I used to visualize the number of ways I could hurt people.
As a trained Kung Fu instructor on my way to becoming a master of the martial art, I would often ponder the most effective and efficient ways of defeating my sparring opponents…or anyone who threatened me.
“I used to visualize the number of ways I could hurt people.”
This desire to be able to stand up for myself sprang from when I was a young kid in Pittsburgh. I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family. My grandparents came over to the U.S. from Europe during a series of pogroms. My greatgrandfather, a rabbi, was actually killed in a pogrom and I remember being told about his death when I was young. “You can’t trust the goyim,” my grandparents would say.
I grew up believing that notion. My family was very close-knit and most of the people we associated with were Jewish—many of the people at our shul were Holocaust survivors. My personal contact with gentiles did nothing to dissuade me from thinking of them as my enemy. When I was in grade school, local Catholic schoolchildren frequently beat me up and used ethnic slurs, reinforcing what my parents and grandparents had taught me about why we had to stick together.
That aside, my childhood is filled with good memories of Jewish customs and holidays, Pesach being my favorite. It was always a fun and exciting time with family, and as a kid I liked the fact that I got to drink wine with the grownups. I also remember the anticipation of opening the door for Elijah, hoping he would come and that the Messiah would not be far behind. My bar mitzvah was the highlight of my young adult life; I remember the sense of great accomplishment and the excitement of being deemed a man by my family and community.
Yet, after my bar mitzvah, I drifted away from my faith. My family moved to Arizona when I was 14 and we were no longer in a very Jewish place. My parents became more Conservative in their Jewish affiliation and they left my own spiritual journey up to me. And I discovered there were lots of things I liked about gentile culture—like cheeseburgers, for instance. I became progressively more rebellious. After graduating from high school, I entered college and indulged in all the ’60s had to offer—sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, you name it. Spiritual matters were not high on my priority list.
During college is when I became interested in martial arts. I had two motives for my interest—one, it attracted girls and two, I wanted to feel strong. My mind still recalled being beaten up as a child and the fear involved in that, and I wanted to obliterate that sense of fear.
The martial arts involve discipline, training and commitment—and I excelled. Within my first few years I got to the point where I could take on five or six other students at once. I eventually became an instructor of others. My prowess gave me tremendous self-confidence. I learned to isolate pain, and therefore to overcome my fear of it.
I stayed heavily involved in the martial arts for the next 30 years. I eventually got married, moved to Oregon, began selling pharmaceutical and medical equipment and at the same time, I ran two martial arts schools.
I had been involved in learning and teaching Kung Fu for 15 years when I moved to New Mexico to train with Mr. Treon, a Grand Master of Kung Fu. It turned out that he was a believer in Jesus. This was surprising as so much of the martial arts involved Buddhist or Taoist teaching. But Mr. Treon frequently talked to me about Jesus.
Prior to being a student of the Grand Master, I had grown accustomed to thinking of believers in Jesus as the enemy, lumping them in with the “them,” the gentiles whom I had come to distrust. But I had learned to trust my teacher.
When I would go to the Master with problems, he would encourage me to read the Bible, and since I basically did whatever he told me to, I ended up doing Bible studies with him. We read portions of the Tanakh such as Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. Mr. Treon was trying to show me how understanding the Bible would help me better understand the world.
Part of my willingness to read the Scriptures was that I was on a spiritual search, prompted by the birth of my first child, Elijah. My wife isn’t Jewish and we weren’t sure how we’d raise Elijah or what we would teach him. I had been raised Orthodox, had delved into Buddhism and Taoism, but I still felt lost. So I was on a search for truth.
Mr. Treon and I began to read from the New Testament, a book that had always been forbidden to me as a Jew. And there I encountered Jesus, whom I’d always avoided because traditionally, Jews aren’t supposed to believe in him.
But over the course of three years of Bible study with my teacher, I gradually became convinced that there was a God to whom I was accountable and that Jesus was the Messiah. I knew that I had done things that were wrong in God’s eyes and that Jesus had come to sacrifice his life to pay for my wrongdoing.
For the first time in a long while, I began to feel fear. I knew that my parents and the rest of my family would be terribly upset if I told them I believed in Jesus. I was at a point where, though I was no longer afraid of what any person could do to harm me physically, I was afraid of losing their love. But I couldn’t deny what I knew to be truth anymore. So one spring night, at age 40, I prayed and told God that I believed that Jesus was who he said he was.
I like to look back sometimes and remember those Pesach nights, when I would look for Elijah to usher in the Messiah. For me, my son Elijah prompted me to search for and find Messiah. My wife also came to believe in Jesus shortly after I did. As predicted, much of my family was very upset. When I told my mother what I had come to believe, she replied, “I’d rather be dead than I should have to hear this.” However, my wife and I now have four children whom my parents adore and their attitude has softened a bit.
“I gradually became convinced that there was a God…”
And I, too, have changed. The thing about the martial arts is that they are supposed to give you a profound respect for life and its fragility, and because of that, you are meant to become a more compassionate person. Yet, I found that I was constantly thinking of how to fight people, and I was training other people how to defend against, attack and even kill others.
But the thing that affected me most is that the martial arts are about self-control, self-confidence, self-reliance…and the stronger my faith in Jesus became, the less I wanted to rely on myself. I wanted to become less selfcentered and more Messiah-centered. And so a few years ago, I closed down the two martial arts schools and I have ceased being involved in the craft. I no longer practice Kung Fu techniques, nor do I visualize opponents and ways to annihilate them.
In the future, I may teach my children some selfdefense techniques or perhaps teach a women’s self-defense course. But for now, it’s my personal conviction that teaching people to fight and kill does not honor our Creator, nor do I need it personally anymore to feel unafraid. For a while, martial arts and excelling at them gave me a reason to feel strong and confident, but much as I loved what I learned, I don’t need it anymore. I no longer look to Grand Masters as heroes; Jesus has given my life meaning that martial arts never could. I now live my life by a New Testament portion of Scripture that says, “I can do all things through [Jesus] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).