Masonry and Martial Arts » Lodge of Happiness

Below is a transcript of the presentation made by Bro Colin Bennett on the Synergy


The Synergies of Freemasonry and the Martial Arts

Worshipful Master, Brethren

Thank you for this opportunity; It gives great pleasure to share my observations on the Synergies of Freemasonry and the Martial Arts

 

History

I was introduced on to my Masonic journey by a very and dear friend and brother, Bro Philip Williams

In February 2011, I became an Entered Apprentice Freemason     passed to the Fellow craft degree In October 2011 and raised to a Master Mason In January 2012 (Yes it’s been a year)

My short journey through my Freemasonry’s three degrees has been an experience of unknowing, Intrigue, learning and of course making sincere friendships.

To be Involved in the world’s oldest and possibly largest fraternal order fills me with a joy and dare I say Happiness and a means to be able to enhance my knowledge of the craft, learning the way it works from brothers who have been in the craft for many years and are eager to impart and share their knowledge to the junior Brethren

Also knowing that millions of others including, Kings, Presidents, actors, singers, composers, sports stars and of course the everyday man have journeyed on this same path

Whilst sitting in the lodge and observing and getting an understanding of how the lodge works, how we communicate whether it by signs, Grips or tokens I started to see and feel  that there was a synergy a relationship between Freemasonry and what was my first love – martial arts.

I first became Interested in Martial arts during my teens when I used to be part of the school boxing team, and after leaving school decided to look to join a martial arts club, or dare I say a fellowship way back in 1979

I first started to study Lau Gar Kung Fu, a form of Chinese Martial Art under Master Jeremy Yau and Instructor Albert Edwards, in what you may remember was the old BAI building in John Bright St Birmingham.

I could talk a lot more about Master Jeremy Yau, but may be one day I could elaborate a little more

After a few years or so of training I reached the heights of practicing for my purple sash, during my career I have also tried other forms of martial arts and I later went on to train in Shotokan Karate,

Karate being derived from the words: Kara meaning “Empty”, and Te meaning “Hand”. Open Hand, Empty Hand

Last but not least I joined a Shin Gi Ti Aiki Jujitsu club.

This being a martial art consisting of Aikido and Judo

The club was called the”Tsunami Aki Jujitsu Club” that was run by a close friend called Sensei Tony Bull; the club was also affiliated to the World renowned Keith Morgan Shin Gi Ti Aiki Jujitsu club.

Keith Morgan being a 5th Dan and trains regularly in Japan

Sensei Tony Bull was the QC Manager where I work and being a work colleague and friend encouraged a few candidates from work to attend

Some brethren may remember my wedding and my best mans speech where I slipped in a few lines about my best man being my sparring & training partner

 

Brethren, here starts the first synergy / similarity – They all have a Master

 

Let me explain a little further……………………

 

The Lodge Room, The Dojo & Parallel synergies

We meet in Lodge rooms where only Masons are allowed.

The Lodge Room and its entrance are guarded by a brother called a Tiler who wields a sword

It is to the Tiler that a visiting Mason from another lodge must prove himself by conveying the signs, grips and words of a Master Mason.

In the early days of Freemasonry, the tiler was in place to guard the lodge meetings against cowans (non Masons) and eavesdroppers,

A word which stems from Masonic beginnings: people used to sit in the eaves of lodges to spy on Masonic meetings and were found out when they fell through the eaves or dropped from them, hence the creation of the word.

When we open the Lodge, we stand on sacred ground we must adhere to strict ritual with attention paid to even the most minute details

Such as the position of your feet with just the right amount of steps to be taken and knowing exactly what words to say and what signs to give and when.

The Lodge is comparable to the martial arts dojo. The dojo floor is sacred, so much so that in most traditional dojos students are required to remove their shoes before entering.

Upon entering the dojo the student bows to the instructor or sensei and to the master and In some Dojo’s bow before you step onto the mat, just as the Mason upon entering Lodge or steps onto the square would gives the sign to the Master.

The student then proceeds to stand in a certain position, usually in a line ordered from superior to lesser rank. This is done in grade order

Karate being: White, Yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, black

Similarly the Brethren take their seat in the Lodge according to office and Rank

A martial arts dojo usually contains a dojo oath and some form of certification as to the dojo’s credentials and affiliations.

Masonic Lodge cannot be opened unless there is a warrant from Grand Lodge on display.

Masonic lodges have what are called tracing boards on display, opened on whatever degree Lodge business is being conducted.

These tracing boards are illustrations featuring symbols from each degree that help impart to us valuable lessons about the degrees.

The Lodge and the dojo are similar too in that a white belt will not be able to participate in a black belt session just as an Entered Apprentice cannot participate in a Lodge opened in the Fellow craft Degree, and a Fellow craft cannot participate in a Lodge opened in the Master Masons Degree.

You are only permitted to practice on that degree you have attained and not above, just as in the martial arts.

 

The Apron & Martial Arts Belt or Sash

As in martial arts and Free Masonry there is a strict dress code applied

Martial arts have a suit normally made from cotton called a gi with a coloured belt or sash around the waist dependant on the grade

At a glance a Mason can also determine a brother’s degree by looking at the other item of clothing we wear in Lodge — the apron.

There is no more important item of clothing, and indeed no more important possession of the Mason than the apron

Upon receiving a plain, pure white apron during our Entered Apprentice initiation, we are told that it is the badge of a Mason,

“More ancient that the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, more honorable than the Star and Garter.”

The apron is made from lambskin and represents – Innocence.

We are told above all else to always keep our apron clean and safe and wear it with the upmost pride.

Similarly students of the martial arts wear uniforms a gi in the dojo and belts around their waist, the colour of which is determined by the rank or level of learning they have achieved.

These levels of learning, which come to a climax with the acquisition of a black belt

 

The Rituals & Martial Arts Grading

To advance in martial arts you must undergo strict gradings to achieve rank.

These gradings change from style to style but the basics of them are pretty similar and usually involve:

  • sparring
  • execution of technique,
  • explanation of technique
  • The performance of kata or forms.

 

Fail to perform these tests to and you risk failing the grading.

Parts of these gradings are also performed solo meaning that you receive almost no assistance and need to have the techniques and forms committed to memory.

 

{ Front Strangle Break Demonstration}

 

It’s not enough to simply demonstrate the techniques in air, but to be attacked by an opponent; there is also very specific positioning of the body parts that must be performed with precision.

These gradings utilise techniques and forms (Kicks, punches, throws) that can be traced back hundreds of years and in some cases back to ancient times, such as with the Shaolin roots of Kung Fu or the Karate of Okinawan farmers.

Likewise Masons undergo rituals (our gradings) to achieve the various degrees.

These rituals have remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years and aspects of them can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian mystery schools which are said to have developed after the sinking of Atlantis.

Masons are required to commit ritual to memory for the completion of these degrees

A Mason must also execute the signs, tokens and grips which includes the positioning of the feet, the arms, the hands and the fingers

This is not unlike the kata or forms, a martial artist commits to memory with excellence of execution.

Indeed one of the most mind-blowing aspects of the craft is to see our rituals being recited word perfect, massive chunks of texts like the oaths and tracing board lectures in each degree which are extensive and can last for several minutes of non-stop speech,

all of which is done completely from memory, at which point Brethren I would like to say “The Lodge of Happiness do well” with its Brethren being regarded as being up there with the best

 

The Working Tools & Martial Arts Weaponry

We are called speculative Masons as opposed to operative Masons; we practice Freemasonry speculatively for its character building and moral lessons, and not operatively as working stonemasons.

In our speculative learning we have adopted the tools of operative Masons from medieval stonemason’s guilds, and use them symbolically to impart valuable lessons.

Indeed most of Freemasonry’s uses symbolism and allegory.

A peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”

Each degree of Freemasonry uses different working tools to symbolically teach the lessons of that degree.

Each of these was a working tool of the operative Masons who designed the gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages and other amazing architectural wonders, such as King Solomon’s Temple.

 

Just as Freemasonry uses the ancient working tools of the stonemasons to teach important moral lessons, so martial arts employs ancient tools to teach physical lessons and encourages growth and respect.

Martial arts weapons such as the tonfa and nunchaku were first employed as working tools by Okinawan farmers for their crops.

The tonfa, for example, was used as a handle to grind rice.

It was inserted into a hole in a large rock called the threshing stone and used to turn the rock grinding the rice into flour.

Of course the tonfa and nunchaku are no longer employed as farming tools but rather used in martial arts to teach self defence.

Forms (Kicks, Punches and throws) or kata can utilise such weapons as tonfa, sai, swords and nunchaku and so speculatively to develop the attributes just mentioned;

In a similar way Masonry speculatively uses building tools of the operative Masons to instill moral teachings

 

What It’s Really All About

The pivotal question: ……………………………………………….

Why did you want to become a Mason?

Why did I want to become a Martial artist?

To this question more often than not is one of the following:

  • Self Improvement
  • Spiritual growth
  • Friendship and Brotherhood
  • I want to learn self defence
  • I want to get fit
  • I want to improve my confidence
  • Making a good man a better man

The study of martial arts uses the physical skill set of kicks, punches, chokes, locks, holds, etc to illuminate the student by way of developing confidence, discipline, and a respect for seniority and a sense of brotherhood with fellow class members and self improvement.

Just as martial arts are not just about kicks and punches (though they do play a major part), so Freemasonry is not about secret handshakes, signs and tokens

Both martial arts and Freemasonry, The Lodge room and the Dojo biggest similarity is, in my opinion, is that both have the potential and opportunity to build:

Character, build Friendships, build Brotherhoods and of course make us all round better human beings.

 

Brethren, Imagine to my absolute amazement to find out that someone else has sat where I sit and had the same thought and made the same connection

As part of my research I would like to mention Michael Sciavello who is also a Mason and has wrote a paper also written on this subject

Michael Sciavello is a regular voice and correspondent for the martial arts; he also commentated on the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne

And then Brethren imagine to my sheer delight to find out there are lodges where the Brethren are either active or retired Martial artists, namely:

Shotokan Karate Lodge 9752 based in London                                          Ghee Kung Supreme Lodge of Chinese Masons

 

Bro. Colin Bennett

 
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No. 7952
Est. 1964

Tel: 0845 474 7952 Address: Severn Street Masonic Hall, 60 Severn Street, Birmingham, West Midlands, B1 1QG.
You won't find a happier place to join a lodge and be a Freemason.

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