Star Beacon

Street Smarts


USA MARTIAL Arts founder Jeff “J.” Brown is a sixth-degree black belt studying to be a Lutheran pastor.
His book, “Street Smarts,” is a compilation of his wisdom from teaching karate and working in Christian ministry. He promotes a holistic approach to healthy living. The Star Beacon

Karate master, pastor, finds harmony between Christianity and the martial arts

Published September 23, 2006  By CARL E. FEATHER, Lifestyle Editor

Is it possible to be a dedicated Christian and a serious student of the martial arts?

For Jeff "J." Brown, a sixth-degree black belt in his last year at Concordia Theological Seminary, there is not only harmony between the two, but synergy. Brown, 37, believes Christianity perfectly fulfills the third requirement for karate's holistic message of caring for mind, body and spirit.

"I wholeheartedly believe every martial artist should be a Christian," says Brown, a resident of East Spring-field, Pa.
Indeed, Brown has written a concise handbook for the Christian martial artist, "Street Smarts from Christian Martial Arts: 40 Life Lessons from a Karate Master." The book explores the biblical foundations of principles taught in the martial arts, such as respect for others and caring for one's body, and provides lessons to help students achieve success at both the karate school and in life.

Brown addresses a range of life issues, such as discipline, balance, choices, success, authority, goal setting, conflict resolution, respect, self control and perseverance. He does so in short, pithy chapters filled with anecdotes from his own life as a businessman, martial arts master and Christian.

Brown was 8 when he took his first karate lesson at a school in Girard, Pa. He progressed rapidly and was teaching at age 16. By the time he graduated from Northwestern High School in 1987, he was a senior instructor at the Billy Blanks Karate Academies, one of which was in Conneaut.
"I just feel in love with it," Brown says. "I was one of the school's first black belts."

After Blanks headed to the West Coast in 1988 and closed his schools, Brown decided to open the Conneaut location under his name. In 1990, he opened an academy in Girard and received his black belt in Goshin Jutsu Karate. In 2000 Brown was inducted into the Christian Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

Although seminary takes up much of his time, Brown continues to teach black belts and hold seminars at the Conneaut School, which is under Brown's USA (United Systems Association) Martial Arts. Gary Spring is instructor/owner at the Conneaut academy, 217 Main St.

Brown says the academy has a Christian underpinning, but it's subtle. A cross is part of the school's logo, and Brown often uses his newsletter as an outlet for his devotionals. A Bible verse is chosen as the theme for his annual summer camp for martial arts students.
Describing himself as a "life-long Christian," Brown says he reached a point in his martial arts training where he realized something was missing. That's when he started integrating his faith in Jesus Christ into the disciplines of karate.

Although Blanks had worked hard to keep his classes free of any religious element, Brown says karate is traditionally linked with Eastern religious thought; for example, in Japan, Buddhism and karate are inseparable and a martial arts student must embrace the philosophy to participate.

Brown says there are U.S. instructors who take a similar stance.
"I would warn parents who are searching for a martial arts school to be careful and don't pick just any one," he says.
Brown says replacing Eastern religions with Christianity involves, in part, applying new meanings to some of karate's Eastern traditions.

For example, the traditional bow is a gesture of homage to the gods; in Brown's adaptation, it is a mutual sign of respect. He says there are many precedents for borrowing pagan practices and incorporating them into Christianity with new meanings, such as the Christmas celebration, which is rooted in a secular holiday.

He teaches a style of Japanese karate known as Issho-Ryu, literally "the system for one's whole life." Brown says the concept has two meanings: a system for one's entire life span, plus a system for everything we do. The system is based upon bringing harmony between the body, mind and spirit, with an emphasis on the spiritual.

Brown started writing the book 3 1/2 years ago, although the ideas had been rolling around in his head for several years.  Originally, he wanted the book to be geared to a broad audience of Christians, but his publisher, Agapy, narrowed the focus and content: The editor cut it down by about 50 percent.

Although the 162-page paperback is written for Brown's students, he says Christians who aren't martial artists can benefit from it, as well. He doesn't feel that all Christians should be martial artists, but he does encourage all Christians to care for their bodies through proper nutrition and physical exercise.
Brown's book is for sale at USA Martial Arts in Conneaut, major online book sellers and his Web site, Cost is $14.95.
Star Beacon Print Edition: 9/23/2006

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