One devotee’s journey through martial arts and Krishna consciousness.

When I first heard the words “Hanuman Taekwondo,” I thought it might be the title of a storybook about Lord Rama’s faithful devotee Hanuman. I was wrong. Looking at the words carefully, I then thought it might be the name of a popular guru from Southeast Asia. Nope. Wrong again.

Rather, Taekwondo is a unique form of martial arts, originating in Korea. And Hanuman Taekwondo is the brainchild of Jason Goreing, a Third Dan black belt, the 1994 Australian Taekwondo Master, a six-time NSW Taekwondo Champion—and a devotee of Lord Krishna. His Hanuman Taekwondo is a spiritualized version of an age-old tradition.

Jason’s initiated name is Jaya Vijaya Dasa, and he is a disciple of His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami (1950–2005), who called himself a “spiritual warrior:” a soldier of peace, nonviolence, and love of God.

A Tough Start

When Jaya Vijaya was roughly fifteen years old, he would regularly watch and copy Bruce Lee, the martial arts exemplar who made numerous movies, popularizing Asian combative techniques for the world to see. He would also watch David Carradine in the television series Kung Fu and fantasize about filling his shoes. Jaya would spar with friends, and he quickly realized he had a natural ability for fighting. He also saw that he had an innate attraction to the life of a monk, like the one portrayed by Carradine in Kung Fu, and to the entire martial arts tradition. He admired the philosophy of Taoism, Buddhism, and other forms of Eastern thought. He was impressed with the idea that someone could excel in martial arts and still fully support the doctrine of nonviolence.

Aside from his interest in Eastern philosophy and martial arts, he was a normal kid. He lived in a small country town in Victoria, Australia, where “drinking, smoking, football, fighting, and womanizing were the main sources of entertainment.” He indulged in such things, and when decadent behavior became a problem, his family moved away from their little town.

Soon after, Jaya left home and relocated in Melbourne. This led to the association of low-life street kids, which resulted in his living in boarding houses, taking drugs, and engaging in other unsocial behavior.

But it was around this time, thankfully, that his sister’s husband introduced him to a friend from Cambodia who had studied martial arts from the age of five in a Buddhist monastery. He rekindled Jaya’s interest in philosophy and physical discipline and, though sharing some secrets of martial arts, was careful not to divulge too much. He could see that Jaya was not only young but also aggressive and might misuse his knowledge.

He encouraged Jaya to pursue martial arts, but to accept that everything comes in time and that learning such arts prematurely can be dangerous. He also left Jaya with the idea that it is important to be a good person, with high morals values and ethical codes.

Diving In

Jaya moved to Sydney and threw himself into the world of martial arts. But despite his attraction to martial arts, life was handing him a good dose of material suffering. So when a self-help book convinced him it was time to make some serious changes in his life, he moved to Perth, on the other side of Australia. He enrolled in an Olympic Taekwondo school, started reading all sorts of “spiritual” literature, and trained more seriously than ever before. Soon after, he enrolled in a school run by former world Taekwondo champion Master Jang Tae Kim. Then, before the 1994 Australian Championships, he trained at a prominent school in Melbourne for three months. The school had produced four Olympic Taekwondo fighters for Australia, including Lauren Burns, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist.

Jaya excelled at this school, won numerous matches, and soon became Australian Champion. He returned to Sydney to train with Master Kim, renowned in the world of martial arts. One week later he was with the National Taekwondo team, preparing for the Olympic games and the world championships. Sadly, while training with a friend, he cracked a cartilage in one knee and tore a ligament in the other. His future in martial arts was in jeopardy.

Skeptical of the invasive surgery he was told he needed, he started going deeper within, looking for answers while praying and meditating. From calamity, says a Chinese proverb, comes opportunity.

He explored Ayurvedic medicine, holistic healing, vegetarianism, and yoga asanas. And he came across the Bhagavad-gita, which deepened his knowledge of Eastern thought.

It was Jaya’s younger sister, aware of his inward journey and newfound interests, who introduced him to Krishna consciousness. Observing his burgeoning passion for vegetarianism and animal rights, she gave him a book that had been given to her by a Hare Krishna devotee: The Higher Taste. He found its philosophy fascinating, a natural progression from everything he had studied and practiced thus far.

The book included a card that advertised the local “Food for Life” restaurant, which turned out to be close to where he was living. He began visiting the restaurant daily, eating prasadam and speaking with devotees. Gradually, he realized that many of the books and traditions he was studying were just later derivatives of the ancient Vaishnava tradition practiced by the members of the Hare Krishna movement.

He began to experiment with the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. He applied the same passion and determination he had previously used for martial arts. In fact, he used some of those same techniques to become even more absorbed in the mantra.

Through chanting, his consciousness was gradually transformed. He gained more and more faith in Vedic philosophy, which teaches that we are not these material bodies and that the material world is a temporary place of illusion and suffering. He also developed faith in a higher realm, our original home, where Krishna sports with His eternal associates.

Soon he was meeting senior members of the Hare Krishna movement, like His Holiness Devamrita Swami, who encouraged him and answered his numerous questions. This led to a move to Brisbane, where he spiritual practices became even more serious. He moved into the temple and took to ashram life with full force, taking part in the daily spiritual program. Rising every morning at 4:00 A.M., he attended group services with song and dance, he chanted the prescribed number of rounds on his beads, and his meditation deepened.

After a year in Brisbane, he met his spiritual master, His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami, who initiated him into the eternal science of the soul. Under his teacher’s able guidance, he traveled to the United States, where he visited and served in many large Krishna temples, including those in Pennsylvania, California, New York, and Texas. His guru took him to visit temples in London, South Africa, and Europe as well. Bhakti Tirtha Swami encouraged him to continue his martial arts training and to open a school. He would tell his disciple tales of Arjuna and other warriors from Vedic times, bringing out the chivalrous and deeply spiritual underpinnings of each story.

Taekwondo and Krishna Consciousness

For the last two years, Jaya and his wife have lived in Brisbane, where they run a martial arts club near their home. Around seventy students attend classes at Hanuman Taekwondo every week. They learn not only about martial arts but also about Krishna consciousness, if not directly then by Jaya’s example.

“The true value of martial arts lies not in learning the art itself,” says Jaya Vijaya, “but in acquiring internal qualities developed by learning its basic practices.”

When asked what initially attracted him to martial arts, he replies, “Practitioners often use meditation and other spiritual practices to complement, enhance, and perfect their martial skills. I was always interested in discipline and exercise, but I was also always a seeker.”

His interests came together perfectly in Krishna consciousness.

“All the self-discipline and spirituality I learned as a martial artist was brought to the next level by the devotees. With them, I came to understand the roots of martial arts and how the very practice was meant to bring one to an awareness of the Supreme Being.”

“I learned,” he continues, “that martial arts has spiritual origins. Monks practiced it for thousands of years, in China and Japan, especially, as a basis for self-realization. It was a form of yoga—mastery over body and mind—meant to bring people to a peaceful state of consciousness. From there, they could pursue service to God wholeheartedly. With a fine-tuned body and mind, there would be fewer distractions in their pursuit of spirituality.”

“Martial arts originated in India,” Jaya Vijaya tells me, “and its teachings were carried over the Himalayas by a monk named Bodhidhama, who brought it to China. Soon after, it spread to Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries. The seed practices that later became martial arts can be traced back to Vedic texts. Even Lord Ramacandra and Parashurama, both avatars of Vishnu, are described as warriors, adhering to an advanced set of morals and ethics and a spiritual code of life. In other words, even Vedic culture saw the need for true spiritual warriors.”

Jaya Vijaya is talking about kshatriya dharma, which in former times included elaborate methods of warrior training. Vedic texts acknowledge four kinds of people, each with a natural set of work skills and vocational aptitude. Of them, the kshatriyas, natural leaders and fighters, are trained to be noble and chivalrous. Warriors of some sort are always needed to keep order in society. Martial arts can be seen as a much later derivative of kshatriya dharma.

In ancient India, kshatriyas would train daily not only in physical disciplines but also in complex meditation techniques that gave mastery over supernatural weapons. The kshatriya—”one who delivers from harm”—was never an aggressor and always embodied a strong belief in nonviolence. This is also the martial arts way of living.

The Power of Ch’I

I asked Jaya Vijaya to discuss some similarities between the ancient kshatriya science, which begins with knowledge of the self, and its corollary in martial arts. He replied,

The terms ch’I and ki, which are variations on the same concept, have been described as the breath, the spirit, or the inner nature of things. It’s the life force, the vital energy that separates a live body from a dead one. According to all forms of martial arts, one needs to get in touch with this vital force, which brings us closer to who we really are. But martial arts is not generally clear about what the ch’I actually is. Is it the real atma, the self, or some other kind of vital energy? Martial arts doesn’t tell us. The thing I like about Krishna consciousness is that it gives clarity to concepts that are only vague in the world of martial arts.

Jaya also explained that if you eat the wrongs foods, such as meat, you deplete your ch’i, your inner bodily energy. Sex and drugs have the same effect, inviting disease and death. Thus, as our conversation went on, it became clear that since the ch’I can be depleted, it is not the atma, the life force proper.

In Vedic terminology, the ch’i, then, correlates more with subtle energies in the body, as described in Ayurvedic texts. Prana, for example, is the life energy that contributes to respiration, oxygenation, and circulation. All motor and sensory functions are linked to prana, whose more subtle aspects, ojas and tejas, seem to correspond to ch’i.

To learn about the actual spiritual element, the soul, Jaya Vijaya turns to Krishna consciousness. Here, through service to Lord Krishna, he finds the ultimate goal of the martial artist. Indeed, he finds the ultimate goal of life.

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