One of the perks of moving back to my hometown is that my son now gets to take his Mixed Martial Arts training at my brother’s dojo, Clinch Academy. Yesterday they had belt promotions. Any of you who may have trained in the martial arts know that belt promotions are a major right of passage. And if you train at a place that is more serious about the art than the business, the belt symbolizes more than just time put it and physical skill.
That’s what my brother talks about at the beginning of promotions, what these belts symbolize. Yesterday, he asked the kids what it takes to get good at mixed martial arts. He talks about this often, so multiple hands were going up to answer. Luke likes to start it off with discussing the meaning of commitment. But he doesn’t just keep it in the dojo. While the kids give answers about its meaning, he asks them where else this applies in life.
A black belt takes a long time and a lot of commitment. Sometimes you will want to quit. So you have smaller goals along the way. In order to be promoted to the next belt, you have to put in the time and be able to pass the evaluation for what that belt requires. The higher your level, the longer time there is before your next promotion. So the kids were answering Luke, that this takes perseverance and endurance. “What else?” One kid raised his hand and said “courage.”
“When will you need courage in life?”
Now you would think that in a place that trains in MMA, the bravado would kick in and this would be the perfect time to talk about all the moves and submission holds they have learned to defend themselves or another against an attacker. In fact, they had just been through another lesson on bully safety strategies. That takes courage, for sure. Or maybe this would be a good time to bring up the recent story in France, where four Americans thwarted a shooting on a train. Now that is courage, right? And some have even responded that this is what it means to be a man, to have that kind of courage.
But Luke’s class isn’t just for boys. In fact, half of his students in that class are girls. And while that is surely a courageous act, most of us will not have to fight off terrorists in our lifetimes. Maybe we are all called to an even more profound courage than what was displayed on that train. Luke is instilling in these kids that they need courage in life to be honest. That is hard even for adults. So once again, he took this opportunity to talk about the bravery it takes to tell the truth even when you may get in trouble or when you know there will be consequences you don’t like.
He then asked, “What responsibility do you take on when you accept your new belt?” The kids already knew the answer. You are a role model, a good example to the lower belts, and to everyone, both inside and outside the dojo.
I couldn’t help but think of how we need this same encouragement and exhortation to honesty in the church. I’m glad that these children are learning that honesty does come with a cost. It takes real courage. That is what they are being called to.
Since we know that we have Christ, who was hated for his honesty, and bore our sin for us, Christians can have the courage to speak truth in the most difficult times. When we have done something wrong, repentance takes honesty and we have Christ’s forgiveness. When we know that we must speak unpopular truth to expose false teaching or hypocrisy, we are comforted that in a small way we are identifying with the suffering of our Savior, who is crucified and risen. That is what we are called to, inside and outside of the church. I would say that it takes even more courage than fending off AK-47 shooters. In that case the men said they were thinking, “I’m probably going to die anyway.” In this case, you have to die to yourself on a continual basis.
*Originally published September 15, 2016.