This afternoon, as I was driving home from school, I heard the song “Overcomer” by Mandeesa on the radio. It reminded me of a thought that I first had in 2008 when I watched a movie named RedBelt about a martial arts teacher who is driven by principle over profit and was put into difficult circumstances because of it. In this movie, the teacher had a conversation with a man whom he had assisted in an altercation. Below is the conversation:
Chet Frank: So what is Jiu-Jitsu? You use one fighter’s strength against him?
Mike Terry: Yes, in a way. You let him use his strength, and you use your understanding.
Chet Frank: So it’s a form of wrestling?
Mike Terry: Yeah.
Chet Frank: Like we see in the Mixed-Martial Arts competitions?
Mike Terry: Yeah, that’s right.
Chet Frank: You compete?
Mike Terry: No.
Chet Frank: Because…?
Mike Terry: Competition is weakening.
Chet Frank: Because it’s fixed. Two guys in a ring, people betting money…
Mike Terry: It may be fixed. Any one fight may be fixed.
Chet Frank: Ah, but you train people to fight.
Mike Terry: No, I train people to prevail. In the street, in the alley, in combat, the bodyguard, the cop, the soldiers. One rule – put the other guy down. And you have to train in order to do that. Any… staged contest must have rules.
Chet Frank: Everything has rules. The problem is sticking to them.
While I don’t recommend that people go out and watch the movie (due to extreme language), I think that Mike demonstrated in very trying times a steadfastness and strength that is very admirable. That isn’t why I wanted to write this essay, however. I wanted to focus in on the statement he made about prevailing. “No, I train people to prevail. In the street, in the alley, in combat, the bodyguard, the cop, the soldiers. One rule – put the other guy down. And you have to train in order to do that.” Prevailing, against sometimes overwhelming odds, against injustice, against people, against yourself; this was what he was deriving from his art. The ability to prevail. As I heard this conversation for the first time in 2008, I was instantly reminded of certain passages of Scripture. The song that Mandeesa sings so nicely captures that idea as well. So, I want to talk about being an overcomer.
First, I want to state that life is full of challenges and injustices because of sin. In Scripture, God has said some things about being an overcomer that I want to mention.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
He tells us that we can have peace, despite tribulation because He has overcome the world. Peace? Tribulation? I hear a lot of people professing the belief that God does not let bad things happen to His children. Or that the Devil makes the bad things happen but God only blesses. Or that God will not allow things to happen to us that we cannot handle. This just is not true. I won’t try to list all the places in Scripture that contradict those things because that is not the crux of my point. But I challenge anyone to search the Scriptures and see what it really says about those statements. The truth is quite simple, God says that anyone who follows Him in a fallen world will not only experience bad things, but will be voluntarily taking on more simply by our allegiance to Him. The world does not like Him or anyone who aligns themselves with Him. The servant is not greater than the master, if they persecuted and killed Him, why would things be better for us? Also, God promises to conform us to Christ’s image. This means that on a fundamental level He is going to change our very being to reflect His character. This is not an overnight process, it takes time and a lot of hurt. God not only allows difficulty to happen to us, sometimes He causes it and leads us through it. He doesn’t do this to pain us, but to change us. You have to soften and apply force to clay to reshape it. Metal must be melted and beaten to be shaped. He does this because it is necessary to change us, because any real change must be change that we choose to undergo. We have to come to the conclusion to accept that change and that requires that our belief’s come face to face with His truth. It is painful. He does this because He loves us, and His way is best for us. In this process, God often allows us to experience things we cannot handle because it drives us to depend on Him. By ourselves, there is very little that we can handle, but with Him we are more than overcomers. Experiencing something that we cannot handle forces us to recognize our need, our insufficiency, our weakness and in our weakness His strength is made manifest. He has overcome the world and all that it can throw at us, if we stay with Him, we can be overcomers. If we struggle against Him, we will be overcome.
That verse talks about overcoming the world. But the world is not the only obstacle that we are faced with wherein we are insufficient to overcome. The Devil is also set against us and once again, by our own strength, we are unable to overcome him. But, God is not limited so.
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1John 4:4)
If we are of God, His children, then we can overcome the enemy because He is with us and He is greater than our enemy. As long as we are His children and are surrendered to His authority in our life. We have God’s authority over Satan, but authority only works when you are surrendered to it. If a Colonel in the Army gave an order to a General that was from the President, that General would have to obey. But if the Colonel tried to give it on his own, or if he defected and tried to execute authority to that General or even a private he would not be able to get them to obey. The first verse establishes the foundation of our ability to overcome, the fact that God has overcome the world. This verse establishes our connection to God and via that relationship our ability to overcome through His strength.
The last thing that we are to overcome is in this last verse. I want to draw a distinction between what we have covered so far (the world and the devil) and this next obstacle.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:21)
Evil, it isn’t the devil, it isn’t the world, it is the influence of sin in our lives directly. We are to overcome evil with good. Just like I mentioned before, this is done only in the power of Christ in our life. Three things we are to overcome: sin, the world, and the devil. We are not told to overcome tribulation, why is that? We are told to be at peace, that it will come, and that He has overcome the world. I think it is because that we shouldn’t see tribulation as something to overcome. Tribulation is a tool that God uses to bless us, to refine us, and to use us as a conduit of His strength and power to the world. He overcomes the world in us through tribulation, and we simply rest in His care.
What does any of this have to do with Kung Fu? They are both about overcoming. Mike was right when he said that it was about prevailing. Prevailing means overcoming, being a martial artist is about being an overcomer. Kung Fu is a combat art, and it is about fighting, but if that is the sole end of your art then you have limited yourself significantly in its ability to help you in life. All martial art is about prevailing, or overcoming as the Bible says, not just men in battle but life and all the junk that comes with it. But martial arts alone will not get you there. For that, you need to tap into a deeper source – God Himself, through His Son Jesus. In our own strength, no matter what kind of training we receive, we cannot be overcomers. But God can use anything as a tool to make us overcomers, and at least in my life, martial arts has played a big part in teaching me how to do that.