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
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, youve trained hard.
Its fight night. You step into the ring, the
crowd cheers, you share a silent look with Father
With His towel and His sponge He will care
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 Smiths 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, hes 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
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 wont, and
Many of the kids who pass through the club come
out better off. It isnt just the boxing that
helps channel their negative energy that helps
People need a community and thats
the secret for turning some of the more difficult
kids around. We dont 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
didnt 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 isnt 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 youve got to have
two things going for you. Youve got to have a
lot of energy that needs release and youve
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.
Ive run support groups and meetings
for single fathers and they are the saddest group
of poor bastards Ive ever known. Ive
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
The Anglican Church in Sydney is largely
middle class and most of the kids were
dealing with, well, thats not their world,
thats 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
dont think its 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
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 its so not me, Sarah says.
John, an older man and one of the fight
clubs 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 dont 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
If life was easier, then we wouldnt
have the relationship with the local pubs and
clubs, today, he says.
Father Dave doesnt 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
"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.
Were not even a name, were a
number. And the number goes in and gets crunched by
a machine and comes out and says you owe this much.
Youre not dealing with people most of the
time youre dealing with a system. Thats
not bad in itself. Its 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
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 weve just got to keep taking
risks. As soon as we get some money, Im
pumping it straight back into the club, he
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 isnt about winning,
its about showing that youve 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
And you are so tired that you wish your
Would crack you one on the jaw and put you to
Fight one more round
Remembering that the man who fights one more
Is never whipped. ~ James Corbett.
©2011, Rev. David B.
* * *
Never contend with a man who has nothing to
lose. - Baltasar Gracian
David B. Smith is a Parish priest, community
worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author of
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
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