Author: Mike

Fear

“Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:22-32

 

Over the past weeks we have been assailed by news of cover-ups and misconduct by some in the episcopacy (cardinals and bishops) and priesthood that has spanned decades. These revelations have made many Catholics, lay and clerical alike, angry. You can certainly count me in that group as well. I had thought that with the Dallas Charter in 2002 we would be able to begin healing and put these problems behind us. Obviously I was mistaken. I have spent the past weeks thinking and praying about the current disclosures and one word keeps popping into my head – FEAR. I believe that the Holy Spirit is prompting me to write on this subject not only as response to the sexual problems in the Church, but also as it relates to other problems we face today.

So often we see that many of our priests are afraid to preach on moral teachings that are “out of fashion” with modern culture. They no longer talk about the sinfulness of homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, divorce and remarriage, and contraception preferring instead to talk about sins that are more in vogue with our modern culture. Speaking about abortion can be hit or miss along with the dangers of moral relativism. Why? The root is FEAR. Pastors are fearful of alienating parishioners with the truth of the Catholic faith. They are afraid that the donations will stop, that Mass attendance will dwindle, that they will be ridiculed for not “keeping up with the times,” and a host of other reasons. This fear muddies the waters of the faith. The laity, not being properly catechized, then take up the task of living out their vocations, sometimes teaching children and/or adults without the grounding in the faith that they both need and deserve.

Sometimes it starts well before a man becomes a parish priest. We have learned that in some seminaries there are men who have been placed as “leaders” who never should have been put into positions of authority (much less a priestly vocation). We have seminarians who have been recruited because they were openly homosexual, while those who honor and respect traditional morality have been, at times, forced into silence. Why? Because they want to respond to God’s call to the priesthood in the Catholic Church and they fear not being able to properly do so. They also likely fear, with good reason, that the hierarchy will not support them because they themselves are afraid (or in a few cases, complicit).

Bishops are not immune to this fear either. There appears to have been warnings about several of these incidents that went unheeded. Why? Again, I think it is due to FEAR. They are afraid that it will make them look bad (or in some instances, that they will be caught in their own issues). Perhaps they were afraid that if these things came to light it would undermine the good that came out of the Dallas Charter and the good things that the Catholic Church does in the world. I think some were afraid that the laity would not have their backs, so to speak, if improprieties were known. So some chose to ignore the warnings and now we must suffer a greater loss. Perhaps there was also a fear of being pushed outside of the sphere of academic and political insiders if they stood up for the moral teachings of the Church. I would remind our leaders that the faith is at home with neither political party and being true to the teachings of Jesus can be uncomfortable to talk about. Please resist the temptation to ignore certain principles in order to “get along” with either side of the political spectrum.

What about the laity? Many were afraid to report problems in the past – though I believe that this sentiment has largely disappeared. However, many are afraid to impart the true teachings of the faith in catechism classes or in the public sphere. The modern culture makes it difficult to evangelize. Talking about the moral stances of the Church can be intimidating enough, but when good people can be accused of hate and bigotry for believing in the Bible and in Jesus, the mission becomes even more difficult. But this is not simply a phenomenon of public evangelization, it regularly happens in catechism classes across all age groups too. There are hard teachings in the message of Jesus and some will have problems with these. If catechists do not believe that the parish priests and/or deacons are willing to stand up for them, they are less likely to stick out their necks to teach the fullness of truth.

Overcoming fear is a key attribute of the Order of Lepanto. The mission of our apostolate is to connect men with the martial traditions of the historic Knightly Orders through the study and practice of swordsmanship while building character, learning more about our faith, and strengthening our values and bodies. Learning and practicing these self-defense martial arts appeals to a man’s natural desire to protect while also engaging many of the seven heavenly virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude (courage), faith, hope, and charity (for more on this see our article: Virtues and Martial Arts). These cardinal and theological virtues are exactly what we need in order to counteract fear in a healthy way. By learning the style of martial arts used by European Knights of the late Medieval through mid-Renaissance periods, we exercise our fortitude (the ability to act in a stressful situation). Once we can act, we lean on the other virtues as well as the lessons and teachings of our faith to show us how to act.

The truth is that the moral teachings of God can be difficult for us to attain and we will all fall short in some way or another. But the good news (gospel message) is that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, came down from heaven to suffer and die for us. He knows that this is impossible for us on our own, so He gives us grace from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation. When we fall down, we ask forgiveness, get up, and try our best again. Sometimes the manner in which we fall means that we are no longer able to do what we used to do (i.e. removal from ministry), but with repentance comes the possibility of salvation. This knowledge helps us to have courage and hope in the difficult situations which will arise in our lives.

In Matthew’s gospel quote above we see that fear is what makes Peter begin to sink in ocean. Similarly, fear is what capsizes us in the presentation of the gospel as well as living out its calling. The less we are afraid, the more confidence and courage we have, the more closely we will be able to live out the Gospel message in our lives. As Pope Saint John Paul II so famously said, “Be not afraid.”

Virtues and Martial Arts

In the Catholic Church there used to be a greater influence placed on learning about the deadly sins, the virtues, and how the virtues counteracted the deadly sins. In recent decades this necessary education seems to have fallen by the wayside. This is an unfortunate development because it is truly important to know. Why? In studying martial arts (or military strategy) we learn that we must be able to both identify the tactics our opponent and our own counters to those actions.

Before we take a look at the virtues, let me expound a bit on our apostolate.

The mission of the Order of Lepanto is to ignite and preserve the flame of God’s gift of masculinity that resides in all men by connecting them with the martial tradition of the historic Knightly Orders of the Catholic Church through the study and practice of swordsmanship. We use many medieval and renaissance texts to reconstruct how swords were really used. Through this we connect with our religious heritage while building character, learning more about our faith, and strengthening our values and bodies. A large part of what we do is to teach tactics for physical and spiritual defense. One component of those spiritual tactics are the virtues, both cardinal and theological, which are sometimes referred to as the heavenly or Christian virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude (courage), faith, hope, and charity.

Now, on to the virtues and how the martial arts system of the Order of Lepanto works to strengthen them.

Prudence— Aristotle defined prudence as recta ratio agibilium, “right reason applied to practice.”  It is the virtue that allows us to judge correctly what is right and what is wrong in any given situation. In the practice of martial arts we use prudence in a couple of ways: first, we learn the extent of our actual abilities and to not take on more opponents than we are able; second, in sparring we must quickly select the appropriate technique for a given situation. Situational prudence in a split-second helps to build our decision making overall.

Justice— As Fr. John A. Hardon notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, it is the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due.” We say that “justice is blind” because it should not matter what we think of a particular person. If we owe him a debt, we must repay exactly what we owe. In the area of self-defense and defense of others, we look to stop the unjust aggressor with appropriate force. To exercise justice is to not unduly harm anyone, but to prevent an injustice from occurring.

Fortitude — Fortitude allows us to overcome fear and to remain steady in our will in the face of obstacles, but it is always reasoned and reasonable; the person exercising fortitude does not seek danger for danger’s sake. Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it. This virtue is often labeled as “courage” and is most associated with the martial arts in general. Courage is the counter to fear and can be bolstered through practiced responses to a given situation, whether spiritual or physical.

Temperance — While fortitude is concerned with the restraint of fear so that we can act, temperance is the restraint of our desires or passions. Food, drink, and sex are all necessary for our survival, individually and as a species; yet, a disordered desire for any of these goods can have disastrous consequences, both physical and moral. In defensive situations people can lose control and let anger fill them. This anger leads to an over-reliance on strength and an abandonment of form and technique, which leads to disaster. The most successful martial artist (in real and simulated fighting) is the one who exercises temperance.

Faith— Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and all that He has said and revealed to us and all that Holy Church proposes for our belief because He is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. While faith is not an integral piece of every martial arts system, you will find that the martial arts of a culture tends to build upon the faith system of that culture. In the Order of Lepanto, we specifically study the martial system of the European Knights from the medieval and renaissance periods because these men were Catholic (and later, Protestant) and the tenets of our faith are part of their system.

Hope— Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Placing one’s self, or even thinking about placing one’s self, in harm to stop unjust aggression can be a dangerous undertaking. Trusting in the promises of Christ and knowing that His strength and grace are available to you allows the martial artist to freely focus on the defensive situation.

Charity (Love) — Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. Jesus makes charity the new commandment. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” Perhaps love and charity is the one virtue we do not always associate martial arts with. But we treat our sparring partners and fellow students with love and charity as we share our knowledge and even as we use sparring to point out weaknesses. Even in dire circumstances we approach our opponent with the intent of causing as little harm as possible, and are prepared to offer forgiveness once the threat itself has been neutralized.

 

While using martial arts to better learn and practice the virtues is not exactly commonplace, it is a valid approach for some. The Order of Lepanto has invested its efforts to assist men in improving their ability to defend others both physically and spiritually, to help our members grow in faith as they grow in martial arts, and to be steeped in knowledge and love of the Catholic faith.

Humanae Vitae at 50

A Perspective from a Martial Artist

One of the best parts of being involved in martial arts is the ease in which one can prove whether or not a technique works, or at least has the possibility of working. When a person is learning a martial art, it requires a lot of conjecture and guesswork as to what it will be like to actually use these techniques in an adversarial situation. This can, and does, lead to self-delusion – thinking that you are better than you actually are.

Usually at this point the budding martial artist enters what I like to call the “crucible of combat” which is typically a friendly sparring match (though the term can refer to actual self-defense engagements). In this place, our hypothetical student gets to try and use the techniques he’s been taught and he usually discovers one (or two) of several things:

(1) The technique is mostly useful

(2) The technique is sometimes useful

(3) The technique does not work.

(4) He cannot use the technique because of

(a) lack of skill

(b) lack of practice

(c) misreading his opponent

(d) lack of strength or flexibility.

When the match is over, the students get a chance to reflect and discuss what they learned and how to grow their skills and improve.

So, what does this have to do with Humanae Vitae you ask?

Throughout the 1960’s, the movement towards recognizing contraception both inside and outside of marriage as morally licit was growing and gaining strength. Even the advisors to the Pope chose to recommend going along with the rest of world instead of maintaining traditional Catholic moral teachings. Then this seemingly unstoppable train hit something. That something was Pope Paul VI under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In July of 1968, Paul VI promulgated the encyclical that he titled Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) to speak to the faithful and the world about the dangers of contraception.

At the time, many chose to ignore this teaching, causing great scandal in the Catholic Church. The fallout from these events from 50 years ago are still with us today and continue to morph into new moral problems.

The mark of a strong, viable martial art lies in its ability to actually be used in real life situations with a reasonable rate of success. This obviously makes sense. If someone were to approach you as a master of some new self-defense system, but every time he (or she) got into a sparring match with someone else they lost, it would not inspire confidence in their system. As a matter of fact, there are plenty of people who do this every year, pretending to have created some system of martial arts. When these “systems” are put to the test, they fail, usually rather dramatically (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOOh2J1b3lQ).

In a similar way, we can look at the moral and societal predictions that were given by Pope Paul VI. When Humanae Vitae was published the Church entered into the “crucible of combat” in regards to the culture and morality. Unfortunately, since the warnings of this encyclical went largely unheeded, we should be able to see the results of this moral crucible: Either the encyclical was totally wrong, or it was a brilliant and prescient success at determining what happened to our culture.

Pope Paul VI made four general “prophecies” about what would happen if the Church’s teaching on contraception were ignored. Let’s look at these predictions in comparison to our current societal situation:

Prediction 1 – Infidelity and Moral Decline

Pope Paul VI first noted that the pervasive use of contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.”

Current Situation for Prediction 1

I do not think it can be argued that there has not been a widespread decline in morality, especially sexual morality, in the last 25 years. The dramatic increase in the number of divorces, abortions, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and venereal diseases should persuade any doubter that sexual morality is not the forte of our modern age.

Upon further examination, it seems easy enough to point to contraception as being behind much of this trouble. The widespread acceptance and use of contraception has made sexual activity a much more popular option that it was when the fear of pregnancy gave a great number of young men and women pause, reducing the number who engaged in premarital sexual activity. The availability of contraception has introduced the concept of “responsible premarital sexual activity”  as a viable choice. But adolescents are about as responsible in their use of contraception as they are in all other phases of their lives–such as making their beds, cleaning their rooms, and getting their homework done on time.

Prediction 2 – Loss of Respect for Women

Paul VI also argued that “the man” will lose respect for “the woman” and “no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium” and will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” We call this a personalist approach to morality, where wrongdoing is based upon respect for the dignity of the human person. The Pope realized that the Church’s teaching on contraception is designed to protect the good of conjugal love. When spouses violate this good, they do not act in accord with their innate dignity, and thus they endanger their own happiness. Treating their bodies as mechanical instruments to be manipulated for their own purposes, they risk treating each other as objects of pleasure.

Current Situation for Prediction 2

The mutual loss of respect and caring has negatively impacted marriages and relationships throughout the culture. When someone no longer makes us happy or fulfills some need in the moment, we are immediately looking elsewhere to satisfy our selfish need. Also in this quest for pleasure without consequences, babies are no longer considered to be connected with the sexual act. So when they come along, it becomes a “problem” that needs a “solution,” which in many cases results in an abortion.

Prediction 3 – Abuse of Power

Paul VI observed that the widespread approval of contraception would place a “dangerous weapon…in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies.”

Current Situation for Prediction 3

Studying the history of the “family-planning” programs instituted in the Third World is a testimony to this reality, where many people undergo sterilization unaware of what they are doing. China’s once child policy created a forced abortion program which shows the extremes that governments will go to in regards to population control programs. Not to mention that few people are willing to recognize the growing body of evidence that many parts of the world are not facing problems from overpopulation, but rather from underpopulation. The truth is that it will take many years to reverse the “anti-child” mentality now entrenched in many societies and then to have enough population growth to fully combat underpopulation.

Prediction 4 – Unlimited Dominion

The final warning given in Humanae Vitae was that contraception would lead people to think that they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies.

Current Situation for Prediction 4

Sterilization is now the most widely used form of contraception in the United States. Individuals are so convinced of their rights to control their own bodies that they do not hesitate to alter even their own physical makeup.

But unlimited dominion does not simply stop with contraception. Once this attitude is entrenched in one part of a person’s life, it cannot help but to be extended into other areas. We produce “test-tube babies” in a refusal to accept the body’s limitations. We no longer wait for a person to be dead before performing an organ transplant, just “nearly dead.” We now try to change our external sexual organs to match how we feel. People are exercising unlimited dominion over their bodies by trying to change the physical body to accommodate personal desires and timetables rather than limiting, adjusting, or controlling their desires for their own personal good. Because, in the end, we do not merely “own” our bodies: We are both body and soul. We must think of the relationship between body, soul, and intellect more as stewardship of the gifts given by God.

Wrapping it up

Based on what we’ve seen in society over the past 50 years, it is clear that the predictions of Pope Paul VI were eerily, and completely, accurate. Very few understood (and most still do not understand) how the “simple” act of contraception would lead to a general unraveling of morality in regards to sexuality and how we view our own bodies.

In the crucible of combat, the sword fighting techniques of Europe in the Medieval and Renaissance periods were proven to be excellent forms of armed self-defense. Similarly, in other parts of the world, local crucibles proved the worthiness of unarmed forms such as Karate, Judo, and Tae-kwon do.  In the crucible of combat that has been the culture wars over the past 50 years, it can be said that the teachings of Pope Paul VI as contained in Humanae Vitae have been proven to be true. Where we go from here as a society depends on whether we choose to blindly follow a system that has proven a disaster, or whether we change our system to match God’s plan for humanity.

 

 

What are you doing for Lent?

As the season of Lent draws near, we will inevitably get asked the question, “So what are you doing for Lent this year?” Before we answer that question, we should take a moment to review what Lent is. Lent is a season of penance that last approximately 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday (February 14th in 2018) and ends on Holy Thursday (March 29th in 2018) and includes all days except Sundays. Taking a cue from Jesus, who spent 40 days fasting in the desert, this period is set aside by the church to deepen our spiritual lives through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

This time is also a call to join the spiritual battle that surrounds each person, every day. Huh? People who try to grow closer to Jesus are often tempted – either by their own nature or by the fallen angels. The heart of spiritual combat is to overcome these temptations to sin because giving up on trying to grow your relationship with the Lord is not a viable option if heaven is your goal.

As the founder of the Order of Lepanto, not only do I look for inspiration from the saints but also from the great sword masters of the Medieval and Renaissance periods in my efforts to win this spiritual battle. One of my favorite quotes is from the teachings of Master Johannes Liechtenauer — “this is the basic tenet of swordsmanship: that a man is always in motion and never at rest.” This is strikingly applicable in both martial arts and the faith life – we must always be in motion, growing ever closer to God.

How to approach Lent?

Like any good general in a battle, you need to approach Lent with a plan. The better the plan is, the more likely you are to be successful.

While Lent is a penitential season, and as such we need to practice penance, we can (and should) take time to introduce new things that will have a positive impact on our overall faith life. My approach is to start with identifying my biggest current spiritual challenge, which changes from year to year, and to discern which elements of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving would work the best to address it. Then, as a step two, I identify ways for a particular element to feed and enhance the others. For example, one might choose to fast from television for a couple of nights per week and to skip the expensive coffees by brewing some at home instead. With that fast as a start, you can create a short prayer to say every time you are tempted to watch TV or to buy a Mocha Latte. You might then take the time freed up by not watching TV to spend time with your spouse, to engage in spiritual reading, or to say a rosary. Finally, you can use the money saved from skipping the $5 coffees to support your favorite ministry, pro-life group, or apostolate like the Order of Lepanto. In that way, you can extend a practice in one area to bear fruit across all of them.

However, like any battle, once you are engaged your opponent does unexpected things. (If you doubt this, come see a sparring match sometime!) In that case, you need to regroup. It’s okay to take a step back once you realize that you fell short in a particular instance. Ask God to help you figure out what went wrong, then use your intellect to review what happened and strategize ways to avoid that pitfall in the future. The most important step at this point is to not to lose heart and give up. A lesson from the sword fighting aspect of the apostolate: I have seen many people get flustered or dejected when they lose the first point (or 2) to their opponent. They begin to believe that they cannot win and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The really good sword fighters can shake off losing that point and come back strong.

Suggestions

With all of that in mind, we are now ready to address our original question, “What are you doing for Lent?” If you are a member of the Order of Lepanto or thinking about becoming one, I recommend reading The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli this Lent, if you have not already done so. I also recommend spending time practicing basic swordsmanship — master guards, master cuts, stance transitions, and flourishing. For general fitness and prayer time, you might consider a pushup rosary – 1-5 pushups after each Hail Mary and 5-10 sit-ups per Our Father.

Here are some other suggestions for everyone:

Additional Prayer time by yourself, with your spouse, or with your family Spiritual reading by yourself, with your spouse, or with your family Family rosary Individual or family catechetical study
Marriage study (even if you are single and only thinking about marriage) Dedicate more time to your favorite apostolate or ministry Attend a daily Mass Stations of the Cross every Friday
Fast from social media Go to confession Chaplet of Divine Mercy Fast from favorite food or drink
Fast from secular TV, radio, etc. Add Catholic media – radio, TV to your regular schedule Bible reading Fast from eating out
Make plans to attend a conference or retreat Pray the Angelus every day Make daily prayer a priority Fast on all Fridays in Lent
Forgive someone who hurt you in the past Reunite with extended family Be intentional about the time you spend with your immediate family Increase exercise (or practice those sword skills!)

Remember, though, to find an area of spiritual weakness and then find a spiritual practice to address it. A good battle plan will lead to better results!

Deo Gratias!

Top 10 Christmas Gifts for the Catholic Swordsman

So, you have a Catholic swordsman that you are looking to get a gift for and you are in need of ideas. You’ve come to the right spot! Sword-based western martial arts is a fairly unique thing and as such it is hard to get reliable information on equipment and training needs. This quick guide can help you to outfit your loved one this Christmas so he is ready to learn the art with the other members of the Order of Lepanto!

1. Sword Maintenance Gear. The thing about using weapons that are designed similar to their Medieval and Renaissance counterparts is that they require much more maintenance than you think. Consistent maintenance is necessary to protect your investment and to ensure your tools are performing to the best of their ability.

 

A person who has a wooden sword will need to have boiled linseed oil to regularly treat the sword.

 

 

 

 

For those who have a blunted steel sword, there are a few more items needed

 

Oil to prevent rust – you can use a gun oil or a sword oil for this

 

 

 

 

 

A flat metal file with a medium grit to dress nicks in the edge

 

 

 

 

 

And a way to store the sword when not in use that will protect it from rust. I recommend using a gun sock made for rifles, they are inexpensive and the length is just right.

 

 

 

 

2. Sparring Gloves. While the original manuals do not show people wearing gloves, except during the winter, there is a need in our modern society to take some basic hand protection into account. While, it would seem that thick gloves would be the order of the day, it is actually better for your dexterity to use thinner gloves with just a bit of padding to reduce the force of an impact.

A set of T-Rex gloves by Magid. These gloves offer good protection to all 5 fingers, knuckles, and the back of the hand.

 

 

 

 

A set of Original M-Pact gloves from Mechanix. Good protection for 4 fingers and knuckles, okay protection on the thumb and back of hand.

 

 

 

 

or basic leather one’s will do nicely.

 

 

 

 

 

3. “The Spiritual Combat” or “Manual for Spiritual Warfare”. The thing about being a Catholic swordsman is that you are studying Western Martial Arts, not for its own sake, but as the metaphor and training ground for spiritual combat. In that vein, you need a good manual of spiritual warfare.

The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli is the book that Saint Ignatius carried with him and that he read every day.

 

 

 

 

A more modern book, the Manual for Spiritual Warfare by Paul Thigpen is a wonderful companion too.

 

 

 

 

4. Training Dagger. Training weapons made of hickory or blunted steel are a critical component of this art. A wooden dagger is a nice additional piece to add to your martial artist’s tools and it has a lower cost than a full sword.

The Rondel was favored during this period

 

 

 

 

but a bladed Gauche would also have been seen.

 

 

 

 

5. “The Knightly Art of the Longsword” or “Codex Wallerstein”. We are studying a sword-based martial art, so having multiple manuals from the Medieval and/or Renaissance is important for a student. These are the best for beginners in the art

Sigmund Ringneck’s translation is a little dated, but the manual is easy to understand and gives an excellent foundational understanding of the longsword, which is the basis of all western martial arts.

 

 

 

 

Codex Wallerstein gives another perspective on the longsword as well as adding in wrestling, dagger, and other weapons.

 

 

 

 

6. Membership to The Order of Lepanto. Just what every Catholic Western martial Artist needs – a 1 year membership to the Order of Lepanto! We are dedicated to faithfully re-creating the martial arts that the knights used during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, along with building the faith of the men involved.

 

7. Fencing Mask. A key component to learning any martial art is sparring – testing your skills against a real opponent in a friendly setting where both can learn. With sword sparring, a mask is required for safety.

Luckily there are a couple of affordable options from Absolute Fencing and Blue Gauntlet Fencing.

 

 

 

 

8. Wooden Waster. The wooden water is a time honored tradition that hearkens back to the Renaissance. Since swords were expensive and one did not want to damage them during training, men would use wooden training weapons that simulated the look and feel of the real thing. We only recommend using impact grade hickory swords. Some of our recommended ones are:

 

Hollow Earth Swordworks

Purple Heart Armory

or New Stirling Arms

 

 

 

9. Bob Torso Training Bag. This training tool was developed for unarmed martial arts, but it works quite nicely with a waster or a blunt steel sword.

You can use the BOB to ensure your edge alignment is good and for practicing combinations. If you are handy, you could also build a pell out of a 4×4 post and some other materials – a nice set of instructions can be found here.

 

 

 

 

10. Steel Sword. The ultimate gift for the budding swordsman in your life! While this is a more pricey piece of equipment, there is nothing like practicing with steel sword. There are a lot of low-quality swords out there that are not designed or built to withstand the rigors of sparring. The one’s listed here are built to withstand the pressures of the fight.

 

The Maestro Line from Albion is currently the ultimate in sparring swords. The Meyer and Liechtenauer are the models to looking at.

 

 

 

 

Another good choice is a Feder from Regenyei Armoury. These are good mid-tier swords.

 

 

 

 

Finally, there is the Tinker-Pearce Longsword from Hanwei. It is a beginners sword with a price to match. This one won’t last as long, but it is a way to spar with a real steel sword.

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas to all!

       (updated on 28 Nov 17 to reflect some new options)

Full Armor of God

I have heard many people talk about the full armor of God as found in Ephesians 6:13-17:

13 Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice,

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace:

16 In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one.

17 And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God).

These talks usually focus on the sword, the shield, and the breastplate with barely a mention (if at all) about the feet. I had not even noticed it myself until recently.

Members of the Order of Lepanto are dedicated to practicing and learning the martial arts of the Medieval and Renaissance Knights and then using these skills to better understand certain aspects of spiritual warfare. You see, the men who wrote about spiritual combat were well-versed in the use of the sword and shield, and they wrote to people who also had a similar understanding. Although this expertise has mostly died out, it is still possible to learn these skills today, and armed with the knowledge of the intricacies of these weapons in their historical context, we can come to a greater understanding of the underlying, analogous spiritual lessons.

As a martial artist, one of the things we learn about is the importance of your feet. While you might understand this in unarmed combat, it remains true even when using a sword. No person will ever be a good martial artist without the right footwork. We learn to keep our stance wide for stability without even thinking about, to avoid crossing our legs while stepping, and to place our feet in ways to improve our balance. The 14th century sword master Johannes Liechtenauer wrote that “this is the basic tenet of swordsmanship: that a man is always in motion,” and that motion requires good balance and proper placement of feet for stability. Beyond the Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe (MARE), which is our group’s specific martial art, you see a similar understanding in other disciplines as well. Sifu Ted Wong from the New York Martial Arts Academy writes, “Footwork allows us to do 3 things: makes us hit harder, puts us in a position to hit, and gets us out of danger.” Even Bruce Lee spoke about the importance of your feet in combat: “The essence of fighting is the art of moving.”

Here is where our group’s mission comes into focus. We take the knowledge that we have learned about martial arts (footwork in this case), gained through real world practice, and then use it to interpret spiritual warfare writings. So, let’s do this together…

First, we’ll reread this selection from Ephesians, “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” and then we’ll apply the lessons from MARE. If the core of all martial arts combat is movement, which is obviously tied intrinsically to your feet, then the same can be said about spiritual combat. Saint Paul is saying here that as your feet are the source of successful movement in combat, so too your feet (shod in peace) are the source of your success in spiritual combat. Therefore, we can conclude that peace must both precede your movements and flow within them in spiritual warfare. Peace puts you in a position to strike at the enemy, peace will allow you to hit Satan harder, and peace is what keeps us out of spiritual danger. Remaining peaceful in spiritual and physical combat is the key to success in both.

Now that we know that our feet are important and need to be shod in peace, we must ask ourselves: just what is peace? Peace, like love, is a complex subject so stay tuned and we’ll talk about that in a future article…

Deo Gratias!

Beauty and the Martial Arts

“At the sight of the truly beautiful we are freed from the tension that urges us on toward some immediate practical goal. We become contemplative, and this is immensely valuable.” – Dietrich von Hildebrand

I recently had occasion to read some excerpts from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book Aesthetics. In this book, he speaks about the role of beauty in the formation of a person. At one point he quotes Ernest Hello in saying, “The mediocre person has only one passion, namely hatred of the beautiful,”1 which, of course, got me to thinking about martial arts in general, and specifically about MARE (Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe).

 

The forms and movements of martial arts certainly cannot be directly compared with the higher order of beauty that comes from God’s unique creative power. However, they can be roughly compared with the lower order of beauty as created by human beings. The motions and movements found in the forms of different martial arts contain a certain kind of beauty similar to dance, though with a purpose as different as night and day: fine arts versus self-defense. But like dance, the precise control of the body and its motions while moving from one position to the next in a fluid manner has a beauty of its own. When outside of the area of combat, transitioning from defense to offense and back again in motions that are at once both sweeping and efficient can be said to be similar to a dance form.

 

Mr. von Hildebrand states, “At the sight of the truly beautiful we are freed from the tension that urges us on toward some immediate practical goal. We become contemplative, and this is immensely valuable.”2 When one martial artist observes another performing a well-executed flouryshe3, the underlying beauty of unscripted set of strikes, blocks, steps, and transitions does that exact thing. We are caught up in the fluidity of motion, the control, and an awareness both of self, surroundings, as well as others. When we then turn this contemplation of the art into a deeper contemplation on the mysteries of God and His creation, we have gone past the practical goal and entered a deeper layer of our journey in the martial art. Building the skill of contemplation is part of the journey in the Order of Lepanto because we do not study MARE simply as a tool of defense, but rather, as a tool to improve our spiritual lives.

 

Dietrich von Hildebrand also goes on to say that “[b]eauty is the archenemy of mediocrity,”4 which is also true of the martial arts. The mediocre practitioner strikes with too much or too little power. His timing is off. There is little to no fluidity of his motions with the sword and his body. Now obviously, we all begin at this point for as a physical endeavor martial arts takes practice. However, our goal should always be towards an unattainable (in this life) perfection. As we work closer and closer to that goal, beauty is revealed. To the man that is satisfied with mediocrity, there is neither beauty nor success in his art. Without that fluidity, that beauty, the ability to execute self-defense movements are limited.

 

We are all being called to grow closer to God and His beauty through whatever gifts and talents He has given us. Be sure to look for beauty and eschew mediocrity in all its forms.

 

 

  1. Ernest Hello, L’Homme (Paris: Perrin, 1936), in the chapter entitled “L’homme mediocre,” 59–60
  2. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Aesthetics Volume 1 (Steubenville: Hildebrand Project, 2016). Page 5
  3. In MARE a flouryshe is an unscripted combination of strikes, cuts, blocks, steps and transitions.
  4. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Aesthetics Volume 1 (Steubenville: Hildebrand Project, 2016). Page 6

Preparing for Lent

As you are most likely aware, Lent is a liturgical season in the Catholic Church that comes before Easter. Officially, it begins on Ash Wednesday (which is March 1st this year) and ends on Holy Thursday (April 13th), lasting slightly longer than 40 days. Since the date of Easter moves based on the cycles of the moon, the dates of Lent will be different every year. The meaning of the word “Lent” is from the old English meaning length and this is, of course, an allusion to the lengthening of days during this period. As the days get longer, there is more light and less dark. Similarly we are called to grow in faith and grow the light of Christ in our lives, while reducing the darkness of sin.

The season of Lent is a penitential season, meaning that the faithful are asked to participate by performing some kind of penance. Traditionally this has involved giving something up, which could be a special treat or a bad habit that gets in the way of spiritual growth. Growing in self-discipline and learning to offer up the “suffering” of these minor sacrifices is the goal of this spiritual exercise.

In our culture many attach a great meaning to the New Year, making resolutions involving healthy habits of eating and exercise are quite popular. However, if a person were to go to gym on try to do 90 minutes of intense exercise as a beginner, they would either injure themselves or become so sore and exhausted as to be unable (or unwilling) to come back. Think of Lenten practices as spiritual exercise. You are trying to get your mind and soul in shape. Therefore, a similar set of rules should guide you –

  1. Start slow and build up
  2. Vary your exercise for maximum benefit
  3. Don’t obsess over the numbers

In starting your spiritual exercise routine, start with a few things that you can easily integrate your daily routine. Adding morning and/or evening prayers, short biblical readings and other things are simple and effective if you’re not already doing them. While giving things up does have a great benefit, we need to also vary are spiritual exercise program by adding acts of service, prayers, or spiritual reading because growing in your faith involves adding good practices as much as it requires eliminating the less desirable.

If you are searching for something new this Lent, here’s a list of possible ideas:

  • Fast from “noise.” We live in a society of over-stimulation, so turn off the television and radio (or turn them to EWTN) for 30 minutes a day (or more).
  • Take a break from social media, either totally or impose time limits.
  • Exercise and prayer. If you do physical exercise, begin and end that time with prayer.
  • Read a book or watch a movie on the life of a saint.
  • Try turning out the lights and television 30 minutes early, lighting a candle and spend time in prayer with your spouse.
  • Men’s groups. Classes at a gym are popular because the group helps motivate you, this is the same in your spiritual exercise program. The Order of Lepanto, Knights of Columbus and other solidly Catholic groups will help you with that spiritual motivation.
  • Pray for Catechumens. There are catechumens who are preparing to enter the church at Easter, pray for them and their sponsors.
  • Visit someone in a nursing home or in a hospital.
  • You can find a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or crisis pregnancy center to donate your time to.
  • Daily Mass. You can go to daily Mass once a week or more often as your schedule allows.
  • Eating out. Try fasting from eating out and then donating the money saved to a ministry or apostolate.
  • The Rosary is a powerful prayer and you could add it once or twice a week. You can pray it alone, with your spouse, or even better you can pray it as a family.
  • Stations of the Cross. This practice is available at most Catholic churches during Lent, so take advantage of it.

In thinking of this like an exercise routine, engage the Holy Spirit as the “personal trainer” in your journey. When you go to the gym, or advance through martial arts, a coach or mentor helps you to learn, perfect, and then grow to the next level while addressing short-comings along the way. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work similarly in your faith life – ask Him to show you what He wants you to work on. God has a plan for your life and He can help you grow towards it, ask and be open. Also, like any good exercise routine, don’t stop when you reach your initial goal. Make your new faith practices part of your regular life when we get to Easter so that you can enjoy a deeper, richer Christian life.

Listening to God

Recently I was asked, “How do I listen to God?” which got me thinking about how and when I most clearly hear God. While we have to trust in faith that God wants to, and does, reveal Himself to us; it is not always easy to hear, understand and follow. To begin, make a point of spending time with God in prayer throughout the day. Take time in the morning, at midday, and in the evening to thank Him and to ask how you can know and serve Him better. By opening yourself to a relationship with God you will learn better how to hear His “voice.” In thinking about just the hearing part, I came up with a few ways that God has spoken to me in my life –

The first way I can recall God speaking to me in my life is through desire. At one point in my life, I began to feel that I wasn’t using the talents God gave me as full as I could. Many people call this “laid upon my heart,” but it is a sudden, rather unexpected realization that seems to come from nowhere.

The next way, related way, I’ve “heard” God is through unique ideas that cause me to stretch in a spiritual and worldly way. As a response to my sudden feeling that I wasn’t using my talents as fully as I could, I turned to prayer. I prayed every morning for God to show me some way to better serve Him, and after my prayer time I spent 3 or 4 minutes in silence. I prayed this prayer for weeks, until one morning, when during my prayer, I suddenly had three ideas. Each one would require me to do things that I had never done before in order for them to be successful (one of them was to found this ministry).

The final way that I’ve felt God in my life is through unexpected certainty. When faced with a decision and not knowing which way to go, I have often prayed for guidance (typically after laying down at night). There have not always been clear answers, but on 2 occasions there were. I have awoke in the morning, again after several (many) days of prayer, to just know the right thing to do.

Listening is only the first step, once we think we’ve heard God, there needs to be a process of discernment.

  • Is what I think I’ve heard in line with Church teaching? If not, it’s definitely not from God.
  • If what you are asked to do cause you distress or agitation it is not from God. God may call you to stretch beyond what you think you can do; it should not cause great anxiety, but rather peace.
  • Lastly, God is always calling us to love. If an answer is not loving, than it likely does not come from God.

Then we need to go and do what He has asked. We may be successful, but we not be. Saint Mother Teresa said, “God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful.” Do your best and keep up the prayers.

Another thing to consider is that God gave us our talents and our rightly ordered desires. Following them will also lead towards Him. As a husband and father, God often times speaks to me through my wife and children about love, kindness, and patience. And as a student of historical martial arts (as well as a practitioner and teacher), I find that God occasionally speaks to me during or after a practice session. Place your skills at God’s disposal and listen – you will probably be surprised and delighted by where He leads you!

Without Challenges We Create No Champions

How do you build muscle? Your muscles get challenged by the weight you lift. In overcoming that challenge, those muscles get stronger. As a person trying to get in better physical condition, you must steadily increase the weight in order to maintain the challenge. Once you stop increasing the challenge, your muscles stop growing. Our fallen human nature is similar. The need to work in order to earn money for food, shelter, and entertainment is a challenge that keeps us from lying on the couch all day long. Giving people all of their basic needs without requiring their participation rarely results in amazing higher-level achievements – what it tends to do is make people less inclined to do anything. We can see Jesus using this aspect of human nature in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. As God, Jesus could have simply created food out of rock, or sand, or nothing at all. But He asked the people there to participate in the miracle, because He knows that we need to participate in some small way. The best way to motivate people to achieve more in business is by giving them a way to increase past the point of basics through additional work. We can also see this pattern in relationships. Pre-marital intimacy does not lead to quicker and stronger marriages. Instead, it most typically leads to extended dating scenarios with the man avoiding a traditional commitment to the woman. But with the challenge of commitment, a man typically decides quickly if he loves a woman enough to permanently link their lives and souls. The challenge presented brings out the champion in each of us.

In human history there has always been both challenges to excel as well as the challenge provided by adversity. Getting the basics of life for yourself and your family was a true challenge. As part of the Christian worldview, we began to reduce the chances for life-threatening adversity and this resulted in a much better society overall. We cured more sicknesses, fed more people, and lowered infant mortality which helped to make the bare essential parts of life possible for a great number of people. The challenges then became advancing from subsistence to abundance. It can be argued that in modern society we are now providing more than subsistence and have encroached into satisfactory. While no one would argue that welfare is abundance, the level it does provide along with the way it is structured makes it easier just to stay at that level instead of becoming self-sufficient. Without that challenge of needing to lead and provide for a family, we have made couch potatoes. The Catholic Church, likewise, has responded to the reduction of challenges in our society by making it easier – the fast before receiving Holy Communion has been reduced to a bare minimum, Holy Days of Obligation are moved to Sunday so people don’t have to go Mass more than once per week, penance on Fridays has been downplayed until it has been all but obliterated, and the examples could go on. The central idea was that in making it easier to be Catholic, more people would choose to be in the faith. However, the reality is something quite different. Without the challenges presented by trying to live the traditional faith, people became spiritual couch potatoes. Jesus, who knows a thing or two about human nature, put out some amazing challenges for the faithful:

  • “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28
  • “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” Matthew 5:22
  • “But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:32
  • “But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28

These sayings of Jesus present believers with a challenge that would be impossible under normal human conditions. As God, He knows this; however, instead of relaxing the teaching and reducing the challenge, Jesus gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help us receive the Grace of God and continually improve ourselves. By keeping the bar set high, believers are constantly challenged to live better and grow closer to God’s design for humanity before the fall.

Without challenges, our fallen human nature often causes us to sink to a low. In Proverbs 27:17, Solomon writes that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” A sword is sharpened by using an iron file – the resistance, or challenge, of the iron file against the blade creates the sharp edge. Further, Zechariah talks about refining silver and testing gold in chapter 13 verse 9 as a metaphor to the tests that God will put people through. The challenge presented by this text is there to motivate us to do everything we can to avoid despair and to persevere. We must not run away or hide from the challenges we are presented with. In this apostolate, the Order of Lepanto, we present members with the challenge of learning the martial arts used by Medieval and Renaissance Knights (sword, shield, dagger, and unarmed defense skills) while also praying and studying the faith. If you are not getting good external challenges, you should consider creating your own. Make them hard, but achievable, and be honest with yourself about how you are doing. Forgive yourself when you mess up, but commit to trying harder the next day and never give up trying to improve. Some of the things you can do:

  • Daily spiritual reading and reflection
  • Daily prayer
  • Join a men’s group
  • Nurture fellowship & friendship with men who have similar goals
  • Fast on Fridays
  • Attend Mass on a Holy Day, even if it has been moved to the nearest Sunday
  • Cut out a habit that gets in the way of your vocation

If you give yourself good, holy challenges then you will improve your chances of being a spiritual champion – which we know by another name: Saint.