“Those who follow Karate-do will develop courage and fortitude. These qualities do not have to do with strong actions or with the development of strong techniques as such. Emphasis is placed on the development of the mind rather than on techniques. In a time of grave public crisis , one must have the courage, if required for the sake of justice, to face a million and one opponents.”
Masonry & The Martial Arts
by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Freemasonry and traditional Martial Arts are two of my passions and favorite subjects to practice and study. On the surface they may appear to be completely different. Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, while the martial arts are a system of deadly self-defense techniques. However, it is this author’s position that they are very similar in structure, philosophy, and goals for their students. The aim of this humble paper is to present their benefits and similarities to my fellow Freemasons, with the hope of inspiring new and continued interest, study, and participation in both disciplines. Please note that for the scope of this work when the term Martial Arts is used, it is referring to traditional martial art styles like Taekwondo,Shotokan Karate, or Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Let us first examine the structure of both entities. Historically both Freemasonry and the martial arts required a screening process before letting people join their ranks and obtain their “secrets”. General Hong Hi Choi the founder of Taekwondo states “A close scrutiny is made on the mental make up as well as the background of any applicant prior to his or her admission to the gymnasium.” While Freemasonry still has this practice, most modern martial arts schools especially in America will allow anyone with the financial means to join their “Dojo” and start training. Historically however, this was not the case as the martial arts were passed down within a specific family line or clan and if someone outside of that group wanted to learn they had to be “vouched for”.
Both of these systems were also practiced in secret. "Training in karate was always conducted with the utmost secrecy in Okinawa, with no one teaching or training openly in the arts as done today.” The reason for this secrecy was a matter of life and death for both the Freemason and the Martial Artist. During the time of operative masonry, the knowledge the Freemasons possessed was their trade and subsequently, how they fed their families. If cowans and eavesdroppers were allowed to gain their secret information, they could take work away from those who were duly and truly prepared. In a very real way this was a matter of life and death for the Mason and his family. In the same way, if the martial artist’s techniques or “secrets” were revealed to a hostile person, tribe, or village, they could use that information to defeat them in combat and once again, meeting the Angel of Death becomes a real possibility.
Both disciplines have a Master and Grand Master that sets the adherents to work and gives them good and wholesome instruction for their labors. They both are a progressive science with grades or degrees and in order for a student to advance they must show suitable proficiency in the proceeding level’s material. In addition part of that material involves memorizing physical movements in a certain order which Freemasonry calls due guards & signs, and the Martial Arts call forms, kata, or poomse.
Finally both present their information in a exoteric and esoteric format. For example the public can see a martial artist demonstrating a form or kata that may have movements that look like dancing (exoteric) but they are really deadly fighting techniques (esoteric). The true meaning is only taught to the initiated which is the esoteric knowledge. As a martial arts instructor I still teach by this traditional formula.
Freemasonry aims to make good men better, and it’s design is to make its votaries wiser, better, and consequently happier! Our ritual teaches us that Masonry is concerned with developing the internal qualities of Man. The martial arts also have the same goal as stated in the following quote from Master Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate and often referred to as the father of modern Karate.
In addition Taekwondo has the five tenets of Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control, and Indomitable Spirit, which each student is charged to inculcate. These are very similar to the four cardinal virtues of Freemasonry which are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. They do not correlate directly but there is significant overlap. For example Integrity relates to Justice, as Perseverance & Indomitable Spirit correspond with Fortitude, and Self Control with Temperance. In addition to internal development, improving one’s community is also something that both systems encourage.
As Masons we learn the following from the Volume of Sacred Law, “And now abideth faith,hope, and charity,these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” Grand Master Hong Hi Choi in his Taekwondo Master text stated the following regarding community service: “...by rendering their labour to the public work and to the poor villages during their leisure hours so that they may teach themselves the spirit of the public service and mutual help.” Both Masons and Martial Artists as they labor to subdue their passions and improve themselves in either respective systems, should also help to transform and build their communities. For those of us who labor in both quarries we have a double responsibility to extend our cable tow in service to others. The best example of this and the harmony between Masonry and the Martial Arts is Shotokan Karate Lodge 9752 UGLE.
In conclusion, both Masonry and the Martial Arts are progressive sciences with similar structure and goals to develop the moral character of their votaries. As the student cultivates the internal attributes of brotherly love, relief, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, justice etc., it is hoped that these will be extended to his fellow man and the community at large. It is my hope that after reading this brief comparison, my Brothers who are not martial artist may consider taking that first step and begin training in a style of their choice. For my Brothers, who travel on both paths, may this discussion increase your interest, focus, and passion to study and train harder-- to become the best Mason and Martial Artist that you can be!
Choi,Hong HI(1965) Taekwondo The Art Of Self Defence,Los Angeles California: Masters Publication
Gichin Funakoshi(1973) Karate-Do Kyohan The Master Text, New York New York: Kodansha America
Tedeschi,Marc(2003) Taekwondo The Essential Introduction, Trumbull, CT: Weatherhill Inc
Holy Bible 1st Corinthians 13:13 KJV
Yours in Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth
Subordinate to the
Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Illinois and Its Jurisdiction
Warriors Martial Arts
5th Degree Black Belt- Taekwondo (WTF)
Black Sash- Ip Man Wing Chun( under Master Sam Chan)
Certified Instructor- Jeet Kun Do Concepts (Harris International JKD Federation)
Brother David Pugh serves as the Senior Warden of Plumbine Lodge No. 116 in Chicago,IL subordinate to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Illinois. He is also a member of Eureka Chapter #3, Holy Royal Arch Masons, a subordinate Chapter of the Most Excellent Prince Hall Grand Chapter, Holy Royal Arch Masons. In addition Brother Pugh is a member of the Phylaxis Society and currently serves as the appointed Director of the Commission on Bogus Masonic Practices. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org