Deliver Them From Evil

by Allen Browning

Domestic- Church.Com - Stories - Karate

We ask Our Father to "deliver us from evil." Our own children need from us, their parents, no less.

In my case, the lesson was learned late, as I stood by my son's side at a hospital emergency ward. He had been beaten by young boys who were trying to start their own gang.

Sam could hardly breathe, and had to have his lungs X-rayed to see if he had a collapsed lung or broken ribs. I hadn't been there to protect him, and had never taught him how to defend himself. The experience reminded me of a client whose son had been stabbed to death by two gang members in a small eastern Idaho town.

I had to face a dilemma many parents face: how does a Christian parent handle the issue of self-defense training?

It is permissible, and perhaps admirable, for any Christian to allow himself or herself to be pummelled into submission by violent criminals and offer the suffering up to God. However, it is a different matter to fail or refuse to teach a child self defense. When violence passes by the parent, but lands upon the child, the parent does not provide proper counsel to the child by telling the child to offer the suffering up to God. It is the duty of the father of the household to deliver the children from evil, not to tell the children to accept the evil.

My attempt to answer this question led me to consider forgiveness vs. criminal prosecution of the other children involved. Believing that crime itself was an evil to be stopped, I pursued criminal charges. The local prosecutor, though, had no time for this case, so criminal prosecution was not an option.

I then decided to take steps, with my son, to make sure he was not defenseless in the future. We enrolled in a karate class. I was in no position to teach my son anything about self-defense, because I knew nothing about it, so I would take the class and learn with him, and shortly thereafter four of our five other children enrolled in the class, too.

Ten months after the attack on my son, we are still in the karate class, and have been receiving instruction on both self-defense and karate as a sport. My four oldest children (13, 12, 10 and 7) have all reached the "purple belt" level faster than any of the other students by drilling the lessons together at home. My children's motivation has amazed me, and they have asked me to help them practice what they have learned at home. As they each grow more proficient in their skills, I worry about them less. As for me, instead of being afraid of sparring, I have come to enjoy the challenge, and that challenge of staying in the ring with real fighters has necessitated daily workouts and shedding some 15 pounds to date.

Learning karate is not learning how to turn the other cheek, and karate instruction cannot be confused with or substituted for our responsibility to instruct our children in our faith; it merely teaches a child or adult how to control a fight or attack situation. It also removes a great deal of the fear of fighting which, for a child, can be paralysingly terrifying. I believe it also goes a long way toward discharging what I believe is my obligation to defend my children from evil.

When I work with my son on his sparring, it's also a lot of fun. The training that I am getting allows me to monitor Sam's progress, as well as the progress of his siblings. I like to put on protective padding, and let my kids hit me with their best stuff; in the process I can show them where they are not defending themselves by tapping them on their unprotected areas.

Make no mistake about it: karate belt instruction teaches a violent response to violent situations. At the lower levels, it primarily teaches the first line of self-defense; at higher levels the student learns more violent or lethal methods of self-defense to be used, if necessary, as a response to more violent or life-threatening situations, and occasions when a person may be attacked by as many as four persons at once, with or without weapons. The proper response to the level of violence is emphasized, with the least violence to be used which can handle the situation at hand. As one karate adage goes: "It is better to scare than to hurt; it is better to hurt than to maim; it is better to maim than to kill; there is no honor in killing."

How does this all fit into Catholic spirituality? I see Jesus as a shepherd who corrects us if we go off the path. I don't see that learning karate is off the path. Using karate as an excuse to bully others, or using excessive force, is off the path. Teaching how to meet offensive violence with defensive violence is a lesson the Jewish people learned and relearned the hard and bitter way throughout this century, and it is a lesson our church recognizes: there are times when violence is justified.

There has also been a spiritual lesson in this for Sam: God works all things for the good. Had he not been attacked, I would never have put him in a karate class, and never would have learned skills that have allowed him to refuse one classmate's challenge to fight because, in Sam's words, "I would beat you up." Sam is well aware that God turned around a very bad situation and worked it to his advantage. I have told him so and he agrees. As a father, I also feel rewarded when my child can walk away from a fight because he knows he would hurt the other boy, he is growing into a man I will admire. I feel some security knowing that other children leave Sam alone now because they know he is a serious karate student.

Karate is also a sport in which the martial artist takes the opportunity to attempt to overpower an opponent with his or her skill. It gives the person learning defensive moves an opportunity to see, in a controlled situation, how effective their training has been. It serves a very practical purpose in that sense: if the student can hold his ground with trained fighters who are trying to overpower him, the student can probably overpower an untrained bully, and probably give him a show he won't soon forget.

Saint Paul did not condemn fighting as a sport when he used the metaphor of "fighting the good fight" in relation to our salvation. If Saint Paul believed in his heart that the sport of fighting, in itself, was wrong, he certainly would not have used an example of sin as a metaphor for salvation.

There have been many side benefits from this karate experience. In order to help my kids learn self-defense, I have had to learn it myself. In order to stay up with my class, I have had to begin daily workouts, and I am probably in better physical shape as a result than I have been in for years, and there are many things that I no longer fear. I also fear less and less for the safety of my children as I see their proficiency in the martial arts grow. .

My children have confirmed one fear I had about karate: that they would use it against each other at home. There have been a couple of outbreaks like this at our house. When it has happened, discipline was swift: automatic expulsion from karate activities for a week, extra chores, and an apology. Weighing the alternatives, I would much rather have to discipline my kids for improperly using karate at home than to have to find my son in an emergency ward of a hospital or, as with Patrick Caldwell's parents, have to identify the body of my child in a hospital morgue.

Kids deserve a chance to grow up, and they don't deserve to suffer needless beatings. As parents we should do what is necessary to deliver our children from physical evil as well as spiritual evil.

Finding karate classes:

If you are interested in finding a karate class for you or your child, make sure you find a black belt instructor certified to teach. Some teachers will take students as young as four, some will not instruct until the child is in the teens. Inform the prospective instructor that your child is Catholic or Christian, and ask whether teaching religion is part of the class.

Ask the teacher what level of contact is required of new students. In my opinion, I would prefer a "light contact" class for beginners; too much contact can scare a child; as a student gets more proficient in karate, and gets older, he or she probably won't mind more contact, but the contact in karate takes some getting used to.


Allen Browning is a Catholic lawyer in the United States practicing in Idaho. He and his wife Jan have four "home-grown" children, Samuel (12),Gabrielle (10), Kelleen (4) and Eva(1), and two children adopted from Korea, Philip (13) and Elizabeth (7). Aside from raising children, Allen's ministry is composing and arranging Christian music, and Jan's ministry is making rosaries.

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