Fighting in the Martial Arts
Christian Martial Arts instructors emphasize “defending with compassion.” They emphasize to their students how to defuse an argument verbally or escape physically from an attacker. The key is not to get hurt or hurt anybody else. However, if a student can’t defuse the situation or escape, what should they do? They are taught to end the confrontation effectively and efficiently. That may mean blocking the attack and “redirecting” the attacker to the ground or several feet away. It may also mean striking or kicking the attacker to get away.
So, how does a martial arts student learn how to fight? They learn the art of Kumite, which means “sparring” or “fighting.” Instructors work with students to move from Fundamentals and Forms to Fighting.
Fighting in the dojo is carefully controlled at first to help keep young students from hurting each other, but training at the Black Belt level is a demonstration of speed, power and accuracy that could defeat one or more attackers in just seconds.
Sounds great for martial arts, but how does that work in the spiritual realm?
The New Testament word for “contest sparring” is agonizomai, which means “struggle, contending, fighting, striving.” It was used for sparring in ancient gymnastic games, fighting with adversaries, struggling with danger or difficulty, and striving to obtain. The Apostle Paul used the word when he told Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) and when he described himself as having “fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Paul used a different word for the idea of fighting in Ephesians 6:12 – “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The Greek word for ‘wrestle’ is pale and is used only once in the New Testament. It translates as “vibrate, shake” and has some similarities to styles of martial arts that use trapping, throwing and choking techniques to force an opponent into submission.
Defeating an opponent in ancient Greek and Roman games combined off-balancing, tripping, throwing, trapping, choking and other submission techniques. Punching and kicking were also used to stun an opponent, which made submission techniques quicker and more effective. Paul used this word for “intense struggle” in the context of spiritual warfare.
The best fighters in the physical realm know why they fight AND the best way to win the fight. They know the faster they win a fight, the less chance of serious injury. The same is true for the Christian apologist. The Apostle Paul wrote that unlike people who compete in life for a perishable crown, Christians compete for an “imperishable crown.” (1 Corinthians 9:25b)
The first fight an apologist will face is with themselves – “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things … But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25a, 27)
The word “temperate” (egkrateuomai) in verse 25 is the idea of exercising self-control (dominion from within). The word “subjection” (doulagogeo) in verse 27 is the idea of enslaving, subduing, leading into captivity, claiming as one’s own slave.
What Paul told the Corinthians is similar to the martial artist who brings his/her body into subjection through intense training. It is not possible to reach mastery in martial arts without bringing your body into subjection through self-discipline and self-control. The same is true for the apologist. Paul addressed this in his last letter to Timothy – “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)
The Holy Spirit will not lead a Christian to indulge the flesh. Paul wrote – “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) God’s Spirit living in us will lead us away from indulging the flesh to bearing His fruit in our lives (e.g. love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). Those are the marks of a powerful spiritual warrior who has disciplined himself/herself and brought their body, mind and spirit “into subjection.”
The second fight an apologist will face is uncertainty – “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26)
Paul’s idea of “one who beats the air” was used of a fighter who practiced punching into the air with no real opponent (shadow boxing) or was unable to land a punch during a real fight. No matter how hard they fought, they were ineffective. Real fights involve real opponents and winning real fights means using techniques the fighter is certain will work.
We have a saying in martial arts – “Do not fear the opponent who knows 10,000 kicks, but fear the opponent who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Anyone who has used a specific kick 10,000 times in training and real fights will launch that kick with certainty. They have perfected that kick and know exactly how and when to use it for maximum effect.
A Christian who has practiced a solid apologetic argument hundreds or even thousands of times in real discussions with real people will use that argument with certainty and maximum effect.
The Best Fighters
The Apostle Paul was quite the spiritual warrior. He knew that fighting spiritual battles was not about conducting warfare in the power of the flesh – “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
The best martial arts fighters know how to maximize their skills to be both effective and efficient. They don’t waste time or energy. They fight to win and winning often means enduring. The same is true for the Christian apologist.
“And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.” 1 Corinthians 4:12-13
Apologists should be ready to fight every day because the enemy is going to bring the fight every day. The best apologetic warriors should be ready to “suffer for righteousness’ sake” and not fear the enemy’s threats or be troubled (1 Peter 3:14). Our work is to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts and be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15). We do that best when we are ready to “fight the good fight of faith.”
So, what’s next? The importance of ‘Focus’ in becoming a Black Belt in Apologetics.
[This series of articles about Black Belt Apologetics first appeared on the Ratio Christi Website. Mark McGee is a Ratio Christi assistant chapter director at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He is also a 6th Degree Black Belt and has been teaching for more than 50 years.]
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.