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'Christianity with punch' - using martial arts to save lost boys

By Dave Smith - posted Friday, 10 September 2004

I had 25 boys at the fight club tonight - 25 boys and 1 girl and she certainly did stand out.

It’s amazing how starkly obvious the gender differences are in a ring environment. In the general flow of life, in an industrialised society, men and women are mixed and merged together in their daily routines, doing the same sorts of work, taking on the same sorts of responsibilities - barely distinguishable. But in the environment of the ring something different is going on. Here men are taking off their shirts, flexing their muscles, and getting physical with each other in a very primitive and very heterosexual way. Here we play roughly with each other, in a way that inevitably excludes most women and children.

There is something very basic but very beautiful about the ring. The cries of the combatants echo back to a time when women and men knew who they were and what was expected of them as members of their gender. The fight club is a sort of physical probe into the collective subconscious - giving embodiment to that repressed memory of a culture where women fed and nurtured the community while men fought to defend it.


That is why fighting is such a natural form of initiation rite for young men. We modern Australians are in desperate need of an initiation rite for our young people. Our nation continues to be swept by waves of adolescent boys who never become men. They develop adult male bodies, but they are bodies that have never been nourished with the ideals of a mature community - ideals that are needed if those bodies are to be put to good use.

I do seriously believe that our community would be greatly served if every teenage boy, when he reached the age of say 16 or 17 was obliged to train for a fight.

That fight training would then be conducted by the boy’s father and by the older males in the family as well as by other selected men in the community. When the day of the fight came, the men would gather together with all the boys who had been in training and tell them stories. Stories of the great Australian men that have gone before them; the men who stormed the beaches at Gallipoli, the men who opened up the land for agriculture and industry, the great Aboriginal warriors who fought and died resisting the white invasion.

Then the boys would be dressed in their fight gear and led to the side of the ring where the adult men would push the lads out into the centre. There they would be forced to rely upon their own resources for three rounds, after which they would be welcomed back as men, and then perhaps taken to the tattoo parlour to have etched into their skin the date of their fight and perhaps some emblem of courage and integrity that had been chosen for them.

It’s all a dream of course, but it’s a great one. We come close to it every time I lead a boy to the ring for the first time, with his dad at my side working his corner. We’ve had some wonderful moments like that - great fights fought by great boys who show all the signs of going on to become great men.

I claim that we’ve had a 100 per cent success rate in terms of guys whom I’ve got involved in amateur contests getting out of the trouble they’ve been in. By the time we get them to the side of the ring they’ve stopped using drugs, they’re no longer in trouble with the law, they’re not causing trouble at school, etc. Of course the difficulty is in getting them that far, and that’s where we could do with more support from friends and family and less interference from the politically correct.


I am conscious of the fact that the focus of my work here is with boys rather than with girls, but I do believe that the crisis we are experiencing in our community is with boys. It is mostly boys who are doing drugs. It is boys who are doing the break and enters and rolls. It is boys who are getting into trouble with the law, and boys who are committing suicide. Of course none of this should undermine the significance of initiation rites for girls, nor the significant effect that ring fighting can have in a girl’s life.

We do indeed have the occasional fighting woman join us, but she is a special kind of woman - one who is able to go toe to toe with the men, who can take as well as give a solid punch in the nose, and who can thus demand the respect of the men.

In my time as a fight trainer I’ve had the privilege of training up one of my girls, Wendy, to win the Australian lightweight title in kickboxing. She was a special sort of girl though. You don’t get many like Wendy. For the most part, the girls just come and sit near the side of the ring and look on wide-eyed while their men beat their chests and flail away at each other.

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This is an excerpt from Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist, a book by Father Dave, the "Fighting Father"

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About the Author

Father Dave Smith is Parish Priest, professional boxer, human-rights activist and father of four. He was part of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) delegation to Syria in May 2013. Join Dave's mailing list via his main website - - and read his updates on Syria on

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