Judaism and Martial Arts


When I went to Hong Kong last year, I met a French woman whose favorite physical activity was Kendo, a sport she had learnt in Japan. Talking with her about this martial art and then reading about martial arts in general, I couldn’t help noticing a number of similarities between Judaism and martial arts.

In Pirkei Avot, we are told “make for yourself a rav” (aseh lecha rav). This aspect of learning is also momentous in martial arts. Thus one of the first words a new-comer learns in any Japanese martial art is Sensei,teacher in Japanese and this is how the instructor is addressed by the learners.

Both Judaism and martial arts emphasize traditional learning and teaching. In Judaism, it is important not to lose what the former generations have taught. That’s why we put so much emphass on learning by examining what other people have said before us, as well as remembering our ancestors and their lessons in our prayer service and through the recitation of the Torah cycle. Honoring our ancestors and where we have come from is integral to Judaism.This is also the case in the Chinese-Japanese world where martial arts evolved over the centuries as practitioners refined and passed their skills and beliefs from generation to generation. Masters trained new masters and techniques became more precise and focused.

Rabbi Daniel Kohn of Tiburon’s Congregation Kol Shofar compares Aikido and Judaism: “Both promote the creation of world peace through improving individuals and society.” In both Judaism and martial arts, you are taught that you can improve, that indeed you have to improve.

Those who are weary of certain practices in martial arts, such as bowing to pictures and statues, can practise Tora Dojo, a form of martial arts established in New York City in 1967 by Harvey (Chaim) Sober of Yeshiva University. There are clubs in both the Unites States and Israel.

Meditation will also help the individual pray with more kavanah (concentration). Haaretz once had an article “kosher karate” which introduced Tora Dojo to its readers. It quoted a Jewish karateka on the benefice he got from it.
“I am religious, and when I was studying at a yeshiva I was told that I have to pray with kavana but no rabbi told me how. I found I could connect to kavana through tora dojo, especially the meditation and guided imaging. After all, all prayer is a kind of meditation or trance.”
The same man says he once turned to “a great rabbi,” and asked whether he was “transgressing boundaries.” He says the rabbi told him, “Of course not. That is how prayer is supposed to be; the individual should be seeing himself as though he is standing before the Shekhinah,” God’s presence on earth

“Progress comes
To those who
Train and train;
Reliance on secret techniques
Will get you nowhere.” (Morihei Ueshiba founder of Aikido)