Martial Arts to Protect Schools, Hospitals, and National Identity

That’s a tall order, but in Indonesia, that is exactly what Pagar Nusa does. It is the martial arts wing of the moderate Muslim Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a social welfare organization in Indonesia, building and protecting hospitals and schools among other socially beneficial projects. Why would those kinds of institutions need protecting? Unfortunately, the rise of the Islamic State has prompted many in Indonesia to be on their guard, especially those most vulnerable to attack and to recruitment.

Like any other population, the youth of Indonesia are the most vulnerable to recruitment, so the idea of being trained in martial arts to protect your homeland is appealing and may just be enough to keep the youth away from the clutches of the terrorist organization that would seek to dismantle the country. And like many other martial arts practices, Pagar Nusa doesn’t just focus on physical superiority over a foe; the individual spiritual life of the warrior is of primary import. The mind must be disciplined so that the initial attempts at changing the mind of the foe can be successful, thus avoiding the need for physical confrontation. However, the warriors are thoroughly trained in the martial arts so they are physically ready should the need arise.

Pagar Nusa is considered a paramilitary arm of Nahdlatul Ulama, as most political parties in that country have their own military support. But what about elsewhere? What if youth in high schools were targeted to become part of a spiritually disciplined, physically adept martial arts force in much the same way the military sends recruiters to the high schools? Spiritual training wouldn’t have to be focused on a single religious tradition, but could be more about self-awareness and interpersonal skill-building, conflict transformation, and rhetoric. Then, these students could be trained in any of the martial arts they chose, whether for self-defense or competition. If there were such a school in my community, I’d sign my kids up in a New York minute.