Fighting
Father Dave
 

Rev. David B. Smith is a Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author of Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist: Reflections on life, ministry & fighting in the inner-city and a father of three. Get a free preview copy of Father Dave, the 'Fighting Father's book when you sign up for his free newsletter at www.fatherdave.org

A Cheap Holiday in Other People's Misery (catching up with Mordechai Vanunu in Israel)
Boys will be Boys or 'why men love to Fight'
Fight Club
The forgotten secret of the Ancient Greeks that shows us how to keep our teenagers out of trouble by teaching them to fight!
Is that burning Reichstag that I smell?
The Pain of Non-Custodial Fatherhood
The real problem with today's teenagers (and why most parents just don't get it!)
Sheikh Hilaly had a point!
There's nothing quite so Glorious as a Good Fight with your Fists!
Why every Christian should be in favour of Gay Marriage
Why I love Amateur Boxing
Why more priests need to train as fighters (and why we don't see many boxers in church)
Why more priests need to train as fighters (and why we don't see many boxers in church) II
Why Ray Williams is still my hero

Why I love Amateur Boxing


I'm a thousand miles from home at the moment at the Australian Amateur Boxing League's National Titles, and I'm enjoying every minute of it.

Right now I'm watching two 13-year-old schoolboys belting it out, and the standard is surprisingly good. The boys are focused, controlled and highly skilled for their age. And behind each boy is a small team of older men - quietly watching every movement taking place in front of them, and gently caring for their boys between rounds.

Last night the lad I brought down with me had his bout. Mina is 15 - still very much a schoolboy, but with a physique that's increasingly taking on adult proportions. It was only his third fight, so the national titles was a big step up for him. Even so, finding boys his age and his weight (63.5kg) is not normally easy, so we figured that by joining in here he'd be sure to get a bout or two.

Mina got his bout, and it was a courageous performance. He was outclassed by his opponent but he went the distance. Afterwards we found out that the winner was the current Australian champion and that it was his 70th fight! This certainly took the sting out of the loss, and when the champ found us and told Mina that he considered him the toughest opponent he'd ever fought, our boy was grinning from ear to ear.

In truth, this was only one of a number of truly memorable moments last night.

I saw a 16-year-old return jubilantly to our change room after hard-won points decision. With both hands in the air, he was almost jumping out of his skin with excitement as he cried out "I've gotta call my dad and tell him!"

I saw another young lad knock his opponent to the ground with a beautifully-timed body shot. As his opponent hit the canvas and the referee stopped the fight, the victor, instead of prancing around and celebrating his victory, kneeled down alongside his fallen mate and rubbed his back, and then helped him to his feet.

I heard one of the old boxing officials (who didn't know me) say, "I hear there's a priest around here somewhere. We'd better watch our language!"

This last 'memorable moment' can't be labelled a 'highlight' of course but was more of a reminder of just how far the boxing community is from understanding what Christ and the church are about. Of course, the converse is also true. Most church people have no idea what boxing is about but consider it to be nothing but legalised violence.

From my perspective, boxing is a celebration of manhood. It's about boys becoming men and men supporting boys.

As every father knows, there are not many places left in this country where you'll find teenage boys even listening to older men, let alone looking up to them as respected mentors. Likewise there are not many places where a young man can rumble with his mates in a controlled environment, and so develop the courage and self-control needed for adult life. It all happens here!

I claim that we have 100% success rate with the young thugs and misfits that we manage to direct into amateur boxing. We don't manage to get everyone who comes to us into competition of course, but for those who do undergo the necessary disciplines required to reach the side of the ring, the experience is always the same. The drugs and the thuggery stops, school grades improve, and elated parents come and thank me for what we've achieved. But in truth, it isn't me. It's the sport of amateur boxing.

The forgotten secret of the Ancient Greeks that shows us how to keep our teenagers out of trouble by teaching them to fight!


To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3)

Four of the boys at training tonight are preparing themselves for their first fight at our forthcoming Christians vs. Lions promotion, scheduled for only three weeks hence. All of these lads are boxers.

Three of those four – Joel, Daniel and young Dave – are friends, finishing their last year of school together. They are a great example of how guys from different ethnic backgrounds (Australian, Latin American, and Lebanese respectively) can still be the best of mates. The fourth guy, Louis, is an enormous Islander man. I’m not sure whether he’s Tongan or from the Cook Islands, but he’s a gentle giant really. He reminds me of Mahendar – a regular here at the Youth Centre. They’re both big, black and burly, but with gentle hearts. Louis has a few years on the other boys who were there tonight. He’s a natural in the ring, and plays the role of the older brother very well indeed.

These four boys are the cream of our crop in the fight club at the moment. They are all capable pugilists, but more than that, they are each a good embodiment of what our club is on about – courage, integrity, self-discipline and teamwork. This isn’t to say that none of them have ever been troublemakers. Indeed, I’ve got a court appearance coming up with one of the boys, scheduled for shortly after his fight, and he’s on quite serious charges. Even so, I’ve seen nothing but positive growth since he joined the club, and I’m hoping for positive results both in his fight and in his court case.

What is it that makes fight training such a powerful tool in the molding of young lives? There was a time when I thought of fighting as just another form of sport. I have come to believe though that fight training taps into something deep in the male psyche, in a way that no other sport does.

When I used to talk to my old girls in the church about the problems we had with our young people, they often used to say ‘what we need is another war’. I always thought that that was a terrible thing to say – that a war was the last thing that anybody wanted. And of course the girls didn’t really want a war. They had just experienced the benefit of being part of a community that had learnt to pull together through difficult times. And they had seen the positive effect that soldiering could have on the lives of young men.

I believe that men were made to fight. It’s part of our genetic makeup. We may have managed to emerge from the jungle, but there’s still a bit of the jungle in each of us, and pugilistic activity keys right in to those ancient impulses – releasing the wild man within.

This theory isn’t original to me of course. It’s part of the fabric of the Bible – there behind every great warrior-king who showed himself to be a ‘mighty man of God’ in battle, and behind Jacob, who went toe to toe with God Himself and yet lived to talk about it (Genesis 32)! These were men who knew how to fight and pray and bleed and serve.

For a more philosophical exposition on the significance of fighting, we need look no further than Plato’s Republic.

For those who haven’t read it, in the Republic Socrates explores the concept of justice through examining both the just society and the just individual, and then he goes on to delineate their common elements. On the societal level he notes that a just community is made up of a number of vital components parts: rulers who govern, workers who labour, and an army that functions to protect them both. In the individual he finds a similar configuration – the mind that governs the body, the limbs that do the work, and the ‘themos’ (which is often translated as ‘temper’ or ‘aggression’) that plays a parallel role in protecting the individual. Justice in the Republic consists in having all of the component parts (in either individual or society) being present and working together properly.

In the wisdom of the ancient Greeks then, the ‘themos’ is the vital third component in the human constitution, along with the mind and the body. Without the ‘themos’, no individual is complete, and at a social level, no society will ever achieve a true state of justice.

It is my opinion that one of the negative legacies of feminism in Western culture has been an attempt to deny the ‘themos’, which seems to be more strongly present in men than in women. This has been for the most understandable of reasons – because of the excesses of male violence. But perhaps it’s time that we realised that trying to eliminate ‘themos’ from society altogether is like trying to eliminate spiders and snakes because we find them distasteful. We soon discover that the created order needs all of its creatures – even those that some of us find ugly – if it is to function properly.

My experience with a vast number of men is that they tend to be either functioning as doormats to their wives and girlfriends, or they’re beating up on them. This is a reflection of the same crisis in dealing with the ‘themos’. When we attempt to repress the themos’, it often spurts out in the most horrible and destructive of forms. When we successfully repress it, we emasculate our men, so that they’re no longer able to stand up for anything. Ironically, of course, such modern day men are not only unable to offer any strength to society. They’re no longer even attractive to the women they sought to please.

The only constructive alternative is for us to reharness the ‘themos’ and channel it creatively. We need to get in touch with that distinctive male energy – recognise it, affirm it, and then learn to bring it under control so that it can be put to good use. Perhaps when we are able to do this, then we will see this country produce leaders of the calibre of Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, or Mahatma Ghandi – strong people of principle who stand up powerfully for what they believe in. As it is, our leaders always seem to come across as being either ‘wooses’ or criminals or both. God knows we need some real men in this country who know what it means to love their women, to be fathers to their children, and to serve God and their community with their strength!

Fight training, I do believe, is a means to getting at that ‘themos’ and learning to bring it under control. When done in the right way, fight training can help a young person to discover who they are and can help them to bring their futures into focus. They can then come to see their role as warriors in this society who will stand up and use their energy to build a better community and to fight for things worth fighting for.

What about these boys who I watched training with me tonight? Will they go on to become ‘mighty men of God'? I don’t know. But they’re on the right track, and they’re further ahead now than when they first started their training.

The Pain of Non-Custodial Fatherhood


I am sitting at my daughters bedside. It is well past midnight. She is asleep.

She is 15 years old now. She has overdosed. I am at the children’s hospital.

Surely this has been the worst night of my life - getting the call, rushing to the hospital, seeing her lying silently in bed with tubes sticking out of her, waiting to hear from a doctor about what sort of future she can expect, if any.

I should feel terrible, and yet I feel strangely at peace sitting here, with some strange sense that finally I am where I ought to be - at my daughter’s side. I feel like a father again - somehow useful.

My mind goes back to that time when she had the boating accident - she couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old.

It had been my birthday, and we’d hired some boats to go out rowing on the Lane Cove River. It was all very pleasant at first. It was a sunny day. My daughter was in a boat with some of the other kids - mainly older than her - and they’d been splashing water at our boat, that was slightly ahead of them.

Then their boat started to fill with water and some of the crew decided to abandon ship. This was fine, as they all had life jackets on, and we weren’t far from the shore. But then the last girl left in the boat, apart from my daughter, decided to make an exit, and she did so by standing up on the rim of the boat and pushing herself off. As she did so, she overturned the boat, with my daughter still in the middle of it.

The result was that my daughter was now underneath the middle of a capsized boat that was rapidly sinking, and the buoyant life-jacket was preventing her from escaping. She was being dragged down with the ship.

My boat was not far away and within a couple of seconds I was in the water and under her boat. The water was pitch black, like pea soup, but by the grace of God I found her leg trashing around and pulled her down and out. We both resurfaced with her screaming wildly. She told me later that she thought she had been caught by a sea-monster that had hold of her leg and was pulling her under.

Thankfully her lifejacket kept her afloat, regardless of her emotional state. My predicament was the opposite. I felt great, having retrieved her, but I was sinking. I hadn’t thought to take off my leather jacket before going into the water of course, and my boots were quite heavy too, and I am not a great swimmer.

Thankfully another boat got to me before I sank. We all ended up just fine. It was only my mobile phone that never recovered.

Why is this event still so significant to me? Is it just because it was the only time I was really able to help her? No, it’s more than that. It is because that event at the river that day defined for me what it means for me to be a father.

Being a father doesn’t necessarily mean sitting-alongside my girl in the same boat, doing all the rowing, but it does mean being somewhere in an adjoining boat, ready to dive in if I’m needed.

Being a non-custodial father, I can’t be in the same boat. My time with my girl is a series of stolen moments - moments that seem to have been growing shorter and less intimate over the last few years, as she makes her transition towards adulthood.

In truth, I’ve never had the oars. I’ve never been her major provider, and her mother has always had a firm hold of the rudder. I can look back on this in regret now, but it doesn’t change the situation, and with the law being the way it is, I don’t know whether I really had any other options.

Until recently though, I’d always felt that I was at least travelling in that adjoining boat - always keeping one eye on my girl’s progress and ready to jump in if I was needed. This is what I’ve lost more recently, as she’s embedded herself more deeply into her peer group and allocated more hours to staying with her mother. I feel I’ve been relegated to the shoreline.

This is the struggle for me as a father. I want to be her man - her provider and protector - but I can’t be. I’m excluded from most of what is going on now, to the point where I have no idea where my daughter is going, whom she’s seeing, or what she’s getting up to.

I know that not all of what she’s up to is good, but I’m not near enough to the action to see clearly any more. I’m no longer in that adjoining boat. I‘m on the shoreline, calling out to her, telling her to be careful, but knowing that, from where I stand, if she’s not careful, there’s really nothing I can do about it.

This is not just my problem. It’s the dilemma of modern fatherhood, particularly acute for non-custodial fathers. We’re supposed to be in the picture, somewhere, but not as fathers, not acting like real men. We’re supposed to be in the background somewhere, on the shoreline, offering helpful advice when it’s asked for, but if we see our children going down, our hands are tied. We can appeal to the mother, to the police, to the school, or to child welfare, but we’re unable to act like men and do anything.

And yet tonight I feel at peace with myself.

No, I wasn’t there when she overdosed. No. I wasn’t in a position to do anything to prevent this from happening. I didn’t see the signs because I wasn’t there when the signs were being displayed. But now at least I’m in the right place at the right time. I’m at my daughter’s side when she needs me. Now I feel like a father again!

Of course the feeling is illusory. I’m not really protecting her from anything here. The dangers she needs protecting from are not in the hospital, and when morning comes, things will begin to return to their familiar routine, and I’ll almost certainly find myself back on the shoreline.

This is the pain of non-custodial fatherhood. To be a father of a teenage girl, you need to be more than an observer, but an observer is all you’re allowed to be, and you’re supposed to be a happy, friendly and affirming observer. The great temptation is simply to turn away and not watch at all.

Fight Club by Tristan Gunzman


This was an interview-project put together by Tristan Gunzman as a part of his university studies. It is reprinted with permission.

The Lord is my trainer
I shall not fear the fight

You see yourself in the mirror, arms up, feet apart, you punch the air swiftly, confidently shadowboxing, observing your technique.

He is constantly with me, working my corner
He refreshes me between rounds with cool water
And with even cooler advice

“Arms up, step forward with your jab,” says your trainer, Father Dave.

The priest, who runs the fight club, is preparing you for your first fight.

Yea, though I walk to centre-ring
To stare out an opponent twice my size
Even then He will be with me
His hands on my shoulder
And his words to guide

Time has passed, you’ve trained hard. It’s fight night. You step into the ring, the crowd cheers, you share a silent look with Father Dave.

With His towel and His sponge He will care for me
All the long rounds of my life

Sweat drips from your brow, mingling with blood. Water splashes into the bucket from a wringing sponge. The bell tolls for the second round. You stand and once more take up the dance of the fight: dodging blows, parrying attacks, looking for an opening to throw your hard right.

And when the final bell rings
I shall retire from the ring
Knowing that I fought the good fight.

Blood pumps through your body at the sound of your opponent hitting the floor. The crowd roars, you fought the good fight tonight.

***

Christianity with a punch” is the phrase on the singlet worn by the trainers at Father David Smith’s fight club at Dulwich Hill. For 15 years Father Dave has helped youths get off the street by teaching them to box. People from abusive families, kids who are into drugs, you name it, he’s gotten them off the street and taught them how to fight, to channel their energy productively into a sport he feels teaches you self-discipline, courage and integrity.

“At a practical level [the fight club is] about taking kids who have been on the edge at times, and teaching them to fight and in that process teaching them self control,” Father Dave says.

“Ten years ago almost all the kids we were dealing with had heroin problems and for every half a dozen guys we pick up, five might end up back on the street – but one won’t, and that’s good.”

Many of the kids who pass through the club come out better off. It isn’t just the boxing that helps channel their negative energy that helps though

“People need a community and that’s the secret for turning some of the more difficult kids around. We don’t tell them; the hidden ingredient in making it work for kids is we change their peers,” Father Dave says.

Father Dave loves it when he sees the positive environment create ripple effects on the young men who go to his club. Recently a young Lebanese boy with a lot of attitude started going. One of the older boxers, an Aboriginal boy, was in the year above him at the same school. They initially didn’t get along, however eventually the older lad took the young trouble-maker under his wing. Now he dedicates half an hour per lesson to training the young guy and teaching him moves.

“And I think, 'what a guy'. He bridged that cultural divide. Boxing gave him the guts to reach out and show friendship and support to a kid he found it difficult to get on with at school. His mates would all be ganging up and bullying the young guy, but this young man gave him friendship,” Father Dave says.

It isn’t just youths that go to the fight club, men and women come from all walks of life to train. But one particular group who keep coming back are single fathers.

“To be a fighter you’ve got to have two things going for you. You’ve got to have a lot of energy that needs release and you’ve got to be not too concerned about your own health. And that fits perfectly with kids on the edge, and it really works well for men in custody cases battling for their kids,” Father Dave says.

“I’ve run support groups and meetings for single fathers and they are the saddest group of poor bastards I’ve ever known. I’ve been one myself.”

Father Dave boxes professionally to raise money to keep his ministry going. He sticks out like a sore thumb with the Anglican clergy, and feels that Sydney Anglican Christian middle class values are not helping Christians reach out to the underprivileged.

“The Anglican Church in Sydney is largely middle class and most of the kids we’re dealing with, well, that’s not their world, that’s not their culture. So getting the kids to cross that divide can be difficult and getting the church to extend to them can be difficult, I don’t think it’s impossible though,” Father Dave says.

Sarah, one of the few girls who trains at the club is an atheist. She puts her faith in science unraveling all the mysteries of life, shown with the tattoo of the carbon symbol on her lower back.

“Oh I strongly believe in science as the eventual answer to the unknown,” she says, even though she is wearing the singlet “Christianity with a punch.”

“I wear the singlet because I respect Father Dave, and I respect his fight club. It always gives my flatmates something to chuckle about when I come home wearing the singlet though, because it’s so not me,” Sarah says.

John, an older man and one of the fight club’s newer members, has been boxing most of his life. The thing that keeps on bringing him back to this club is the friendly atmosphere.

“A lot of fight clubs are full of tough boys trying to prove something. There is a lot of attitude and arrogance, but you don’t get that here,” he says.

The fight club operates in the church hall owned by Holy Trinity Church where Father Dave ministers. Money is tight, so to lighten the load Father Dave set up his own company called ‘Fighting Father Ministries.’ In fact the local community is where he draws his financial support to keep the fight club and the youth centre attached to it running.

“If life was easier, then we wouldn’t have the relationship with the local pubs and clubs, today,” he says.

Father Dave doesn’t like to rely on the Anglican Diocese, rather he prefers to see the community getting together and setting up a project. In the long term he would love to travel the country and help communities set up their own fight clubs.

"Having the local church working with the kids, funded by local business with the support of the community is the ideal model; rather than going through that bureaucratic process of getting funds from the diocese,” Father Dave says.

Father Dave thinks the way the Anglican Diocese taxes churches these days makes it harder for smaller churches to serve the community: the size and income of a church is not as important as it used to be in determining the amount of money a church should be taxed.

“We’re not even a name, we’re a number. And the number goes in and gets crunched by a machine and comes out and says you owe this much. You’re not dealing with people most of the time you’re dealing with a system. That’s not bad in itself. It’s just a reflection of the size of the thing,” said Father Dave.

After 15 years of serving the church and community, the years are taking their strain on Father Dave.

“At the start of this year, I thought it was all over. Our financial situation was slim. I thought about just quietly disappearing from the scene and moving away quietly, but the local bishop encouraged me to stay,” he says.

Right now Dave takes the business of his fight club and the church month by month.

“I think we’ve just got to keep taking risks. As soon as we get some money, I’m pumping it straight back into the club,” he says.

He was disillusioned for a while, until recently when he heard a quote from Gentleman Jim Corbett –who was a great pioneer in the development of boxing as a sport because of his scientific approach and innovative technique.

“The quote related to a ‘one more round’ mentality. And I thought to myself, yeah, I have one more round left in me. It helps to think of it like that rather than asking yourself if you have another 15 years left in you,” Father Dave says.

“At the end of the day, we want to teach people that boxing isn’t about winning, it’s about showing that you’ve got the courage to stand on your own feet for three rounds and show that you can survive.”

Fight one more round.

When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard,
Fight one more round.
When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black
And you are so tired that you wish your opponent
Would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep
Fight one more round
Remembering that the man who fights one more round
Is never whipped.” ~ James Corbett.

Is that burning Reichstag that I smell?


Well, things are certainly hotting up in old Sydney town! On December 11th, 2005 we witnessed the start of rioting in the burbs on a level that certainly surpassed anything that has taken place in living memory for me.

Some 5000 people converged on Cronulla beach last Sunday - mainly testosterone-filled young men - sparking violence that spread across Sydney’s southern suburbs. It even made its mark on peaceful villages such as Dulwich Hill! And it’s all very racial. It’s black against white, Lebanese against European, Moslem against Christian!

“Just let the Lebs get their revenge”, was the plea from one of the young teenagers in our Youth Centre this week! “Revenge for what?” was our question to him. He wasn’t sure.

Meanwhile, the ‘war against terror’ intensifies in this country, with 17 men now awaiting trial as ‘terror suspects’ - charges that could land them in gaol for 25 years, though it appears that the evidence against them is pretty feeble.

In case that weren’t enough, one of our local church buildings has been burned to the ground by arsonists this week - presumably anti-Christian arsonists. And to top it all off, I keep hearing reports on the radio of assaults and attempted rapes being carried by a man ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’.

I’m not sure what this man ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’ is supposed to look like exactly. Should I assume he looks like my Israeli friend, Morde? No. I think the description is meant to depict a more swarthy skinned soul from one of the oil-producing nations, or perhaps someone who is Lebanese?

Now, while all these disturbing scenes are holding our attention in the foreground, the government is beavering away in the background, constructing new laws designed to curb the ‘reign of terror’!

Sweeping new powers for police have been rushed through parliament in a special sitting held this week. The laws allow police to ‘lock down’ troublespots, search people and cars, and confiscate vehicles and mobile phones. The presumption of bail has been removed for offences of rioting and affray and the penalties for those offences have been increased to maximum jail terms of 15 and 10 years respectively.

Add these new laws to the other ‘reforms’ that have been rushed through recently - allowing police to arrest with charge for 14 days, and increasing the rights for the government to ‘monitor’ suspected terrorists - and you quickly get the feeling that life in this country is never going to be the same again.

Now I’d be the first to say that police in this city often have a very tough time of it - especially when dealing with the type of young people who are currently engaged in rioting and racial violence. Having said that, the sudden surge of sweeping new powers worries me deeply, and I’m wondering if that isn’t the scent of burning Reichstag that I can smell in the background.

You should remember the incident from your history books if not from living memory. On February 27th, 1933, the Reichstag (the German parliamentary building) was the subject of an arson attack. Hitler blamed the communists. The communists blamed the Nazis. A mentally-retarded Dutch immigrant was eventually tortured and beheaded for the crime.

Whoever was responsible, nobody debates that in retrospect it was a windfall for the Nazis, as it gave Hitler the excuse to introduce sweeping new powers through Parliament that silenced all dissenting voices and ultimately dissolved the democratic process.

No doubt the new powers seemed like the only sensible response at the time. Fear of ‘communism’ and ‘the Jews’ had become all consuming. The good citizens of Berlin needed someone to protect them from these uncontrollable terror attacks that were taking place in their city. Thank goodness that one man, Adolf Hitler, had the courage to stand up against the godless communists and violent ethnic minorities that were threatening to destroy the peaceful way of life enjoyed by the German people ...!

OK. We all know how that story turned out. And I’m not wanting to pretend that we’re living in Nazi Germany or that the Australian police bear any resemblance to the SS. Having said that, there are certain parallels in these two scenes that can’t be ignored:

  • Racial violence is exposing deeply held prejudices within the population that have never been adequately addressed.
  • The population seems to be gripped by the fear of terror attacks, and willing to let the Government do whatever it deems necessary to maintain stability.
  • Sweeping new police powers are being introduced rapidly with very little opposition. Indeed, in the case of our state parliament here, the only objection from the leader of the opposition this week was that the new laws didn’t go far enough!

Perhaps the most disturbing thing I’ve noticed this week is the way in which the race riots and the ‘terror problems’ are all being lumped together as a part of some great ‘Arab-Islamic-ethnic’ issue.

The assumption on the ground seems to be that the rioting Lebanese boys are all Lebanese Moslems. The burning of the church building would be taken as obvious evidence for this. The link is then made to other Islamic extremists currently on trial, and it all starts to look like one enormous Arab-led axis-of-evil conspiracy to destroy the happy, peace-loving lifestyle of the Australian people (ie. white Australian people)!

The truth is of course that the rioting is far more complex than any axis-of-evil type explanation would suggest. From what I’ve picked up, a lot of the gang violence has to do with traditional issues of territory and the associated control of the drug trade in suburban areas. And of course not all the rioting young men are Islamic. Neither are they all Lebanese.

There are deep and serious issues in Australian society. No one should gloss over this.

There is a deep spiritual corruption amongst our young people, associated with an abandonment of all faith and youthful idealism and the entrenchment of a ‘sibling society’, that is increasingly aimless and narcissistic.

‘Multi-culturalism’ continues to be a concept that is officially enshrined but never discussed, and I have little doubt that the underlying tensions will continue to bubble to the surface in various destructive ways until this is addressed honestly and openly.

In this context, the grievances of Australian Moslems, who uphold more traditional social values , are understandable and need to be heard. Indeed, I do believe that if we middle-class white people could get over the vilification of the Islamic community, we would quickly discover that we share a lot more in common with these people than we do with their riotous white opponents!

As is always the case, every complex problem always has a simple answer, and it’s always the wrong answer! It is always wrong to blame one ethnic group for a country’s social problems. It is always wrong to target a particular religion as being the cause of violence. It is always wrong to make permanent life-changing decisions for an entire country based on a knee-jerk reaction of fear to some faceless terror. And it is always wrong to silence dissenting voices as being unpatriotic - something that now appears to be a part and parcel of the new anti-terror laws.

We’ve seen this all before! History teaches us that it’s only a short walk from the burning of the Reichstag to the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. More recent history (eg. in Malaysia, Singapore and Israel) has shown us that when countries introduce special police powers to deal with a state of emergency, the laws remain after the emergency has subsided, and are used to silence all sorts of dissenting voices.

The future for this country is very much unknown at the moment. I picked up one clear indicator in the paper today though: Australia’s ‘Patriotic Youth League’ - the local equivalent of the Hitler Youth - is currently experiencing an unprecedented surge in membership!

A Cheap Holiday in Other People's Misery (catching up with Mordechai Vanunu in Israel)


One of my favourite pieces of music is the Sex Pistols' classic 'Holidays in the Sun' - a song that begins with the line, 'a cheap holiday in other people's misery'. This would have made a fitting epitaph for my holiday in Israel, except that the $3000 air ticket meant that it wasn't exactly cheap.

I went to Israel full of apprehension. Just knowing what we all know of the backdrop of paranoia and pain that hangs over that land is enough to make anybody apprehensive, but I also went carrying a dark secret - that I was a friend of Mordechai Vanunu's, and I was nervous about the reaction I'd get should this truth suddenly become public.

My friend Morde was completing an 18-year prison sentence for doing something that most people in this country consider heroic. Morde told the world about a secret stash of WMD's ('weapons of mass destruction') that are being developed in an underground factory in the Negev desert. Most people I know think he did the world an enormous favour, but most people in his own country wish Morde had kept his mouth shut. Indeed, most Israelis regard him as a traitor!

In order to try to understand this attitude towards my friend, I tried talking to local people about their attitude to nuclear weapons. The response I received was alarming! "They're only there as our last resort" one articulate young journalist said to me. "Just in case we get completely overrun." "Well ... what happens then?" I asked. "Well", he said, "then we destroy everybody!"

Tragically, this was not an isolated example. Almost every time I sought an opinion from taxi-drivers, cafe workers or hostel staff concerning Israel's nuclear capacity, the word 'Armageddon' would come up. And these apologists seemed quite accepting of the fact that in order to strike this decisive blow against their neighbours, they might indeed need to take the rest of the planet with them!

Thankfully not every Israeli took this position. Indeed, the 'Free Vanunu' campaign itself had a strong local contingent of active peace campaigners.

These local activists were some of the most impressive people I met during my stay in Israel. Even in Australia they would have been impressive - mainly young, idealistic University students, with a commitment to world peace and global disarmament - impressive but not extraordinary in our context. In this context though, growing up in an environment so overshadowed by violence and fear, these brave young souls stood out like shining lights.

The violent side of Israeli culture was never more tangible to me than it was on the day of Morde's release. I had traveled many thousands of miles to be reunited with my friend on the day that he walked free. In my dreams I had imagined our reunion countless times. Morde would walk through those gates with his belongings in one hand, and me and a few friends and family would be there to embrace him and lead him away. I didn't really realise until I reached the prison just how far from reality my imaginary depiction of that scene would prove to be.

There were hundreds of us at the prison, and the vast majority were not Morde's friends. As the time of his release drew near, I tried to move towards the prison gate where I had always imagined myself standing as Morde walked out. I soon found myself squeezed into the middle of an angry mob.

It was certainly one of the nastiest experiences of my life. The whole mass of men seemed to seethe with aggression, and each individual was competing to claw his way to the front, for what exact purpose was not entirely clear. Thankfully I could not understand the chants that were being sung to the tune of 'here we go, here we go, here we go', but I was told later that the words for 'death' and 'traitor' had been central to all the mantras that were chanted that day.

On reflection I now think that it was a good thing that by the time Morde came through those prison gates the police had packed us together so tightly that I wasn't able to move a limb. What prevented me from running out to embrace Morde also prevented my neighbours from reaching him with more sinister intent.

Thankfully the car with my friend in it got away with no more than a dented panel and a shower of eggs. One antagonist did manage to mount his motorbike in time to catch the car, but after slamming into the side of the vehicle he lost his mount, and the 'free man' was able to proceed in peace.

Back at the gaol things then started to unravel. With their anger unresolved, the mob started to vent their aggression on other targets. I found myself swept up in this like a wave breaking over my head. One second I was walking towards my bus. The next moment I was surrounded by a mob led by an angry rabbi, screaming at the top of his voice. 'Go home' was the only phrase I could understand. Equally unambiguous though were the rough hands that were being placed on my body, the kicks that were landing on my legs, and the spittle that was accumulating on my face.

I didn't see any path of escape in this situation, so I placed my hands together in a position of prayer and bowed my head, working on the hitherto successful strategy that if you refuse to fight back, guys are generally very reluctant to beat you up. It worked. A man grabbed me from behind with both hands and hauled me out of the centre of the mob. I made it back to my bus without further incident.

All of this would have been water off a duck's back had Morde and I then been able to board a plane and fly back to Australia. Unfortunately the authorities had ruled that this 'free' man should not be allowed to leave the country, nor go anywhere near a border or a foreign embassy, nor have any contact with 'foreigners'. The 'foreigner' restriction was aimed at the foreign press. Even so, technically, I wasn't allowed to spend extensive time with my old friend without risking seeing him re-arrested!

We were reunited briefly on the evening of that same day of his release. Unfortunately I cried so much that I really didn't get the chance to tell him all of the things that I had prepared for that moment. All I can hope for now is that one-day we will catch up properly - perhaps over a few beers back here in the land of Oz. I know that Morde would like that.

Getting Morde out of Israel is indeed the next big challenge for the Vanunu campaign. I don't know how hard this will prove to be. I do know that I had a bloody hard time getting out myself. In my case it wasn't that they didn't want me out (they held off the departure of the plane until I got on board). They just seemed determined to let me know that they didn't want me back.

I had been warned by the other peace activists of intimidation tactics employed by airport staff. Ironically, I initially made it through all four security checkpoints without being stopped. It was only as I proceeded to the final gate that a young man in a suit caught up with me and said, "Excuse me sir, but can I see your passport." He then told me that there had been a 'problem' and that he would need to retain my passport until the 'problem' had been resolved. I was then shuffled into a small room to begin a three-hour process of interrogation, body searching and luggage examination.

In the end the verdict was that I was free to go and that there was nothing suspect about the contents of my bags, but that the bags themselves were suspect and that none of them could be taken on board as hand luggage. This meant that I could carry with me my camera, but not in my camera case, my laptop, but not my laptop case, my video camera, but not the bag with the shoulder strap that I lugged it around in, my toothbrush and paste, but not my toiletries bag, and even my Palm-pilot portable keyboard, but not the little vinyl dust-jacket that I kept it in. I could take what I liked, so long as I carried it in my arms.

It was just a game, though they managed to keep straight faces throughout the whole ordeal. For my part I refused to get on board without the bulk of my carry-on items. In the end they agreed to give me a large cardboard box to put them in.

And so my cheap holiday in other people's misery came to an end. But now the real work begins. For I returned home, but I left my friend inside the confines of St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem, where the good bishop has offered him sanctuary.

Morde can't leave the Cathedral grounds. He has at least two reporters on every exit, taking shifts to cover his movements 24-hours per day. If Morde tries to walk out into the street, he'll be immediately surrounded and identified, and given the number of locals that would count it as a point of pride to be responsible for his death, Morde's life in the open probably wouldn't last more than a few minutes.

I'd like to see my friend back here in Australia. I wonder if the Australian government has the courage to offer him citizenship?

Why Ray Williams is still my hero


We wouldn’t be able to do any of the stuff we do with kids if it wasn’t for the support we get from local business people in our community. This is not a shameless plug for our sponsors, just recognition of the fact that whatever we’ve been able to achieve in Dulwich Hill has been a team effort between church and community.

People often ask me, “I suppose the church pays for all this, do they”. I tell them straight, that our little church in Dulwich Hill has never been able to properly afford even the minimum wage for their priest, and that the Church with a capital ‘C’ (ie. the Anglican Diocese of Sydney) has contributed next to nothing. No. Almost all our support comes from the three local pubs – the Gladstone, the Royal Exchange, and the Henson Park Hotel – and from the local RSL club (Petersham). The rest of it we pick up through the Christians vs. Lions fight nights we put on, and through other community events (eg. the Mayor’s golf day, the annual community Street Fair, etc.).

It wasn’t always this easy. In the early years we really struggled to keep the Youth Centre open. Then we caught the attention of one corporate benefactor, who was able to keep us going long enough for us to put the other support in place. That benefactor was Ray Williams, former chief executive of HIH insurance – one of the most gentle, caring, and humble men I have ever met, and currently one of the least popular men in the country.

It amazes me when I think about it. Some of the best people I have ever met are people with terrible reputations. In each case of course their reputations have been largely media-generated.

When my mate Jim got shot, one of the major Sydney newspapers ran story entitled “Evil Villain Gunned Down”. It featured a picture of Jim carrying an automatic weapon. The picture had been taken many years earlier during Jim’s time with the Australian Army. I thought ‘You bastards! That’s not the man I know.’

When Morde was on trail in Israel I read a variety of articles that spoke about him as being a sophisticated spy - working for the Arabs and out to destroy his country. I thought ‘You bastards! You have no idea who you are talking about.’

Now I read stories about Ray – about how he manipulated the market to line his own pockets and how he deliberately defrauded millions of people, and I think again ‘You bastards’.

Ray was sent by God to help us. I have no doubt about that. I first met him through a fight I took, though Ray himself was no fan of boxing.

The story of that fight was in itself quite bizarre.

I had been sitting with the Archdeacon in my office one afternoon. He was wagging his finger at me and telling me that I’d have to close down the Youth Centre. “You just don’t have enough money to keep it going” he said. And he was right. We were exactly $1000 short of being able to pay our youth worker’s wage for the next month. I was feeling rather nonchalant about it all and was telling him to have more faith. At exactly that moment Kon, my trainer, came to the door.

“Dave, do you want to take a pro fight?” he asked. “No” was my knee-jerk reaction. I’d just completed my fight career (I’d thought) with a shot at the NSW super-welterweight title in kickboxing. The law in this state at the time was that you had to hang up your gloves when you turned 35. I was 34 and nine months at that stage. “How much are they offering?” I asked Kon. “$1000” he said. I told him I’d take it. We raised close to $50,000 for the Youth Centre through that fight. More than half of that money came through Ray.

A guy by the name of Jeff Wells wrote an article about my fight that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald one Saturday. After that, cheques for as much as $1000 started arriving in the mail! Then one morning a courier turned up with two cheques – one for $10,000 in the name of HIH insurance, and another for $15,000 in the name of a Mr R. Williams. I remember trembling when I received these cheques. I’d never seen that much money before in my life.

I had never heard of Ray Williams, but his business card was attached, so I rang the number and got one of those classic receptionist voices, saying “Mr Williams is busy at the moment. Can I take a message?” Then I mentioned my name and all of a sudden I was speaking to Ray.

“Ah … hi … do I know you?” I started. “No. I don’t think so,” he said. “You’ve just sent me cheques for $25,000” I said. “Yes” he said. “Um … are you a local from around here? Have you been watching our work?” I asked. “No” he said. “Well … are you connected with the church or with youth work around here?” “No” he said. “Well … are you a fight fan?” I asked, scratching for some point of connection. “Not at all” he said. “I read an article about you in the Herald and it looked like you needed some help.” “Yeah, I do” I said. “Well, will that help?” he asked. “Oh yeah” I said, “that’ll help.”

That’s how our relationship began. Over the years that followed Ray took a keen interest in our work. As things at HIH became tighter, we didn’t receive any further support from the company, but Ray himself would generally turn up to our fundraiser fight nights, and he wouldn’t leave before slipping us a cheque from out of his own funds. It’s what kept us going while we searched for more stable sponsorship from the local community. We owe a lot to Ray.

And it wasn’t just the money. It was the man too. He was inspiring in his humility.

At the time of the first donation we had a guy in our church who worked as one of the chief accountants in the public hospital system. “Oh yeah” he said to me one Sunday. “If it wasn’t for Ray Williams, half the hospitals in Sydney might be closed.” And then he added “but he never likes to have his name mentioned. He hates the limelight”

We found this to be entirely true. We managed to get him on stage once to present a trophy to one of our fighters, but it was a tough job. He really hated being at the centre of attention. It’s one of the things that makes this Royal Commission so odious to him.

I still can’t believe the way the media have gone after him – vigorously attacking him for his generosity to hospitals and charities. It’s not as if he was giving away money that should have gone to insurance claimants. If he hadn’t given it away, I guess it would have slightly increased the dividend paid to the shareholders, and he himself must have been one of the largest shareholders. I still find it preposterous to think that the media should have acted so self-righteously indignant about the fact that the poor shareholders were losing potential income because it had gone to the children’s hospital. It’s just ridiculous.

But it wasn’t only the media that crucified Ray. Once the news about HIH’s collapse became public knowledge, former colleagues deserted him, old friends and associates turned their backs on him, and charities that he’d been supporting for years all of a sudden didn’t want to know him. Ray had been on the board of the Children’s Hospital for as long as anybody could remember. They sent him a letter saying ‘thank you but your services are no longer required’. Nobody waited for the results of the Royal Commission. Nobody waited to see if perhaps he wasn’t the real villain in the piece. Everyone distanced themselves, not wanting their own reputations to be tarnished.

I seriously can’t understand that attitude. I know I’m capable of doing some stupid and selfish things, but deserting a mate in his time of need is not one of them. When I think about all the people that Ray must have helped over the years, I just can’t believe that none of them thought to ring him up and say ‘How are you going, Ray. Perhaps it’s my turn to give you some support?’

Anyway, my point here is not to spit my dummy. And I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a clue about big business, insurance laws, or anything of the sort. But I know a good man when I meet one, and Ray Williams is a good man and someone whom I’m proud to call my friend. And I’ll be buggered if I’m going stand by and listen to people pouring crap out on a mate of mine without saying anything.

To be truthful, I don’t expect that Ray will ever fully regain his former reputation or standing. I know too much about how the media works and about how our court system works to ever expect real justice. As with my friends Jim and Morde, I’m not holding my breath waiting for the truth to come out. No. I’ll look to the day when the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ. When that day comes, all the crap will be sorted out.

There's nothing quite so Glorious as a Good Fight with your Fists!


“Blessed be the LORD my strength,
-which teacheth my hands to war,
-and my fingers to fight.
-My goodness, and my fortress;
-my high tower, and my deliverer;
-my shield, and he in whom I trust;
-who subdueth my people under me.”
Psalm 144

‘Do you do sparring here’ he asked. ‘Yes’ I said, wishing I had another answer to give him.

Normally I’m mad keen when new guys wander into the gym looking to do some training, but this was different. Normally guys wander in by themselves or with a mate. This was a group of four, and only three of them were teenagers. The guy talking to me was an older guy, probably in his fifties.

The first time I met a group like this I assumed that the older guy was the father or uncle of the younger boys - scouting around for a good gym for his kids. This time I knew better. Teenagers always scout out their own gym and then tell dad about it later. The old guy who leads kids into a fight gym can only ever be a trainer, and a trainer who turns up unannounced at somebody else’s gym is generally a trainer who’s got something to prove.

“Mohammed here needs some sparring practice” the old guy continued. “Can he spar with you?”

Mohammed was tall and dark, about 18 years old, and had attitude written all over his face. He was standing about two metres away from me, arms folded, eyeing me out. It occurred to me that the trainer might not have been the only one in that group with something to prove.

“Well, we’re just about finished up for tonight” I said, “but if you’d like to come back on Sunday afternoon, I might be able to do a couple of rounds with your boy then.”

Sunday was three days away, and I anticipated that this wholly unsatisfactory response would result in the pack simply moving on in search of more ready prey, but the old guy said “That will be just fine. What time do we get here?”

I responded with some feeble dialogue about how we only spar for fun at our gym and about how we all try to take care of each other, but it was too late. The match was set in stone.

When the group showed up on the Sunday I was still busy chairing the monthly Parish Council meeting. I had forgotten about my church management duties when I made the date with the old guy, but the meetings are scheduled to finish before the kids arrive for training anyway, so it shouldn’t have made any difference.

I deliberately hold the meetings in the room adjacent to the gym, so that if the meeting does run late I can zip across and open up the gym and keep out a listening ear while I finish the meeting. I can’t remember whether we were running late that day or whether the boys arrived early. What I do remember was that the last half hour of the meeting was dominated by a rhythmical ‘thwack’ penetrating the walls of the meeting room - the sound of my prospective opponent belting into a punching bag in preparation for the big event. Needless to say, it made it difficult for me to concentrate on the concluding details of the meeting.

When the meeting finally finished, I hurried over apologetically to where the challenger was warming up. I deliberately went over still wearing my clerical collar, hoping that the sight of the venerable old rector of Dulwich Hill might have a calming effect on the challenger, who by this time had worked himself into quite a lather of sweat. A little focused reflection should have told me that neither Mohammed, nor his brothers Mustaffer and Achmed (whom he introduced me to) were likely to be impressed by the priestly garb. Perhaps the meeting had drained my brain. It had seemed like a good idea at the time.

Meeting the brothers made me aware of something else. Mohammed had brought quite a sizable entourage with him. In addition to the brothers there were cousins and friends, guys and girls - quite an audience. I did not get introduced to all of them, but I got the picture. One of them had brought a video camera, hoping to capture vivid images of the great shellacking on tape. I made a few more feeble utterances about ‘all taking care of each other’ but all words were, by that stage, just more unwanted delays to the great showdown. I got into my gear and fronted up to the ring.

I think I was still muttering niceties when the bell rang and Mohammed started for me. He was young, fast and strong, and he came at me like a wild animal - panting hard, eyes ablaze, fists flying. I had been in this position before and I knew what to do. The boy was fit and fast, but he was still a teenager, and this was the Achilles heel that I had to aim for.

It’s all about ego when you’re a teenager. It’s all about showing how tough you are - showing that you can beat your chest more loudly than the gorilla next to you. If you can frustrate the young Achilles - make him miss and ideally make him look a bit foolish - then you can take control. So I did what I do best - I ducked and weaved and used my footwork to stay away from him, let him swing at the air for a while and then tied him up when he cornered me. And in the clinch I continued my friendly dialogue - “Let’s settle down a bit, eh? No need to hurt anybody today, is there?” I kept up this pattern for the best part of two rounds before accepting that the friendly dialogue was having no positive effect whatsoever.

Normally a young buck like Mohammed can keep this sort of pace up for about half a round. The more they swing and miss, the more frustrated and tense they get, and the more frustrated and tense they get, the more energy they throw into each successive punch. Other young kids I’ve had like this have been all punched out in about a minute, but Mohammed was fit.

Given that this guy had not only his friends but his family watching, the potential for embarrassment was enormous. Every now and then he would swing so powerfully but so wildly that he would almost trip over himself – a move that drew giggles from the female members of his entourage and which must have made his blood boil. The constant streaming of videotape could not have been helping him maintain his equilibrium either. Every indicator suggested that this guy had to punch himself out soon, but by the end of the second round he seemed to be showing no signs of tiring whatsoever!

At the beginning of round three I clinched him again and tried to talk him down again, but he just wrestled me off again and continued swinging. And it seemed that no matter how many times he would swing at the air, he would launch the succeeding punch with the same level of energy, convinced that he was going to floor me forever with the next hit.

Now there’s only so much of this that any human being can be expected to take, and I’m no exception. I pride myself on being as calm as a cucumber in the ring, but after two and a half rounds with this guy I was starting to get really pissed off. After all, there’s only so long you can keep ducking and avoiding before your opponent does land a lucky punch, and this guy was punching hard and continuously.

Half way through round three he got me onto the ropes and started working my body and throwing uppercuts. It was when the third right uppercut whizzed past and singed my nose hairs that I remember something within me saying ‘stuff this’ and I spun off the ropes and started to give him a few back.

Perhaps it was the sheer shock of receiving some shots from me after two rounds of almost complete passivity, but he wasn’t prepared for my comeback at all. I don’t think I’ve ever landed a three-punch combination quite so squarely on anybody as I did on Mohammed on that fateful Sunday afternoon. I threw a right hook, a left hook, and a right uppercut, and the great beast just dropped like a sack of potatoes at my feet - ‘boom’.

I knelt down and picked him up. I embraced him and whispered in his ear “You’ve got your friends watching. You’ve got your family watching. You’re on tape. You don’t want to look like a complete fucking idiot do you?” The guy who replied seemed to be a different character altogether from the one that had hit the floor - “Let’s just have a bit of fun, eh Father? No need for anybody to get hurt here, is there?”

After that Mohammed and me were best mates. We did a few more fun and respectful rounds together, after which one of his brothers (I can’t remember which one) did a couple of rounds with me. The brother was completely respectful from start to finish and not a shot was thrown in anger. We had a lovely time.

When it was all over I stepped through the ropes and down the steps, and Mohammed’s entire entourage formed a silent guard of honour as I exited the ring.

I had just watched the movie ‘Gladiator’ the week before, and the memory of that scene where Maximus passes between his fellow gladiators and they all rise to their feet to salute their hero came flashing back to me. I think it was the greatest moment of glory I have ever experienced.

There I was - towel over my shoulder and gloves under one arm - emerging from the gladiatorial ring to the silent adoration of the assembled crowd, who stood and parted before me as I made my way from the stadium.

I can think of two other moments of glory in my life. Fighting Dave Guleyan over five rounds back in 1991 was the first. It wasn’t that the fight was anything spectacular, but the event was televised on one of the big TV current affairs programmes. And I won!

The second point of glory came when I caught Anthony ‘the Man’ Mundine with a left hook, and I heard the roar of support come from the very partisan home crowd at Dulwich High School. It had nothing to do with me thinking that I could beat the man, but to catch him with a single solid shot, and to know that all my mates saw me do it – that was glorious!

But the incident with Mohammed was the gold-medal moment for me. Perhaps it was because it was so unexpected. I had been concentrating on survival. I think it was only as the spontaneous honor guard formed that I realised that Mohammed hadn’t been the only one ‘on show’.

I saw Mohammed about twice more after that Sunday. I was sorry to loose touch with him, but there’s no way his trainer would have allowed him to maintain the contact. The event lies well in the past now, but the sense of glory lingers. It still feels good when I think about it.

“Blessed be the LORD my strength,
which teacheth my hands to war,
and my fingers to fight.”

Why more priests need to train as fighters (and why we don't see many boxers in church) II


The forgotten secret of the Ancient Greeks that shows us how to keep our teenagers out of trouble by teaching them to fight!

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-3)--

Four of the boys at training tonight are preparing themselves for their first fight at our forthcoming Christians vs. Lions promotion, scheduled for only three weeks hence. All of these lads are boxers.

Three of those four – Joel, Daniel and young Dave – are friends, finishing their last year of school together. They are a great example of how guys from different ethnic backgrounds (Australian, Latin American, and Lebanese respectively) can still be the best of mates. The fourth guy, Louis, is an enormous Islander man. I’m not sure whether he’s Tongan or from the Cook Islands, but he’s a gentle giant really. He reminds me of Mahendar – a regular here at the Youth Centre. They’re both big, black and burly, but with gentle hearts. Louis has a few years on the other boys who were there tonight. He’s a natural in the ring, and plays the role of the older brother very well indeed.

These four boys are the cream of our crop in the fight club at the moment. They are all capable pugilists, but more than that, they are each a good embodiment of what our club is on about – courage, integrity, self-discipline and teamwork. This isn’t to say that none of them have ever been troublemakers. Indeed, I’ve got a court appearance coming up with one of the boys, scheduled for shortly after his fight, and he’s on quite serious charges. Even so, I’ve seen nothing but positive growth since he joined the club, and I’m hoping for positive results both in his fight and in his court case.

What is it that makes fight training such a powerful tool in the molding of young lives? There was a time when I thought of fighting as just another form of sport. I have come to believe though that fight training taps into something deep in the male psyche, in a way that no other sport does.

When I used to talk to my old girls in the church about the problems we had with our young people, they often used to say ‘what we need is another war’. I always thought that that was a terrible thing to say – that a war was the last thing that anybody wanted. And of course the girls didn’t really want a war. They had just experienced the benefit of being part of a community that had learnt to pull together through difficult times. And they had seen the positive effect that soldiering could have on the lives of young men.

I believe that men were made to fight. It’s part of our genetic makeup. We may have managed to emerge from the jungle, but there’s still a bit of the jungle in each of us, and pugilistic activity keys right in to those ancient impulses – releasing the wild man within.

This theory isn’t original to me of course. It’s part of the fabric of the Bible – there behind every great warrior-king who showed himself to be a ‘mighty man of God’ in battle, and behind Jacob, who went toe to toe with God Himself and yet lived to talk about it (Genesis 32)! These were men who knew how to fight and pray and bleed and serve.

For a more philosophical exposition on the significance of fighting, we need look no further than Plato’s Republic.

For those who haven’t read it, in the Republic Socrates explores the concept of justice through examining both the just society and the just individual, and then he goes on to delineate their common elements. On the societal level he notes that a just community is made up of a number of vital components parts: rulers who govern, workers who labour, and an army that functions to protect them both. In the individual he finds a similar configuration – the mind that governs the body, the limbs that do the work, and the ‘themos’ (which is often translated as ‘temper’ or ‘aggression’) that plays a parallel role in protecting the individual. Justice in the Republic consists in having all of the component parts (in either individual or society) being present and working together properly.

In the wisdom of the ancient Greeks then, the ‘themos’ is the vital third component in the human constitution, along with the mind and the body. Without the ‘themos’, no individual is complete, and at a social level, no society will ever achieve a true state of justice.

It is my opinion that one of the negative legacies of feminism in Western culture has been an attempt to deny the ‘themos’, which seems to be more strongly present in men than in women. This has been for the most understandable of reasons – because of the excesses of male violence. But perhaps it’s time that we realised that trying to eliminate ‘themos’ from society altogether is like trying to eliminate spiders and snakes because we find them distasteful. We soon discover that the created order needs all of its creatures – even those that some of us find ugly – if it is to function properly.

My experience with a vast number of men is that they tend to be either functioning as doormats to their wives and girlfriends, or they’re beating up on them. This is a reflection of the same crisis in dealing with the ‘themos’. When we attempt to repress the themos’, it often spurts out in the most horrible and destructive of forms. When we successfully repress it, we emasculate our men, so that they’re no longer able to stand up for anything. Ironically, of course, such modern day men are not only unable to offer any strength to society. They’re no longer even attractive to the women they sought to please.

The only constructive alternative is for us to reharness the ‘themos’ and channel it creatively. We need to get in touch with that distinctive male energy – recognise it, affirm it, and then learn to bring it under control so that it can be put to good use. Perhaps when we are able to do this, then we will see this country produce leaders of the calibre of Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, or Mahatma Ghandi – strong people of principle who stand up powerfully for what they believe in. As it is, our leaders always seem to come across as being either ‘wooses’ or criminals or both. God knows we need some real men in this country who know what it means to love their women, to be fathers to their children, and to serve God and their community with their strength!

Fight training, I do believe, is a means to getting at that ‘themos’ and learning to bring it under control. When done in the right way, fight training can help a young person to discover who they are and can help them to bring their futures into focus. They can then come to see their role as warriors in this society who will stand up and use their energy to build a better community and to fight for things worth fighting for.

What about these boys who I watched training with me tonight? Will they go on to become ‘mighty men of God'? I don’t know. But they’re on the right track, and they’re further ahead now than when they first started their training.

Why more priests need to train as fighters (and why we don't see many boxers in church)


"Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." -- (1cCorinthiansc9:26-27)

St Paul was a fighter. I don’t think he ever competed in the ring, but that wasn’t because he lacked the discipline or was afraid of the pain.

I always say that to be a fighter you need to have two things going for you. Firstly you need to have a lot of energy inside that needs release. Secondly, you need to be not too concerned about your own health. This fits the profile of most of our young men perfectly - on the edge of the drug culture, full of testosterone, and with no thought for the future. It also fits perfectly the profile of another group - single fathers, struggling to gain access to their children.

That was how I got into the fight game. I hadn’t taken it up as a teenager, and I certainly hadn’t been born into it. My dad was a priest for God’s sake, and an academic. Fighting had not been my birthright. I came in through the back door of pain and loneliness and bitter struggle.

Separated, and struggling for the right to see my daughter, I had made one half-hearted attempt at suicide already by that stage. And I had met with my bishop the following day and he had told me not to ‘trade off’ my situation (in other words, not to get too comfortable). I appeared to be losing my family, my vocation, and most of my friends at the same time. Full of emotional energy, obsessed with thoughts of self-destruction, and drinking way too much, I managed to find my way to the Mundine gym. It was my decision not to go under, but to fight back.

Mundine’s is situated in the middle of Everleigh Street, Redfern - the roughest street in one of the roughest neighborhoods in our city. Redfern is a largely Aboriginal suburb on the outskirts of central Sydney. In recent years the government has come through and ‘cleaned it up’ somewhat, which meant pushing a lot of the local residents further out west. Even so, it is still a rough area.

I had grown up in the vicinity of Everleigh Street. My dad had been a lecturer at the Anglican seminary located only a few blocks from this dark heart of Aboriginal Sydney. It was always an odd location for the seminary. The ecclesiastical community never had anything to do with the adjoining aboriginal enclave. On the contrary, most persons associated with the religious community dealt with their black neighbours by practising the same sort of avoidance strategy that I’d learnt as a kid – scurrying quickly past the end of Everleigh Street and its environs whenever circumstances put us unavoidably within its reach.

Ironically this strategy had to be invoked every time you got off a train from Redfern station. The platforms seemed to be designed to feed directly into Everleigh Street! Of course I never made the mistake of straying down that way myself, and as a youngster, I had heard many a nasty story about the price paid by some of the less wary.

None of this is to suggest that the reputation of Everleigh was based on hearsay. I had seen plenty with my own eyes.

Countless times I had seen young toddlers and their slightly older siblings wandering the streets at night while their parents got drunk at the local. One night I watched as a stupid woman stopped her car after these kids had thrown rocks at it. She got out and tried to confront the kids about what they had done. The result of course was that they found some bigger rocks and a couple of bricks. They made quite a mess of that car.

My brother told me that he had witnessed a roll take place from the top of the street in broad daylight. Some boys had pulled a knife on a university student who had handed them his wallet. The student had then located a nearby policeman and had pointed out the boys to him, but the copper did nothing about it. He said he didn’t want to start a riot!

I had seen the bonfires that would be lit when the new phone books or Yellow Pages directories were delivered. I had seen the shells of burnt out cars in the street. I had seen plenty, and had plenty of good reasons to never deliberately venture down that street, which is why my first walk to the Mundine gym was like wading through water – every step being a slow and deliberate effort. But I was determined to become a fighter, and I’d just as soon lose my life in Everleigh Street than give up on my dream to have my day in the ring.

The exterior of Mundine’s Gym is not designed to draw attention to itself. You’d walk right past it if you didn’t know it was there. It’s missing entirely that glittering windowed street frontage with the sleek bodies of well-groomed athletes on display for passers-by – the type that we associate with the sorts of gyms where you pay a costly membership fee. Mundine’s has no membership fee. I don’t remember there even being a sign out the front. Mundine’s looks like just another housing-commission block, with its inglorious entrance at the bottom of a stairwell. But you pick up that it’s a gym long before you reach the top of those stairs. The smell of liniment hits you half way up – that manly smell that mingles so harmoniously with the melodic whir of the skipping rope tap, tap, tapping its way through another round.

This is what makes a real gym – the smell of liniment, the sound of the rope, the less rhythmical thwacking of glove to bag, and of course the fighting. When you step inside Mundine’s, you know you’re in a real gym. No pretty boys. No glamour workouts. No white-collar boxercise sessions for indulgent professionals. Just bodies, sweat, testosterone and blood.

They play hard at Mundine’s. That’s governed by the sort of guys that show up there of course, but it’s also embedded in the architecture of the gym to some extent. The ring stands in the centre of the building and it’s a small ring, made for brawlers. There is a small assortment of bags strung around the sides, but no fancy speedballs or floor-to-ceiling bags, such that you could justify turning up just to have a workout on the bags. There are a few pieces of weights equipment too, but again not enough to allow them to become a serious point of focus. No. The whole structure is designed to channel you into the ring. Everything else is just padding. That’s the way it should be in a real gym.

I wore my clerical shirt and collar the first time I went there. Even now I don’t think it was an entirely stupid thing to have done. I wanted to be up-front about who I was and where I was coming from. Even so, I hadn’t really thought through the effect that this was going to have on the other boys at the gym, most of whom were, initially, very reluctant to hit me. They got over it though, particularly after they realised that I had no qualms about hitting them. Within a couple of weeks I was coming home each night bruised and bleeding from head to toe, and I knew I was one of the lads.

Is it just me, or does every man need to go through something like this at some time in his life – to know the joy of falling into your bed aching with the wounds that your sparring partner has inflicted on you that evening, and sleeping soundly in the knowledge that your ring brother is likewise doing his best to sleep off the impression that you made on him? I had many a glorious sparring session during those first weeks and months at Mundine’s. They weren’t pretty to watch I suppose, but they were epic struggles of the human spirit so far as I was concerned.

There are few things in life more deeply satisfying than a good fight. A hard night in the ring is an enormous catharsis for a man who is struggling with life, but it’s more than that too. When you step into a ring you’re making a decision to take control of your own destiny. The forces that oppose you are no longer vague powers that threaten to overwhelm you from a distance - the law, the courts, the system. No. Your opposition takes on a clear material form in the shape of the other man advancing on you from the other corner. To get into that ring and to stay in that ring is to make a decision to give it a go – to put your body on the line and to stand up to the punishment like a man. Fighting is more than a sport. It’s a way of life. It is the defiant decision to confront your pain directly and not to be overcome by it. Mundine’s gym taught me that, or at least it played a significant role.

There was another vital lesson I learnt at Mundine’s - perhaps even more important than what I learned about fighting. I learnt to respect the fight community.

The fight community is a culture all of its own, and was certainly spawned on an entirely different planet to the church community. I’m sure that some Anglican church-goers must have wondered why there are so many doctors and accountants in their congregations and so few fighters. The truth is that most church people just don’t speak the same language as fighters.

The converse is also true. The fight community, as far as I can see, has very little idea of what the church is on about. I don’t mean that fighters aren’t spiritual guys. On the contrary, some of the most godly and inspirational men I have met have been fighters. And yet they have no point of contact with the established church. The two groups just don’t understand each other at all. Never was this made clearer to me than on my fourth visit to Mundine’s gym.

I had turned up quietly in my tracksuit and was wandering over to the bench at the side of the ring where we tended to leave our gear while we were training. A group of guys were huddled there talking, and there was nothing particularly private about the volume of their conversation. I think they were discussing relationship problems, though I didn’t overhear everything. What I couldn’t help hearing was one guy say very clearly ‘So I grabbed her, and I punched her in the fuckin’ head’. He said it loudly and enacted a downwards punching motion as he said it.

Then he noticed me standing nearby and suddenly felt very self-conscious. ‘Oh, sorry Father’ he said. And then he corrected himself. ‘I punched her ... (and he said it very slowly and deliberately) ... in the head’.

If I’d had my wits about me that night I would have said something clever like ‘I don’t think the Lord really gives a fuck about your language brother, but I think He does care about your wife.’ As it was, I didn’t say anything. I think I responded with a feeble smile. At the time, I just couldn’t work out how this guy had ever got it into his head that, as a priest, I would be more concerned about the fact that he swore than I would be about the fact that he beat his wife? Nowadays I take that sort of perception for granted.

I think it’s the church that has to bear the responsibility for the communication breakdown. So much of the church nowadays reeks of a sort of insipid middle-class moralism that really does care more about smoking and swearing than it does about domestic violence or world hunger. I don’t think the Lord Jesus or St Paul ever intended to spawn any of these Christianized golf clubs that call themselves churches. Personally, I suspect that Jesus and the apostles would feel more at home in the average boxing gym today than they would in the average church. Of course they wouldn’t like the threats and the violence, but they would love the honesty. Fighters are very honest people.

One guy, again from the Mundine gym, summed it up for me. ‘Around here nobody stabs anybody in the back’, he said to me. Then he pointed to his heart and added emphatically: ‘You stab here!’ That’s why I have so much respect for the fight culture. I know I can trust fighters. I know they won’t stuff me round – smiling to my face but stabbing me in the back when I turn around. I wish the same could be said for all church people.

St Paul was a fighter. ‘I do not fight like a man beating the air’ he says. They had the ancient Pankration fighting in his day – a vicious form of no rules combat that was concluding event in the original Olympics. Those guys certainly didn’t ‘beat the air’. When Ulysses came home from the Trojan War, legend has it that his own mother didn’t recognise him. According to my friend and former trainer Kon, legend has it that when the Pankration champion came home from the Olympic Games, his own dog couldn’t recognise him! Those guys knew what real fighting is about.

St Paul would have made one tough bugger as a fighter. What I wouldn't give to be able to jump into the old Pankration ring with him to go a couple of rounds! You’d never knock him down though. I suspect most of the apostles would have been like that – warm big-hearted men, but as hard as nails in the ring.

I have a secret hope that when I get to heaven I’ll be able to take on some of those boys and try my luck. I guess it’s not everyone’s idea of heaven, but it is mine.

The real problem with today's teenagers (and why most parents just don't get it!)


"The inspiration of a noble cause involving human interests wide and far, enables men to do things they did not dream themselves capable of before, and which they were not capable of alone. The consciousness of belonging, vitally, to something beyond individuality; of being part of a personality that reaches we know not where, in space and time, greatens the heart to the limit of the soul's ideal, and builds out the supreme of character." (Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, October 3, 1889)

Who was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain I might ask. No, not the one-time British Prime Minister. That was a different Chamberlain. J.L. Chamberlain was a general in the American Civil War, who fought for the North. Why mention him today? It will remain a secret at this stage.

My name is Dave. I generally function under the persona of 'Father Dave'. That's because I am a priest -an Anglican priest. Apart from being a priest I am also a boxer and all-round martial arts master. I am also a 'youth worker' of sorts.

In some places in the world I would be granted an enormous amount of respect because I am a priest. In this community, I find I receive more respect that I deserve on account of my reputation for hitting people. I personally believe that the only role in that list that really demands respect is the one of 'Youth Worker'

Working with young people is hard. I used to be a young person. I was a hard young person to work with. I was a difficult student at school. I went on to be an argumentative University student and then a troublesome seminary student. I've left behind me a whole string of academic institutions that have been somewhat glad to see the back of me.

Now I've been working with hard and difficult young people in Dulwich Hill for the last twelve years (which may be God's way of paying me back). Some of the young people I've worked with have really got their lives together and gone on to bigger and better things. Quite a number of them have died - mainly from overdoses but also from car accidents (often in stolen cars) and from suicide. Others I'm still working with. They're just not quite as young as they used to be.

People ask me all the time 'Dave, what do you think is the biggest problem facing young people today'. Most people think I am going to answer 'drugs'.

I do not consider drugs to be the biggest problem young people are facing today. That's not because I don't think drugs are a big problem. I've worked with a lot of drug-addicted young people over the years. I have been robbed and manipulated by them, and I have watched many of them. Even so, I do not consider drugs to be the biggest problem plaguing our young people.

Some people think 'violence' is the biggest problem facing young people, and I am conscious of the fact that for young guys (in particular) problems of violence can still be a major issue. Violence is not nearly so big a problem in my area as it was five years ago, but we still managed to finish up one of our most recent blue-light discos with an all-in brawl in the streets. Problems of violence are alive and well in Dulwich Hill. Even so, I do not consider violence to the biggest problem facing young people.

Some people think in terms of lack of employment opportunities as the major issue. Others would speak in terms of family breakdown or problems of prejudice - all real issues. Personally though, I believe that the biggest problem facing our young people today is something a little less tangible. Personally I think the biggest problem I see with our young people is that most of them don't feel themselves to be a part of anything that is bigger than themselves.

Most young people I meet have tragically small horizons, very little ambition, and hence live in very tiny worlds. When I ask teenagers about what they would really like to do with their lives if they could do anything at all, most others speak in terms of getting something, whether that something be a horse or a car or a girl or just 'a lot of money'.

No one I speak to says 'If I could do anything I wanted I'd find a cure for cancer' or 'I'd negotiate a peace deal in the Middle East'. And this reflects, I believe, the fact that most young people I know have very narrow horizons. Indeed, most young persons I know seem to live in worlds that are not much bigger than themselves.

Go back a couple of generations and most European Australians were ready to lay down their lives for King and country. You wouldn't find many young people today willing to sacrifice themselves for Queen and country. You won't find many young people who have any real sense of loyalty to the Queen or to the country. Indeed, if you ask most young people what it means to be Australian, you won't generally get a reply that contains any ideals.

There are positives as well as negatives in this equation of course. Strong patriotism often goes hand in hand with strong prejudice against people of other nationalities. And our Australian cynicism towards our governing bodies at least means that we're not easily fooled by political propaganda. Even so, the downside of our 'loss of national identity' means that we've been thrust back upon ourselves and upon our peers to find some sense of personal identity.

Now if you're following me here at all you may well be thinking 'Yeah, Dave thinks that because he's working with a group of no good loser drug addicts. Hell, I don't know what happened to him since he left Fort Street, but that guy has been on a one-way downwardly mobile trip. Over here we've really got it all together.' Yeah? I don't know.

One of the most depressing groups of young people I've encountered in the past few years has been at my oldest daughter's school. She attends a different government run selective high school. I won't say which one. NOT THIS ONE! When she fist started school there they asked her whole class 'what did they want to be when they finished school?', and almost every other person there, apart from her, said 'a lawyer'.

Now people, maybe I've been prejudiced over the years by the enormous amount of time I've spent in juvenile courts and in the prison system, but it seems to me that if we're really on about building a better Australia, the last thing we need is more lawyers!

Now I know I shouldn't be black and white about this, but my daughter went around and asked her peers 'why do you want to be a lawyer?' Some of them answered 'because my dad is a lawyer' or something like that, but MOST of them said that it was because being a lawyer was a 'good job', by which they mean what ….? A job that can help a lot of people? NO! When people say a 'good job' they mean a job that makes a lot of money.

There was a time when we used to speak of the 'idealism of youth'. What's happened to that? When did youthful idealism get replaced by this 'I want to make a lot of money' mentality? Why do people who should know better want to make a 'lot of money'? Is it because you think you need a lot of money in order to survive? You don't! Is it because you think 'if I have a lot of money I will be really important and people will look up to me?' GET A LIFE!

Friends, I do not think that there is any greater tragedy in this community than a highly trained intelligent young person who has all the gifts and abilities necessary to really make a difference in this society, but who has no idea where to direct those gifts and abilities. It's like having a powerful loaded weapon and not caring where it's aiming when it goes off.

This is the tragedy: that most of our young people, I fear, drug-addicted and not drug-addicted, well educated as well as less well educated, winners as well as losers, live a life wherein 'my life is basically about me'. That's a tragedy.

One of my good friends is a guy called Mordechai Vanunu, who is still in prison in Israel for telling the world about all the nuclear bombs that his country has stockpiled. Morde has been in prison there now for 17 years. The worst thing about his prison term though was that he spent the first 11 and a half years in solitary confinement, which is one of the most torturous forms of human punishment - living in a world inhabited by one!

I see a similar tragedy taking place in the lives of so many of our young people who really have no hopes, dreams or ambitions in this life that go beyond themselves. What a small life to live! It's like trying to beautify the wallpaper in your own solitary cell!

It's this loss of idealism that I see as the greatest scourge afflicting our young people today, and my response to this situation is to teach these young people to fight, which might not seem like the most obvious solution to the dilemma to everybody.

The relevance of fighting to an individual's value system might not be immediately obvious to everyone, but I do seriously believe that pugilism and idealism are intricately linked. The bottom line is that I know that it all works.

I know that I've had an almost 100% success rate when it comes to taking in guys who have serious drug problems or violence problems, that by the time I get them to the side of the ring for a serious fight, they are no longer having problems with drugs or violence or any of those things, but have actually developed a real sense of who they are and what they are on about.

I know it works. I'm not sure I fully understand why it works, but I would note that if you go back to Plato's Republic, to the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks, you'll find that Socrates assigned a very high place to the value of 'themos', which we translate as 'aggression' or 'fighting spirit'.

According to Socrates, no individual and no society is complete without properly developed 'themos'. Individuals and societies need to know how to fight if they are going to know real harmony and real justice.

The other authority I would appeal to today is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain:

" The consciousness of belonging, vitally, to something beyond individuality … greatens the heart to the limit of the soul's ideal, and builds out the supreme of character."

Chamberlain writes this out of his experience in the American Civil War - one of the most terrible wars in history.

Chamberlain was, ironically, a contemporary and a colleague of William Tecumseh Sherman who coined the phrase 'war is hell' and I don't think Chamberlain would have necessarily disagreed with Sherman. But Chamberlain also found that, for all its horror, war had one very positive side effect - it gave people a sense of belonging to something that was greater than themselves and so it could bring out the best in people.

Of course Chamberlain isn't the only person whose seen this. My old dears at the church used to say it all the time. "What these young people need is a good war" they used to say. Now they weren't stupid, and they knew as well as anyone else that the last thing we really need is a 'good war', but their point was that they felt young people needed some experience like they'd had in their youth, where they were forced to work together with a broad range of people across the community and to make sacrifices together as they committed themselves to a cause which was something far bigger than any of them as individuals.

Fighting has worked for me (and it's less costly all round than starting a war). Maybe it will work for you too. Find out! Come down and touch gloves with me. Do a few rounds. See how the experience affects you. (just don't all come at once)

Perhaps fighting is not your thing. That's OK. Find another way to get in touch with your ideals and values. Spend more time in church. Head up on a mountain by yourself for a couple of months and just think and pray about it. That works for some people. Just don't be content with a life that has no greater horizon than your own wealth and self-importance.

We live in an extraordinary society in an extraordinary period in human history. Think about it. At how many other points in history, and in how many other places in the world, have any group of people ever had the degree of choice about the future that we have today.

Think about it. The rest of your life lies before you and you can really choose to do with it just about anything you want to! Your options are really only limited by your imagination and your genetic potential. At how many times and places in human history has that been true?

If you were born a few generations back in a village you wouldn't have had these sorts of choices. Your dad was the village Smithy, so that's what you were going to be. If you were born on a farm you were probably going to stay on that farm until you died. If you were a teenage girl you probably already had a couple of kids by now and your path was fully set.

We're at the opposite end of the spectrum now. If you decide to spend the rest of your life entirely devoted to playing your guitar you can do it. You may become a great rock star, but even if you don't you won't starve. The government safety net will still support you in the end so that you can keep doing nothing but guitar playing if that's what you really want.

If you decide to devote the rest of your life to scientific research you can do that. If that's your vision and you're determined, nobody is going to stop you from giving your life to that.

If you want to devote your life to feeding the hungry and healing the sick you can do that, or if you just want to sit around on your bum all day too, you can do that too! The choice is yours.

But this is our dilemma. Never before in human history have we had such a wonderful variety of choices before us, and never before, I fear, have we had so little idea of what we should choose.

One final illustration from a Peace March: I trust that plenty of you guys made it to the recent Peace March, and good on you. Let me mention to you one placard that I heard about at a march. I didn't see it but was told about it. It said "nothing is worth dying for". I thought that this was very clever at first, but then it occurred to me if nothing is worth dying for, is anything worth living for?

Friends, I believe that there are things worth living and dying for. Find out what they are and live them! Live your life to the full. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. And the blessing of God Almighty - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen!

Boys will be Boys or 'why men love to Fight'


I had twenty-five boys at the fight club tonight - twenty-five boys and one 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, etc. - 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 parlor 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% 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 though 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.

What about this girl who's joined us for the first time tonight. Could she be another Wendy? Not likely. She doesn't look the part at all. She's a slender Vietnamese girl, with a sassy hairstyle and a T-shirt that prominently displays the words 'Too busy to Fuck?"

I told her that if she wanted to train with us at all that she'd have to change into a different shirt. I offered her one of our club T-shirts - the ones with "Christianity with Punch" displayed on the back. She was predictably reluctant to wear it, but she put it on eventually. Once we had her in a different T-shirt she faded from view as the centre of everybody's attention. Even so, I suspect that the fine performance the boys put on tonight was in part inspired by a desire to impress our visitor. You can?t escape the sexual dynamics in this game.

A friend of mine in the army told me that, despite all the talk about equality of the sexes in the forces, the Australian army was still refusing to allow women into the front line, and with good reason. He said that the Israeli experience had been well documented (Israel being one of the only countries to put women in the front line) and that they were experiencing enormous problems. He said that for one thing, the statistics showed that men would always go back for a woman who had been shot, even if she was dead, and even if it put the rest of the squad in serious danger. He also said that the effect on morale of the death of a woman in the front line was far more serious than the effect of the deaths of any number of men (and morale is considered to be a third of any army's fighting strength)! Gender differences just do not seem to be able to be ignored in a war zone.

I'm a great supporter of women in the fighting arts, and indeed I've been in trouble with our state government on more than one occasion because of my role in promoting, training, and officiating in fight contests between females (which is still illegal in NSW). But I don't do this because I think that there's no difference between men and women in the ring. In the office there might not be any relevant difference, and in the pulpit I can't see or hear any, but in the ring - in that most fundamental and most primitive arena of human encounter - women are women, and men better bloody not be.

Why every Christian should be in favour of Gay Marriage


Yes, I'm serious.

Yes, I realise that the majority of the world's Christians are opposed to gay marriage and I recognise that many of those who most vocally oppose gay marriage do so in the name of Christ. Even so, this misunderstanding is easily resolved.

For Christians understand that marriage is an institution with a purpose. Others may believe that it was just a good idea that our forebears came up with on a lonely night, or that it evolved mystically out of our apparent need soul-mates, but Christians believe that marriage is a God-given institution, designed to serve the good of the community, and this gives us a very straightforward way of assessing the validity of any proposed form of marriage.

Let's be clear about this: from a Christian point of view, marriage is an institution designed to serve two social needs:

1. Marriage contributes broadly to social stability
2. Marriage provides a stable environment for the nurturing of children.

This may seem all very unromantic (as is the case with so much 'Biblical' thinking) but, in truth, I can't see many people outside of the self-obsessed, chakra-balancing spiritualist fringe - Christian or otherwise - seriously contesting this, and a brief look at history confirms that it is the social purpose of marriage that is at the core of the institution.

The Biblical record, certainly, is unambiguous in this regard. Sometimes marriage was monogamous while at other times multiple partners were involved. Sometimes marriages were arranged and at other times people were free to choose partners for themselves. The form of the institution varied, but the God-given role that marriage plays in the community has remained constant ? increasing social stability and providing a safe environment for the nurturing of children.

If this is the case then the only questions Christians need to concern themselves with when it comes to the issue of gay marriage are these two:

1. Would gay marriage lead to greater social stability?
2. Would a married gay partnership be likely to provide a more secure environment for the nurturing of the children of a gay couple than an unmarried one?

I think the answer to both these questions has to be 'yes'. If marriage entails faithfulness and long-term partnership, then allowing gay persons to marry will have to contribute something in both of these areas, even if the success rate of gay marriages turns out to be as dismal as heterosexual ones.

Now I appreciate that any number of Christian people will object at this point with words like 'abomination' and 'unnatural' - claiming that the Bible teaches clearly that all homosexual activity (including that between consenting adults) is an obscenity before God. My contention at this point is simply that even if this were true it wouldn't detract from the value of gay marriage. For the issue here is not whether homosexual activity is desirable or undesirable or morally offensive or anything of the sort. The only questions that should concern Christian people are these two:

1. Will this form of marriage serve social stability?
2. Will it make things better or worse for the children involved?

If the answer to these two questions is positive then we Christians have no basis for objecting to gay people having access to the institution of marriage, regardless of how some of us might feel about such people and regardless of whether we judge such persons to be immoral or otherwise.

Personally I think we Christians need to get over what is going on in other people's bedrooms, but if we are going to make pronouncements on what we deem best for the community, let's do so on the basis of rational argument and Biblical principle.

I'm sick of being told that 'God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' as if this should be taken more seriously than 'if God had meant us to fly he would have given us wings'. There may be reasons for objecting to gay marriage, but if there are they will be focused on whether such a form of marriage serves the purposes for which the institution was established. To debate the question on any other basis is simply unchristian.

Sheikh Hilaly had a point! or "if you've got a right to walk around topless,

I've got a right to look"


Sheikh Hilaly had a Point!

In October 2008, Sheikh Al-Hilaly, the mufti of Australia, got himself in a lot of trouble over comments made in a sermon, where he allegedly said that if a woman dresses provokatively and gets sexually assaulted, it's her own fault!

Whether he really said this or not, the question of public dress-codes and their effect on society at large is a subject worthy of serious discussion.

He did have a point, didn’t he? Did we miss it somehow?

I thought the errant Sheikh’s point was that if girls are going around dressed like strumpets, that they’re asking for trouble. If so, he’s raised an important subject in my opinion, and one that needs to be discussed. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a father of a teenage daughter!

Of course, it may well be that the Sheikh said a lot more than that. Indeed, he may have said way too much, and I'm not going to try to defend him. Even so, it’s about time we Australians took an honest look at the effect that dress codes in our culture (or the lack of them) have on our society at large, and on the male segment of the population in particular.

We’re very quick in Australian society to jump on the ‘primitive’ standards of Islamic communities, where women have to cover themselves in public, at least in part to lower the level of sexual temptation for men. We think it crazy that women should be so restricted and we can’t see why men shouldn’t be expected to simply take responsibility for showing self-control. In my opinion though, the system has a solid logic to it.

The logic goes like this: The community as a whole recognises the potentially destructive force of the male sex drive - destroying individuals, families and the community at large. Therefore both men and women and the government take responsibility for curtailing these destructive effects. Men are taught to pray and to take cold showers when tempted. Women, for their part, cover themselves in public. And the government does its bit by legislating the death penalty for all rapists.

OK. It’s a brutal logic, and I’m not expecting it to capture the imagination of the Australian public, but you’ve gotta admit that the system makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is our Western system, where women can dress and flirt and present themselves in public as they please, and men are expected to pretend that it doesn’t affect them.

A few weeks ago I was taking my younger children to a movie. I guess it was because I was bending down a little to deal with one of the kids that when I pivoted around I almost fell headfirst into the cleavage of the young girl standing behind me. Frankly though, it was an obstacle that was hard to avoid. She must have been all of 18, wearing her push-up bra, putting her best assets proudly on display to the rest of the world, in a way that didn’t leave a lot to the imagination.

Now, given that this is the acceptable standard in our culture, you might think that a rational response in that situation would be for me to compliment the girl by saying, “Congratulations on your fabulous boobs, luv!”, to which she’d reply, “Why thanks. I was hoping that people would notice”, though she’d probably add, “though it wasn’t really you I was hoping to impress”.

Something along those lines would make sense, at any rate. What doesn’t make sense is how, in our culture, I’m expected to pretend that I didn’t notice.

It doesn’t make sense. She wants men to look, but the man’s responsibility is not to look. She’s hoping to drive the guys wild with her sexual allure, but woe betide the male who wolf-whistles or makes some comment that suggests that she has had exactly the effect on him that she was trying to have.

I remember seeing a Leunig cartoon some years ago, depicting a table-top dancer entertaining a client. She struts her stuff and waves her bits in his face. Eventually the man jumps up and drops his pants. She screams and yells, ‘Pervert’, and the security guards come and drag the poor bastard away.

That’s how it works in Australian community. It’s all available. It’s all on display. It appears to be all there for the taking, but God forbid that you should make any sort of tangible response!

I remember a while ago we had a court case where some guy was convicted for taking a picture of a girl who was walking around in public topless. The girl made some statement that was recorded at the time, along the lines of, ‘I’ve got a right to walk around topless if I like and nobody has the right to perv on me’.

Now I’m paraphrasing, but I think I’ve captured the logic. The assumption is that how I dress (or undress) is my business and nobody else’s, and this is just plain garbage.

If you’re a fan of the Simpsons, you’ll remember Bart saying to his sister, “I’m going to start swinging my fists around, and if someone happens to get in the way of them, that’s not my fault”. He then starts windmilling his arms and moving in Lisa’s direction, while trying to give the impression that he’s not noticing her presence.

It’s the same logic. If you walk around swinging your arms, you have to take responsibility if you hit someone. If you wander around in public, loudly shouting and swearing, you’re going to have to expect that people will get annoyed with you. And if you are a girl who is determined to walk around topless, you’ve gotta expect men to get excited. It’s natural. It’s genetic. It’s the way we’re built. I’m not saying that this gives male voyeurs an excuse to assault anybody, but girls need to understand that when they do this, they are playing with fire.

I think a large part of the problem stems from the fact that most women in this community have no real awareness of the rapacious ferocity of the male sex drive, especially in testosterone-filled teenagers. Perhaps Islamic communities are just more realistic at this level. I don’t know, and I’m not pretending for a minute that I’d rather live in Tehran than in Sydney. But I suspect that the statistics on sexual assault and marital breakdown are much healthier over there than they are here.

OK. Now I’m not suggesting that the Islamic dress code for all Australian women is the solution, and I’m not even saying that women shouldn’t be allowed to walk around topless. All I am saying is that it’s time we got real about the situation.

Responsibility is a two-way street. As I’ve often said to my teenage daughter, “If you walk around a room holding a plate of h’orderves, you’ve gotta expect that sooner or latter someone is going to try and grab one and have a nibble.”

Does that absolve a teenage boy from responsibility when he assaults some poor young girl, simply because she was dressed provocatively? Of course not. But maybe it’s time we all took responsibility for the problem, instead of just leaving it to the lads to work it out for themselves, because they won’t.

Maybe that’s what the Sheikh was trying to say? I don’t know, though I do suspect that the media beat-up over his comments has more to do with an anti-Muslim political agenda than it does with anything he was actually responsible for. Either way, maybe it’s what he should have said.

©2011, Rev. David B. Smith

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Never contend with a man who has nothing to lose. - Baltasar Gracian



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