The 2014 controversial docufilm 'Fight Church' was the first in its kind to explore mixed martial arts and Christianity. In his latest feature Andrew Hamilton-Thomas questions if this is truly a Christian-friendly sport...
The origin of MMA
The desire for men to be entertained by combative sports is nothing new and most cultures throughout history have had a native fighting art or sport of some sort through the ages. Early examples of the origins of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in sports can actually be traced all the way back to Ancient Greece with the art of Pankration which was introduced to the Olympiad (precursor to the modern-day Olympic Games) back in 648 BC.
In its popular commercial form, MMA came to prominence in the early 90’s when the Gracie Family brought the Brazilian art of Vale Tudo and their own self-styled take on Ju-Jitsu (BJJ) to the United States with the formation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) back in 1993. Vale Tudo (meaning anything goes) first became popular in Brazil during the 1920’s and incorporates many different fighting styles such as BJJ, wrestling, muay thai and boxing, and it is this art that essentially forms the template of what we have with MMA today. The concept of MMA however is essentially combining aspects of other martial arts to create a hybrid fighting style. Many in the sport retrospectively regard Bruce Lee as the first modern day mixed martial artist when he combined the best aspects of numerous fighting styles to create Jeet Kune Do, or The Way of The Intercepting Fist.
Can Christians partake in such sports?
Christianity and MMA isn’t something you’d typically expect to hear in the same sentence so the question is, can a Christian partake in MMA or a sport similar to it? The short answer is yes it is possible, but there are a lot of factors to consider and it will depend on the person in question. The Bible says in Philippians 2:12 that we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling and ‘some’ of the unorthodox ways in which we may choose to practice our Christian faith cannot be discounted, after all, God is our final judge. There are a number of high-profile MMA fighters who make no secret of their Christian faith such as Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, Ben Henderson and Yoel Romero. You even have a Christian-themed MMA clothing line (Jesus Didn't Tap) by social media personality, MMA fighter and former Power Rangers star, Jason David Frank.
The American docufilm Fight Church, which made the rounds at film festivals back in 2014 addresses this subculture of Christianity with MMA and features some the aforementioned fighters. The docufilm follows the lives of several church pastors in the US that view MMA as being an integral part of their Christian faith and it estimates that there are currently over 700 churches in the US that have taken up Martial Arts ministries.
What are the physical implications?
To get an idea of what can happen in these contests you only need to type in top brutal MMA fights in YouTube to get a graphic idea of the physical implications that comes with partaking in such a sport. Because there are so many ways within the rules to attack your opponent, total knock outs can range from broken limbs to fractured eye-sockets, profuse bleeding… put it this way, it’s definitely not for the squeamish or faint-hearted. The reality is that in order to stand the best chance of winning an MMA fight you can't hold anything back and have to unleash everything you have on your opponent, hence its brutality.
Are there any spiritual implications?
Spiritual implications if any, are something that will depend entirely on the person in question because our relationship with God is a personal one. A sport such as MMA however can fuel an aggressive nature in a person which contradicts directly with Matthew 10:16 and can even lead to one misinterpreting scriptures to justify their passion for it. This isn’t limited to the fighters themselves, either as the documenting of crowds baying for blood goes back even beyond the gladiatorial days of the Roman Empire, and violent sports such as MMA can encourage this from its spectators. The competitive nature of the sport and desire to win can also create an ego complex even within the most humble of fighters. If this is left unchecked it will inevitably lead to one’s downfall (Luke 14:11) and we saw this with the knockout of former UFC champion Ronda Rousey in November last year.
An opportunity (albeit an unorthodox one) to evangelise?
Despite all of this, Christians who choose to partake in the sport are still presented with the opportunity to preach the Gospel to a majority audience that wouldn’t typically be found in church on a Sunday and we see this at the highest levels of the sport. The fact that some high profile Christian MMA fighters have been told or advised to keep Jesus Christ to themselves (which they have ignored) is only a testament to their faith and this correlates directly with Matthew 5:14-16. After all, Christ warned us in Matthew 10:33 that anyone who denies Him before men will be denied by Him before The Father.
Has God Himself been in a wrestling match?
Controversial as it seems and despite the intended purpose, it can be argued that God Himself has partaken in a physical wrestling match (one of the key elements of MMA) according to Genesis 32:22-32.
So back to the original question, can a Christian be an MMA fighter?
Yes, it certainly is possible despite some of the conflicts. However in spite of its growing popularity it certainly isn’t for every child of God as Fight Church can attest, regardless of whether you can fight or not.
Written by Andrew Hamilton Thomas
Andrew is an aspiring political journalist, cartoonist and contributor for the Orator & Croydon Citizen