What Christian Martial Arts Have Done for Me
What Christian Martial Arts Have Done for Me is a testimony by Michael L. McClure, republished from his blog.
McClure holds the rank of First Sifu, equivalent to 6th dan, in Lonnie Sutherland’s Golden Dragon Kung Fu. He is also the pastor at West Park Baptist Church in Delray Beach, Florida.
It was early September or maybe even late August of 1973. I was working on my schedule of classes for the fall semester at Tennessee Temple Schools. I needed a P.E. credit.
Since 1965 P.E. had been: run laps, do sit ups and occasionally learn a bit about sports. The prospect of another semester of this was not thrilling. Then I noticed something in the P.E. section of the course catalog. It said: “Karate”.
I thought: “Now that might be different. At least I might learn a little self-defense.” Self-defense was something I had often needed in my life, but never really had. In the neighborhood where I grew up being assaulted by ones’ peers was almost an everyday occurrence. I remember one occasion when a fellow walked up to me and said: “I don’t like your looks, I’m gonna change ’em!”
The next thing I remember was his fist coming at my face. Fighting was frequent in my teen years, but no one ever taught me how to do it. So I put “karate” on my trial schedule and, to my delight, it was approved!
The very first day of class I learned three things: First, the class wasn’t really “Karate,” it was “Kung Fu.” Two, I had absolutely no natural ability for it, whatever it was called. Three, the teacher, Hobby Thomas, said: “When you bow, look at me, don’t look at the ground! If you look at the ground, I will kick you in the face!”
Would he actually do that?! I don’t know. All of us in the class took his word for it and never looked down!
I tried very hard in the class, but for all of my effort, I wasn’t progressing very much at all. As far as I know every other student in the class saw the experience as an easy “A” (3 quality points or honor points at that school) in their grade average. My average grade was a “C” (1 quality point or honor point). Then one day James Cravens, the chief instructor for the class, came to me and said, “McClure, you’re not doing very well in this class.”
I replied, “Yes, sir, I know that.”
He said, “Here’s what you’re going to do: You’re going to come in 15 minutes early for each class and stay 15 minutes late [class met each Tuesday and Thursday for one hour] then you are going to come in on Friday for an extra help class and I am going to work with you.”
I said, “Yes, sir.”
This was far from the first time I had not been doing well in a class. It was also far from the first time a teacher had ever told me that I was not doing well in a class. It was the first time a teacher had ever told me that he would was willing to spend extra time with me and help me to do well in a class!
I began to come in for those extra times. Mr. Cravens did work with me. I found that there were a few other students who were also willing to help out one who was struggling, and was willing to take the extra time. Not only did my grade average in that class begin to rise, but I also took the things Mr. Cravens was teaching me and applied them to my other classes.
My entire college grade average came up.
It must have been sometime in 1974 that Pat Crain, who was one of the instructors in the class, would occasionally speak to the class and say something to the effect of: “My brother needs some guys to work this Saturday at his camp. He is willing to pay.” I must confess that I never worked one of those Saturdays. But this was my first introduction to Pat’s older brother, Mike Crain. Mike had been a student at Tennessee Temple prior to my coming there. He had launched a ministry called “Judo and Karate for Christ”. Mike traveled a great deal and would put on martial arts demonstrations in order to draw a crowd.
When he got the crowd he would then preach the gospel to them. He became quite well known and successful as an evangelist. Some of the students in the Kung Fu class at Tennessee Temple began to give similar gospel demonstrations. There was more than one group doing this, but the most memorable one for me was “Kung Fu for Christ” led by Warren Obenland and John Himes.
Then Mr. Cravens organized the entire class into a major gospel demonstration. I believe the title of the performance was “The Story of Kung Fu” or “The Story of Martial Arts” or something similar. It was held in the McGilvray Gymnasium at Tennessee Temple. Twenty or more of Mr. Cravens’ students performed everything from basic technique to very impressive weapons and breaking demonstrations. There was a narrator from the college radio station, a lighting crew and all in all it was quite a program. The gospel message was clearly given along with self defense scenarios and other feats of martial skill.
It was around this time that I actually met Mike Crain. He was giving a demonstration in the Tennessee Temple High School gymnasium. A friend of mine, Mike Cushman, had applied to work at Mike Crain’s Fort Bluff Camp as a counselor for the summer of 1975. I asked if I could also be considered.
If I remember correctly, I was not considered a hot prospect at first. However Mike Cushman put in a good word for me and I did get the job. I worked as a counselor in the summers of 1975 and 1976.
After that first summer I was sold on the ministry. I asked for and received permission to begin a little evangelistic team. My goal was to promote the ministry of Fort Bluff Camp. It was a tremendous outreach to young people. Many salvation and Christian life decisions were being made. I wanted to do all that I could to promote this work! One problem with the idea was that I was only ranked at yellow level in the Kung Fu class at this time. I had recruited Rob Ernst who was around the same level. We were told that we needed a black level to lead the team in the martial arts aspect of the work. That made sense.
Mark Yates, who had come down from Toledo, Ohio to work as a counselor at Fort Bluff in 1975, was a black belt in GoJu Kai Karate. We had our martial arts leader. Rob and I would alternate as preachers when we had meetings. We did have meetings! All of them were in the Southeastern Tennessee, Northern Georgia and Northern Alabama area. We were young and new at all of this. But we had good meetings. We worked up a demonstration that included self defense techniques, some breaking and, of course, a gospel message.
I stayed over at Fort Bluff in the winter of 1976-1977. During this time I learned a great deal from Mike Crain. I worked, occasionally, in retreats that were held in the winter. A couple of times the Fort Bluff Evangelistic team accompanied Mike Crain in his meetings. He would also teach us privately as he had time to do so.
I specifically remember that he taught me to use the nunchaku. Then all in one evening he taught breaking to us. We broke wood and concrete again and again until we learned various techniques and effects.
Through Mike Crain’s teaching I learned to use a sharp sword to cut vegetables and fruits on people without hurting the person. Many times I have cut watermelons from the abdomen of people. This is sometimes done with full vision and sometimes blindfolded. I have cut potatoes and other small items from the palm of a hand, from the back of the neck and from the throat area. As of the date of this writing, I have never cut anyone.
But what I have done is preach to countless people about “…the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God:” Ephesians 6:17. “For the word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 It is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God that reaches the hearts. Not the sword in my hand.
While working as a counselor at Fort Bluff, I prayed much about working with young people. Although I had no great martial talent, I felt strongly that what I had learned could be used to reach young people with the gospel of Jesus Christ and to help them to grow spiritually.
One beautiful summer morning, while sitting on “the bluff” and looking out over the valley below, I asked the Lord to give me something that He could use to reach young people for Him. He answered that prayer very quickly.
He gave me a verse, Joshua 1:14: “Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side Jordan; but ye shall pass before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valour and help them.” The words of this verse were, of course, addressed “…to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh…” (Joshua1:12).
They had asked Moses to ask God if they could remain in the land on the Eastern side of the Jordan River while the rest of the nine and one half tribes of Israel crossed over to the Western side into the land which God had promised to them. Permission was granted for this on the condition that they would help their brothers to conquer and claim the Promised Land.
As I looked at verse 14, I saw this: The women, children and livestock were to remain in safety on the Eastern side. The men were to take the risk and face the opposition. “…but ye shall pass before your brethren, armed…” They were not merely to go with their brothers; they were to lead the way! They were to go “armed”, that is, prepared and equipped to fight!
Those who were to go were: “…all the mighty men of valour…”. That is, men of courage and honor and strength and virtue. Finally they were to help their brothers “Until the LORD have given your brethren rest…” vs. 15. I saw in all of this a calling to work with young people to try to be and to train others to be leaders in the work and cause of Christ! The Chinese martial arts seemed to be a wonderful tool for accomplishing this!
It was still winter in 1977 when I left Fort Bluff Camp. It was so cold that year that there actually was snow fall in South Florida! I wasn’t there to see it. I was too busy trying to dig my Camaro out of the snow in Tennessee. It was a cold time for me in many ways. Things just weren’t going well. Financially, spiritually, socially, in just about every way things were not going well. I had a hard time with that because I reasoned that: “If I was trying to seek God’s will why was I having such a hard time?” It seemed that if I was trying to honor God, He would have given me blessings to keep things from being so hard.
I struggled with this for a long time. What my eyes could not see and my heart could not feel at the time was that God was still leading, still in control and still having His will in my life. It was a time when I needed to learn one of the most important words and concepts in the Christian life: surrender.
If I was trying to seek God’s will why was I having such a hard time?
My plans had all gone wrong. The dreams I had at that time seemed to be crumbling. What I thought I was going to do and where I thought I was going all seemed to vanish. Thoughts like: “If I was so sure that I was following the Lord’s will and I was wrong, terribly wrong, how can I ever really know God’s will?” turned over and over in my mind. I think it would be fair to say that I was in a state of depression.
But, again, this idea of surrender kept coming back. A person who is trained to fight is not usually a person who is comfortable with the idea of surrender. But that is exactly what the Lord wants His children, His soldiers to do. We are to surrender to Him. Another term for this is “death to self”. It is a very Biblical concept, which can be seen Galatians 2:20.
When I left Fort Bluff Camp in Dayton, Tennessee I traveled just forty miles or so down to Chattanooga and stayed until spring. During those few months I trained, again, with James Cravens.
After this, I went back home to South Florida. I couldn’t find anyone teaching Kung Fu at first, so I joined the T & D Karate School led by Tom Thomas and Tom Dunn. There I learned Kempo Karate. One day while I was in the dojo doing one of the Kung Fu forms a fellow student asked me about the form and then told me of a Sifu who was teaching near to where I was living.
I called Sifu Lonnie Sutherland and spent the next seven years learning from him. During this time I continued to do evangelistic demonstrations at churches, Christian schools and camps, detention centers and anywhere else that would invite or even allow me to put one on. The Lord blessed these demonstrations with spiritual fruit. Salvation and spiritual growth decisions were common after each demonstration.
In 1980 I was burdened about continuing my education. I enrolled at Pensacola Christian College. It didn’t take long to discover that there was a “Karate Club” meeting at the nearby Pensacola Christian High School. The club was led by Sensei Tom Stone. I asked if I could join and Sensei Stone graciously allowed me to do so. He was teaching Shorin Gi Karate.
During the three semesters that I attended the college Sensei Stone imparted a great deal of knowledge. He eventually led the “club” to become a credited class at the College. During my stay in Pensacola there were numerous opportunities to do evangelistic demonstrations.
I put together a small team and we called ourselves the Men of Valour. Our demonstrations were on the campus at “College Days” events and for the campus church youth group. Off campus we gave presentations at Bible clubs, area churches, AWANA clubs and at the Juvenile Detention center.
Back on campus, Greg Moses who was the president of the student body approached me about doing a demonstration for the entire student body. One young lady who witnessed that demonstration was Catherine Kellogg. She said that the Lord called me to her attention during that demonstration. A short time later we had our first date and approximately two years later, we were married.
After graduating from Pensacola I returned to the South Florida area. Men of Valour Ministries, Inc. came to be in 1982. I continued doing demonstrations in church services, for youth groups and in Christian school chapels. Other opportunities included Bible clubs and a juvenile detention center.
During this time I did a couple of demonstrations at the Congress Avenue Baptist Church and the Gold Coast Christian School in Delray Beach, Florida. The Pastor was J. Morgan Haynes whom I had known back in my days at Tennessee Temple. When I gave the first demonstration there I had no idea that I would eventually become the Youth Pastor at that church and then the Senior Pastor.
It must have been in 1987 when Kent Haralson telephoned me at the church office. He said that he was the Assistant Pastor at the Berean Baptist Church in West Palm Beach. He told me that he had heard of me and that he was putting together an organization of Christian martial artists. We had much in common! I actually trained under him for a few months in the Tae Kwon Do that he was teaching at the time. The organization he was forming came to be called The Gospel Martial Arts Union.
From that time in the 1980’s through most of 2006 I was involved in the GMAU. Many great weekend clinics were held; with instructors from all over this country and from other countries. They came to teach, to learn and to share. Great fellowship occurred and great friendships were forged. Souls were saved and believers were challenged to spiritual growth!
In 1984 the Lord led me to three major steps in His service. The first was that He gave me a vision to begin a camp. Our church building and property was ideal for a summer-day camp. Along with a host of other things, I taught martial arts in the camp. I also gave demonstrations in the chapels. Since 1984, thousands of boys and girls have heard the gospel and have been taught self defense.
The second big event of that year was that I began to teach a weekly class at our church. I named the class “The Valour School of Self Defense”. Hundreds of students have attended these classes. Later in 1984, I was called to be the Pastor of the West Park Baptist Church. Today both the church and the Valour School of Self Defense continue to reach out and to train those who are willing to learn.
What has Christian Marital Arts done for me? Much!
1. The study of Christian Martial Arts gave me the knowledge and skill to raise my grade average.”
2. Christian martial arts allowed me to excellent opportunity to be a counselor at a Christian youth camp where the Lord worked exceedingly in my heart and gave me a vision for the ministry that only He knew was ahead.
3. Through Christian martial arts I have gone to amazing places, done unbelievable things, learned valuable lessons and met incredible people. I am convinced that these opportunities would likely never have happened otherwise.
4. As a Christian martial artist I have had opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4) and other Biblical truths with thousands of people. The Lord has allowed me to give gospel demonstrations in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, Indiana, South Dakota, Vermont, Kentucky and Japan.
5. As a Christian martial artist I have had the privilege of learning under instructors who not only possessed great knowledge but had great hearts for their Lord and for their students.
6. Through Christian martial arts the Lord enabled me to:
a. Go from a struggling college student to “The Dean’s List”.
b. To meet my wife.
c. To be led into my life’s ministries.
d. To share His word with multitudes of people and to have opportunity to influence lives for Him!
There are so many more things that I could write and so many other ways that the Lord has blessed me through the gift of Christian Martial Arts. But to tell it all would take volumes!
So, dear reader, please allow me to leave you with these questions:
Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior?
If not, then why not trust Him now. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried and He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. He proclaims to every one of us: “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life”! (John 6:47)
How has your life been affected by Christian martial arts?
Perhaps you should tell your story! (Psalm 107:2)
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