Encouraging kids to fight isn’t a normal thing for a priest to do, but then Father Dave Smith isn’t a normal priest…
What is it you’re doing, Father Dave?
I’m trying to educate and inspire young people to stay off drugs. I’ve established a boxing and martial arts training club at our church’s youth centre so we can attract kids who are vulnerable and give them support.
You’re trying to educate them with boxing gloves?
With whatever I can, but I’ve found the ring is a great leveller. Many of the kids who participate in the church’s Get Off the Gear and into the Ring program have spent most of their lives fighting one way or the other, whether it be against their parents, their peers or their drug addictions. So at the youth centre we give them an outlet for that built-up aggression.
How does an Anglican priest come to be a boxing trainer?
I could have very easily become another statistic. On the day my mother died after a long struggle with breast cancer, I bought my first leather jacket. My father was in the ministry but he and my mother had divorced a few years previously, and at 16 I was more into motorbikes and punk music than anything spiritual. I carried a knife everywhere, I was the lead singer in a punk band and worked part-time in a supermarket to fund my drinking binges.
How did things change?
I started taking lessons in martial arts so I could handle myself on the street. Then, at the age of 18, I experienced my first religious encounter. I’d hit rock-bottom and asked God to take over, and he did. Slowly, my life began to change. The anger I’d been carrying around started to dissipate, the studs came off my leather jacket and I returned my knife to the drawer.
What happened then?
I kept up my martial arts and eventually joined the ministry. When I was posted to Dulwich Hill, NSW, 12 years ago, the area had a lot of problems with troubled youth. With the extra money I’d earnt from teaching martial arts, I bought training equipment, which I set up in the church hall and encouraged kids to come in and use it. They began to trust me, and I was able to then start educating them properly, both in and out of the ring. While they’re at the youth centre, we try and convince them to adopt a more positive lifestyle by living drug-free so they can take control of their own lives.
How did your fight nights come about?
My congregation might not buy tickets in a raffle to raise money for the church, but they’d happily fill a hall for the chance to see me in a fight. As for me, I still enjoy competing and it’s also a great way to instill confidence in the kids I train. They’re able to demonstrate their skills in front of their peers and expel aggressive energy in a positive way.
What do you get out of training them?
Knowing I’ve helped someone save themselves. These are tough guys, they don’t do drugs anymore and they’re trying to help each other out. They want to live, to love, and to leave a legacy, and at the centre they can do all of those things. When you’ve had nothing, you realize these simple things are very important. I know because I’ve been there.