Each night it’s off with the priestly garments and on with a gi, stepping down from the altar and into the dojang where Reverend Smith instructs approximately thirty students in his own style based on the Korean art of Hapkido.
Over many years of teaching, Rev. Smith has developed his own brand of martial art which breaks away from traditional Hapkido to produce what he believes is a more effective form of self defence.
“I’ve branched away from traditional Hapkido and I’m not ashamed of that. Many people want to retain the traditional aspects, which is good from the art point of view but I am more concerned with self defence. I take hold of what is valuable from several martial arts styles and apply it to what teach.”
Traditional Hapkido is a selective combination of several martial arts systems: from Karate, it derives power; from Judo, smooth leverage; from Aikido, the “flowing power,” or ki (spirit). Rev. Smith has taken these three elements and expanded his art to include eight different fighting styles.
“What I teach is a combination of; boxing, kickboxing, Taekwondo, Hapkido, Judo, wrestling, Aikido and Jujitsu. I invite instructors from these eight different styles to show us bits and pieces and blend them together into our whole program.”
Thirty-one years old, Rev. Smith began his martial arts training in 1980 although he has dedicated himself more seriously since his wife left him two and a half years ago. “Funny how tragedy tends to push your life in new directions,” he says.
“I originally did Hapkido because somebody put me onto it. The beauty of the art is that it has punching, grappling and many different aspects all rolled into one. I add a wrestling component such as the Gracie style to my teaching which I find is of tremendous value. When I started in 1980 I was really on the wrong side of the tracks in my life and through the martial arts I managed to find myself. I initially took it up for fitness reasons but after my conversion (to Christianity) I became involved in the martial arts for much deeper reasons.
“I did a fair bit of Aikido for a couple of years and I still do Aikido as well as Judo, kickboxing, a fair bit of boxing and the odd bit of Taekwondo.”
Besides the physical benefits of the martial arts, Rev. Smith is a strong believer in the spiritual side of martial arts training.
“I conduct spiritual workouts privately where I spend some time with a person reading a bit of the bible, talking for a while and then working out on the pads. I also do it as a form of counselling. By doing these workouts, I find that the martial arts can bring together the body, mind and spirit. Martial arts training can be very cathartic It gets things out of your system. If you are uptight and angry, you will find that after a good work-out, you will feel much better. It offers a release after a hard day’s work for many people that is the greatest benefit of doing any sort of martial art”
Much of Rev. Smith’s work in the parish community is done with kids whom he believes can benefit a great deal from learning the martial arts at a young age.
“The training has a lot to offer them – discipline of course but even more importantly it can help them to develop greater self-confidence, and so to have a better appreciation of their own abilities.
“I also believe that the way we train does help develop relationship skills. I put a lot of emphasis on partner work and cooperative training routines, which I developed from Aikido forms. I think these can help to make martial arts training less individualistic and more of a team effort.
Rev. Smith has been fortunate in that he has rarely had to call upon his martial arts experience for self defence.
“I used it once a few years ago when someone was being raped and I intervened. The guy was only on his first day of parole. That was horrible because I hate the whole situation of a street fight. On occasion I’ve allowed myself to get hit instead of using my martial arts because I know what my capabilities are.”However Rev. Smith doesn’t mind mixing it up in the ring where he has done some kickboxing.
“I enjoy kickboxing and I have actually made a general five-round challenge to anyone in the community here. First round boxing, second round kickboxing, third round Judo, fourth round wrestling and put it all together in the fifth round. If my opponent wins, they get a free dinner after the fight. If I win, my opponent has to come to church the next week!”
Now that’s one tough challenge to live up to in the ‘rough ‘n’ ready’ neighbourhood of Dulwich Hill. If that’s how Rev. Smith gets people into church I’d hate to think what he gives for penance!