Category: Spiritual Warfare

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.

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!

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!

5 Words That Explain it All

Now that is a bold title – Five Words That Explain it All. What does that even mean?  How can five words explain everything about everything?  Well they can’t, but if we use the five words as tools to live by then those five words can explain our actions in every situation.

Well, what are the words?  In the Liechtenauer school of fencing specifically in the Dobringer Cod.HS.3227a codex Hanko Dobringer writes this, “Before [Vor], After[Nach], Weak [Weich], Strong [Hart], in that instant/just as [Indes]. On these words hinge the whole art of Liechtenauer, and they are the foundation and cornerstone of all fencing on foot or on horseback, in armour [Harnusche] or without [Blos].”  So the words are Before, After, Weak, Strong, and In the instant/moment.

In the art of the sword these words have a very powerful meaning. Let’s take a moment and explore that before we go on.

  1. Before. If you attack before your opponent then you are usually much safer than waiting for them to attack. If fact, if you succeed in your attack; then your opponent does not even have the opportunity to respond to it.
  2. After. If you cannot attack in the before then attack in the after. Make sure that you take initiative away from your opponent.  Take control of the fight.
  3. Weak. Liechtenauer states that if your opponent is strong, then be weak. This does not mean to concede, but rather to use your opponent’s strength against him.  Fall back, re-group, and find another way.
  4. Strong. The other side to that statement is when your opponent is weak, be strong. If the opponent is drawing away press him. Don’t allow him to re-group.
  5. In the instant/moment. Always be aware of what is happening now.  What is your opponent doing? Where are you spatially in regards to each other?  Where is his sword? Be aware of your physical surroundings (trees, rocks, mud, etc.).

These are all very important concepts in sword. In fact these are the basic concepts to almost all martial arts distilled down to five words. These base concepts span all of martial arts history and are as true today as they were in the 1300s.  Okay, that’s great.  If I get in a fight I know to use these as the basis of my strategic and tactical thinking, but how do these words have any relation to my life in general?  Well, let’s look at this in light of our everyday life and then we will get into how we can use these words as the basis of our faith walk.

In our everyday secular life we wake up, go to do what we do during the day, come home, and go to bed in order to start the whole process again tomorrow. But the five words are always there.

  1. Before. I have to be first. I must cut in in front of that other car. I need to get that last bagel before someone else does.
  2. After. I better get that project done before my boss finds out that it’s late. The Jones’ just got that new car, I better get one too.
  3. Weak. Hello officer, what seems to be the problem?
  4. Strong. I need that report now.
  5. In that instant/moment. Honey I love you. Why is that guy riding my tail?

Not necessarily the most flattering examples, but you can see that these words are definitely applicable in everyday life.  So how about our faith walk?  As we go through our day could these words help us avoid the trips and traps of sin?  Can they be used to help us get closer to God and to follow his teachings?  Let’s find out.

  1. Before. Pray. Pray before everything. Luke 9:16 “Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people.” Before Jesus gave the loaves and fishes he blessed them. He prayed.  Matthew 26:36 “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Jesus prayed before he did anything.  That is an example that we need to emulate.
  2. After. Be thankful and try to sin no more. As Catholics we have the sacrament of Reconciliation that we can take advantage of.  We can go and have our sins forgiven so we can take back the initiative of our faith.  Jesus said this multiple times.  John 5:14 “Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee.” John 8:11 “She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” Jesus teaches us to “Go” this is not passive.  This is something that we should be actively seeking, to sin no more.
  3. Weak. This is a prevalent theme throughout the bible. In sword, the statement is when your opponent is strong be weak.  Christ teaches us that the weakest of us is actually the strongest.  Those that know they are broken, know they need God. These are the ones who will inherit the earth.  In Spiritual Combat by Father Scupoli, it teaches us to always distrust ourselves and to always trust in God.  That is seen as weakness in today’s society. 2Corinthians 12: 9-11 “but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
  4. Strong. We are called to be strong in our faith. Whenever trials and tribulations happen, we have a firm foundation to cling to. Too often today people question why God allows something to happen? Why are cancer, abortion, natural disasters, car wrecks, and any number of awful things allowed to occur? I don’t have an answer for that.  But, God’s love and mercy are sufficient to overcome all of that.  Look at the example of Job. He had horrible things happen and he stood steadfast to his Lord.  Romans 4:20 “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,” 1Corinthians 16:13 “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”
  5. In that instant/moment. Of all of the words this is the one that I believe is the hardest. In that moment of temptation, that moment of sin we must stand firm and be aware of what is happening.  We have to make a choice.  In sword it is the choice of what next.  Do I block? Do I attack? In our faith it is the choice of, do I trust? It is hard to be in the moment. Matthew 4: 3-4 “The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Jesus was in the moment.  He recognized the trap of sin for what it was and refused to succumb.  We look at when Jesus called the Disciples.  He walked up to a couple of people and said “Hey you drop what you are doing and follow.”  And they did.  Should we do any less? In each moment of our day what can we do to glorify God?

So, five words that explain it all? Maybe, maybe not; however, the concepts behind them can be used to help us be better Christians and people.  The art of the sword, like so many other things in life takes dedication, and practice.  You don’t pick it up and are immediately good.  The same is truth of the faith.  We need tools that we can use to practice on a daily basis the lessons we learn from the bible.  These words give us a tool to remember who we are and what we are striving for. Just like the Fechtbuchs of old they give us a representation that will call to mind the technique to use for victory.

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.

The Physicality of Knighthood and the Theology of the Body

As part of my studies of the martial arts of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, I specifically looked at the history of knights, especially those of the Catholic Military Orders (e.g. The Knights of Saint John/Malta/Hospitaller, Teutonic Knights, etc.). In the course of that reading, I came across an article from Patrick Meehan, published at the Medievalists.net website in 2014. The author writes about the history of knights and how the actions of these historical figures runs the gamut from violent and destructive to the courtesies of courtly life. The author goes on to discuss the happenings in the lives of 3 different knights – an anonymous knight in the Teutonic Knights, Ulrich von Lichtenstein, and Jӧrg von Ehingen. The lives of these three men were distinctly different and spanned 200 years of history, but there was a common thread that linked them together and linked them to us – and the key to understanding that linkage lies in the Theology of the Body.

On the surface it seems rather implausible that the Theology of the Body, written by Saint John Paul II over the course of several years, which deals with sexuality can create a link to men who lived 800 years earlier and who were known for their fighting skills. Love and war? Always interesting topics, regardless of the generation.

In the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II delves into the interpersonal love of spouses and how the one flesh union is a visible sign of God’s love made present in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. God’s love has four components – it must be free, total, faithful, and fruitful. So to, should the love between spouses exhibit these four elements and marriages suffer when they are absent. First is freedom – we must be free to marry our spouse. Which means not only that we are not married to another, but also that we are not forcing our spouse to do something and we are able to forsake relations with all others. Next is total, the love must be total and one spouse should not say “I give you everything, except…” Totality also includes forever, which is why a prenuptial agreement is an impediment to a sacramental marriage as it presupposes failure and you have not committed to give your spouse your entire future. Faithfulness is third on the list and it should be clear, at least on the physical level, of the importance of faithfulness. This also refers to faithfulness in word and in thought – engaging in fantasies about others is unfaithful too. And finally fruitful, which describes how physical relations between spouses need to be open to life, though not necessarily timed to generate a life. This vision of spousal love is a total gift of self to the vocation of marriage – our work, our play, and our faith life are centered on our spouse and any children that arise from this union.

Before we begin looking at the knights, the reader should be aware that there were two different kinds of knighthood. The first was the secular – a man swore his oath of allegiance to a particular king, while the second kind of knighthood was by being a member of a religious Military Order (taking vows similar to a religious brother) – these would include Knights Hospitaller, Knights Templar, etc. These two distinct ways of life in knighthood existed side-by-side during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

Again we might ask – how does this relate to knights, martial arts and sword fighting? While there are obvious differences between marriage and living the life of a warrior (at least we hope so!), the underlying Catholic faith of the knights and the spouses is the same and so the principles which undergird both should be (and are) quite similar. In an analogous way to marriage, the knights had to be free, total, faithful, and fruitful to their vocation too. Knights not only had to freely agree to serve, but they had to be free of impediments that might divide their loyalty (such as a wife and family for the religious Knights). There was a totality of service, especially in the military orders of the Church, whereby knights gave their money to the Order and turned over any property to the Order. As an example of their faithfulness Knights were expected, and often did, sacrifice their bodies in service to the leader or kingdom they swore fealty to. The fruitfulness that a Knight was called to is certainly different than that of the spousal relationship, though also of great value during this period. Knights were expected to be fruitful in their works and in the defense of the subjects of a kingdom or members of the faith (for the religious Knights). Another way that knights fulfilled their call to be fruitful, was to take on boys as pages to be trained, promoted to squires, and finally to become knights in their own right. The process lasted about 14 years and during that time these boys and young men would live with their knight instead of their family.

We are often called to submit our bodies to our vocation – from the pregnant woman, to the spouse who works hours to provide for the family, or the knight who endures the pain of training and battle. Beyond the dedication of one’s sexuality to one’s spouse, there is also the dedication of our bodies to other aspects of our family.

In our current, sex-saturated culture, the ideas embodied in the Theology of the Body are considered both revolutionary and impossible. But to the faithful, the idea of pledging oneself to his or her vocation is nothing new. As Mr. Meehan points out in his article “knights of the Order submitted their bodies to violence,” and though that kind of dedication seems nearly impossible to modern thinking, the corollary thought of dedicating one’s sexuality to their vocation seems totally unthinkable. However, seen through the eyes of faith, this dedication to a mission from God bridges the gap of 1,000 years and ties together the medieval and modern members of the Church founded by Jesus.

Why Fellowship in Faith and Martial Arts?

We all live in community and the attitude of our fellows impact the depth of our faith as well as how we train in the martial arts. Good intentions are not enough – we must practice what we say we believe.

While any collection of people (whether virtual or physical) can be called a community, the strength of the bond between them is the result of the shared interest and each person’s commitment to it. Is it only martial arts and historic studies, or does it include the depth and breadth of the Catholic faith? It is the bonds of faith which are the most lasting, because they anchor our community in a transcendent truth as taught by Jesus and passed on by the Catholic Church throughout the last 2,000 years.

What brings a student of historical fighting arts together with others? If you were to travel back in time, you would see that this craft, sometime called a noble science, was never practiced as a simple leisure activity nor solely for the glory of the person. But rather, with a recognition that as a warrior the fighting man was part of a brotherhood of arms. Whether as some order of Catholic or feudal knight, or gentleman courtier, as scholar in a school of defense or fellow in a fighting guild, learning and practicing the art of arms demanded solidarity among practitioners. Beyond this mere brotherhood of arms, there was also the brotherhood of faith. Belonging to the same faith allowed the men of Catholic knightly orders to share a common point of reference, one that transcended language, kingdom, or even family. The role of faith in the broader context of relationship during this time period is often overlooked by modern practitioners.

One of the offshoots of the concept of the “rugged individual” which is found throughout the culture of the United States, is the idea that we can “go it alone” in everything. Similar to the idea of “me and Jesus”, many modern enthusiasts like to imagine they can train alone in their own “solo art.” It is not true for martial arts practice nor is it true for the faith. We are designed by God to live in community – as it says in Proverbs, “iron sharpens iron,” leading to the logical conclusion that you need the iron of others in your life. In the same way, fighting skills are not practiced in a psychological vacuum but with the need for mental and emotional control. A martial discipline cannot be practiced in social isolation, independent from the need to exercise with and against others. Indeed, many religious found the martial arts a help to understanding the greater spiritual combat that we are called to in our Christian life. Outside of faith, even humanist educators of the Renaissance stressed the martial arts as part of their curricula because of its value to help make a better citizen.

There is no doubt that, ultimately, self-defense is a highly individual matter that consists largely of self-effort — whether engaged on the battlefield in combat, or in the spiritual temptations we are called to fight. However, the knightly art of arms was never really something to be practiced remotely in seclusion or for some singular occasion, but with one’s fellows—and not just any fellows, but those whose honor was demonstrated and whose respect had been earned. Just as the faith was meant, not to be practiced alone, but with those fellows who were earnestly trying to achieve heaven, and whose council could be trusted in matters of faith. There was no selfish “lone warrior” myth nor much truth to the knight errant, any more than you go to Mass alone to receive the Eucharist. The Art as expressed in the Renaissance source teachings, was taught with the recognition it was intended only for those who were deemed worthy, those trustworthy to receive it. Lest you think faith is much different, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:13, “Every man’s work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.” Our work in pursuit of the faith will be judged and found either worthy or not – we are called to works through our love and faith to prove ourselves just as the Renaissance martial artists judged each other as worthy in a human context. Exactly how much these practices were followed in historical reality, we can never really know. But in striving for best in our faith journey and our martial skills, we teach and demonstrate to others a desire to learn and to strive for mastery of the craft and the faith.

People today often complain about how modern society view the pursuits of life and faith. Modern society tends to over-commercialize many things and trivialize those who seek to live with sincerity, commitment, and deep faith. What drives some to long for the past is seeing how people were able to live an integrated life, where faith and action were equaled teamed to not only teach right and wrong, but created a call to DO right and AVOID wrong. Here we have in this craft a legacy that at once celebrates individual achievement and awards personal effort while it simultaneously acknowledges our shared connection to a Catholic heritage. It has an ability to draw us closer to the men who once defended the faith in a unique way, while also increasing our own understanding of God’s call in our lives. The men in our group strive to live by the traditional dedication to principle and honor.

Although unselfishness is not a feature that immediately springs to mind in regard to either historical research or the practice of a martial discipline, it is a key feature of the Christian life that believers are called to. In pursuit of a restoration of reverence, renewal of a uniquely Catholic sub-culture, and preservation of our heritage the practice of unselfishness is key. So it is worth asking yourself – what is your interest in the martial arts of Renaissance Europe? Are you trying to use them for your own needs? Or do see this as a way to share with others? Or do you see it as even broader – a desire to build the faith, to see more men in relationship with Jesus, to see more people trying to live out His will, and to share your faith and martial skills with others? We work to reconstruct and revive these lost fighting systems, for far more than the history itself. We do it to rebuild and re-energize our Church in a modern age which has thrown off reverence, belief, respect, principle, and honor. Why even seek out others who share our passion if it is not because of something more than just a commonality of collective curiosity? We are much more than a loose affiliation with strangers – we are a community of believers who are committed to a mission.

This craft is about self-improvement and mutual education as a means to rebuild our individual faith as well as he Church as a whole. It is not a group that exists in some virtual social networking media, nor is it defined by shrill online banter, or the pretentious role-play of some imagined nobility, but it is an organized assemblage with real principles and sincere values. As a self-defense art, this discipline can be somewhat centered on the individual, and certainly it is self-preserving and self-realizing. But by pursuing it with the love of neighbor and love of enemy that Jesus called us to, we can engage in our quest in an unselfish manner – neither deceiving nor exploiting one’s fellows. By identifying with the saints and with real historical masters, along with the Church and fighting guilds, we can improve the craft, ourselves, and our larger community. All of this is why petty politicking and commercialism is shunned within our guild.

 

Today, just as in the Renaissance era, those who seek others to train with or a teacher to learn from must do so with a sense of camaraderie, loyalty, morality, and trust. Anything less disrespects our heritage and works against the very ideals the Masters upheld. …Faith, History, Heritage, Self-defense, and Camaraderie. Who could argue with that?