Priests take to the ring to save young souls
By Stephen Corby
WHEN Father Dave Smith heard the Christian call to fight the good fight. he took it literally.
For 18 years, the pugilist preacher has been running the Holy Trinity Gym, at Dulwich Hill, where he knocks sense into troubled kids in a boxing ring In the church hall.
Now, thanks to his website – fightlng-fathers.com – his hard-hitting message has been picked up by a Dutch-born Russian priest on the other side of the world.
Father Elias Leyds, 49, was undertaking a similar scheme on a much smaller basis in the basement of his monastery in the Caucasus mountains when he came across Father Smith.
“He was working in the prison system with at-risk kids, teaching them to box,” Father Smith says.
“We got talking on the web forum, and he told me he needed to improve his boxing skills.
“I told him to come out here, but I was joking. Then his community raised the money, and he’s here, training with us every day.”
These men of God, a Catholic and an Anglican, regularly punch five kinds of hell out of each other, but Father Leyds also enjoys getting in the ring with local teens.
“I’m an old bastard, so I won’t say my boxing is coming along quickly, he says.
“But Father Dave says I’m making progress, and I’m enjoying the direct contact I’m having with local people.
“I’ve seen how it works and it’s an excellent project, so I want to take these skills and ideas back to Europe.”
Father Smith, 46, says his “Fight Club” has had a 100 per cent success rate with heroin-addicted teens over the years.
“If we can get them to the stage of having an amateur fight and they get to that level of self-discipline, then it’s 100 per cent – they can’t be on that stuff and be boxing,” he says.
“In the early days, nine out of 10 kids we had here had heroin issues.
“The Fight Club became the key to getting those kids out of the cycle. Sadly, we saw a lot of kids die as well, but we had a lot of successes and things have changed.”
Besides encouraging the kids to take on boxing, Father Smith’s approach has always been to get In the ring with them himself.
“I still fight dozens of rounds a night. The problem is, every year they get faster, and the older I get, the faster I was,” he laughs.
“When they’re young and wild, It’s a good way to calm them down.
“It’s all about taking control of your emotions. When someone hits you, it’s natural to want to hit them back, but this is the whole key to turning the other cheek.
“It’s about making a reasoned response to someone’s aggression, rather than an emotional one.
“Once you can do that, you can do anything.
“You can stand up to other kids pressuring you to do a break and enter; you can resist peer pressure.
“So the ring becomes a training ground for developing self-control.”