A defining factor in any Asian-based martial art is that there will always be religious undertones. Whether we chose to acknowledge them or not, they are there. That's why nearly every dojo FAQ page on their website addresses the issue of bowing, assuring their prospective clients that it is merely a sign of respect and has no religious significance. While this is true to a point, the concept of bowing does ultimately come from submission. Whether that submission is to another person, a divine being or something else entirely I suppose is up to the one bowing. But its origins can't be denied.
So then how does anyone of Abrahamic faith (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) reconcile the concept of bowing when clearly it should go against the First Commandment?
In my experience, shinobi no jutsu is the only art that would directly contradict any Abrahamic faith. This is because at the highest levels, shinobi no jutsu is essentially witchcraft. It consists of spells and pagan rituals. So as a follower of any Abrahamic faith, that would be the one art I would not pursue in depth. That doesn't mean the lower levels of ninjutsu (espionage, chemistry, survival, etc.) are not of great interest to me. But after a point, there is only so far I am willing to go in the study of ninjutsu.
But what about the concept of non-violence? The one common phiolosophy across nearly all religions is love and peace. So then, if martial arts are quite literally the study of combat skills, how does that coincide at all with what religion teaches us?
Again, speaking from a Christian perspective, I frequently point out Luke 22:36. "'But now,' He said, 'take your money and a traveler's bag. And if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one!'" Christ is specifically instructing His followers to buy a sword for their protection, saying it's more important than a cloak to keep them warm. Clearly a sword is not meant for any other purpose. There are numerous other verses in the Bible (both Old and New Testament) that talk about justified use of force in self defense situations.
Two other verses I like are Matthew 10:34 "Do not think I came to send peace upon the earth. I came not to send peace, but the sword" and Psalm 144:1 "Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle."
You can't really get around that the study of martial arts is a violent endeavor. The term martial art literally translates to "skill of war," the word martial being derived from Mars, the Roman god of war. But as I've said, violence is not wrong if used in defense of oneself or another. When Peter cut off the ear of the Roman soldier in the garden who had come to arrest Jesus, he was chastised not for his actions but that it was not the right time. And let's not forget that when someone asks, "What would Jesus do?" that turning all of the tables over and driving people out of the temple is not outside the realm of possibilities (Matthew 11:12-13).
While there are benefits to that type of training, I honestly think that would turn away a large number of people who might be interested in the arts or truly need training for a multitude of reasons. By claiming to be a Christian martial arts school, I believe you are in fact segregating yourself from what could be your true audience. In my experience, martial arts training is a cultural melting pot. It is the only place a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an Atheist and a Pagan can put aside their differences for the betterment of the community. I've heard it said that martial arts in and of themselves are a theology.
I think that as long as you remain true to the underlying beliefs of your faith, in my case believing that Christ is our Savior, then any endeavor you pursue can only be beneficial. Yes, Asian martial arts generally do draw a lot of influence from Buddhism. Aikido was specifically founded because of Ueshiba sensei's personal religious beliefs. But as a Christian, or any follower of Abrahamic faith for that matter, Buddhism itself doesn't conflict with Christianity. It is in fact complementary of a Christian life-style. Love all things, be truthful and generous. No one says they can't go to yoga class because it conflicts with their religion, when yoga has very obvious Hindu undertones. In fact, yoga-like exercises make up an entire portion of the kalaripayattu (one of the oldest Asian martial arts) curriculum. So as long as I'm not worshipping any idols, or my martial arts instructor isn't telling me to lie, steal or murder, then nothing done in any martial arts class will lead me astray from my personal beliefs.
In the end, we are all on our own journey. Some use martial arts as a ministry. Some use their training to escape the realities of life. Many others are training purely for self defense, fitness or sport. Whatever your reason for training, if it brings joy and fulfillment to your life then you should pursue it. I know I post a lot of articles saying that all martial arts training should be centered on combat efficiency, and while I do believe that ernestly, who am I to tell you what you're doing is wrong? Let truth come from whence it may.