by Graham Holdstock
The Rev Dave Smith, acting rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church at Duiwich Hill, Sydney, has issued a challenge to the local toughs:
“Beat me over five rounds – one each of boxing, kickboxing, judo, wrestling and hap-ki-do (one each of the above) – in the ring and I’ll buy you dinner. Lose and you come to church the next week.”
Prospective challengers should note, however, that this priest packs a punch. He might tip the scales at just 72kg, but his gloves and feet – are backed by more than just the Holy Spirit.
A former street punk whose “dramatic conversion” 14 years ago sent him off In the footsteps of his father, also a priest, is a black belt in hap-ki-do, a Korean discipline.
Father Dave firmly believes that a healthy body goes a long way to ensuring a healthy mind, and that time spent in the training ring at Holy Trinity’s church hail Is time not spent on the streets. And the divorced father of two knows plenty about the streets.
“I had a reasonably dysfunctional upbringing … my parents split when I was 12, my mother died of cancer when I was 16 and there was a lot of scandal after her death,” recalls Father Dave matter-of-factly. He joined his first punk gang at 16, and carried a flick knife and wore a leather jacket, chains and an angry face for two years.
It was long enough to land him in plenty of fights “I had a short life expectancy the way I was going,” he says. “I was drinking a lot, but never really into hard drugs, just the soft stuff. I guess it was more show than go half the time.
“I took up martial arts in 1980 for all the wrong reasons. I really needed to know how to fight because I was getting hit a lot and I had a lot of enemies.”
Although the southpaw sinbuster’s conversion Christianity as an 18-year-old was dramatic it should not have come as a surprise. He was still attending church as a punk, although that had as much to do with trying to impress girls and shock the congregation.
Later he did voluntary church work in Surry Hills, became a deacon in Kings Cross and gained an honors degree in philosophy. Since, he has dedicated himself to helping street kids. He is deeply troubled by youth problems in Dulwich Hill.
“I see them going nowhere,” he says grimly. “No hope and no dreams.”
“We might have done some bad things, but we were never really confronted by hard drugs. Its really terrible when 10-year-olds start worrying about some pusher getting even with them, and that’s what’s happening.
“The other day, a huge Tongan member of our congregation, who is also one of our martial arts instructors, was attacked in the street by two 16-year-olds. He tried to cover his face and was slashed across the arms.’
Father Dave runs two self-defense classes a week, attracting about a dozen primary schoolchildren to one and 20 to another. He also makes the ring and training equipment available at other times, and is more than happy to join his students in battle.
He insists that the philosophy behind the classes and his unusual challenge, issued around the district in flyers dropped in letterboxes, offers more.
“In some ways we are trying to tap into what the scouts used to do, but the scouts just don’t work any more.” says Father
Dave, who wears the signs of battle, including scars above both eyes and, on the day Australasian Post visited him, a grazed nose.
“I don’t see what I’m doing as violence answering violence. Yes, it’s aggression, but it’s also a form of interaction.
“I’m not here to teach young people how to beat each other up. That’s why we have a probation period of one month for young people wanting to join the club.
“Most martial arts clubs are very individualistic. They are not really clubs. They appeal to the macho side of people.
“We try to work on cooperative training routines where people push each other and work as hard at developing the other’s technique as their own.
“You actually come out of a training session or a fight feeling better about yourself and your fellow human beings.
“It’s a very positive force, particularly among the men and particularly in the wrestling. You’ve got this form of male intimacy. They really get in there and are almost hugging each other in a context where it’s not embarrassing or perverse.”
Nevertheless, Father Dave does admit that his classes and the challenge are also designed to attract more young people to the church. He also concedes that he’s a little nervous about his possible competition.
“I hope I don’t end up in hospital,” he says, before adding that he had to ask his archdeacon to be on standby to deliver a Sunday sermon recently when he competed in a Liverpool klckboxing tournament.
“A journalist wrongly described me as ‘a mean fighter who doesn’t like to lose’. I’m a close-in fighter who sticks on. I don’t give up. I’m a pit bull terrier who relies on fitness.”