion to why so many martial arts have religion as their base would be that by using religion you can have greater control of how your students behave whilst they are being taught or it could be a way of giving courage to your fighters, it would feel as though you had someone in your corner at all times to help you in battle. Some religions go further and say that if you fight this fight on behalf of either your country or some other leader you will be rewarded if you are hurt or if you die, this would of certainly spurred on even the most cowardly fighter.

toaist hermit

I think that arts like tai chi bagua and other internal arts would have been frowned upon by religion because the practitioners of these arts would have been free thinkers in the early days, this may well be be why there were hermits living in the mountains, this would have been there way to practice their arts without fear of being made to conform.