#TheNewChivalry Project has a number of components. If someone were to ask me, “What is the most important part of The New Chivalry?” I would have to say, “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is, after all, the final end of Chivalry, (as it is of every other path, whether the practitioners of that path know it or not). Every other component of the New Chivalry Project is ordered to that end. If it does not lead to that end, it is either not being used properly, or it is just plain wrong.
But if someone were to ask which component of the New Chivalry Project was most foundational, I would have to answer, “Strength.”
That is, if you are not pursuing physical strength, the rest of Chivalry will not make much sense to you. You can still be pursuing all the other things: moral action, mental excellence, intimacy with God and with neighbor, etc. You will simply be pursuing by a different path than Chivalry.
Why is strength so foundational? Why physical strength specifically? Is physical strength more important than intellectual strength? Emotional strength? Moral strength?
Certainly not. It is simply more foundational.
Is this vanity? Or can it be seen as a way of glorifying God with the body? Only God and Frank Zane can know that.
This fact is rooted in our very nature as enfleshed souls. The niche that we are designed to fill in creation is that of a bridge between the physical universe and the spiritual universe. Therefore we have the bodies of animals, but those bodies are united to and controlled (to some varying extent) by spiritual souls. Alone among all the creatures of our God and King, we can glorify Him in and through our bodies.
What does it mean to glorify God with our body? Certainly Chastity is a critical component of that. Glorifying God through our sexuality (which is a facet of physicality) is an important topic, but not this particular topic. It is not as foundational as glorifying God through physicality.
Does it mean extreme asceticism, self-flagellation, fasting to the point of emaciation, and despising the crude, physical body? Surely not, although many great masters of the early Church did seem to tend in that direction (a slight tinge of Manichaeism, perhaps?)
Does it mean that we have to achieve elite levels of athleticism? Or aesthetics? Jared Zimmerer approaches this question from the point of view of a body-builder. Others might glorify God in their body by dancing, or by mountain climbing.
In the final analysis, glorifying God through the body takes the form of controlling the body. Since the body is myself, not merely an attachment or temporary baggage, but truly my self, this control of the body is precisely self control. What do I mean by “controlling” the body? I mean making the body do what the soul tells it to do. This can be both negative and positive. It is negative when you prevent the body from doing something harmful, such as overeating or masturbation. It is positive when you make the body do something good and useful or beautiful, such as pick up trash along the road, or dance a hornpipe.
The negative aspect of controlling the body is necessary in a fallen world, but the positive aspect is the true goal. Making the body do things always, as far as I can see, involves moving the body. This why we start with strength. Our role in creation is to glorify God, in all ways, but specifically with our bodies (which neither angels nor animals can do), and in order to do that we have to move our bodies*, and in order to move our bodies we have to have strength.
Even a simple pushup can be done with gratitude to God for the ability to move our body, and this can be truly an act of spiritual worship.
A set of pushups can be as valuable as a ballet or gymnastics routine in this regard. A walk in the park with gratitude glorifies God more than an adventure race with pride and selfishness. It is not the level of physical achievement compared with anyone but ourselves that matters, but simply the mere fact of taking ownership of the body that God has blessed us with, and learning to move it, and to enjoy moving it.
Developing this power in the face of discomfort or tiredness or laziness is the first and most basic level of self-discipline that most human beings learn. Usually they learn this involuntarily, because most human beings in the world and throughout history have had to work physically in order to eat. In our culture we do not have that spur, and so we must learn this self-discipline voluntarily.
If you cannot move your body with ease, power and gracefulness*, you have never learned what it means to have a body in the first place.
This is why we start with strength.
*Throughout this post I am discussing ordinary people with an ordinary level of health and physical ability. I am aware that many people are physically handicapped, either from birth, or as a result of an accident, disease, or old age. These people are called along a special path of glorifying God with their bodies, either by compensating for and overcoming their weaknesses, (for example, the incredible athleticism demonstrated in the Special Olympics), or by accepting their limitations as crosses and enduring them bravely for love of God. In this way these people can develop the same control of the body (self-control) that is the goal of physical training in an able bodied person.