Did you know that there are Christian Martial Arts schools? To some, that might sound like a contradiction in terms and it’s no wonder why. With things like UFC and MMA tournaments on TV, fighting has become a sexy and glamorous industry. How are things like that compatible with being a follower of Jesus? Those things aren’t. Christian Martial Arts schools worth their salt don’t teach or promote those kinds of practices. Quite the opposite. They teach self-discipline and self-control. They teach respect for others. They teach you how to protect yourself and others. They also teach you God’s word. In this case, the whole armor of God.
Check out the video below followed some notes from a class observation, and then my interview with Mr. Ron Hagelganz, founder of Whole Armor Martial Arts.
Class opens with prayer. After some warm-up and instructions, the class breaks up into groups.
What I noticed right away was that there was a relaxed yet respectful atmosphere. The respect went both ways; not only did the students respect the teachers, but the teachers and leaders showed noticeable respect to the students. This is no Cobra Kai!
Something else I noticed is that there were students teaching other students. Karate, like most martial art schools, uses a belt color ranking system. As I watched higher ranking students teaching lower ranking ones, it occurred to me that this was a perfect picture of what Biblical discipleship looks like. Those who know teach those who don’t. They want to see them succeed. They offer praise and correction as needed. Very cool.
Later in the evening is a very practical Bible teaching time by one of the instructors. It’s like a devotional time but it also ties in martial arts concepts and principles.
Corby Stephens (CS): Why did you get into martial arts in the first place?
Mr. Ron Hagelganz (MRH): Watching the Kung Fu TV show in the 70’s got me interested, I found an instructor and the rest is history!
CS: Why did you start this school?
MRH: That is a very long story. Short version, I had been teaching a few students at my home for a few years, but after a missions trip to Indonesia, I knew that I needed to give my martial arts training over to God’s leading. Whole Armor officially started in 1985 as a PE elective at a Christian school in Vancouver.
CS: You are teaching Karate (as opposed to Tai Kwon Do or Kung Fu) correct? Is it a specific “family” of Karate?
MRH: Correct. There are many styles of Karate, many are very old, some are newer and more eclectic. We study Nippon Shiho Karano Ryu Karate-do which is also explained on our website here.
CS: When the students line up side by side in class, they seem crammed together shoulder to shoulder, yet there is lots of room in the gym. Is that on purpose?
MRH: Yes. It’s simply the etiquette used at that beginning point of the class. Everyone lines up together according to rank, and we bow in, and then pray before dividing into rows for warms ups etc. There are many fine points of etiquette throughout the class, and each one is very important. For me, etiquette is the “glue” that makes Martial Arts what it is. To me, cage fighting and all that are not “martial arts”, just “martial”. It is the etiquette and protocol that make the physical disciplines an art, and help develop a person’s character.
CS: Are students encouraged/discouraged to go to competitions?
MRH: Tournaments can be a lot of fun for a student, but sometimes very discouraging too (after all, no one likes to lose!) They are also often very expensive. Tournament competition is also a completely different mindset and requires a different training focus too, so it is difficult to take time away from our primary curriculum to work on tournament skills. We have not recently, but at most attend just one tournament each year.
CS: Have you ever had to use martial arts in real life?
MRH: Interesting question. On one hand, the answer could be “no – I have never had to use it”, on the other hand the more correct answer would be, “yes, I use it every single day!” Truth is, if you ever actually get into a fight, odds are you’ve missed all the steps along the way that could have avoided it. The disciplines and thought processes of training in Christian martial arts help us see those steps, and live our lives in a way that hopefully avoids the problems in the first place.
CS: Have any of your students had to use it?
MRH: Many of our students are Police Officers, and Security Officers and the physical aspects of training have been very helpful to them.
CS: Are students expected to practice at home?
MRH: Encouraged to, but not expected. It is always their choice. Students who do will come to class better prepared to move forward than those who don’t. But we don’t force students to practice.
CS: Can/do people transfer in from other schools?
MRH: Sure – folks do that all the time. This is talked about on our FAQ page here. Sometimes it requires an evaluation period, but most often students just start again. We have even had Black Belts from other styles choose to start over as white belts, so they can learn the new skills correctly from the ground up.
CS: The school meets in a pretty isolated or “invisible” location. If there were an opportunity to meet where you had more exposure, would you take it? Is that something you are actively looking for? (The school meets in Brush Prarie, WA)
MRH: We have never looked for a more visible location. We have been where we are now for over 23 years, and it is a great blessing to be there! And for us, location is not as important as curriculum. Our curriculum provides an opportunity to train and enjoy traditional martial arts, while growing in the Truth from God’s Word. With that In mind, location doesn’t really matter, because in my opinion, it just doesn’t get any better than that!
CS: Do you have any other locations:
MRH: Our main school is here in Vancouver, WA, and one of my students started a Whole Armor school in the Seattle area.
I’ve known Ron for nearly 30 years, which is crazy as I type it. He is a great teacher and his knowledge of God’s word runs deep. If you are at all interested learning Martial Arts, particularly with a Christian application, I highly recommend his classes.
I interviewed Ron for my Notes From The Road podcast in 2016. We talk more extensively about his school and his story. Be sure to give it a listen.
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